Alien Arena 2011

For quite some time, I had made it very clear that we would be releasing Alien Arena a week or two before Christmas.  As it turns out, we actually stuck to our promise, and released the game on December 16th.  The release has been an complete success, in fact maybe even exceeding our goals.  We got trememdously positive feedback, some great reviews, and the player counts rose to levels we hadn’t seen since before Quake Live came out.  The amount of work that went into the game over the last year was vast, and at times very challenging.  I am proud of the game, and the development team behind it.  In my opinion this release was a groundbreaker in a number of ways.

It seems that our release gave some competing games a sense of urgency.  Days after our release, Warsow 0.6 was released, a surprise to it’s community who was expecting it to be sometime in Q1 of 2011.  A couple of more days, and the Xonotic team released what it called a “preview” version of their game.  In the case of Warsow, the release was a long time coming, as their last release had been 16 months previous.  Personally I love the new maps and music, and the animation system is excellent.  I love the movement, but don’t care for the underpowered weaponry.  It seems though, that this release was hastily thrown together, as a number of bugs and problems are surfacing and being posted about in their forums. 

The release of Xonotic also came as a surprise, though their dev team had been mentioning a release was imminent for some time.  I stay very current with their GIT builds, and had noticed that development seems to have slowed just a bit over the last couple of months, with little new content being added.  I suspected that the natives were restless and wanted to get something out before interest began dying in the project.  To be sure Xonotic is a major improvement over it’s predecessor, Nexuiz.  However, there are still some problems(old and new), and some issues that



 make me think that they should have waited to expose the general public to their game just yet.  For starters, while the player models are an improvement, the animations still need refinement.  Part of it is just the rigging/animation, but the other part is a fundamental issue with the system.  Players skate about just like they did in Quake 1 and 2, and instead of utilizing their skeletal model format, they rotate the weapon instead of bending the spine to account for looking up and down.  Of course this is just a very early beta or even alpha, so things like this could be forgiven.  On positive notes, the new maps are all outstanding, and new music is excellent(though I still love the early Nexuiz soundtracks). 

Neither game has ragdoll physics, which was something that we recently implemented for Alien Arena.  It seems to me that both of the games would have benefitted if they would have delayed their releases and at the very least taken the time to see what we did to accomplish it, or come up with their own solutions.  Darkplaces already has ODE integrated in it, and could have probably just copy-pasted our code right into the engine.  Xonotic’s developers have repeatedly said that they cannot do ragdolls because it’s too much server overhead, but I think it’s possible they don’t quite understand how ragdolls are supposed to work(they are purely a client/renderer feature).  In the case of Warsow, maybe they already have plans for these, maybe not.  I am not sure how much development is taking place these days for that game. 



Maybe they both intended to have “Christmas” releases, or maybe they wanted to have their games compared to each of the others by releasing them at the same time.  Maybe they were released out of fear that waning interest would result in some people jumping ship over to Alien Arena.  I shall probably never know the true answer, but I find it all interesting(and amusing) to say the least.  The Xonotic release was the more puzzling of the two, because they essentially released it on Christmas eve, which, along with Christmas day, are two of the most notoriously “dead” gaming days of the year.  They got very little press, and very little fanfare compared to either Alien Arena or Warsow, and by the time people are done celebrating, the news will have been buried. 

All in all, these are, or potentially are, quality games that are light years head of the state of these games a couple of years ago.  There is plenty of room out there for these games to coexist without the typical cross-community drama that seems to have plagued them over the years.  They only thing I am sure of, is that had Warsow or Xonotic released a week before Christmas, I would have delayed the release of Alien Arena a couple of weeks, especially if, as in the case of those two games, I had not committed to any specific release date.  But hey, that’s just me.

[edit – Followup]

A few members of the Warsow crew took the time to respond to this article.  I can appreciate that they have informed me that their release was not done in response to ours, which if you read the article, I only pondered if that was a possibility, it wasn’t an accusation as if it were a fact.  I do stand by my opinion of each of these games, and that they could have been kept in the incubator a little longer, or been a little more fully tested before releasing.  If  you have a problem with my opinion, that is your right, but it is also my right to have an opinion. 

I have approved a few of these responses, but I also trashed a few that included personal insults towards me.  This isn’t ESR, this is my blog, and you will play by my rules, which are simply to treat people with respect.