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Wednesday, September 20, 2000

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Mark Adams on Elite Force Mac Status
6:00 AM | Lucian Fong | Comment on this story

Last week Aspyr Media announced that this Star Trek-themed shooter would be coming to the Mac OS, and yesterday we reported that Voyager: Elite Force has reached 'first playable' status. Now Mark Adams, president of porting house Westlake Interactive, has contacted us with more information on this port in progress. It seems that the pace of development is extremely rapid, and Westlake may be able to skip the 'alpha' stage altogether and get straight to testing and optimizing this title. Here is Mark's update:

The game is up and running well in both single and multiplayer. We've
got all the levels working, the AI/event scripting, video cut-scenes, and
in-game cutscenes. We'll probably go straight to beta from first
playable, fairly quickly.
This rapid progress is most likely due to the cross-platform nature of the Quake 3 Arena engine upon which this game is based. Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force will be published for the Mac OS by Christmas.

In related news, fellow Gamecenter Alliance member Stomped has attempted to be first out the gate with a review of this title, which has just shipped in the last few days for the Windows platform. They were thrilled with the action and authenticity of this title, and hailed it as a rare gem -- a fun Star Trek title among many awful attempts. Here is an excerpt from their review:

The game's greatest achievement is the AI of the Hazard Team members. Unlike some games, such as Daikatana, there is no need to "baby-sit" your fellow Hazard Team members as they go about their various tasks. They follow the paths they are supposed to, respond accordingly to threats, and generally behave like you want them to behave. It's an achievement that couldn't have been easy to come up with, but Raven did it. They also managed to give each of your teammates a separate, if limited, personality. You actually care about each of your team mates, which goes a long way to making the situations Elite Force gives you seem more real.
For even more information about this title as well as screen shots, be sure and read IMG's own preview. Watch this space for more news on the rapid development of this title.

Westlake Interactive Product Status Page
Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force
First Look: Elite Force
STV: Elite Force Review at Stomped
Star Trek: Elite Force Reaches First Playable
Aspyr Media
Raven Software
Westlake Interactive
Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force

Bungie Liberation Organization Debuts
4:09 PM | Michael Eilers | Comment on this story

The purchase of Bungie Software by Microsoft sent waves of shock and disbelief through the Mac community earlier this Summer. Fans of Bungie's RTS titles Myth: The Fallen Lords and Myth II: Soublighter were perplexed by the move, which resulted in the sale of these two titles to Take Two Interactive, while of the actual servers for the games were moved to Redmond, WA with the Bungie team. Myth fans have since experienced outages and the disappearance of the servers for the demo versions of these two titles, as well as only intermittent updates to the Bungie.net news page.

Seemingly worried by these developments, a mysterious team known only as the 'Alphas' has launched the Bungie Liberation Organization, an 'underground movement' dedicated to preserving the existing Bungie.net service for online players of the Myth titles. Their mission is to organize resistance against any changes that Microsoft may be tempted to make in the Bungie.net service, such as making it pay-for-play or shutting it down altogether. Here is their manifesto, from the web site:

We are an organized resistance to the subjugation of the Myth The Fallen Lords and Myth SoulBlighter game servers by Microsoft. We don't mind Microsoft running them as long as they don't attempt to make any stupid changes to their mode of operation, performance, free status, or existence.

We repudiate any unconstructive behavior towards anyone . We are here to make our cause known to the entire gaming and computer industry. Only through an organized effort will Microsoft hear us. BLO is that voice!
Join us! Make sure that our game is not swallowed whole by the beast!

Among their list of demands is a request that Bungie should acknowledge that the company committed itself to free online service in perpetuity when it made that feature a large selling point for the games themselves. For more information on this organized resistance movement, check out the BLO web site. While the Alphas may seem a little paranoid, their concerns are not without merit -- Matt Soell indicated in a forum post several days ago that some Microsoft employees they have spoken with were unhappy that the Myth servers ran on Linux, as of course Windows NT is the platform of choice at the Redmond campus.

Bungie Liberation Organization

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Black and White Delayed, Again
11:06 AM | Michael Eilers | Comment on this story

Lionhead Software's upcoming 'god game' Black and White has been one of the most anticipated titles of the past year, but it appears that gamers will have to wait until next year to play it. The team has decided to delay the game yet again, in order to give it more polish and avoid the post-Holiday lull in the game market. A report on Well-Rounded Entertainment confirms that the game has indeed been moved back:

Electronic Arts has confirmed that, despite longstanding hopes and assurances, Peter Molyneux's Black & White will not ship in 2000. The game has been pushed back to Spring 2001 for a number of reasons.

Competition's a big one. B&W was shaping up, at best, for a mid-December release date - which traditionally has been a very, very slow period for game sales. By that point, most consumers have done their holiday shopping and don't have leftover money to buy games. B&W has been building such a strong buzz over its development cycle that EA wants to ensure the game gets the attention it deserves.

Also, while EA officials tell us the game could have been rushed to meet the holiday sales period, they chose to give Molyneux a little more time to polish things, which should result in a better playing experience.

Nearly three years in development, Black and White has progressed in complexity and beauty to become a game found at the top of every gaming site's 'most wanted' list. After such a long period, a few more months shouldn't matter. For more information on this title, visit the Lionhead web site. While there are no official plans to bring this game to the Mac OS, we have suspicions that such a port may indeed be in progress. More details will be available soon.

Lionhead Studios
B&W Delay Details on WRE
Feral Interactive
Lionhead Studios
Black & White

Little Wing Re-Releases Tristan
9:44 AM | Tuncer Deniz | Comment on this story

Little Wing, the Japanese company famous for their award-winning series of pinball games, has re-released Tristan, their debut title of a few years ago. Although the game remains the same, it has been updated to run on MacOS 9.0.

The shareware version weighs in at a mere 376 kb and is available for download from Macgamefiles.com. It requries any Power Macintosh with System 7.5 or later, making it payable on almost any Power Macintosh.

The full version is available for 980 Yen (about $9). You can either register the downloaded version or purchase a CD-ROM of the game.

Little Wing
Download Tristan (376k)

United Developers Calls for Testers, Again
9:16 AM | Michael Eilers | Comment on this story

As their Fall releases near completion, newly-created game porting house and publisher United Developers is once again searching for qualified testers for their titles in progress. Here is the announcement:

United Developers, LLC announced today that it is looking for beta testers for its forthcoming Macintosh products. Testers are needed for the following titles:

Sin/Wages of Sin - United Developers needs testers to help test this exciting action game, as well as its mission pack. System requirements are still to be determined, but any Macintosh with a G3 processor should be sufficient for the test.

Majesty - Testers with a yen for strategy games will love this game. System requirements for Majesty are also yet to be determined, but may be slightly more relaxed.

The ideal tester will possess good writing skills, as well as a love of gaming. Additionally, a high-speed connection to the Internet is mandatory, due to the large file size of the products United Developers is testing. Of course, a Macintosh computer is required for the testing. Diligent testers will be rewarded with a copy of the shipping game.

Macintosh gamers interested in testing are encouraged to write a few paragraphs explaining why they'd like to be a tester, as well as basic information on the computer hardware they will be using for the test, to United Developers labs at beta_testing@udgames.com. Testers will be selected from the pool of submissions based on their ability to write clearly, and the configurations of the computers they intend to test software upon.

Contrary to popular belief, being a beta tester is not simply a way to get free games to play, but is indeed a serious position that many hold as a full-time, paid occupation. If you'd like to find out more about beta testing, be sure and read our feature on the subject.

United Developers
Interview With a Beta Tester

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Combat Mission Interview, Future Plans
9:02 AM | Andy Largent | Comment on this story

Guru3D has posted an Combat Mission interview with Charles Moylan, president of Big Time Software. In the Q&A, they cover topics ranging from how they made a commercial release for just over $100,000 to what their plans for the future might be. Combat Mission, in case you're wondering, is a 3D wargame that has garnered many accolades for its historical accuracy and fun gameplay. It's only available for purchase over the Internet, but there is also a demo available to try out if you haven't already. Here's a clip from Moylan explaining what makes the game a hit:

Q:  A 3D engine in a detailed historical wargame is enough of a rarity to warrant a close look, but what other factors do you feel were important for Combat Mission's critical and financial success?

A:  Combat Mission's attention to detail and historical accuracy not withstanding, I think the game's best feature is its hybrid real-time/turn-based system, which has just the right amount of heart-pounding excitement and immersion while retaining strategic depth and thoughtful play.  You have plenty of time to create serious battle plans, but get the visceral thrill of watching them unfold in real-time (and a VCR-style ability to rewind and replay your favorite parts as well, a lot like watching a war movie).

While the game's 3D engine may not be as complex as some, it is one of the first of its kind for the war strategy genre, which has usually been stuck in 2D until now. Later in the Q&A, Moylan tells they already have plans for a sequel and possibly a third Combat Mission game:
Q:  It has been mentioned that sequels will be developed for Combat Mission.  Can you tell us anything more about them at this time?

A:  Sure.  The next game will take place on the Russian Front from 1941 to 1945, pitting the German Wehrmacht against the Soviet Red Army juggernaut.  I can't wait to see masses of T-34s racing across the steppes to do thunderous battle with Tigers and Panthers.  It will be tremendous. Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk, Bagration, Berlin - it will all be in Combat Mission 2!  After that, plans are not solidified but we'll most likely visit the North African and Mediterranean theaters for Combat Mission 3, and the early-war Blitzkrieg for CM4.

We're sure the Big Time team will be able to ride the success of Combat Mission and make their next games even better. Moylan also notes that they will be releasing a free multiplayer patch for the original, allowing gamers to play against each other over TCP/IP. We'll watch for it, and let you know once this is available.

BattleFront Web Site
Combat Mission Interview
Combat Mission

Heretic Re-Released as v0.9.3
8:40 AM | Andy Largent | Comment on this story

Brad Oliver, known for his work on MacMAME and SMAC series for Westlake Interactive, recently took the time to update one of his former projects, a port of the classic DOS shooter Heretic. When Raven open-sourced the game almost two years ago, Oliver ported it to the Mac, though you still need the PC files to play the full game. After a bit of chiding on Usenet, he was prompted to give this game a new home and a small update. Here's a quick list of changes:

  • Worked around some skanky mouse issues with InputSprocket. Details of the problem and the workaround are in the source code file "mac input.c".
  • Added a workaround for the age-old color 0/255 problem. On the plus side, color ramps and fades no longer have black spots. On the minus side, the video rendering will be a little slower, especially in the high-detail mode.
  • Added a true "mouse look" ability. You can now easily look up and down via the mouse or an analog joystick.

Give Heretic a try if you're looking for some good ol' Doom-like action. Thanks to Brad for all of his work on this and other great projects.

Heretic for Mac Page
Download Heretic 0.9.3 (244k)

Diablo II Scams Update
8:31 AM | Andy Largent | Comment on this story

DiabloII.net has updated their page of 'Warnings!' with details on the numerous devious scams and pranks people are trying to pull on Battle.net. Even though Blizzard has cracked down on the rampant character cheating that marred the first Diablo, in Diablo II there are still many ways people will attempt to get your loot, or worse, your password and login. Even if you're not of the gullible persuation, make sure you read through this list. You might be surprised how low some people will sink for a cheap thrill.

They now have three full pages of scams listed, with the updated items indicated if you've already read this guide before. Here's a little clip to give you an idea of how nasty it can be on Battle.net:

Horadric Cube Self Destruct Scam

Basically just a mean thing to do, it involves telling someone they can upgrade their unique or rare or other good items to a great item, with some bogus Cube recipe that includes some actual recipe that will work, and erase the rest of their stuff.

Like a magical bone helm + a plain bone helm + 1 flawless gem + 3 rings.  And they'll say that will turn into a unique bone helm, which is a Wormskull. Of course all it will turn into is a random amulet, since the only useful ingredients are the three rings.  This is of no benefit to the scammer, it's just a way to screw other people, mainly gullible ones who don't know the HC recipes.  If someone does object since they know the recipe, the scammer will admit that, but insist that this is a special recipe that works anyway.  Don't believe them. 

It's sad, but the basic Internet rules apply in Diablo II as well: don't give out your login for any reason, use common sense, and don't trust other players to give you any 'special' hints.

Diablo 2 Warnings! Page

Interview with John Carmack, Part 2
8:12 AM | Tuncer Deniz | Comment on this story

Following yesterday's Part 1, Voodoo Extreme has posted Part 2 of their interview with id's John Carmack, where he answers questions from VE as well as from several major game developers, covering topics ranging from id's new DOOM game, to technology, programming, games, and more.

Here's a little excerpt from the interview:

Voodoo Extremist Chris Rhinehart; Human Head Studios -- From what I've read, Doom3 is intended to have a strong single-player experience. What do you anticipate to be the biggest design hurdles to overcome while creating Doom3, as opposed to designing a title intended primarly for multiplayer?

John Carmack -- We sort of went into Q3 thinking that the multi-player only focus was going to make the game design easier. It turned out that the lack of any good unifying concept left the level designers and artists without a good focal point, and there was more meandering around that we cared for. The hardest thing is deciding what to focus on, because DOOM meant different things to different people. We have decided to make the single player game story experience the primary focus, but many people would argue that DOOM was more about the multi-player.

For the rest of the interview, be sure to head over to Voodoo Extreme. Be ready for a lot of technical munbo-jumbo though.

Voodoo Extreme
VE Interview: Knee Deep in the Voodoo

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Elite Force Reviews
7:59 AM | Max Dyckhoff | Comment on this story

Two new reviews of Raven Software's Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force have come out in the last 24 hours, one at PC IGN, and one at Daily Radar, hot on the heels of this game which has just been released for the PC.

PC IGN sings the game's praises from the start, proclaiming that "Elite Force makes it cool to like Star Trek again, it's so much fun". The game apparently has an excellent branching storyline, and does not follow the trend of most first person shooters which merely requiere you to push the crate to reach the switch that opens door X. The PCIGN review mentions how the addition of allied computer-controlled team members adds complexity to the game:

Instead, you'll have situations such as one on a Borg vessel where one of your team works on breaking a force field open while you and your teammates work hard to protect them from a constant Borg onslaught. Other teammates will open doors for you, give you advice on where to go next, command you, or just plain chide you for bad behavior.

The reviewer does note that while you do visit a number of environments, and the storyline and dialogue are stunning, he managed to play through the game in several days, and found it shorter than one might wish.

The Daily Radar review goes into greater detail, explaining various events in the game and the weapon types available -- which might be considered 'spoiler' material, so beware. It appears that the reviewer is far from a fan of the Voyager television series, and yet he loves the game, giving it a "hit" rating. For those of you wondering exactly what Elite Force is all about, he also describes that nicely:

In Elite Force, players beam into the dangerously red shirt of Ensign Munroe, a Star Fleet newbie handpicked by Tuvok to head up a unit of the security Elite Force. A cross between SWAT and the Green Berets, Elite Force is the answer to the question, "What do we need to do to keep from losing so many red shirts on away missions?
Elite Force is expected on the Macintosh before the end of 2000.

PC IGN Review of Elite Force
Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force
First Look: Elite Force
Daily Radar review of Elite Force
Aspyr Media
Raven Software
Westlake Interactive
Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force

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Why is Elite Force slower?
6:29 AM | Max Dyckhoff | Comment on this story

James Monroe, lead programmer for Raven Software, has updated his .plan file answering a much-asked question about their just-released title Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force. This Star Trek-themed shooter is based on the Quake 3 Arena engine, and many on the PC side expected Elite Force to be just as smooth and fast on their systems as that game has been. Evidently this is not the case, so Monroe took some time to address the complaints:

Q. "I can run Quake 3 no problem, why is Elite Force slower?"

A. Mostly due to our levels having so much more going on. Our textures tend to be larger, and we use a lot more of them. We often use multiple passes of textures on a single object. We have much more complex levels and more enemies in view which all adds up to more polygons for your 3d card to render. Most of our levels will put a much higher strain on your system. This can be alleviated by choosing lower resolutions and lower detail levels.

This seems similar to the situation with Deus Ex versus Unreal/Unreal Tournament, where all three titles use variations of the same engine, but Deus Ex is considerably slower due to larger levels, bigger and more detailed textures and overall complexity of design. However, those of you who are running Quake 3 Arena right now in a 'marginal' situation should not despair -- PC gamers complain when they get 65 frames-per-second vs 68 fps. We'll wait and see how the Mac OS version turns out, which is in the capable hands of Westlake Interactive.

Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force
James Monroe's .plan
First Look: Elite Force
Aspyr Media
Raven Software
Westlake Interactive
Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force

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On Rune Animation
6:00 AM | Michael Eilers | Comment on this story

Two new reports have surfaced that deal with the technical side of the third-person hack-n-slash title in development by Human Head known as Rune. This title began with the classic Unreal engine, but the team at Human Head has modified and made additions to this base to create a game stunning in both visuals and gameplay. If you have a desire to know exactly what those changes were, an article posted at RuneNews and an interview posted by Stomped go into detail about the new animation system behind Ragnar's vicious axe swing.

Rune uses a 'skeletal' animation system quite different from the type of animation currently used in games such as Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 Arena. Instead of using pre-defined 'poses' which are swapped one after the other to create the illusion of movement, skeletal animation uses simulated 'bones' to allow a model to be animated in independent segments. Rather than model twelve versions of an arm to create an animation of a player waving their hand, an animator can simply define a start point and an end point to the 'wave' motion and the skeletal system can fill in the blanks with as many movements as necessary. This results in player and enemy models that can have thousands of movements (and even multiple animations at once, like rotating the head while running) rather than the somewhat 'brute-force' methods used in earlier games.

Here is an excerpt from the article by Gwynhala at RuneNews:

Rune uses fully skeletal animation. This means that each model is stored in only one position, and then animation data is applied in real-time to bend and post the model as needed for different moves like walking or attacking. It's very different from the kind of animation you find in older 3D games like Quake III or Heretic II or Jedi Knight. In these games, the model is pre-animated in every possible position, and all of these positions are saved in a huge model file. This is called vertex animation, and its main advantage is that the animations can be played back without a lot of CPU power. Vertex animation has some disadvantages, too: the model files can be huge (a typical Heretic II model is 3 Megabytes with about 1500 frames of pre-rendered animation), and it's very difficult to adjust the animations to different playback speeds (or different game frame rates) without making them look jerky, and it's difficult to add new weapon or spell animations to the model. A skeletal animation system like that of Rune takes more CPU power, but it allows for perfect adjustment to match the frame rate and also allows for easy combination of separate animations for different body parts and weapons.
A bit technical, we admit, but sure to inspire salivary activity (yes, drooling) in tech-heads who are anticipating this title. A simple translation would be: no more stiff, jerky, repetitive movement or models that hold eight different weapons with the same canned hand position.

Now that we have delved into the animation of Rune, let's hear from one of the animators. Stomped has posted an interview with programmer Paul MacArthur. Among other topics, MacArthur comments on the skeletal animation system as well, describing how it is used in the game to enhance both realism as well as aesthetics. Here is an excerpt:

Stomped: While Rune uses the Unreal engine, you have obviously have modified it for the game's needs. Can you go over briefly what kinds of things you and the other programmers have done to the engine for use in Rune?

MacArthur: To me, one of the coolest technology features is the dynamic skeletal systems. It basically allows the game logic to manipulate the character's bones on the fly. Any of the bones can have a number of different properties like springs and elasticity. Then you can apply forces to these bones and they will move around according to the properties you've set. These properties override the regular animations so the result is the mesh animating as normal, except for the bones you're manipulating. One thing we use it for quite a bit is on plants in the world. You bump or swing at a branch and just that branch moves in the direction you hit it, oscillating back to it's rest position. Of course, there are many other applications for this technology, as you'll see throughout the game.

One particular use of this technology that we found most striking on both occasions we have seen this game in action is how the heads and eyes of your opponents track you as you move -- quite eerie. We are looking forward to playing the final version of this game, being ported by Westlake Interactive and due in late October from Gathering of Developers.

Gwynhala's Report on Rune Animation
Stomped Interviews Human Head's Paul MacArthur
Official Rune Web Site
Gathering of Developers
Human Head Studios
Westlake Interactive

Mac Games News for Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Games Extreme Posts Comprehensive Diablo 2 Guide4:21 PM
Halo changed beyond all recognition?4:19 PM
For The 3D Card Impaired...4:14 PM
Star Trek: Elite Force Reaches First Playable4:12 PM
HappyGear 1.2 Released12:45 PM
World Sports Cars Movie12:22 PM
Another Tropico Character Revealed11:35 AM
Interview with John Carmack, Part 111:12 AM
Human Head Animator Interviewed11:06 AM
Myst III: Exile FAQ Update10:59 AM
View all of the Mac games news for Tuesday, September 19, 2000 on one page

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