Genre Pioneers - Unreal Tournament
This week Epic Games has promised news on the future of the Unreal Tournament series, a multiplayer gaming series that has been absent since 2008 when Unreal Tournament III hit the PS3 and the Xbox 360. Ewan muses on what the original game meant to him and how it changed the FPS landscape forever.
In the 1999-2000 academic year I was at the University Of Glasgow studying computing science. The course was pretty drab and dull and nowhere near as exciting as some of the games development courses that are available now.
I spent more time messing around in the labs. When my classmates and I weren't using the Windows NT terminal to convince the email server it was the printer server we spent most of our times hacking the lab networks to allow us to play deathmatch games of Quake II.
Then Unreal Tournament came along. It's not the only reason why I dropped out of the computing science course to study philosophy but it is one main reason that I spent more time playing games that I did studying the frustratingly dull mechanics of binary search algorithms.
It was quite unlike any other game I had experienced before. Running around with a shotgun in DOOM deathmatches and getting fragged by rocket launchers in Quake were extremely fun but Unreal Tournament took this to a whole new level.
Unreal Tournament was revolutionary. It twisted the pace of the experiences that id Software had created with DOOM and Quake into something altogether more fun. To this day many developers have tried to recreate the kind of fun that Unreal Tournament had exemplified with varying results.
Epic Games took the gleefuly simple ideas behind deathmatch multiplayer that id had cemented into gaming culture and warped them. Everything from map design to weaponry was twisted carefully to change the way the game was played.
Unreal Tournament transported players to fantastical playgrounds from floating castles in the sky to maps with jumping pads that catapulted players to high sniping platforms or across the level. It absorbed all kinds of impressive platforming elements from classic games to build maps that enticed players to play in much more dynamic way than DOOM or Quake.
Some maps had a distinct verticality that many developers still ignore to this day with teleport pads accompanying the jump pads to force players to move about and become more inventive in the way they hunted their opponents.
This warped level design was accompanied by a amazing sense of fun that went into the weapon design. My favourite was always the Flak Cannon which allowed players to lob explosive shells over walls and had a secondary fire that operated somewhat like a shotgun and could kill with one shot at close range.
There was also the slime gun which caused damage over time. There were also staples like the sniper rifle and the rocket launcher as well but coupled with the ingenious map design players were forced to be more inventive with how they used these weapons and not just hide around waiting for targets to pop into view.
It was absorbing. While it really didn have a horrendous impact on my studies I developed skills I never thought I had. I'm still pretty rotten at multiplayer FPS games but at least Unreal Tournament taught me enough to be able to hold my own. It also helped me think outside of the box in terms of playing online multiplayer.
For me there's no other multiplayer experience quite like it and whatever Epic has planned for the series any return will be welcomed warmly especially by me and my colleagues from that 2000 university computing lab.