"God bless you KKnD: you may have been a shit game, but without you, we may well still be stuck in isometric RTS hell to this very day."
Real-time strategy games are all but dead. New releases are few and far between these days, and most of the developers who once focused on them have moved on to other projects. StarCraft II is the last vestige of the traditional RTS, kept alive primarily as an e-sport by genre pioneers Blizzard for the better part of a decade.
Of course, it wasn't always so. Once the foundations of the RTS had been solidified by games like Dune II (1992), WarCraft (1994) and Command & Conquer (1995), a major boom dominated the latter half of the 1990s. New games from the experienced studios routinely sold in the millions, and smaller developers found success with derivatives of their own.
Speaking to PC Zone in 2004, Tim Ansell of The Creative Assembly recalled being stunned by the success of these "clones". He singled out a Krush, Kill 'n' Destroy (or KKnD), "an absolute pile of crap" and bemoaned its impressive sales of 600,000 copies. This realisation of how much money could be made inspired the development of what would become Shogun: Total War (2000).
The short-lived Mucky Foot Productions was founded in 1997 by former employees of Bullfrog and based in the Surrey town of Guildford, then as now the spiritual home of the British games industry. The founders' background was in management, strategy and "god games" - but for their first project as an independent developer they chose something much more dynamic and ambitious.
Initially known as "Dark City", the game was to feature open urban locations, driveable vehicles, and a sophisticated combat system. Published by Eidos, it was eventually shipped in November 1999 under the title Urban Chaos and retained much of its original design brief. In fact, in its novel and smooth combination of features, Urban Chaos was tremendously ahead of its time. Sadly, it was not widely played on release and faded into relative obscurity. Following a digital release via GOG, the game can be reappraised - albeit with some technical issues.
REKKR is a total conversion mod for Doom developed by Revae, with music by Tom Jensen, sounds by TerminusEst13, and with contributions by a number of guest mappers. Compatible with all modern source ports and even with the original Doom executable, it's a tremendous piece of work. Available to download now.
Of all the many types of projects for Doom, the total conversion is the most comprehensive and ambitious. It requires the replacement of all of the game's assets: not only maps but also graphics, music, sounds, weapons, monsters and effects. In effect, a total conversion is not so much a mod for Doom as a new game that employs the Doom engine. Understandably, these projects are rare compared with those that add only maps because of the tremendous amount of work they require.
Sucker Punch is my first multi-map WAD for Doom II. It's available to download now from the idgames archive, where there is more information on supported ports and where feedback would be gratefully received.
Back in April, I wrote at length about my initial forays into mapping for Doom-engine games: at the time I felt that I would not try to complete Sucker Punch, which had been released in early 2016 with just three maps. However, such is the lure of Doom that I was eventually drawn back in, and the finished 9-map version of the WAD is the result.
In this post, inspired by one on Matt Tropiano's site, I'll go over my design process for the WAD and explain how these nine maps eventually came about.
A number of years passed between my first playthroughs of Doom and Doom II and my exposure to the vast wealth of maps made over the years by the games' community. A time spent lurking on the venerable Doomworld forums opened my eyes to the huge variety of WADs made by mappers amateur and exerperienced, for purist vanilla compability all the way up to advanced source ports like ZDoom. Deciding that mapping for the Doom engine seemed simple enough, I eventually sank a great deal of time into learning Doombuilder 2 in around 2014 to 2016.
A couple of years on from leaving Doom mapping behind, I suddenly remembered the maps I had completed and released: a tiny number compared to the hundreds of designs I'd begun and abandoned. To my surprise, I'm still fond of these modest projects and have even found that there are some gameplay videos online. It seemed as good a time as any to reflect on my comparatively brief time as a Doom mapper.
The early 2000s were a unique and special era for videogames. For the first time, 3D graphics hardware enabled developers to set games in relatively realistic environments; there were greater opportunities to experiment with lighting, higher resolution textures, and more detailed models. At the same time, games generally stuck with relatively simple, accessible gameplay - unencumbered by the layers of complex systems that typify many of today's "AAA" projects.
This period saw the release of several favourite games of mine; not only Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001) but a number of third-person action titles like Urban Chaos (1999), Oni (2000) and Rune (2000). Of these, the one I've returned to most often is Remedy Entertainment's peerless classic Max Payne, released in 2001 - the original, and frankly best, playable action movie.
For Christopher McQuarrie, even an Oscar for Best Screenplay cut little ice with Hollywood studios. Denied creative control on new projects, he wrote a crime movie at the urging of Benecio del Toro, a veteran of The Usual Suspects. This script would not be designed to attract major studios, but almost to repel them. Remarkably, McQuarrie was able to make it, his first film as director.
As a starting point for what would become The Way of the Gun, McQuarrie made a list of "every taboo, everything [...] a cowardly executive would refuse to accept". Instead of traditional leading men, he created "Parker" (Ryan Philippe) and "Longbaugh" (del Toro) a pair of cruel and desperate outlaws living off the grid. McQuarrie's interest was in building characters who are not "traditionally sympathic", but this proved to be an understatement.
A recent Rockstar bundle provided the perfect means to revisit some of the older Grand Theft Auto games, beginning with the first 3D entry, GTA III. After the huge success of that game, the developers chose to produce a prequel, moving the action to the sunny streets of Vice City in 1986.
Ready your hairspray and mirror shades for a revisit of the middle entry of the "3D trilogy", which truly established Grand Theft Auto as a powerhouse series.
Thanks to a recent Rockstar bundle, Grand Theft Auto III has at the time of writing sold an extra 180,000 copies in recent days - not bad going for a game released in 2001 and has been superceded by a boatload of million-selling sequels and spinoffs.
GTA III stands up remarkaby well after all these years. While it can be thought of as a kind of prototype for (and poor relation to) Vice City (2002) and San Andreas (2004), GTA III is still an enthralling crime sandbox in its own right - more than worthy of a few notes and screenshots, below.
Tabletopia is a simulated boardgame system, playable solo or multiplayer through a browser or via Steam. With over 500 games currently playable, it's a great way to try out games which aren't yet released, aren't readily available, or are costly. There are occasional glitches but's well worth checking out not least because most of the games are free.
So far, the best game I've tried is the innovative Roll Player, designed by Keith Matejka and published by Wisconsin-based Thunderworks Games. It's a dice puzzle game for 1 to 5 players which is closely based on the character creation process in RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons - and while that might not sound fun, Matejka has done an incredible job.