Soon, Liandri discovered that the public matches were their most profitable enterprise. The professional league was formed - a cabal of the most violent and skilled warriors in known space, selected to fight in a grand tournament...
The original 1999 Unreal Tournament has been a favourite game of mine since I picked up a copy of its "Game of the Year" edition in Toys 'R' Us for £10 - that is to say, for a very long time. As a kid, I was unaware of the fierce rivalry between fans of UT and Quake III as to which game deserved the deathmatch crown; I'm not sure I've ever played UT online.
For me, it was the single-player that mattered - ironic, given the intense multiplayer focus of the game's design. As with Quake III, the solo portion of UT is not prioritised. A thin plot is used to link together a series of arena battles against AI bots, as one bout of grisly bloodsport follows another.
Suprisingly, the worldbuilding and background detail in UT, a game essentially without a story, is for me one of its best and most fascinating aspects. With only Unreal to build upon, the game summons up an engaging, half-glimpsed world using only one cutscene, flavour text, and the design of its maps. That this world is never explored properly only serves to make it more tantalising. How can this work?
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.
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.
The '90s heyday of the real-time strategy game is long over, but Westwood Studios' classic Command & Conquer games are being kept very much alive.
CnCNet is a hugely impressive community project providing a network of servers for the C&C games, several of which were released as freeware some years ago. The website provides downloads of the games which are optimised for modern systems and ready for online play on CnCNet servers.
While I came to Half-Life late, Valve's 1998 masterpiece was the game that cemented my enthusiasm for games generally, and first-person shooters specifically. Replaying it almost 20 years on from its release, one aspect shines more than any other: the game's unique environments and crucial sense of place.
During the early history of the FPS, developers did not tend to prioritise settings. In classics of the form like Doom (1993), Hexen (1994) and Duke Nukem 3D (1996), settings and locations were only nominal, with little to no coherence between levels or episodes. Things began to change with id Software's Quake II (1997), in which the player progressed through numerous areas of an enemy planet, Stroggos. It was Valve and Half-Life, however, which gave the FPS its first - and perhaps best - coherent sense of place.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein could be called one of the most unheralded first-person shooters of its time. Developed by Gray Matter under the supervision of id Software, the game was released in November 2001 to excellent reviews - but it was ultimately overshadowed by both Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (released just two months later) and its own multiplayer spinoff, Enemy Territory.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein was both a resurrection of id's iconic Wolfenstein 3D (1992), and a thoroughly modern first-person shooter. Remarkably, the developers succeeded in both paying tribute to the "grandfather of first-person shooters" and fully absorbing the lessons from the games that followed in its wake. As a result, RTCW captures the thrill of both old school and modern shooters, and retains tremendous appeal over 15 years later.
Roughly every couple of years for about the last decade, I've returned to Diablo II. Blizzard's action role-playing game was released in 2000, and has been imitated many times but never matched. It's easy to see why so many developers have sought to make games that use the Diablo II formula: it is an addictive style of gameplay which is easy to pick up but hard to master; it can be adapted to different settings and game engines; and Diablo II itself was a tremendous commercial success.
There are also a number of reasons why Blizzard's game has remained the gold standard for action RPGs after all these years. The developer's famed quality control is one reason, as is their continued support (the game has been patched as recently as March 2016). For me, though, the single biggest asset the game has is its thrilling sense of challenge and difficulty: particularly in hardcore mode.