Left 4 Dead 2

Here's how big a deal Doom's shotgun was: in a game with another weapon called the Big Fucking Gun, the shotgun is the one we remember best. It's reliable at practically any distance. One clean shot to the chest will eviscerate most enemies. Somehow that pump action reload animation and its cha-chick are satisfying every single time with only five frames of animation. How many other games are confident enough to give you a gun this good 10 seconds into the first level?

Before Doom, shotguns were for shooting clay pigeons. After Doom, they were for annihilating demons. And for annihilating practically anything else: as Doom birthed a new genre, you could rely on the trusty shotgun to be there almost anytime, more steadfast and reliable than a squirrely pistol or a ammo-hungry rifle. It's our pellet pal. Our blunderbuss buddy. In the wry words of John Romero, when we spent half an hour reflecting on the design and history of Doom's shotgun: "No other game has a BFG 9000 in it, but lots of games have shotguns."

Today we're celebrating that lineage by talking about some of our favorite shotguns and why we love them. Step one: make it kick, and make 'em bleed.

How to make a great shotgun

"Number one, the damage it does is the most important part," said John Romero. He was talking about weapon design in general. There's so much that goes into a good game gun, but those pain points have the biggest impact in making a weapon feel powerful. "If it does more damage than any other gun, it doesn't matter if it has no sound effects, you're going to be using it," he laughed.

OK, but all that other stuff is important too. Animation, sound effects, the works. When they all come together, you can just feel it. It's an almost animal hell yeah. Fullbright's Steve Gaynor practically got poetic describing this sensation:

"Shooter games can be about a lot of things—the complexity of tactics as you use the environment to your advantage, the cat & mouse drama of chasing and being chased, sneaking up on your prey or falling into your enemy's trap—but it's also always about that aesthetic moment where the trigger's pulled and the audiovisual effects deliver that moment of utterly blowing a videogame creature away. And that's what the shotgun's all about. It's loud. It's sudden. And above all, it's effective."

So how do design all that stuff to feel just right? Bill Munk, animator and creative director at Tripwire, had this to say about developing Killing Floor 2: 

Shooters are always about that aesthetic moment where the trigger's pulled and the audiovisual effects deliver that moment of utterly blowing a video game creature away.

Steve Gaynor

"We start with the gore system, which is a very important ingredient that makes shotguns feel devastating. Second is the impulse force applied to the creatures when they get hit, this is really important to not only make the shotgun feel powerful but also adds to the enjoyment of taking down a target. Third is the damage each pellet does, it's a hard balancing act because depending on what you shot, if it doesn't die or react the way you picture it, everything falls apart and the weapon feels unsatisfying. To balance shotguns in KF2 we first start with the price for the ammo, the weight of the gun and the time it takes to reload. Shotguns generally have massive damage but become less effective at range due to the spread of the pellets which also is a nice tool to balance these high damage weapons.

"Last but not least are the shoot animations. This is an area we've put a lot of time and research in. We animate the shots at high framerate so that we can animate the violent force when you fire a shotgun. This is a detail you barely notice in realtime but can feel the difference."

And when Killing Floor 2 slows down into Zed time, you can really see that animation at work.

You can see even more detail in KF2's shotguns firing and reloading here. They're ahead of the curve in animations, but the fact that Doom's shotgun still feels good with only five frames of reload animation shows how much the damage, muzzle flare, sound effects, and other elements of a shotgun can make it feel satisfying without much real detail.

Take Resident Evil 4's starting shotgun, a standard pump action. It's much simpler than Killing Floor 2's weapons, but blasting zombies with it feels a bit like smiting them with the fist of God. Part of that comes from RE4's once-novel over-the-shoulder weapon aiming. It's incredibly physical. You hold a button down to aim and Leon plants his feet. The camera zooms up to his shoulder, and it feels like you're aiming the shotgun with the whole of his body. The muzzle jerks sharply upward when you fire, and a single blast can send a whole crowd flying backwards. Leon pumps out the spent shell before recentering his aim. It's not fancy, but it feels sublime.

Sound off

No game gun sounds more pleasing to the ear than a shotgun except for, maybe, a bolt-action rifle. And those two weapons have something in common: both are about a single moment of release, followed by a peerless sound saying fire again, baby.

Most game weapons are about a constant stream of sound. The blam, blam, blam of a pistol, the ratatatat of an SMG, the heavy thugthugthugthug of an LMG. With a shotgun, it's all about that one shot. It's a crack of thunder, not a boom. "You need a good, sharp, aggressive sound to drive the shotgun's presence home, not some underplayed thud but a good, bracing crack," said Gaynor.

But the reload can be even better. Only a heavy bolt can match the click of a double barrel popping open and closed or the cha-chick of the pump action. That sound effect really hasn't changed much since Doom 1, and it's easy to see why.

I'd say sound is 70% of the feel of a great shotgun mostly because I've played games while they are muted and they lost the feel.

Kynan Pearson

Sound is a big part of why we love shotguns, but it's also crucial to the "feel" of hower powerful they are. "I'd say sound is 70% of the feel of a great shotgun mostly because I've played games while they are muted and they lost the feel," said Kynan Pearson, who's worked on the Halo and Metroid Prime series. "The reload noise, the boom and the pain noises create a fantastic symphony of death."

Producer Matt Powers, who worked as a producer on the Medal of Honor and Call of Duty series, wrote about this on Gamasutra:

"I kept getting feedback that our shotgun was underpowered…people really kind of hated the shotgun. When I looked at the balance numbers, the shotgun was actually a little overpowered if anything. So…after much consternation I decided to attack the balance issue from the side of perception rather than through the actual numbers themselves. I went to our audio director to talk about changing the sound. He added a bit more low end to the fire sound, pulled out some midrange and bumped up the high end to give it a sharper punch. I did not tell the team that the only thing I changed was the sound, I just asked them to give it another try to see if the changes I made addressed the balance issues they were seeing. The feedback came back unanimously positive."

Animation, sound, weight. Those are some of the ingredients of a great shotgun. So how did id make the first FPS shotgun, with no history to draw on, back in 1993? 

History lesson: the original boomstick

Our love affair with the shotgun started with Doom, but for Romero, it started with two other sources: Rednecks, and Evil Dead. In one of id's earliest games, a 2D sidescroller called Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion, you blast ghouls with a shotgun (and can even shoot at diagonals!). In Dave's first game, you had a pistol, but changing that to a shotgun in the sequel was an obvious move. "You're a redneck in Louisiana, of course you'd have a shotgun," Romero laughed. "We mentioned it when we were talking about Doom, we're like 'Hell yeah man, we had a shotgun in Dave and it was awesome. Why not?'"

Doom's shotgun wasn't originally in the plans for the game at all. The small team at id had the pistol, and plans for a rocket launcher, but they needed something in between. So they designed a rifle with a bayonet. The only problem: it wasn't cool enough. "We didn't like the fact that when you jabbed, it just didn't look good. It looked lame," Romero said. "We'd already had lameness issues with Catacomb 3D earlier, when you're using your hand to throw fireballs and stuff. That didn't look or feel cool. With Doom, we did have the bayonet in there, and I believe we even had it working, and it was just like, you know what? No amount of frames will make this look good."

As they started brainstorming sci-fi weapons like the BFG, their thoughts turned to Evil Dead 2. And voila: a shotgun and a chainsaw appeared. "We basically went, 'a shotgun would totally blow away that stupid rifle.' We made the shotgun, we made the chainsaw. It totally felt right in the game. We put it in, and it was just perfect. The gun cocking animation, the sound, it was perfect. The shotgun blast was great and did a good amount of damage. So that's what happened."

The Doom faithful may know that the shotgun was a Tootsietoy Dakota cap gun model bought at Toys R Us and scanned into the game using a video camera, then edited and animated in a Carmack piece of software called Fuzzy Pumper Palette Shop. It was named after a Play Doh toy. What's surprising about Romero's story is how little tuning it took to get Doom's shotgun just right. They added a spread and randomness to the firing, but treated the shotgun pellets as if they were bullets, making the gun easy to implement. And because they "wanted every gun to be effective at super far distances," handicapping the shotgun's range wasn't an issue.

"It was important that whenever we added any gun to the game, it never nullified a previous weapon. There had to be a reason for keeping the pistol around and everything else," Romero said. "The shotgun, I believe used the pistol randomness, and also added some to the spread, but not too much. So you could kill stuff at a distance. It was not like a sawed-off shotgun that would have a massive spread."

It was important that whenever we added any gun to the game, it never nullified a previous weapon.

John Romero

That would come later, of course, with Doom 2's double barrel super shotgun. First person shooters have since skewed towards treating shotguns more like the sawed off: close combat killers with a very particular purpose, a more compartmentalized approach to "balance" that gives every weapon its role.

"I feel shotguns live and die by where they sit in the balance," said Pearson. "It's easy to make a shotgun too effective or nerf it so it's not dominant in the weapon selection. I feel like shotguns need drawbacks, but part of the satisfaction is the exaggerated quality of wrecking opponents at close range. I prefer tight spread with damage dampening at distance. Everyone has different preferences so it depends on the game."

We can still delight in a good kill with a well-balanced modern military tactical 12-gauge, but our favorite shotguns are the ones that defy those restrictions. Look at the shotgun in Halo: Combat Evolved, which was overshadowed by the pistol but still had tremendous range and a vast ammo reserve.

Other shotguns do something unique to stand out, either in how they affect enemies and the world, or in how they let lead fly. 

Blaster master

When I get a headshot with a pistol I expect, at best, a backflip or an exploding skull. But much of the joy of a shotgun comes from its physicality. I want my enemies blown backwards by raw force. This is where other elements of the game come into play to make the shotgun itself better. A perfect example, Gaynor explained, is Bioshock's shotty:

"It reinforces what makes a great shotgun on its own—an awesome muzzle flash, great pump action animation, amazing sound design, and high destructive power—but also how important its effect on enemies can be. Not just the blood effects or how much damage it does, but how they flip, spin, and pirouette through the environment when blasted. BioShock used tech that allowed the enemies to do a crafted death animation—ie spinning through the air in response to catching a handful of buckshot in the side—and transition that smoothly into a dynamic ragdoll that leaves them convincingly sprawled on the environment in the aftermath. Blasting Splicers with the shotgun was great because the shotgun was great, yes, but also because the Splicers were such wonderful fodder, their reaction to your blasting being an integral part of the whole exchange."

This is one area where Valve's typically soft weapons really shine: Left4Dead 2's shotguns can lift a group of zombies off their feet and send them flying. They also absolutely shred enemies. Valve's Alex Vlachos gave a great talk about Left 4 Dead 2's wounds at the 2010 Game Developer's Conference, and you can see how the system works in this presentation. This applies to all weapons, but shotguns are your best bet for blowing off limbs or big chunks of torso.

Gaynor similarly praised the F.E.A.R shotgun's "effect on a highly dynamic gameworld, where firing this thing off causes dust, concrete chunks, and broken glass to fly everywhere. But of course it would be nothing if not for F.E.A.R.'s slow-mo bullet time mechanic, allowing you to enjoy the shotgun's effects at half speed, every frame of its destructive power lovingly rendered for the player's satisfaction. Jumping over a barricade, going into slow-mo, and hearing an enemy soldier shout "OOoooohhhhhh shiiiiiiittttttt" as you pull the trigger, causing him to backflip over a railing with balletic grace, is maybe one of the most satisfying interactions in any FPS game. Oh, and if you play your cards right and get up into point-blank range, this thing can straight-up mist an enemy in one shot. That's how badass it is."

Romero and Bill Munk both called out Soldier of Fortune's shotgun for similar destructive power. "Soldier of Fortune, especially for the time, really showed the brutality of a shotgun and made the player feel extremely powerful based on the gore system," Munk said. "But for overall feel I'd have to give it to F.E.A.R. The first time you experience a shotgun in slow-mo seeing every pellet fly and the ragdoll react to it is a thing of beauty!"

Soldier of Fortune sure wins for nastiness, though.

Gettin' weird with it

God I love the flak cannon. In my imagination, the flak cannon is what would happen if the god of death metal looked at a normal shotgun and turned it into an industrial tool that could conveniently be used to shred men into paste. It's not simply firing a shell when you pull the trigger: a metal piston slams forward to propel a disc the size of a hockey puck out of the muzzle, where it separates into a spreading pattern of glowing superheated scrap. You can watch every piece make bloody contact with your enemy, but it also has a utility unlike any other shotgun: bouncing those metal meteors around corners to shred bad dudes from afar. Is there any wonder it's our favorite gun ever?

When Doom gave us a shotgun to blast demons, it was novel. Now that every shooter has its own take on the shotgun—and it's usually pretty straightforward—we love the flak cannon and other alternative shotguns for stepping out of that mold.

The flak cannon's secondary fire is a perfect example: it concentrates the heavy damage of the shotgun into a single arcing grenade that's harder to land, but offers concentrated damage you won't get at range with a spreading flak cloud. Romero himself designed a shotgun that was meant to diverge from the straightforward utility of Doom's shotgun: Daikatana's Shotcycler-6.

Daikatana had rocket jumping, but because its rocket launcher fired two shots, it would really hurt. "I thought, can I make a safer rocket jump type weapon?" Romero remembered. "With the Shotcycler-6 I can do six shots, and if you jump it'll take you up to another place. I thought that would be kinda cool for people who are good, and know the secret of the shotgun jump. So it's basically six shots, who doesn't love that, with kickback enough that you can actually get propelled up in the air, almost like a rocket launcher."

Gears of War 4's Overkill is a madman's fusion of double-barrel and auto shotty: it fires a shell from one of four barrels on mouse click and on mouse release, giving you the flexibility for tactical timing or a panicked barrage of eight shots in the span of a second.

Bulletstorm's ridiculous four barreled shotgun has a charge shot that simply vaporizes enemies, burning them away to nothing but bones. It's a fitting middle finger to the concept of balance. 

And though it was a short-lived glitch, not an intentional design, I have to sing the praises of the most overpowered shotgun of all time: Battlefield 3's briefly broken underslung M26 DART. A patch made every 12 gauge flechette pellet deal the full damage of the assault rifle's primary bullets, making the spread an ungodly cloud of death. And yet it's so politely soft-spoken.

In conclusion

 Videogame shotguns are rad. When you use a good one, appreciate it: marvel at its kick, its cocking action, its thundercrack, and the knockback like no other.

"There's something inherently satisfying about video game guns that are built to be 'one shot, one kill' like, say, a hefty magnum revolver, or a bolt-action sniper rifle," said Gaynor. "And that's also the shotgun's job... with the added benefit of not really having to aim. Who could ask for more?"

Long live the gib.

PC Gamer
PC Gamer
Unreal Tournament


Gamespy is dead. Sort of. A quick check will reveal that, at present, some of the games yet to hack-off the necrotic multiplayer matchmaker are still functional, albeit likely on borrowed time. Luckily, that list is ever-decreasing. Epic have released a new patch for Unreal Tournament 3, removing the lesser-loved sequel's Gamespy dependency in favour of the developer's own server bank.

"Thanks to community member Shambler, we have a patch that will allow you to continue playing," announces the Epic Games community page. The patch, which takes the form of a replacement executable, will work with both the regular and Steam versions of the game. Those transitioning to the new servers will need create new login credentials, after which they're free to Impact Hammer some power-armoured beefcake.

"This will apply to servers as well," explain Epic, "they will need to have the new .exe and all Gamespy usernames will need to be recreated or replaced in the command line as well. The larger server providers should be able to handle this for you but please contact your provider if you are unsure. In the event that you run your own server on your own box, you will need to patch this as well."

If manually overwriting executables feels too old-school, you can instead wait for the Steam patch to be cleared. "We have sent the file to Steam and hope they have it live soon," explains Epic's 'IFlak'.

For more on the death of Gamespy, check out Ian's investigation into the people keeping the service's forgotten games alive.
PC Gamer
Unreal Tournament Black
Unreal Tournament 3 brought a more serious tone to the series.

Epic recently announced that they're making a new free Unreal Tournament game in collaboration with the UT community. This is good news. We like Unreal Tournament. Only yesterday, Andy wrote about his love for Facing Worlds. The monstrous flak cannon took the top spot in our roundup of gaming's greatest guns. With misty-eyed memories of frags gone by, we fired over some questions to Steve Polge, senior programmer and project lead on the new Unreal Tournament, to find out how this community collaboration thing will work.

PC Gamer: Why did you decide to go with a community-driven development model?

Steve Polge: We wanted to bring back Unreal Tournament in collaboration with our passionate fans and mod community. Community-created content and mods have always played a huge part in the appeal and success of the Unreal Tournament series. With Unreal Engine 4 now available to everyone, we see a unique opportunity to re-invent the competitive FPS.

PC Gamer: Can you give an example of how Epic s team will collaborate with the community when building the game?

Steve Polge: We will have a very open and inclusive process for establishing how the core of Unreal Tournament evolves. We'll build consensus and make sure the community buys into the direction we establish together. Design questions will be discussed on the forum and in regular Twitch streams, and the decision process will be inclusive and transparent. Players will be able to make their voice heard, and participate meaningfully in setting the direction of development. We will release playable alpha versions and use those to get hands-on feedback from players as well. Epic realizes that we are ultimately responsible for making sure that the core game is awesome and we ll get there with the contributions of our community.

PC Gamer: Would you ever veto a community decision that you don't think fits in a UT game?

Steve Polge: It isn't a matter of Epic overruling community decisions we'll be an integral part of the process that produces those decisions. A great thing about this development model is that community developers can both participate in the core design process, and at the same time are free to perfectly realize their own creative vision in their mods.

PC Gamer: How do you go about balancing an open-source, community driven competitive shooter?

Steve Polge: I believe this development model gives us the opportunity to build a much better balanced and finely tuned game, which is vital to the long-term success of a competitive shooter. It s already evident that there are many players contributing to our design discussions that have a thorough understanding of game mechanics and balance issues. Their contributions will help make Unreal Tournament s gameplay deeper and more balanced than any past title. In addition, having a large audience of developers and fans continuously playtesting the game and providing feedback will have a massive impact on our ability to make sure all elements of the game are well-balanced for a wide range of skill levels.

Epic are going to start with deathmatch and team modes for the new UT.

PC Gamer: Are you taking inspiration from earlier arena-based UTs, or Unreal Tournament 3 s larger-scale-with-vehicles approach?

Steve Polge: We are focusing first on implementing a polished and updated version of the arena Deathmatch and team game modes. After that, we d love to work with our community to bring the vehicle-based combat of UT2004 and UT3 to the new Unreal Tournament.

PC Gamer: How do you think a free old-school UT game will fit into the modern shooter climate?

Steve Polge: Unreal Tournament still has a lot of passionate fans. We think there is a desire and a place in today s PC FPS community for a modern competitive shooter that brings back the kind of pure, fast action, skill-based gameplay for which the series is known.

PC Gamer: What do you think of the way modern shooters have moved away from community-driven content and dedicated servers, toward prescribed services driven by expansion packs?

Steve Polge: We think that our community-driven model is something gamers want and will love, and we re excited to bring it back for all our fans who already appreciated it, and to introduce it to a new generation of gamers.

PC Gamer: Do you see UT mod development as a gateway from amateur development towards larger projects using the now cheaper Unreal Engine subscription model?

Steve Polge: Epic's roots are as a small independent game developer, and introducing game development to aspiring designers, artists, and programmers has always been part of our DNA.

From the adventure creation capabilities of ZZT back in 1991 to the release of the Unreal Editor tools along with the first Unreal game in 1998, to making Unreal Engine 4 widely available this year, we have always wanted to inspire and support new generations of students, hobbyists, modders and small teams to make their games a reality.

We focused on making Unreal Engine 4 much easier to use with designer-friendly features like Blueprints. Building Unreal Tournament in close collaboration with UE4 developers and fans feels like the next logical step towards breaking down the remaining barriers to getting more and more people making great games.

The rocket launcher: better than the Flak Cannon?

PC Gamer: What are the favourite UT maps at Epic? Which guns are popular on the team?

Steve Polge: That s a tough question with maps especially, since there are so many great maps to choose from. Historically, the maps we shipped with our demos were generally the ones we thought at the time were both really fun and broadly appealing. When I polled guys around the office, we ended up with a huge list. Just sticking with official maps from UT99 our list includes for Deathmatch or TDM: Deck16, Phobos, Tempest, Curse, and for CTF: Coret, November, FacingWorlds, and Lavagiant.

My personal favorite weapon is the Shock Rifle. When I polled guys around the office, the Flak Cannon and Rocket Launcher were often mentioned, along with some love (and some hate) for the Bio Rifle. We also have several Sniper fans (*cough* campers *cough*). And the Impact Hammer and Translocator got some votes.

PC Gamer: Are you looking to encourage an esports community around the new UT? Will there be spectator tools etc?

Steve Polge: In the near term, aspiring to be a competitive FPS means making sure we have balanced gameplay mechanics that reward a variety of play styles so that success is primarily determined by skill. Longer term, we'd love to support UT as an eSport game, and we'll need the community's help in designing and implementing many of the features that implies, like advanced match spectating, broadcasting and livestreaming.
PC Gamer
flak cannon unreal tournament


Last week we put the Flak Cannon at the top of our list of the Best Guns Ever. I've taken a moment to expand on why a sci-fi shotgun from 1999 still stands as our favorite firearm.
PC Gamer
Vireio Perception Oculus Rift drivers


Contrary to popular belief, the anticipated Oculus Rift virtual reality headset doesn't run on pixie dust and elf tears. Like all hardware, it needs software drivers. And while its 20-year-old creator, Palmer Luckey, focuses on manufacturing more developer kits to meet the exceedingly high demand, enthusiastic 3D fans are already planning homebrewed custom drivers. One such project is CyberReality's Vireio Perception which extends Rift 3D support to first-person greats such as Portal 2, Skyrim, Mirror's Edge, and Left 4 Dead.

As CyberReality describes it, Vireio (or Virtual Reality Input Output, but we like how the shorthand name sounds like an enemy boss) can "pre-warp the image to match the Oculus Rift optics, handle custom aspect-ratios (needed for the Rift's strange 8:10 screen), and utilize full 3D head-tracking." As we describe it: Whoa.

The drivers work with nine games so far: Left 4 Dead, Half-Life 2, Portal 2, Skyrim, Mirror's Edge, AaAaAA!!!, Unreal Tournament 3, Dear Esther, and DiRT 2. CyberReality plans to add additional games in the future after spending more time with the kit. If all goes well, the possibilities are enormous: Think of revisiting classics such as Thief or Deus Ex with full head-tracking vision. Oh, yes, this is exciting.

Thanks, PCGamesN.
PC Gamer
unreal header


This article was originally published in issue 218 of PC Gamer, but in light of Cliff Bleszinski's entirely speculative talk of an open-world Unreal reboot, we thought we'd dig it out.

Epic Games, now purveyors of grunting masculinity, offal and chainsaws, once had a line of family-friendly shareware platformers and pinball titles. The reason we no longer think of them as the guys who made Jazz Jackrabbit is solely due to Unreal.

It’s an overlooked great. A journey through an alien landscape with a sense of wonder, grandeur and mystery that almost no shooter has since achieved. BioShock, surprisingly, is its most comparable successor. Both games maroon the player in a lurid and unfamiliar world – which, through pursuing their own selfish aims, they unwittingly save. In Unreal’s case it’s the planet of Na Pali. It’s here that the Vortex Rikers prison ship crashes, spilling its convict cargo out into a dangerous and primitive land, where the Nali tribespeople toil under the jackboot of their technologically superior alien oppressors – the Skaarj.

Few enemies are as much of a delight to battle. Towering, dreadlocked xeno-bastards cut from the same cloth as Predator, each Skaarj is a formidable foe. Part of their brilliance comes from their relationship to Unreal’s armoury: almost none of the powerful weapons will hit their target instantly. Even the Stinger, Unreal’s answer to the chaingun, fires crystal projectiles that move at a finite – and thus dodgeable – speed. Several of the weapons are at their most lethal when charged up: the GES Bio Rifle produces a glob of corrosive goo that can kill in a hit, while the Eightball rocket launcher loads up to eight rounds into its chambers for a simultaneous release. But the Skaarj are extremely nimble – they effortlessly roll away from your charged blasts, pouncing to gut you with wristblades if you try and whittle them down with the AutoMag, and retreating when you unleash volleys of slow moving missiles. Rather than the stop-and-pop gunplay that is almost ubiquitous in shooters of late, firefights here are elaborate dances conducted below a constellation of arcing flak shells.



This isn’t Rapture. Na Pali is not riddled with sophisticated political parables, nor does it make a postmodern critique of the limits of your freedom within the game, but its vast mountainous terrain does create a powerful sense of drama. Its volcanic enclaves conceal a geographical panoply of tropical oases, temples of pseudo-Mayan and Himalayan derivation, medieval castles, mines and monstrous alien overlords.

Inevitably, that terrain does seem crude now. A polygon went along way back then – perhaps even across an entire mountain range in Unreal’s case. What’s remarkable is that, though far from the cutting edge of graphical fidelity, the blocky world of Na Pali is still beautiful in composition and colour. Particularly colour in fact – Unreal’s happy use of neon lighting gives the game a refreshing saturation that is only now coming back into fashion after years and years of glum brown and gunmetal-grey shooters. It’s a natty use of lighting too, that gives Unreal’s skies their voluminous quality as they pass overhead, the clouds receding behind pixely mountains tinted with the sallow rays of a lowering sun. Although boxed into canyons, the skies always manage to evoke the sense of a much larger world spanning beyond the sheer planes of rock texture that surround you.

Then there’s the way the world sounds: the creak of timber in an ancient stairwell, or the whistle of the wind through a deserted mountain temple. Alien birds caw and wind chimes, well, chime. For all the limitations of its technology, few environments are crafted with such care for the feelings they evoke.



Most striking of all is the scale. Unreal may be short on geometrical complexity, but it’s not lacking in grandeur. The trench carved by a fallen starship it is no less staggering in its size now than it was in 1998. The Spire, a stack of rock that rises from the centre of a volcano, is similarly massive, and (as with Half-Life 2’s Citadel) your lengthy approach to it across many levels gives you plenty of time to contemplate this. Jump off its highest point, and it takes over ten seconds to hit the lava at its base – making it larger than the Empire State Building.

It hasn’t got any smaller over the years, either. Unreal is still a game of size in every respect. Its journey feels genuinely epic. Its battles are an elegant chaos that stands out from the pop-up shooting galleries that swamp the genre, even today.

This was the game that propelled Epic Games’ reputation to new heights as creators of bloody, hardcore shooters, and galvanised the 3D industry with its technology. Odd then that what should be considered a landmark of singleplayer entertainment by dint of its historical importance alone has faded in popular gaming memory. Its successes have been overwritten by the popularity of Epic’s subsequent Unreal Tournament series, multiplayer games whose fiction is only tangentially related to Unreal’s. Nor did it help that Legend Entertainment’s attempt a sequel was, frankly, toss. But the killing blow had already been delivered: six months after Unreal’s release, Half-Life hit the shelves.



And yes, Half-Life is still the better game, but not, actually, by any considerable factor. When I first played Unreal, I was awestruck. I invited friends round, standing eagerly behind them as they emerged from the Vortex Rikers into the open skies of Na Pali. “See?” I’d say – smug and delighted to have initiated them into the same sense of wonder I had felt. The years have passed and technological progress has inflamed the tyranny of our expectations, but the planet of Na Pali is still a thing to point at proudly and say, “See?”

PC Gamer
unrealtourney


Epic Games frontman Cliff Bleszinski conducted a crowdsourced interview with Reddit over the weekend in the popular "Ask Me Anything" subreddit. A number of noteworthy responses cropped up regarding Bleszinski's thoughts on revisiting older IPs, modding's explosive popularity, and (though very definitely not announcing this) an open-world reboot of Unreal, among other answers. Check out a few choice quotes below:

On the potential for a Jazz Jackrabbit reboot:

"Not any time soon. We're (fortunate) slaves to our success here at Epic with great franchises like Gears of War and Infinity Blade. It seems like a risky bet: Could we see a 2D platform game return and really move that many units, or would it just be a cult hit?

"We make games as a labor of love, but we also try to weigh the choice of what we build based upon a solid understanding of the business. How could Jazz exist and flourish in this market? I don't know, honestly. One idea that George Broussard and I discussed years ago was to bring back Jazz as an FPS, Jumping Flash style. But yeah, we'll do that in our 'spare' time."

When are we getting a return to the PC FPS glory that was Unreal?

"It seems as if you're asking about two entirely different games. The first Unreal was more of a single player exploratory experience whereas Unreal Tournament was a multiplayer focused game with a 'ladder' for the single player. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.

"I was quoted recently on a Fortnite panel about the first Unreal and what a reboot might look like. Having really grown into a big Bethesda fan lately (Skyrim rocked my world), I couldn't help but wonder what a reboot of Unreal would be like if it was more 'SciFi-Rim.' Sure, there would be shooting involved, but exploration would almost be more important. Get back to that sense of wonder that the first game had. (Caves and castles and crashed ships are basically your dungeon instances, whereas the 'overworld' is less intense.) Put it on a high-end PC, and prepare yourself for amazing visuals never before seen in real time.

"As far as a new UT, it's hard to say. Shooters and their sequels are a tricky beast. Often you wind up upsetting your core whenever you make a sequel because sometimes you change things the users didn't want changed, or the users are so very in love with their memory of the original game that there's nothing you can do to live up to the first game. This happened with Counter-Strike: Source, Quake 2, Unreal Tournament 2003, and heck, even Halo 2. All that said, I do personally believe that Unreal Tournament 3 suffered a bit from an identity crisis in regards to whether or not it was a PC or console game.

"So if, when? I don't know, honestly. We're understaffed right now for all of the projects we've got going on, so I can't say if or when it may happen. I do love that IP, and I do hope to return to Na Pali some day.

"P.S.: The delta between the current crop of consoles and a high end PC is incredibly obvious now. Looking at Hawken at PAX versus the other console games and this difference is startling. FYI, Fortnite is a PC-first game."



If there's one current trend (DLC, pre-order exclusives, etc.) you could change in the game industry, what would it be and why?

"I'd make sure there's still a place for survival-horror games to exist and floursh. There have been a few that have come back (Amnesia comes to mind), but by and large the genre has almost vanished. Fatal Frame 2 and Silent Hill 2 are two of my favorite games of all time.

"I believe that one of the main factors for this is the blockbuster-hit driven nature of the business that we have in a disc-based market. You're either Call of Duty, Skyrim, or Gears, or it seems like you're a 'campaign rental' or a used game. When we get to a digitally delivered world, I'd wager that there will be room for, say, a 20 dollar short and fun and scary experience to emerge."

What do you think of DayZ, and as a successful game designer, do you consider the success of games like DayZ, Minecraft, and Kerbal Space Program changing the way you think about gamers and how to design for them?

"I haven't had a chance to play DayZ myself, but I've seen the viral videos. That mod is a prime example of my theory stating, 'Bugs notwithstanding, there's a direct correlation between how cool your game is and how many interesting YouTube videos it can yield.' I loved the 'Never trust anyone in DayZ, especially if they have a helicopter' video. Pure gold.

"So, put the survival and social aspects aside for a second and step back and consider that we're in a world where a mod like that can blow up thanks to the connected nature of the world in which we live. A handful of guys can now have a great idea for the next big thing and put it out and it can explode seemingly overnight! We had seen this before with mods like Counter-Strike, but it's only become more and more frequent lately.

"My wife and I were very hooked on Minecraft for months. It's brilliant, and I have a lot of respect for Notch and the crew at Mojang, and I find it thrilling that unique games like the aforementioned can flourish now."

You have unlimited funds and processing power. What film/novel/comic book would you make into a game?

"Firefly."
PC Gamer
Tribes Ascend thumbnail
"People have maybe forgotten about the adrenaline rush of the old school shooters like Quake, Unreal Tournament and, of course, Tribes." Executive producer on upcoming free to play shooter Tribes: Ascend, Todd Harris, misses the twitch shooters of old.

We asked him why he thought they were less popular these days. "I think a lot of it is the multi-platform consideration," he said. "Games have this huge marketing spend so many of these shooters look to go multi-platform, meaning not just the PC but at least two consoles as well."

Todd says controllers don't offer the same freedom of movement as a mouse and keyboard, making it harder for devs to put an emphasis on raw dexterity: "The control scheme on the consoles does limit somewhat the speed and the twitch in which a game can operate – I mean your turn distance is only so far."

"That’s not to say that someone couldn’t make a fast twitch game for those consoles," says Todd, "But it’s easier to go to a lower common denominator - not having to turn as fast, not having to look 360 degrees in an instant - to make more of a hide-and-seek style, corridor-based, tactical shooter," he says.

You should be excited about Tribes. It's superb, and currently in closed beta. Luckily, the latest issue of PC Gamer comes with a beta code and 350 gold - that's enough to unlock a specialist class or pimp out one of you existing ones. Subscribe, or grab your copy of the March issue.
PC Gamer
Unreal Tournament 3
Epic president Mike Capps has been talking to Industry Gamers about the neglected Unreal series, admitting that "we haven't been giving it the attention it deserves because we've been focusing on Gears of War." That doesn't mean we'll never see another Unreal game, however. In fact, Capps says it makes financial sense for Epic to revive the series.

Unreal Tournament 3 was the last game Epic made, released way back in 2007. "It's been a long time since we shipped an Unreal game," admits Capps, "it's an awfully loved franchise that we hold pretty dear here."

"We've been sort of focused on making new properties, which you've seen with Shadow Complex, BulletStorm and Infinity Blade, but sometimes I think just as a businessman that maybe we should be spending some more time with our existing franchises."

A return to Epic's revered core titles would make sense given that Bulletstorm was a financial flop. Capps told Kotaku that People Can Fly's energetic, over the top shooter didn't make any money. That doesn't mean Epic will be dropping the studio, however. "The next thing we do with People Can Fly will be great," says Capps.

As well as developing and publishing games, Epic have been focusing heavily on developing the Unreal engine and licensing it out to third party developers. The Unreal name is starting to seem a little out of date. "At some point you wonder why we don't rename the engine the Gears Engine or something," jokes Capps.

Epic are currently concentrating on finishing Gears of War 3, a series that hasn't been seen on PC since the first outing. Would you like to see another Unreal game?
...

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