Original image via Flickr user JD Hancock
GameSpy began in 1996 as a fan-hosted server for the original Quake. By the early 2000s, GameSpy was the online multiplayer platform, adding dozens of games every year. More than 800 games have used GameSpy to connect players and manage servers. GameSpy's ubiquity spawned dozens of offshoots such as Planet Half-Life and FilePlanet. Even in the age of Steam, the GameSpy catalog remains an extensive library of the great multiplayer games of the past 15 years. That all ends tomorrow when GameSpy shuts down.
More recent games, much-loved favorites, and games with even a modicum of popularity are being ported over to Steam-based servers to continue their lives. This is not a story about those kinds of games. This story is about the games that have become living museums to the Way Gaming Was from before Call of Duty became an annual franchise, before the rise and fall of Rock Band, and before anyone paid a single microtransaction for horse armor. Games from this era relied on GameSpy for their multiplayer servers, and many of them will die when those servers go offline on May 31.
I wanted to talk to the people who still play games that, for the rest of us, are nothing but fond memories. With my anti-virus on high alert, I dove into the seedier corners of the Internet to dredge up old install files, seek out the last guardians of a dying age of PC gaming, and ask them: Why this game? Why now? Why still?
Do they even know that the end is coming?
Scott Kevill has been working to set up multiplayer servers since 1997, which actually makes him a contemporary of GameSpy. While GameSpy peaked and crashed, it s only recently that Kevill s company, Australia-based GameRanger, has kicked into high gear. GameRanger now has over five million members and serves connections to over 120,000 players a day. The big hits pay his bills, but it s the older gems that drive Kevill.
In the past few months, GameRanger has been working overtime to add support for GameSpy games that would otherwise be forgotten to the annals of pixelated YouTube Let s Plays or a forlorn Wikipedia stub. Halo: Combat Evolved and Star Wars Battlefront 2 have been two recent high-profile additions. The service now hosts almost 700 games, 325 of which are set to have their GameSpy-based multiplayer modes go offline tomorrow. I ask him why people still care about old games.
Nostalgia is a big one, he says. The games had an impact on them at a certain point in their lives. Adding support for these games is a lot of work for little reward, and players don t always make it easy. Nostalgia has a double-edged sword in that people are upset that the online experience is not as big as it was at the game's peak. As if bringing back those original servers would magically bring back all the old players and the old experience, and it just doesn't work that way.
Image via 343 Industries forum user A H Spyker
I recently took a tour through the GameRanger servers for Halo: Combat Evolved. On an average weeknight, I saw three full servers and a half-dozen others with progressively smaller populations. All told, about 100 people were still playing the great-grandaddy of the Halo franchise, which came out on PC in September 2003. When half a million people log into Dota 2 every night, it puts two games of Capture the Flag and four pairs of friends into stark perspective.
People still play, though, because of nostalgia. Every player I talked to referenced nostalgia as their first reason for logging in. Two players in Rune, a hack-and-slash multiplayer melee game from 2001, stopped chopping heads off long enough to tell me explicitly: they still play because they still have fun with friends they met in-game. Friends and a sweet community, a player with the tag of Gamora told me over the in-game chat. If they left, I wouldn t be staying in this game for one more minute.
Gamora s friend Pan told me that the group does play other games, but they still like playing Rune because of the fond memories. They also play Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, but they have more fun with Rune s antiquated combat systems. While I spoke with Pan and Gamora, a total of six people were logged into Rune s servers.
Star Wars: Battlefront 2 had a more active community over the Memorial Day weekend the last full weekend the game would be live on GameSpy. I found Lucas Verdugo and his friend fighting a battle on Hoth with around 20 other players. I joined a Skype call, which Lucas uses to chat with friends while they play, to ask him about it.
It was a nostalgia purchase, Verdugo told me. He d originally played it on his long-lost PlayStation 2, and had only recently bought a copy for PC. I love Battlefront so much because I m able to create my own storyline if I want to . Battlefront 2 was the first FPS game he ever purchased. Star Wars is my favorite franchise of all time. When I first started playing this game, I was ecstatic.
Verdugo had actually not heard that GameSpy was shutting down until I asked him how he felt about it, something I felt immediately terrible about. There was a silence as he did a web search for articles about the shutdown. His recent purchase and rekindled enthusiasm for a game from his youth were about to get cut short, and I d accidentally dropped the news. While Battlefront will live on thanks to GameRanger, the still-active community will most likely be fragmented and much smaller.
New games don t measure up
Players still think of these aging games like they did when they were new, with the fondness they felt for them when they were young and in love. I ll be blunt: a lot of these games have not aged well. To someone who hasn t played a Battlefront game since Episode 3: Return of the Sith was in theatres, the graphics are messy and the gameplay is floaty. To the fans, they re the hallmarks of a golden age.
It s the first multiplayer game I ever played, so nostalgia is part of it, Dylan Mason says about Battlefront 2. I met him and his friend while I shot at Ewoks rendered in 2005 graphics as waddling gray turds with spears on Endor s forest moon. Mason told me on a Skype call that he is disappointed that the servers are shutting down before the new game rumored to be shown at this year s E3 has a chance to come online. He jokes that when the servers go offline, he ll probably cry a bit and then play against bots for the next week. But he s also somewhat antagonistic about more modern games. None of them have the same feeling as Battlefront, he says. Battlefront is his main game for multiplayer.
His friend, Bill Bish, chimes in: I played it as a little kid growing up, and it s one of the best Star Wars games ever. He hopes that EA and DICE will make the next Battlefront game incredible, but he s skeptical. I really hope they can top it, he says, but you know...
I do know. I know exactly what he means because a fan of DICE s other multiplayer shooter franchise, perennial Call of Duty competitor Battlefield, told me almost the exact same thing a week earlier. The player, whose online tag is RIICKY, is part of a group of modders working to save Battlefield 2 from obsolescence. He still plays the second entry in the Battlefield series all the time with a large community of friends. He expressed the same nostalgia I saw in all of my interviews: For me, I was kinda raised with the game. RIICKY also longs for a time before Battlefield became dumbed down for the masses to appeal to a wider audience. Business is business and I understand, but it s sad to see the core values get pushed aside... I still can't find even recent Battlefield games to be a replacement to Battlefield 2.
I ask Kevill about this angle, and he agrees that he s heard it a lot from GameRanger members. Sometimes it's the gameplay hasn't been matched by newer offerings even if the graphics are not that new and shiny, he says.
Image via GameSpy.com, which shut down in early 2013.
The modern mega games industry is the biggest it s ever been. The games of the GameSpy heyday generation were created by smaller teams than the modern Call of Duty blockbusters, but they still represent the work of hundreds of artists, programmers, writers, and animators. If even the oldest, least-loved B-movies can find a home on Netflix, doesn t the artistic output of these developers deserve to be saved?
I asked RIICKY if he thinks he s saving a piece of gaming history. I definitely do. Even if it wasn't really that much of a popular game compared to other titles that were active at the time. It definitely shaped the way the new Battlefield games were made and I'm sure how the Call of Duty series and many others responded to them.
Half a world away in Australia, Kevill thinks so too. For me, that's actually a big part of it, he says. It's one thing to preserve the games themselves years later, but multiplayer was part of these games as well. As the trend shifted to have the online experience intertwined with the rest of the game, more and more the games have become unusable without those online services. They're a part of history that need to be preserved.
Kevill may have a soft spot for unloved technology. He collects old computer hardware, including a collection of TRS-80 computers that I would love to visit. He doesn t think of himself as a collector by trade, though: it s just that the more popular stuff already has someone looking out for it.
it kind of felt like, if I didn't, no one else was going to. And that would be a great pity to have history vanish.
"Sights locked on GameSpy, sir."
Armed forces are closing in on the notorious multiplayer sympathiser, GameSpy. The matchmaking system is due to be terminated with extreme prejudice this coming Saturday, plunging the games it uses into an offline darkness. EA have said that many of their GameSpy-enabled games won't be updated with a new matchmaking solution. For Battlefield 2, that's meant the battle for online battles must now be fought by fans. It's not just the main game struggling to stay connected; its mods are also at risk. Thankfully, the most popular of those mods Project Reality: BF2 has received a new update that will keep its multiplayer running.
Project Reality: BF2 v1.2 does all the usual update stuff of fixing bugs and improving stability, but also provides a new master server backend, ensuring the mod will function after the GameSpy closure. In addition, it brings three new maps into the mix, as well as a new Dutch Forces faction.
The update's main features are listed below, and you can find the full changelog at the Project Reality forum.
PRMasterServer support, which replaces GameSpy
3 new maps: Arctic Lion, Hades Peak & Shikotan Island
Illumination flares for Grenadier class
ZSU-23-4 Shilka SPAAA for MEC forces
Countless other bug fixes, tweaks and changes
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Quick recap: GameSpy, the online matchmaking client that supported a huge number of multiplayer games, is shutting down on May 31. If developers don t find a different solution by then, their games will lose online functionality. While EA previously gave us signs that it was working on finding such solutions for the old Battlefield games, earlier this week we found out that Battlefield 2, Battlefield 2142, and Battlefield 1942 would go offline on at the end of June. But don t lose hope! The player community is making its own solutions.
At least for Battlefield 2 and 1942. Members of the bf1942.sk forums are working on a replacement master list server which is currently running in a test mode. It will take some doing on your part, but if you want to keep playing the game online you can find instructions on how to do it on their site.
For Battlefield 2, the good people at Blue Entertainment are working on making their own ranking system, login server, and hosting solution. Their revivebf2.com site is currently under construction, but one member of the team who goes by the online alias RIICKY told me they re hoping to have a solution up and ready by the time the GameSpy servers go down.
From experiences with modding BF2 and other EA games, it looks like EA doesn't really care as long as you're not releasing content for free (for example having BF2 items modded into 2142), he said. But we'd like to think that they gave us indirect approval when they said they won't be saving .
The news about GameSpy shutting down obviously sucks, but on the other hand it s been really great to see the PC gaming community rally and find ways to keep games online where publishers didn t.
GamerRanger will similarly save Star Wars: Battlefront II, and Halo: Combat Evolved.
Picture the GameSpy shutdown like a massive power-cut rolling out over an entire continent, plunging a significant portion of gaming's multiplayer catalogue into darkness. The hope is that some publishers have a backup generator, and will allow their games to flicker back to life via an alternate service.
For EA, the shutdown is an excuse to retire some older games from active duty to dramatically shift metaphors and they've now announced a list of casualties that includes 24 PC titles. What isn't yet clear is whether they're planning to re-enlist the most popular games in a list that includes Battlefield 2, Command & Conquer 3, Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and Neverwinter Nights 2.
"Since GameSpy s announcement, our teams have been working to evaluate options to keep services up and running," explains a new post on the EA blog. "Unfortunately, due to technical challenges and concerns about the player experience, we do not have a solution at this time. Online services for EA games on the GameSpy platform will be closed down at the end of June."
"We know some of these games are still fan favorites," the blog continues, "including Battlefield 2, Battlefield 1942, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and Command & Conquer games. We are still investigating community-supported options to preserve online functionality for these titles, such as multiplayer. Significant technical hurdles remain, and at this time we don t have anything to announce."
Despite EA's lack of a solution, the online service GameRanger already supports games like Battlefront 2, C&C 3 and Battlefield 1942; meaning players will have a third-party solution when the shutdown occurs. Currently, then, the biggest casualties appear to be Battlefield 2 and popular mods like Project Reality and the Crysis games.
You can see the full list of games to be retired here. I've picked out the PC relevant ones below:
Battlefield 1942 for PC and Mac (including The Road to Rome and Secret Weapons of WW2 expansions)
Battlefield 2 for PC (including Special Forces expansion)
Battlefield 2142 for PC and Mac (including Northern Strike expansion)
Battlefield Vietnam for PC
Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars for PC and Mac (including Kane's Wrath expansion)
Command & Conquer: Generals for PC and Mac (including Zero Hour expansion)
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 for PC and Mac
Crysis 2 for PC
Crysis for PC
Crysis Wars for PC
EA Sports 06 for PC
F1 2002 for PC
Global Operations for PC
James Bond: Nightfire for PC
Master of Orion III for PC
Medal of Honor: Allied Assault for PC and Mac (including Breakthrough and Spearhead expansions)
NASCAR Sim Racing for PC
NASCAR Thunder 2003 for PC
NASCAR Thunder 2004 for PC
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 for PC
Neverwinter Nights 2 for PC and Mac
Neverwinter Nights for PC, Mac and Linux (including Hordes of the Underdark and Shadows of Undrentide expansions)
Star Wars: Battlefront for PC and PlayStation 2
Star Wars: Battlefront II for PC and PlayStation 2
The GameSpy shutdown just got a lot less depressing. When the online matchmaking client goes down on May 31, all the games that used it will stop working. We re talking about a lot of games, and so far only a few publishers have made official statements about how they re handling the transition. Today, EA said that we ll still be able to play the old Battlefield games. Thank goodness.
The good news comes via the official Origin Twitter account, which responded to a question from a fan about the fate of Battlefield Bad Company 2, Battlefield 2, and Battlefield 2142, saying, We're working on transitioning those games after the shut down so you'll still be able to play them."
@Tofugames We're working on transitioning those games after the shut down so you'll still be able to play them.— Origin (@OriginInsider) April 9, 2014
There are a lot of other games that are still at risk, as you can see in this (now slightly outdated) list compiled on Reddit. But with Electronic Arts, Bohemia Interactive, Epic Games, and Activision all announcing at least partial solutions, the biggest publisher we re still waiting to hear from is 2K, which used GameSpy for Borderlands.
The Project Reality mod for Battlefield 2/Arma 2 finally hit version 1.0 earlier this year, after eight years of development time. During that time, the game series it was modifying have moved on to bigger and more explodey instalments - several times, when it comes to Battlefield. Now, the PR Team have announced the mod's follow-up - and, excitingly, you won't need to rely on any other games to play it. Project Reality 2 is being built using CryEngine 3 to be "completely standalone", in contrast to the distinctly semi-detached nature of the original.
Like the original mod, the aim with PR2 is to be one of the more realistic multiplayer shooters out there. As the announcement post reveals, "Initially, Project Reality 2 will be a small scale, infantry based FPS with a comprehensive weapon handling system that will aim to be as realistic as possible. Map sizes will be 1km and 2km with an Advance and Secure (or "AAS") style game mode, similar to that seen in the Project Reality: BF2 and Project Reality: ARMA 2 modifications." The team are currently working on the alpha - development began in mid-2012 - although a public release "is still away off" as there's obviously a lot more work involved with making a standalone release.
Interestingly, Project Reality 2 will also be "free to play", and thanks to the lack of hyphens there I'm going to assume that means the good kind of free, rather than the wallet-tickling kind often favoured by many of today's online-FPS developers. For the full details, be sure to read that announcement post - in the meantime, here's how PR1 was looking just a few months ago:
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (Nathan Grayson)
I haven’t played Battlefield 2′s Project Reality mod (or any Battlefield 2, really) in ages, but this is still a very exciting occasion. Eight years. That’s how long it’s taken one of the best-known mods out there to be deemed fit for 1.0 status. It’s been more than playable (DOUBLE PLAYABLE) for probably longer than I’ve been alive, though, and it’s proven succulent with delicious intrigues time and time again. In my experience, rigorous team play is the name of the game, and anything less is met with swift, pulpy, never> timely (yet always right on time) death.
In the eight years it has taken Battlefield 2 mod Project Reality to hit its 1.0 milestone, DICE have released seven additional Battlefield games. Then again, they've got more money, people, and one of those games was Battlefield Play4Free, so there's probably something to be said for taking your time to nurse something towards completion. Project Reality will finally hit that mark this Friday, August 2nd, and its creators have released a trailer to round up its now complete feature list.
If the mod's big features are the two new factions, additional maps and new game modes, it's the thousands of smaller tweaks that ultimately have a more dramatic effect. Project Reality - as the name might suggest - aims to create a more realistic Battlefield 2 experience, not only by rebalancing guns and equipment, but by upgrading and even removing parts of the base game. You can get an overview of what the mod offers from the latest changelog.
The 1.0 release is currently available for pre-loading, which will allow you to download the mod files, ready for when the team release the installer password at launch. To download the mod, head to the Project Reality 1.0 announcement page.
Mar 22, 2013
Article by John Strike
Next week we'll catch our first proper glimpse of Battlefield 4, and if the picture on the press invite is anything to go by, DICE's latest in the supersized shooter series will stick with the near-modern-day setting. Also: it will have rain. Though I'm delighted by the presence of these delicately rendered drips, with over 700 Battlefield hours under my belt, and a clan to lead, I have a few more items on my wishlist.
One of the most frustrating parts of Battlefield 3 is spawning and dying immediately in one of four equally infuriating ways. Firstly, you may spawn on a squad beacon that looks clear but has snipers watching it and deliberately not destroying it. Secondly you may spawn on a squad leader who’s about to step on a grenade. Thirdly you may spawn on a a flashing Conquest flag half-capped by an enemy that has every spawn place covered. Or you can find yourself at the mercy of a point-hungry medic under fire in some god forsaken corner of Operation Metro, being revived and instantly killed by a support soldier on overwatch. Regardless of how it happens, it feels like a frustrating waste of time.
DICE’s answer to this was to add a one-second ‘safety time’ in BF3 which allowed you to grasp your bearings and start firing. It's a great solution for the vulnerable spawnee, but it creates a knock-on imbalance for the spawnee's opponents, who aren't rewarded for their skill in quickly spotting an enemy. You can often empty a clip into a freshly spawned enemy, and then perish during the reload. By protecting newly-spawned players, DICE have penalised the abilities of their opponents. Admittedly, they've sweetened the pill: deaths from which you’re revived don't count towards the scoreboard, but this alleviates little of the annoyance.
There’s no easy fix here, but it's an issue DICE must address. While it could be resolved by a wholesale restructure of the spawn system, I feel like revives and squad-spawning are elements that set Battlefield apart from its rivals. It would be a shame to lose them entirely and revert back to static spawn points sheltered from the frontline. Planetside 2 allows you to decline revives from medics - that seems like a good solution to one part of the problem. Meanwhile, perhaps emphasising the risk of a certain spawn points would help alleviate the annoyance of being murdered instantly. Skull icons currently mark recent deaths on the minimap, but it could be made even more explicit: changing the colour of the spawn marker to a bright red if everyone who drops in there dies within moments. There are probably even more elegant solutions out there - let us know in the comments.
Smarter friendly fire indicators
A more specific problem is that of friendly fire or, rather, how the risk of friendly fire is flagged. Anyone who plays Battlefield 3 will have at some point been killed by an enemy who they've plainly seen but presumed is a friendly due to a blue/green tag above his head. What they're actually seeing is the ally marker of a team-mate some distance behind the hostile trooper. There’s no differentiation in the size or transparency of the tag to help you deduce this. I'd like to see friendly tags vanish if positioned directly behind an enemy.
More throwbacks to Battlefield 2
Whatever happened to the sweeping orchestral music at the start of games, or the support of a commander who could call in pin-point artillery? How could we forget what fun we had spotting a camping sniper for the commander as he dropped a jeep on his head in a brutal act of "cartillary". Whatever happened to those big 6-man squads and a class dynamic that never felt like it needed changing? Why did I seemingly sacrifice my netcode and framerate for destructible buildings? Why can I level up a character in a matter of hours?
Some of Battlefield 3 and BFBC2’s features have been fantastic and series has undoubtedly evolved in line with others, but I think much of the legacy of BF2 and perhaps even the identity of the Battlefield games has been lost along the way.
Deal with la... ...g
If I had a pound for every time I shouted, "He just shot me round a fucking corner!" I’d be able to pay transport costs for everyone on the server to come and sit in my lounge and play on LAN.
Of course, the UK's abysmal network infrastructure is rather out of DICE's hands, but the game's design can account for it up to a point. And, as BF3’s Close Quarters’ DLC maps illustrated, the netcode was never built for fast, twitchy encounters.
More scoring sounds and player barks
BFBC2 and BF3 are among the most sonically accomplished games ever made - witness the sudden subdued volume and tinnitus ring that follows a close detonation, or the way sounds echo off the walls of a confined space. These are key to the sense of embodiment that roots you right there in the action.
But they could expand their score-related sound indicators. Currently, there's only one sound used to represent everything from "YES! My mine blew up a tank" to "Bollocks I’m dead". You even hear the exact same soft ping if you clock up a teamkill. Surely a set of sounds could exist attributed to Battlefield 3’s huge number of bonuses.
I also quite miss the use of non-English languages from Battlefield 2 and BFBC2. As an English-speaking player there was an exciting vulnerability in not being able to interpret enemy barks - although, if you played the game long enough, you began to unconsciously assimilate the phrases. If I ever get stuck in China or Russia, I will be able to confidently ask for a lift from passing jeeps, although I suspect "Grenade!" and "Enemy tank spotted!" may be rather more hazardous to use in everyday conversation.
Bigger, more malleable environments
Visually stunning and relentlessly tested maps are crucial if Battlefield 4 wants to be what we need it to be. Aside from perhaps Operation Metro, BF3 has been a leader in flowing and multi-layered map design, with minimal choke-points and plenty of neat little hidey-holes.
Playing the Armoured Kill maps in particular I was struck with how good the game looks on a larger scale, and feel that even more could be done for Battlefield 4 to make those environments more interactive. Alborz Mountains for example has heaving great rock formations above Conquest flags which I'm just itching to destroy. If you can flatten a two-storey building why not bring rocks and rubble crashing down around your foes?
Consider Alborz' steep inclines, laden with snow. It would have been fantastic if you could cause avalanches. What better way to ambush a convoy of attackers in a ravine than by blocking the road with snow? Imagine breaking up those sheets of ice in the lower valleys with tank fire, sending crossing troops into the sea on impromptu icebergs.
Vast, open environments and destructibility were the defining features of previous Battlefield games. In the singleplayer at least - DICE abandoned that in favour of aping Call of Duty's cinematic linearity. This was definitely a mistake. This is what the "next-gen" should be all about: wowing audiences with dynamic, interactive worlds, not funneling them through a slightly prettier duckshoot.
Consistency among patches
The running joke of game patches needing patches of their own has never seemed as true as in BF3. From its catastrophic server problems at launch to the frustrating wait between updates (thanks to them being tethered to patch approval processes on consoles), Battlefield 3’s patch history has been turbulent, but DICE’s support for the game has been strong.
However, as a player, there’s one aspect of this patching process that has been slightly frustrating: the radical changes to the strengths and weaknesses of the game’s arsenal. Game balance is obviously an ongoing process, but it seems that something's gone wrong in your QA or beta-testing process if, after launch, you end up shifting weapons and vehicles into completely different brackets of strength and agility. As a gamer the consistency of your instruments is important, and a more thorough closed beta or external game testing by trusted members of its community would make DICE’s Battlefield 4 a game to remember.
That's my wishlist - what's yours? Let us know what you want to see from Battlefield 4 in the comments and add me on BL @ Stryk_uk if you like hardcore mode and teamwork!
Sep 20, 2012
It's hard to believe that it's been a whole decade since we were riding on the wings of bombers and making car bombs with satchel charges in Battlefield 1942, one of the most influential multiplayer shooters of all time. To celebrate its storied run, Origin is offering six major entries from the series at $10/£10 a pop.
Included in the promotion are Battlefield 3, Battlefield 2142 Deluxe, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Digital Deluxe Edition, Battlefield: Bad Company 2: Vietnam, and Battlefield 2: Complete Collection. No love for the series' World War II-based entries, unfortunately, but it's still a hell of a deal: five Battlefield titles for less than the launch price of BF3. Well, six, technically—but why would you buy BF:BC2 when its Digital Deluxe Edition is the same price?
The deal is exclusive to Origin, of course. If you're hopping into BF3 for the first time, have a look at Armored Kill, BF3's most recent DLC. We like it.