For the record, 3D Gamers' Edge is a not a site devoted to reviewing levels based solely on professional quality, or their likelihood/ability to work within the confines of a commercial product. The purpose of this site is to review levels based upon less definable factors, such as FUN. Yes, I realize that fun is highly subjective, but it's my stance. For example, levels with a high fun factor, and a smattering of errors, quirks, or bugs, will still have the chance to rate quite well. A level with odd, peculiar, or unique design techniques can still rate highly if the gameplay is enjoyable, despite it's somewhat unorthadox, or unprofessional visual qualities.
That said, lets get down to the business of describing just what I feel is a 'fun' level.
Since what machine you play your games on has an affect on the gameplay, I'll include the stats for my box here.
Toshiba Infinia 7161, 64 MEG RAM, P166mmx (oc'd to 200), Hercules Stingray 128/3D VoodooRush, Creative Lab's 8 MEG 3D Blaster Voodoo2, Sound Blaster 16, Diamond Monster Sound, Altec Lansing Power Cube Plus speakers (20 watts per channel, 40 watt subwoofer), and my controller is a Microsoft Sidewinder Precision Pro.
What do I look for in an Unreal level?
There are a variety of ways to implement a story, here's what I look for.
Unreal, it's not Quake. Therefore I'm not looking for the same kind of experience. Unreal is more story driven. The pre-existing idea of the Nali enslavement by the Skaarj gives a good solid foundation upon which to build. There should be some form of plot involved in your creation. It could be as simple as "You are a hired gun, attempting to free a group of Nali slaves", or complex and creative like "You are Rendril, a Nali slave. Your whole life you have been taught to be passive and resist violence and conflict. But it is too much. The Skaarj worked your father to death, and have taken you mother and sister for who knows what purposes. You will labor for them no longer, you must find a way out of this mining colony, using any means possible... Life is not worth living otherwise." See, it's easy. Make the plot first, and build your level around it. Hey, if you'd like to build a level, but cannot dream up a story line, send along an e-mail, and I'll try to help you out.
Here's the real magic of Unreal. You now have a new powerful tool at your disposal. A whole new dimension that previous FPS games didn't offer. Look to the first level of Ureal for ideas of what I'd like to see. That map had NO fighting involved in it. There wasn't one single enemy. Yet, weren't you amazed? Didn't it draw you in, immerse you, and even startle or frighten you once or twice? Heck, who didn't jump when the pilot screamed at your touch, or feel the fear when the unknown alien shredded that guy behind the door? And how about that excellent trap down in the lava area on the second (or was it 3rd?) map. This is what Unreal has to offer the FPS genre. A wonderful new way for you to draw the player into your world, make them feel what you want them to. Create suspense, mystery, fear. Imagination is the only limit.
A great way to keep your plot line moving along. No need to tell the player everything in a read.me file that most folks ignore. Now you can unveil your creation sequentially, adding story elements bit by bit, drawing the player into your world. Be creative: use journals, computers, and wall inscriptions as in the full-game, or scraps of paper, libraries, anything you can imagine that could hold a part of your story. Let the player learn as he goes along.
This is a multifaceted quality. Gameplay consists of three sub-categories.
If the level cannot provide a challenge it will not excite me. There's no excuse to not have challenge. There are four difficulty settings available for the author, and they're there for a reason. Challenge can come in a variety of guises. Huge waves of aliens attacking, sparse weapons and ammo, great enemy placement, puzzles or difficult to find items. These are all examples of providing the player with a challenge. Also, the difficulty setting should be used for more than just adding more enemies. How about less healing fruit, ammo, weapons, and power-ups?
Action is the real heart-pounding adrenaline-rush fun of a level. The story and challenge are great, and need to be firmly in place, but a good action sequence is a thrill. I'm talking about a nice open area, with more than one alien attacking. This forces the player to move, run, aim, and feel the rush of fear as he fights for his life. Don't hold back!
This is a hard one to define properly. The map should have a certain consistant flow of play. It's no fun to feel underwhelmed, wondering when the next fight will manifest, or clue will be given. Gameplay should flow nicely, giving the player good action, plot developement, and a sense of motion throught the map. Deviations should occur for added effect. Lulling the player into a stupor, then springing a trap is a wonderful device.
We want our game of Unreal to look good, right? Here's what I look for.
This is the big one for aesthetics. How did you build the room? Is it a square, unadorned room? Are all of the rooms alike in construction? Visual excitement can add a lot to the game. Large hallways, pillared on each side, notched with windows... Dome ceilings, arched hallways, fans, elevators, stairs. Not just having these elements, but they way they are constructed. It's easy to tell when an author has spent time making their level look good, and when it's been slapped together. Detail work can pay off nicely, first impressions count. However, don't expect a beautiful level to rank high on looks alone... everything is taken into consideration.
Unreal hands the author a good arsenal of special effects to use. Colored lighting, focal flares, fog, plant and animal life. These are all spices which can be used to improve the flavor of your map. Use them wisely, and try not to over-indulge. They should be used to enhance the atmosphere of your map. Once again, look to the first map in the full game, it's chock full of effects used to create the feel and atmosphere that carries the player into the game.
This is a pretty obvious one. Use textures that make sense. Ureal has plenty of really beautiful textures for you to choose from. Try and create some style and visual appeal, yet keep it functional as well.
This feature can affect every aspect of a map. Used properly, it can improve action, enhance immersive qualities, and set the stage for the architecture. A good map gives one a feeling of moving form area to area, and a sense of progress. Variety is the key here. What fun is a level where all areas look alike? Adding hallways, indoor and outdoor areas, elevators, crawl-spaces, and a variety of different styles of 'rooms', connected together in interesting, creative ways gives one a sense of being in a real place. It's good to go through a bit of a learning curve, feeling lost when first moving through the map adds mystery. Conversely, try not to make the map so complex that the player will become frustrated and lost.
A good level will give the player items when they are needed. It's no fun have so much of any particular item that there's no need to worry about it. By rationing items, the map makes the player think, plan, and create strategy. I'm not going to be using the Assault Rifle on every enemy I encounter in a map with good item placement, I'm saving it for the big guys. Too much of anything forces it to become unappreciated. Isn't it great to get a healing fruit when you're below 25 health? This is the feeling I like when playing an FPS. The creative placement of items also can add to enjoyment. Putting that Amplifier behind a few crates in a dark corner can make it easy to overlook, and therefore rewarding to discover.
Secrets add that easter-egg hunt fun to a map. It's always very satisfying to uncover secrets in a map, or to discover a particularly tricky one. Secret areas are also an excellent treat which I in particular enjoy VERY much. It's a great feeling to know that clever detective work on the part of the player can reveal whole new sections of map. Hard work should always have it's rewards. Unreal also adds the new feature of having the Nali reward your kindness by revealing secret areas. What an excellent touch this is. It adds a whole new interactive dimension to the FPS genre. Use it well.
Starting June 15th 1998, I'll be awarding the 3D Gamers Edge Gold Seal of Approval to any map that I feel offers an exceptional gameplay experience. A map that I would recommend unreservedly to anyone as a quality product.EXCEPTIONS
As we all know, there are exceptions to every rule. A map need not strictly adhere to all the above categories to rate well. I always judge each map on it's own merits. I have an equal love for maps that stick to what works, and do it well, and those authors who add their own personal style and uniqueness to their maps. Reviewing is a tricky business, and I'm sometimes surprised by a level that I like, and other times I play a level that seems like it should be great, but for some reason I just don't fall in love with it. Each and every review is a matter of opinion. My goal is to get the levels posted as quickly as I can, and provide what I feel to be an accurate, fair appraisal of each map. Reviews are open to debate. Feel free to mail me your opinions and I will consider each intelligent mail I receive. Should a letter point out things to me that I have missed, ratings may even change. The main focus of this site is to help people get Unreal levels, and help authors gain the exposure they deserve.