Ever since Epic Games announced the Unreal Development Kit in November 2009, with UE3’s market penetration, a $99 starting price and comparably modest licensing terms (0% royalty on $5,000 and 25% above $5,000), the big step for aspiring mod teams to take in moving over to the commercial side of video game development has considerably shrunk.
In fact, there are already three promising Unreal Tournament 3 mods that have not only made the jump over to the UDK but also gone commercial, and curiously, UDK is not the only factor that binds all these three projects together. Each these teams also took part in the Make Something Unreal 2010 contest arranged by Intel and Epic Games. (In fact, two out of three of the above projects are included in the UDK showcase.)
It’s only fair to begin this showcase with Swedish Toltec Studios’ The Ball, given the game is to be released in a matter of days on October 26th. The game can already be preordered from Steam at 10% off the normal price of 17.99 €/£14.99, and is actually published by Tripwire Interactive, who have delightfully chosen not to remain complacent with simply developing more Red Orchestra, but are also taking other teams under their wings. The first of their, uh, protégés was Unreal 2004 mod Killing Floor. Quoth Tripwire president John Gibson, not at all missing the uniqueness of the first MSU winner publishing a second wave participant:
“When we first tried The Ball we knew this was exactly the type of game we would like to publish – fun, creative and a blast to play. … This is all the more exciting for us as the winner of the previous ‘Make Something Unreal’ contest to have the opportunity to help a winner from the latest MSU contest take their game commercial.” 1)http://www.tripwireinteractive.com/index.php?categoryid=1&p2_articleid=36
In The Ball, players helm an archaeologist trapped within a cavern that turns out to be the entrance to massive ancient ruins. Shortly afterwards, the player discovers, wait for it… wait for it… the ball – “a mysterious artifact … gold and metal shelled” 2)http://theball.toltecstudios.com/?page_id=2 and the game’s primary gameplay twist becomes apparent: Instead of being “The Ball,” the player controls it to solve puzzles and vanquish various enemies. This distinction can be very much attributed to the runaway successes of Portal and perhaps more importantly still, Half-Life 2‘s gravity gun. Unlike Half-Life 2, where the puzzles exist to pace the action, in The Ball, the puzzles play a much larger role. These comparisons aside, its gameplay remains unique enough to be best explained in Toltec’s pictures:
Though now soon to be released in retail, The Ball is also available for download in demo form. The original version of the game came in second just behind The Haunted (see below), and while the game has already been receiving some excellent scores in the press, I nevertheless recommend taking a look at the demo as the game is already extremely playable and polished in its demo form and gives you an idea of the game’s style.
I might be in the minority – there are “mummies and exploding monkeys” 3)http://www.examiner.com/pc-game-in-national/the-ball-hands-on-preview in the game after all – but I personally did find the demo to be a little on the boring side. Steam aside, The Ball can also be found on GamersGate, Impulse and Direct2Drive, and is even going to be available as a boxed copy in Europe!
The Haunted: Hells Reach, the 1st Place Grand Prize Winner in MSU 2010, is a third-person co-op shooter that pits human players against hordes of shambling demons and as such will most probably remind most players of Left 4 Dead; the twist here, though, is that instead of allowing – or even favouring – holing up in a corner to find the best defensive spot, The Haunted demands players to adopt a vastly more aggressive playing style from the get-go. This is achieved with non-linear, scenario-based level design, and the gameplay is decidedly arcadey thanks to its high pace.
As a mod, The Haunted managed to find its own space sandwiched somewhere in-between Killing Floor and Left 4 Dead. Some of this can be attributed to its western-tinged look, but perhaps better still helped by the fact that there are many weapons, secrets and upgrades to be found and unlike the other two, the game actually rewards more adventurous players instead of punishing them. As with the other two games of this post, a downloadable version of the mod is still available at Moddb, and is very much worth the price of admission.
Being this year’s top MSU team, The Haunted was awarded a full free commercial license of the UE3 engine, something that should bode well for the future of the project and hopefully ensure a smooth transition over to the retail space. Below, you will find the latest trailer for the game, fresh from the oven:
Last but not least, I would like to mention Sanctum, a first-person tower defence game with a clean and shiny ultra-futuristic sci-fi look that contrasts interestingly with the jungle that swallows the playing field. The game was assembled at the University of Skövde, also in Sweden(!), and took home the 4th place in the educational category of the Make Something Unreal competition. In the game, players control an elite female soldier who is tasked to protect her home-town from swarms of incoming hostile aliens.
Although the original alpha version of Sanctum dates back to September 2009, Coffee Stain Studios have just released an updated demo in preparation of their participation in the forthcoming Indie Game Challenge. In terms of their commercial release, the team aims to finish the game “Q1 2011 and release it on ESD channels.” Below, you can see a quick glimpse of the game’s action:
In addition to the aforementioned, you could also take a look at Prometheus, which can be acquired free from Impulse.
References [ + ]