It's October 8 and Unreal Tournament 3 is tentatively scheduled for a November release. Sir_Brizz and hal travel to Epic HQ to test out the latest build along with a number of other members of the press.


In my mind, I'm going to Carolina...

I know you all want to hear about UT3, so I will get the boring stuff out of the way first. I left Salt Lake International at 9:47am on Monday and arrived in Raleigh/Durham International at around 5:30pm. Loooong day of flying. From there, I freshened up, and we were taken to Bentley's American Grill for dinner. I would relay to you all that went down at the dinner, but we mostly just talked about the "two weeks" announcement and so on. Sitting between Steve Polge and Mark Rein gave me the best seat in the house for information about the game and news, I now believe I know more about the demo release and reasons for what is in the demo release than any non-Epic-employee (or partner, maybe) at the moment. The information I received was mostly used to find things to mull over while playing the game, so I won't go into detail here. A giant steak and a lot of other food later, I went to my hotel room and posted the "two weeks" news a half hour before Mark Rein got home to do it.

We started out Tuesday touring Epic's offices and seeing all the neat things they have. I'm sure nobody cares, but they have lots of cool things, including a copy of ZZT, their very first shareware game. They had lots of signs and posters and awards for games, gameshows and their engine. They also had all sort of Gears paraphernalia lying around in glass trophy cases, and it was interesting to see how much stuff they really had gathered for it.


Now on to the game. We started out the play session in Deathmatch on ShangriLa. Initially, I thought it would be nice to win the match, but after getting up by ten points and holding it for most of the match, I decided to just test things out. The first thing you will notice when playing the game is that the run speed has been kicked up a few notches. You move very quickly. The dodge is also slightly higher and farther than it was in UT. Double jump is still in, but you find very few places to actually use it where a single jump wouldn't suffice. I found myself loving the Shock Combo and the Bio Rifle, though I used Rockets very often.

I found the sniper rifle, but the game at this time is simply too frantic to make it practical to use in the middle of a firefight. Better to stay high and far off, and since the Sniper Rifle is on a roof, that is easy to do. I still ran into a few fights with it, and I got a couple of kills, but it was nothing like in UT200X has been. I couldn't be effective with hitscan in the middle of a fight because the other weapons do so much damage that you don't have time to continually shoot and run, shoot and run. It should be noted that I didn't have weapons bound to keys like normal, I didn't have time to mess with them so my weapon switching ability was drastically slowed. In the end, hal kept playing while I was fooling around and beat me by one point, 30,29,24 were the top three.

After ShangriLa, we moved on to Sanctuary, the map played at Comic-Con a few weeks ago. Gameplay wise, this map is a little less interesting than ShangrLa is, so Epic has really picked the right map for the demo of these two. This map has the redeemer on it, but I rarely ran out to it. Hal grabbed it more than anyone, letting loose right in the middle of the action and either knocking everyone over or killing everyone. Needless to say, he wasted us all on that map. Sanctuary is a lot more flat and spread out than ShangriLa is. There are not a lot of places to escape from the action so it feels a lot more cramped and crazy almost all the time. At one point I could barely spawn without getting attacked, but thanks to the awesomeness of dual enforcers was able to take a couple people down with me. Combos are very effective because people are constantly clumped together, especially in the middle area where there are high ramps to either side. Because the double jump is lower, you are oinly barely able to make it on this ledge with a perfect double jump, so it was quite comical to see people trying to jump up there only to splash them in the face with a couple of rockets or a well timed shock combo.

I like me some flags

When we had finished with the DeathMatch games, we moved on to Capture the Flag. The first CTF map we played was OmicronDawn. I'm not going to lie, this map is very tight and confusing. within the constraints of the flag room and the two exit hallways out to the middle, the map is fairly straightforward, but behind and above the flag room, things get a little more confusing. Fortunately, Epic has already foreseen this problem and provided a solution. Any time you find yourself lost in a team game, you can simply press F2 (default) to bring up their objective guidance system. What this does is bring up small white arrows that fall to the floor in front of you leading you to your destination. Unlike the "smoke trails" or "wisps" or whatever you called them in UT2004, the arrows fall based on your speed and point in the direction they are going. Thus, if you are running, you can keep up with them, if you pause for a second, they will continue going but at an extremely slow rate so you can catch up to them. They also work while you are in vehicles, and match the speed of the vehicles as well.

The translocator is great, in my opinion. It fires on a lower trajectory than in 2k4 (the default setting, not the high trajectory), but fires faster. It falls a little short of 2k4 distances at the same angles. The disc is bright and easy to see, but due to it's speed would be very difficult to hit mid-flight as was done in 2k3 and 2k4. The one complaint that hal confirmed with me is that in between each translocation, there is a slight pause as you catch up to yourself. A new feature that has been added this time around is the teleportation after-effect. This effect lasts at the spot where you left for a very short time (less than half of a second), but if it gets shot, it will do damage to you still (and possibly even kill you). Because of this, I don't particularly care about that "problem" as I feel it keeps the balance of preventing telemonkeying while also allowing you to move around the map freely. Hal did confirm that the translocator camera, due to netcode problems, has been completely removed from the game. Instead, pressing Q when you have the Translocator out, you will switch back to the last weapon. This function has been removed from the mouse as it was too confusing and happened on accident too many times.

Give me a lift?

Next we played VCTF. In Suspense (the map included in the demo), you play on a large and long bridge that is flat and has very little in the way of obstacles to hide behind. The new thing in Vehicle gametypes, of course, is the hoverboard. While many people were concerned about it's inclusion, I am here to say that it rocks! No more running around for ages to get into the heat of battle. With the hoverboard you can get there in a very short amount of time. Grappling is very nice, however I found that on many vehicles it took too long for the grapple indicator to show up and you ended up missing opportunities to snag onto people before they got out of range. Apparently, few listened when the Epic employees were talking about using the flying vehicles to tow the flag carrier out of danger, as no one ever waited around to do that or made any attempt to secure the flag carrier by picking them up with a flying vehicle. If you get hit by anything at all while on the hoverboard, you faceplant. I found myself hitting the ground all the time, whether from falling from too high or just getting nicked by the stinger from across the map. A nice tactic was if you jumped off a high platform without being on the hoverboard, you could pull it out just as you were about to hit the ground and only get marginally hurt. This was effective for getting away from the sniper roosts in the bridge supports. The additional strategy of dealing with vehicles makes it very difficult to score in VCTF maps, which makes bringing the cap in even more rewarding than it normally is. The map has all Axon vehicles except the Cicada and Leviathan.

We then played Sandstorm. The gimmick to this map is that every once in a while, a sandstorm blows up onto the level and makes it extremely difficult to see. The advantage to this is that it hides you from enemy vehicles which usually stay at range from the flag base. The Darkwalker is able to climb up tall steps near the middle of a large structure blocking the bases from one another and stand on top of it. From this angle, you can obliterate just about any foot soldier without problem. The Nemesis on this map can make short work of the Darkwalker uninterrupted, because the Darkwalker takes too long to turn around towards it. Again, the most effective strategy as told by the Epic employees was to tow people through the air on the Fury to the flag and then bring them back, but, again, no one but hal and I must have listened to this advice. There was a small ramp structure on both sides that, when crouching on the hoverboard, and then jumping at the apex of, would give you massive air and you could probably do tricks in that situation, though I didn't try.


After Sandstorm, we moved on to Warfare and Torlan_Necris (the "necrified" version of Torlan). The map is pretty much the same as it was in 2k4 (with massive graphical and structural upgrades, of course). Torlan plays much like traditional Onslaught, though the orb completely changes the dynamic of the gameplay. The orb can destroy and build a node right away. It also protects the node from being immediately captured by the enemy orb for a short time. controlling vehicles i the map is very important. By capturing nodes that are not connected to the main grid, you can get more vehicles, weapons, spawn points, and, in the center node, a new orb spawn. The in game announcer tells you important information about what nodes to capture, and the white arrows point you to important locations. The nodes have a portal that you can see through, however you have to use them. You can't just jump through them (though this feature should be able to be implemented fairly easily).

The final map we all played together was Islander. In this Warfare map, one team controls all the vehicles, and the other controls a base with barricades and turrets. The new rocket turrets are awesome. They fire a burst of rockets in a spread very quickly. This made it simpler to hit air targets. The beam turrets made short work of other types of enemies, vehicles or foot soldiers. The new beams seem to work much better than the beams in the 2k4 turrets and are more accurate. The trick to this map is that there is only one node and it is right next to the vehicle team's base. They have an easier time defending it then the turret team does. This makes it feel very much like assault and not much like Onslaught at all.

Domo arigato

After all was said and done, hal and I had a chance to play some CTF on Coret with Masterful bots. Now, as a prcursor to this, I can obliterate the Masterful bots on 2k4. I often play 1v4 of them in CTF and still handily take care of them all. In UT3, hal and I got our butts literally handed to us on a platter. The bots move together, attack together, defend together, use the translocator, hide, chase, and do pretty much everything a human opponent would do. Jeff Morris even joined in with us, and the three of us could not handle three Masterful bots. It was pathetic! However, it did show us one thing. These bots are amazing! They are incredibly smart. They know what they are doing. And many times they used the trans to catch up to hal and I and take both of us out while running the flag back. Sometimes I found myself cursing at them because I couldn't tell if someone from the event had joined up with them or not. They really act very lifelike.

During the lunch at the event, we were told that all of the cutscenes in the single player campaign, though video files, were rendered in game and have no post effects added to them. They also said that they will be releasing the source maps for the cinematics with the game so modders can see how they were mad,e which is actually really awesome news for modders. I also asked if you could make a CTF map that played exactly like Bombing Run using Kismet, and was told that you absolutely could. Great news all around!

The event was a blast, I had tons of fun. It was nice to finally meet hal, and to get a chance to chat with the Epic guys and play UT3 early was an experience I will never forget. For me, the game is shaping up to be the best UT game released so far. The gameplay is very close up and frantic and much more crazy than UT could have imagined to be. Jeff wasn't kidding when he said it was full of CARNAGE! CARNAGE! CARNAGE! As a side note, I have left out about 75% of what I know about the game from this preview. Everyone feel free to ask questions in the comments thread, and hal and I will be sure to answer them as quickly as we can! Till next time, adios!


What's this button?

After setting my preferences and login name, I was happy to see Cathode returning as a selectable character. I chose her (if you can call a robot “her”) and began customizing. Depending upon the character you select, you will be able to pick things like head accessories (helmets, goggles, etc), shoulder pads, body type, legs, and boots. A few of the characters were locked, but we were told that there would be a number of them that could be unlocked through the singleplayer campaign and that Gamestop and Best Buy would both be offering “unlockable” characters with purchase. I should note here that the menu was very clean and relatively simple, but there were plenty of options if you drilled down far enough. Even the old favorite “small weapons” option was intact.

Over the marching Unreal Tournament 3 menu music in my headphones I heard Epic Games lead level designer, Jim Brown, explaining how to do something to everyone in the room, and a quick glance around revealed a player or two in-game. Taking this as my cue to begin, I fired up a quick match of DM-Deck. Immediately I noticed that, despite its greenish-hue, this version follows closely in overall design to its UT 2004 counterpart. What’s even clearer though is that great care has been taken to eliminate obtrusive meshes, giving it a very UT-feel.

Whoops. Apparently I wasn’t supposed to be in Deck and am quickly directed to the LAN where a match of DM-ShangriLa is underway…


ShangriLa is one of the levels featuring some art assets from Epic Games China that was formed last year, and the Asian architecture looks great. Quite a few different terrace levels as well as some walkways in and around the buildings surrounding the courtyard make up the play area and it comfortably fits our current eight to ten player load. Once again, everything seems to be tucked neatly out of the play area without feeling empty or drab.

With a few rounds of ShangriLa under our belts, DM-Sanctuary was loaded. This one should be familiar to anyone that saw the videos from ComicCon. While not quite a poster-child for z-axis gameplay, there are spots throughout the church-like structure that offer some varied heights from which to frag. It’s a medium sized level with a fairly good inside/outside flow, so you’re in no danger of getting lost. All the action seems to center mainly around the interior Armor Vest as well as the Redeemer platform that hangs dangerously out over a rather long drop. Epic has really tried to tackle the player visibility problems that plagued Unreal Tournament 2004. They’ve implemented a particle system that enhances the color of the enemy player’s armor the farther he moves from you. In addition, team beacons return, making it apparent at a glance not only who is on your team, but the name of the player at whom you are looking. I was able to quickly pick out both opponents and team mates at a distance in every level I played. Everyone seemed to enjoy the map so we let the map reload, a process that takes just a few seconds. When the round ends, you’re taken to a scoreboard and as soon as ‘Ready’ appears at the bottom of the screen, you can click into the level where you’ll await the other players that are loading the map.

<3 CTF +1

Next up was CTF-OmicronDawn, which should be familiar to anyone that noticed Epic Games’ ‘Name That Map’ contest. Finding your way around a new CTF level can be confusing at first, which made me especially grateful for the helpful arrows that briefly point the way out of your base. The paths through the bases in this map seemed especially maze-like so I also made use of the F2 button to recall the directional arrows. Even so, I think it’ll take me a few playthroughs to get a feel for the layout in this one. Shock whores will be pleased with the ShockRifles courteously placed in the flag room and those more inclined to snipe will appreciate the SniperRifles occupying the windowed room overlooking the two walkways in the center of the map. Essential to UT CTF is the Translocator. It’s best described by saying that the trajectory falls somewhere between Unreal Tournament and Unreal Tournament 2004. There are a limited number of charges (seven, I believe), though I never ran out. There did seem to be a slight pause (a half second or less) required between translocations, perhaps due to the animation of the player reappearing. On a sad note (for me, at least): the Translocator Beacon camera has been axed. Talking to Steve Polge revealed that function had been recently removed due to a bug. As a side benefit, quick-switching back to your previous weapon after translocation works flawlessly now.

Flags! ...and wheels!

After a pair of games on OmicronDawn, a Vehicle Capture the Flag level called Suspense was loaded. The focal point of this map is a super-colossal sized suspension bridge. Each of the support towers contains a large platform which is perfect for sniping or for firing off an AVRiL Longbow rocket at the vehicles below. If you like, you can even drop down below the bridge and take that route. It’s important to note that, like VCTF-Corruption that we previewed in January, there are “players-only” partial routes from flag to flag. You’ll have to play a little cat-and-mouse, but it’s entirely possible to capture the flag using only your hoverboard and your feet. At the ends of the bridge are large open areas and two small, semi-enclosed base structures, making it ideal, but not perfect, for hiding with the flag. Each side has an almost complete compliment of Axon vehicles, making for some nice tank battles across the bridge. One thing I noticed during Suspense was that your crosshair now turns from grey to red as it crosses the path of an enemy vehicle. It certainly makes it easy to pick out Raptors from a bright skybox, but it almost seems like an unnecessary aid. Most will be happy to know that the ShockRifle no longer has the extreme push back effect and it’ll take a fair few more hits to take down a vehicle with that weapon.

After a nice, long standoff in VCTF, we broke for lunch where we viewed an upcoming trailer intended to show off the singleplayer portion of Unreal Tournament 3. This was accomplished mainly through a few impressive snippets of the in-game cinematic. After this treat, Mark Rein bragged on the Epic Games China team a little bit, complimenting them for the great art assets that they’d produced for UT3, indicating that they may eventually take on a game of their own. Along the same lines, the majority acquisition of People Can Fly (best known for their Painkiller series) was mentioned and Mark Rein praised the work they did on a few of the Gears of War bonus levels and indicated that they too had a new IP in some phase of development.

Returning to the test room, we once again took our seats to check out VCTF-Sandstorm. This U-shaped level has a flag nestled inside one of a handful of semi-open multi-tiered structures. The base is at the bottom of a winding sandy terrace, broken up by low stone walls. At the top of the hill is a tunnel leading to the other team’s half of the map. You can take a very large slow-moving slanting elevator to the top of the wall that divides the map where you can pepper your opponent with fire from above. The hook in this map is that every few minutes a sandstorm erupts, greatly reducing visibility in the map, which just so happens to be a fantastic time to grapple onto a passing Fury and airdrop into the enemy base! I admit I was skeptical of this when I first learned of the sandstorm gimmick, but it actually works out quite nicely. This map also afforded everyone a good opportunity to check out the Necris vehicles since both sides were equally equipped.

We’ve detailed some of the other Necris vehicles in our last preview, so I’ll just stick to the new ones. The Scavenger is the ball-shaped Necris vehicle that can move about either with its spider-like legs or by retracting them and rolling about Metroid-style, crushing opponents in its wake. I found that in its compressed state the Scavenger offered great speed for towing a flag carrier, but it lacked the maneuverability of the Viper. Overall, it seemed difficult to control effectively and I think it will take some time to grow on me. The Fury flies about with its tendrils facing forward and a tap of the alt-fire gives you a tremendous boost. The compromise is that, like the DarkWalker, the plasma it shoots has a limited range. Fortunately, the plasma deals out fairly heavy damage when you do manage to close in on your target.

It's like Onslaught... but not.

The Warfare gametype has changed tremendously from the sprawling mega battle that we first envisioned to something of an Onslaught/Assault inspired jack-of-all-trades. In fact, each Warfare map we played or discussed had a slightly different angle or hook to its gameplay. We started off with Necris_Torlan which is one of a few implementations of the map you’ll see in the game. This one has been utterly ravaged by the Necris process and even the famous center tower is battle-worn. We played a Z-shaped node layout that should be familiar to most those familiar with the original, though the corner tank nodes and the road nodes (East and West sides of the map) are optional and not at all connected to the others in this implementation. You can still take those optional nodes and gain the riches and spawn points associated with each, but they will not give you a path to the enemy primary node. Each primary node is now partially encased in its own mini-base structure, complete with an Energy Turret that can move on an arc-shaped rail to avoid being a stationary target.

The LinkGun returns as the primary node-building tool, though you now need only stand close to a fellow LinkGun wielding team mate to enjoy the multiplied damage, effectively allowing all to fire at the target. At your core and select nodes an orb station becomes available to you. Only one orb per team exists, but it is a powerful item that can help turn the tide of a seemingly lost cause. With it, you need only touch a connected enemy node to seize it for your team. The catch is that you must stay close-by tethered to the node via a beam until it can be built completely. To re-take a node being held this way, you must kill the enemy orb-carrier. It’s pretty easy to keep tabs on incoming orb-carriers as you not only get an announcement, but you can see them on the mini-map in your HUD and via an energy beam emanating from the orb into the sky. As the orb-carrier, you’re basically target number one and you’re lit up like a Christmas tree. Good luck with that. Compared to Onslaught, this is the main difference between Warfare as it exists in this map. As I mentioned previously, each level seems to have its own hook and the next map was one such example.

The Necris Nightshade was present in this version of Torlan and I was able to hijack one of these to spend a few minutes mucking about with its various deployables: SpiderMines, EMP Mines, Slow Volume, and Shield. They are all entertaining in their own right, and I have no doubt that it’ll find a use when player counts are high. In this test, however, there were too many other things happening to really have time to drive this slow moving vehicle to an area to unleash its surprises and judge its effectiveness. I did manage to go into invisible mode and road kill a few enemy players, however!

After a switching sides and playing a second round in Torlan, we moved on to a second Warfare map, Islander. One base is surrounded by walls and bristles with defensive Rocket Turrets and Energy Turrets… but starts with no vehicles. The other base is fully stocked with heavy hitters like Goliath tanks and Paladins. Each has a single node with a core close by.

Other maps we discussed have one-time triggerable events such as an avalanche of snow, a flood of water, or a core damaging charge that can be triggered by completing certain objectives, while another featured twin drawbridges across which you must attempt to move your team’s tank. Only… to lower the drawbridges you have to stay in a fixed position at one end of the bridge. So you can see there are definitely Assault-like qualities to Warfare and that there are many possibilities with the gametype. It should be much easier to create interesting new twists with the introduction of Kismet, the visual scripting tool included with the Unreal Engine 3 editor.

Being slightly overwhelmed with the new elements of the gametype, the new HUD and icons, the announcements, and the sights and sounds, I can’t say that we got a real good feel for how well this gametype will play out on a server filled with Warfare-experienced players. The idea seems good, but I wonder even with all of the aids given you, if newcomers won’t also find it all a bit confusing and overwhelming.

An old classic

While a few others were watching an editor demonstration, Sir_Brizz and I enlisted the help of lead level designer Dave Ewing to fire up one last level – CTF-Coret. Obviously, this is a remake of CTF-CoretFacility from Unreal Tournament, but it has a visual style of its own. Parts of the exterior walls and roof are opened up with windows and skylights, revealing a detailed nighttime cityscape and there are other nice touches as well. But other than a bit of cleanup in the center part of the map and giving the rooms and corridors just a tiny bit more room, this one plays exactly like its classic counterpart.

We tried a slightly different approach with this level and it is something that I think that people who prefer co-op to human competition will be interested in. You can choose a mode that allows you to always force bots to a single team and you can specify the ratio of bots to human players so that as people enter or leave the game, bots can be added on the fly. If you prefer playing outnumbered, you can set up a match 2:1 so that you and say three other friends, are facing eight bots on the other team. Or you can keep it 1:1 and as they join up a new bot will enter the other team.

Damn these bots!

It’s no secret that the godlike UT2004 bots, despite their cheating ways, were by no means impossible to defeat, so we felt pretty comfortable when Dave chose Masterful bots to occupy the blue portion of the base. It didn’t take long to realize that we were mistaken. I was pretty impressed the first time I grabbed the flag and made the jump to the upper hall, only to find out a little too late that the bot defending the flag had teletrained down the hallway after me. I had to chuckle when I first realized that every time I entered the flag room, the defender seemed to be in a different spot. At first it was near the jump pad to the hallway, on the second trip it was the upper Shock Rifle level behind the flag, and on the last attempt I saw it closing in on me – once again a little too late - from the windowed wall to the right of the flag stand It seemed to be hiding from me. The bots also now track you with their head and weapon and will miss you more consistently with human aim. They are also pleasingly verbose – just as quick to let you know that “the orb carrier is approaching the objective” or other helpful information as they are to rip you with an insult. Steve Polge let us know that most of the advanced bot behavior is now contained within the code of the bots instead of relying so heavily on action spots, and that bot pathing should be much simpler. He even indicated that they were capable of dynamic pathing. I was definitely impressed with the advancement in AI and this, along with the co-op options for both the multiplayer maps and the singleplayer campaign, will go a long way towards making Unreal Tournament a viable offline option as well.

Duel and demo

One gametype we didn’t get to play was Duel, which essentially allows you to set up a queue of spectating players that take on the winner of the current deathmatch. Survival is the name of a mutator shipping with the game that might become popular in Dual. Survival eliminates the need for spectators having to wait for an entire game to elapse by switching out the fragged player with one from the queue while the winner remains. Expect some returning mutators such as Instagib and Big Head along with a few new ones.

The demo should be out any day and will include VCTF-Suspense and DM-ShangriLa (both mentioned above). It will also contain DM-HeatRay. We didn’t get to play this one, but we did watch a tester playing it on the PS3. The level is set in an urban environment, but at timed intervals a drop ship will deposit a DarkWalker on a suspended platform for the use of whoever can make it there first. The DarkWalker is actually the perfect vehicle for this kind of gimmick as its long tendril legs allow it to climb over low buildings, giving you a War of Worlds kind of feeling.

The retail release is getting close, people. There’s a real possibility that this may turn out to be the best Unreal Tournament yet. Download that demo and judge for yourself!

Thanks to Epic Games and Midway for making all of this possible!

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