ZappyAd, the coder and project lead of Conquest Marines, shares his views with us on the Make Something Unreal Contest.

What are your general opinions about the contest?
I think it's been a great way of improving the profile of UT. It seems to have injected a huge surge of enthusiasm into the UT mod scene which is presumably what the guys at Epic and NVIDIA wanted. Anything that incentivises and rewards mod makers must be a good thing. I think it's fair to say that ultimately it's only really another form of advertising - a company is paying money to try and convince people to use its product - but that doesn't make it bad. Getting mod teams to use your engine seems to be a pretty big thing for games companies these days so everyone is trying to come up with new ideas to make that happen. I wouldn't be surprised if there are more competitions like this in the future. It looks like there are going to be some pretty cool engines coming out over the next six months or so and the companies behind them are all going to be trying to get people to build mods on them. I'm really looking forward to checking them all out - if you're interested in modding then now is a great time to be involved.

Did you expect to see such quality mods in phase 1?
Yeah I did - after hanging round on the forums and keeping up to date with the news sites since the start of the year it was pretty obvious that there was some cool stuff being developed. I think there is definitely more to come, both from teams that entered phase one and those that decided to wait until a bit later on so they could put more polish into their product.

How do you think your mod will do?
The only people who can answer that are the judges - it's one of those situations where you can see plusses and minuses for every mod out there and ultimately it's going to come down to the opinions of the judging panel. CM is based around a style of game play that I personally enjoy playing so I'd obviously rate it pretty well. Equally I've enjoyed playing some of the other submissions and wouldn't be surprised if they did really well. At the end of the day the judges are going to decide on a set of winners and everyone is just going to have to live with it.

What other submission did you personally like?
There were a lot of cool things in most of the mods I looked at. After spending so much time concentrating on CM it's good to take a break and see what other people are doing with the engine. I quite enjoyed Nali Bricks for old times sake because it's based on Breakout which was one of the first home computer games I ever played.

How do you feel about the version you released for the MSUC?
I think it was pretty close to being as good as we could make it given the time and resources we had. I'm really impressed with what the team managed to put together from a standing start at the beginning of this year. We took some pretty big risks in what we decided to put into the release (especially the decision to include custom coded vehicles) and I think on the whole we were successful.

There are always things that you would like to improve and that you aren't happy with but there comes a point where you just have to step up to the plate and release what you have. You know there are going to be things in there that people are going to pick up on but that's mod development. You can keep working on stuff ad infinitum but it's only when you release something that your mod becomes 'real'.

If you could change one thing about the contest-version what would you change?
I'm going to have to say nothing - when you develop a mod there are a lot of tradeoffs you have to make. If you spend more time on one thing then you know that means you have to spend less time on something else. We worked out a strategy for getting the mod released in six months and I think we did pretty well. As a team we're all happy to stand by what we released because we know we worked as hard as we could on it. That's not to say that we're happy to leave things the way they are - we're working just as hard now to make things better for our next release.

How has the feedback been?
Excellent - we've had some really good feedback from enough people to confirm that we are on the right track. We've definitely come up with something that has a lot of potential - now the challenge is to make sure we can deliver on that in future releases. It's been interesting reading what people think about something that we've all put so much effort into creating. It can be tough when you read a comment that isn't so positive but it's only when you've actually put in the effort and released a mod that you realise how hard it is to get things right. It's also true that there is no way you can please all of the people - you just have to stay focussed on what it is you're trying to achieve.

What direction do you plan to take the mod in?
Our focus is now simply to make CM more popular and try to get more people playing it online. In terms of development we're going to spend the next couple of months adding to the number of weapons, inventory and vehicles available to players. We've also got a couple of new game types that we want to get in, as well as going back over what we've already done and trying to polish it up a level or two. The basic purpose is to expand the CM universe and give players more options when they play. The other important thing we want to achieve is building the community. Reading through some of the forum posts on people's thoughts about the mod contest there seem to be quite a few out there who haven't tried CM yet. We want to change that and get as many people playing CM as possible. We already have a lot of stuff in game that people aren't going to see in retail Unreal Tournament until UT2k4 comes out. If you want to play a new 'capture objective' based game type with vehicles on large outdoor maps then CM is ready and waiting for you !

What will you do if you win the contest? Will the mod go retail?
If we won then we wouldn't let that licence go to waste! It's a cool prize - getting a licence to the Unreal engine and being able to do what you want with it is pretty special. In a way it's a shame they can't give out more than one! In any case, that's such a long way off that we can't really even think about it yet - the first phase of judging hasn't even finished yet. We'll be taking things one phase at a time.

Are you planning on entering the latter phases? If so, what changes will you make for the next phase?
We're working towards our next contest entry at the moment. Like I said earlier that's going to include more weapons, inventory items and vehicles, plus some new game types, maps, and updated graphics and audio assets. We're watching the results from the first phase with interest - that's really the only way to tell if the judges like what we are doing. If they do then great, if not then it certainly won't stop us from continuing development, but we might give ourselves a little bit more flexibility in our development schedule. When we started work on CM the MSU contest hadn't been announced so it's not the reason that we are building this mod. It's been useful to hook into it as an incentive and a deadline, but most importantly the team wants to produce something that they are proud of and that they enjoy playing.

Anything else you want to add?
We're still looking for people to contribute to the development of the next release of CM - if anyone out there is interested then they should get in touch. (ed. note: you can find a contact address at their website) And if you haven't tried it yet, v1.1 of CM is available from the website. See you online!