UK Lithium League UKLL: Cows’ Column

UK Lithium League UKLL: Cows’ Column

cowscolumn

19th March 2000
Making The Switch.

As I said in a previous column, when I started playing online, Quake2 hadnt been released. The name of the game was QuakeWorld. And when id software released Quake2, I didnt particularly like it heres why..

In Q2, the weapons were all too balanced. Any good player could get a frag with pretty much any weapon. I didnt like this because there didnt seem much point going for the legendary Rocket Launcher if someone could kill me with a Super Shotgun or a Chaingun. Remember, in QW times, the ONLY weapon to have was the Rocket Launcher. Maybe youd use the shaft to finish them off, but RL was king. Your basic FFA strategy would be something like this: get the RL without being blown to bits, and then find yourself a nice position to blow others to bits, who in turn were trying to get to the RL without being blown to bits in order to find a nice little position to blow to bits people trying to get a RL etc 

To play Q2 meant adopting a different combat sense, only in very limited circumstances could you use the old RL scrap technique to rack up frags. The RL area on Tokays Towers (q2dm2) is one of those 

Anyway, after adapting to the style of play, I found myself enjoying the fact that you could get an instant advantage over your opponent simply by having the right weapon drawn. Basically Q2 was a more cerebral experience than QW, which was more thrills n spills, fly by the seat of yer pants stuff.

This doesnt mean Q2 lacked action, but it was action that rewarded clinical, thoughtful combat, as opposed to QW, which tended to reward more aggressive combat.

And then there were the increased system requirements. Q2 ran like a turkey on my system. All that pointless eye-candy decimated my frame rate.

Did you know that GLQuake is frame rate capped at 80fps? This fact wasnt apparent to me when I played it regularly, since my system couldnt even manage 30fps. However, I go back to GLQuake now, with my 250fps P3/GeForce system, and the visible jerkiness when maxed out is not a pleasurable experience.

Q2, on the other hand, which I hated at first because it required more power than my system was able to provide, NOW it looks nice and plays superbly.

So whats the point of all this? Well, Ive recently been making the switch over to Q3A, and Im finding myself complaining about the same things I complained about when switching from QW to Q2. The weapons are even more balanced than ever before. Theyve got rid of the kind of pointless-in-multiplayer weapons that were only ever there because of single player requirements eg. Shotgun, Blaster and Machine Gun. In Q3A you start with a Machine Gun, and its powerful enough to get a kill in a couple of seconds of accurate fire on a 100d opponent.

And, used properly, EVERY weapon is effective under the right circumstances. The annoying idiosyncrasies of weapons in Q2 have been removed.. such as spin-up/down time on chain/hyperblaster. And youre left with a set of very powerful weapons that make the game a race to rack up frags quickly, as opposed to a game where you attempt to stay alive as long as possible, the range of weapons you collect during this time increasing your ability to get frags.

In Q3A, getting fragged doesnt reduce your ability to continue racking up frags to the extent it did in Q2. Simply grab a weapon and start again.

In other words, its the mad action of QW, with the weapon balance of Q2, only the weapons are a lot more evenly balanced. In QW, you were close to your opponents, in Q2 you were generally further away from them Q3A reintroduces the excitement of close combat without cramming players into tiny levels. Not as easy a design feat as you might imagine.

And again, I found my hardware was not up to the job of running Q3A as fast as Id like. But in 2 years time, when PC power will be cheap enough to give everyone a good game at insane frame rates, Ive no doubt Ill be looking back at Q2 and seeing its visual shortcomings.

I think id software have achieved what they set out to do… create a very fast, slick ultimate deathmatch game. Simple, intense combat action. In fact Im surprised more of the Lithium crowd arent interested, because it provides similar intensity levels to Lithium. I can think of two reasons it isnt more popular with the Lithium people: 1. It requires a lot of juice. 2. It really sucks on modem.

Thisll change. Itll always need a lot of juice, itll always suck on modem, but within the games lifetime well all have broadband connections and p1000 or faster PCs. Then youll see Q3A shine.

After 2 years of Q2 Ive had pretty much enough of it. I like to jump on a Q2 server every now and then, in the same way that I like to pick up my bass and play it for a few minutes once in a while. It probably wont be for any other reason than simple nostalgia. Ive no doubt therell be hardcore Q2ers who stick with Q2 for ever, just like there are die-hard QWers and even hardcore DooMers out there. But Im not one of those, and eventually, when Q3A is replaced by its natural successor, Im sure Ill be trying to adapt to that game too.

24th February 2000
Evel Kneivel, Trick Jumps and Choppers.

Some of you older people will remember Evel Kneivel. Evel Kneivel was basically this 70’s stuntman who used to ride motorbikes and other vehicles. He’d do these amazing stunts, and to kids of my age, was basically the coolest person to walk the face of the planet.

He wore a white jumpsuits, kinda like Vegas-period Elvis, but without so many cheeseburgers. As far as I’m aware, unlike Elvis, Evel didn’t die. Not because of any of his incredible stunts, and certainly not on the toilet wearing a huge nappy.

Kids of the 70’s used to entertain themselves by ‘being’ Evel Kneivel. You’d rest a wooden board up against a couple of bricks, and tear towards it on your Grifter or Raleigh Chopper (don’t ask). For a few split seconds you WERE Evel Kneivel. So what if it wasn’t 20 double decker buses or the Grand Canyon? Everyone gotta start somewhere…

Some things you grow out of, some things you don’t… one thing I never grew out of was wanting to be Evel Knievel. I don’t think i’ll ever get tired of turbo-running along the top rocket corridor on q2dm1, and flying over to the rocket packs on the far side of the garden. For that brief moment, a childhood fantasy is being re-lived.

For a lot of Lithium players, strafe-jumping and turbo-running is not high on their list of priorities. Firstly, the grapple can carry you quicker than running, and secondly… Lithium air control is b0rked.

As it comes out of the install, you cannot strafe-jump in Lithium, you can hardly double-jump in Lithium. There is a command to alter this, but since public Lithium servers for the most part are run by ISP’s, you can be pretty certain it’s been set up by someone who only plays Q2 on a casual basis, who probably doesn’t know or care about the finer points of air control. If they can’t be trusted to set realistic frag/time limits what hope have we got the rest of it?

What all this means, is that a significant portion of UK Lithium players are being denied the ability to develop a significant set of skills. I’m not particularly talking about ‘trick jumps’, I’m talking about very basic things like being able to run down a corridor quicker than someone else, like being able to make a long distance jump without giving your position away with a red laser beam grapple.

Luckily things are looking up. The OSP Tourney mod has always given you ‘normal’ dm air control, and the new UKLL FFA server also has ‘normal’ air control (and once I can connect at a ping of under 150 it’ll be even better). Unlike JOLT and Fury, Clara Lithium (before they got rid of it) DID have normal air control, which is why I liked it.. but some brain at Clara decided what the world really needed was a Lithium server with NO frag limit, and 30 minute time limit on each map. Meaning nobody played it. Which was cool in a way cos it meant I could practice my jumps on an empty server. :)

All these ‘trick jumps’ and things may not be called upon in your game very often, but by practicing them, you’ll be increasing your dexterity and ‘feel’ for you player movement. Think of em as calisthenics.

Slap yourself on the back for pulling off any of the following:

q2dm4 – jump from the top of the steps near the railgun corridor, over to the hyperblaster
q2dm2 – without touching the lift, jump out of the quad water, onto the ledge ABOVE the quad water (by the lift top)
q2dm1 – from chaingun entrance to MH room, get the MH and exit back through the same door without touching the floor in the MH room
q2dm3 – jump from ssg to the entrance to the lower rocket room
q2dm5 – jump from top grenade launcher, through the window by the shards.. (yes.. those over there!) q2dm6 – jump from grenade launcher to railgun without touching the rotating pipe
q2dm6 – then do it again in a different way

Try ’em!! Have fun… and you too can be Evel Kneivel…

14th February 2000
A bit of a Computerated Cowsography…

I’m 28, soon to be 29. Which puts me at the older end of the Quake2 player age bracket. Unlike a lot of players, I didn’t get a REAL PC till I was 26. PC’s were not everyday objects when i was a kid… and this ain’t a sob-story, but a PC as we know them today was basically out of our family’s spending ability (This was in the days when puters were not exactly ESSENTIAL family items). Luckily I managed to get my hands on ’em more than most kids cos my Dad was (and still is) a teacher. He used to bring the school’s computers home during the summer holidays, cos it was safer than risking them getting nicked. I remember, at age 9-10, my dad bringing home a Research Machines 480-Z. A huge noisy black metal box with a monochrome green monitor. It used 5 1/4″ floppy disks to run programs that drew patterns and did maths. You could also get it to print the words ‘You Smell” across the screen. This huge thing lived in my bedroom for 5 weeks one summer in the early 80’s. One summer it was a BBC Micro. One summer it was a ZX-Spectrum (w00p! Jackpot!).

Despite not having any cash, in 1981 my Dad bought us a ZX81. For those of you who don’t know, the ZX81 had 1k of RAM. Upgradable to 16k by the addition of a ‘RAM-PAK’. A black plastic box that plugged into the back of the computer. Whenever I curse Windows for crashing, I really ought to think back to the days when I would spend 5 hours typing ZX81 basic, copied from the pages of computer magazines, only to sneeze on the RAM-PAK and have it crash out on me. Windows 98 is paradise by comparison.

When I was 16 (1987). My parents bought me a ZX-Spectrum +2 128k for managing to survive my ‘O’ Levels. I loved that computer, and I still have it somewhere. While all my mates were getting Amigas and Atari ST’s, I was still on my Spectrum. I kinda lost interest in computers, but somehow our paths kept crossing:

1988 – Went to Hatfield Polytechnic, supposedly to study maths.. only lasted a year, but this gave me my first taste of Apple Macs (Mac SE and Mac Plus), and my first taste of Email….. mmmmm.

1992 – Started at Salford Uni, doing Popular Music and Recording (BA) w00p!.. they had Mac LCii’s running Cubase. Came home one winter to find my Dad had ‘borrowed’ a school PC, running Windows 3.1… “hmmm” thinks I… “not half as good as Mac OS”. Spend all Xmas playing Lemmings.

1994 – Graduate – buy an original Mac off a pal for 40 quid. It’s 10 years old. I can write music on it. I can hook it up to my DX7 and MT32. I love it. It promptly explodes.

1995 – Buy another old Mac.. this time a Mac Plus. I’ve still got it. It came with a huge 40mb disk drive. My Dad gets given an Amstrad 1512. Running DOS. My mate Paul has a Playstation. He has DooM for the Playstation. /me sees something he likes.. very much :)

1996 – My Dad buys a 486 off my Brother-in-law who gets rid of it because “the cup holder keeps sliding shut”. It’s a Packard Bell 486 dx-66. (shudder) Dad gives me the Amstrad 1512. w00p!

Early 1997 – I jack my job in to become a dolie. Join a band with a guy who’s a computer manager for an NHS hospital. He’s well into PC’s. He’s on the internet. I am fascinated. An insane desire to get my own Win95 PC takes a grip on me. I even consider risking getting a job to pay for one. During my time on the dole, I spend 6-7 hours a day upstairs at my Mum’s house, on the PC, playing DooM shareware and Quake (on a 486 dx-66!!) and getting my head round elementary html.

Mid 1997 – Desperate situations call for desperate measures. I get a job, to buy myself a PC.

Late 1997 – My bandmate Mark sells me a P75, 16meg ram, 14″ monitor, 2 gigs HD, for 400 quid. A bargain at the time. w00p!!!!!!!! I get on the internet. Play Quake and DooM offline.

Early 1998 – Upgrade to p166 mmx. Discover you can play Quake on the internet. The Quake on my machine is basically unrecognizable compared to the one I see today. 320×240. Software mode. Pings of 250+. Frame rate of less than 10. Horrible. Wonderful. Addictive. Staying up till 6am on worknights. Unable to disconnect. My first few months playing Quake were the most incredible, unforgettable experience I’ve had on the net. I was rubbish. I played with a keyboard. My computer was crap, my connection was crap. Immersed in a whole new world, I fell in love with it.

To get a decent game, my mate Paul (the same one who discovered DooM on the Playstation with me) moved his PC into my house. Over Summer 1998 we played 1v1 NetQuake over and over again, DM2, DM4 and DM6. This when I realised I could probably be good at this if I practiced.

August 1998 – Bought a Voodoo2. That’s when I found out that frame rate matters. Suddenly Q2 was not totally unplayable. I played it more and more.

October 1998 – Got Home Highway. That’s when I found out that ping matters. Only after you sort out your frame rate and ping, can you really get down to the important bit: getting yer skillz :)

Since then, it’s been practice, upgrade, practice, upgrade. I’ve always tried to keep a sense of humour about my abilities, and always tried to play the game for fun. I’ve got a little bit of an ego (don’t we all) but I don’t mind losing to a better player as long as they don’t try and gloat about it.

At the end of the day, every time I play the game, I’m still in awe of how far PC entertainment has come since the evenings I used to get my amusement from typing:

10 PRINT “YOU SMELL”
20 GOTO 10

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