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Map Atmosphere

Map Atmosphere UT and UT2003 (by EntropicLqd)

It must be said that one of the greatest achievements of UT was the diversity and quality of the maps that shipped with the game. Even though the maps within UT were constrained by a harsh polygon limit each one managed to create its own unique atmosphere and feeling.

Unfortunately UT2003 managed to lose this somewhere along the way. Much criticism has been heaped on the maps that shipped with the game. Indeed as I consider the maps that shipped with UT2003 I can only think of a few that have the same quality of atmosphere as the maps for UT.

What follows is a summary of what I believe went wrong. Bear in mind that I'm writing from a position where I don't actually like the UT2003 game that much. It doesn't mean I'm wrong – just slightly biased.

The Music

Why is music important to a level? It provides a backdrop to the theme of the level. A slow piece in a minor key gives a level a melancholy and mournful backdrop. Upbeat music can provide a level with a feeling of pace and life, even when the level in reality lacks it.

The music in UT was excellent. Whenever I get a game I go through an exercise of listening to the music without playing the game. The music in UT is not only quite diverse but also worth listening to. I occasionally still listen to the music from Phobos or Tempest (to name two of my favourites). They are excellent pieces. I even still play UT with the music every now and then – high acclaim indeed given the number of hours of UT I have put in since its release.

The music from UT2003 is bland. I forced myself to sit through every piece once. I have no intention of doing it again. It was an exercise in patience and self-torture.


Foxpaw: I'd wholeheartedly agree about the music. The music in UT was mostly very actiony and intense. The music in UT2003 is, with a few exceptions, quite unobtrusive and ambient. The music in UT often also created an illusion of a more dynamic environment. UT8, with it's piston sliding sound, made a factory constructed from static BSP feel like the equipment was running. Superfist just sounds so fast, it's responsible for most of the wear on my car's back tires. :P

The Themes

The maps in UT were quite diverse. It felt like you were playing in many different places from many different times. Even given the limitations of the engine at the time each map manages to stand out from the others. The maps are distinguishable from each other and clearly separate.

This is not the case in UT2003. The maps seem to have blended together into some sort of techno mulch. The maps don't really manage to stand apart from each other. There are some exceptions to this though. Asbestos, Magma, and Maul have very definite themes and to my mind stand out from the rather bland crowd they find themselves in. Now that I think on it those maps also play very well.


Foxpaw: I also think that the locales were better in UT. UT felt like you were fighting in a factory/church/run-down apartment building/whatever while most UT2003 levels have the feel of playing in a proper arena. It's like military simulation paintball versus tournament paintball. In UT you were fighting a pitched battle in an Aztec ruin, in UT2003 you're just hiding behind a high-detail inflatable cone that looks like a pyramid over ashphalt painted to look like sand.

EntropicLqd: I've often wondered if there comes a point where the more detail that is added actually detracts from the perceived "reality" of a level. My theory goes like this: The closer detail becomes to real-life the more obvious the shortcomings become thus reducing the amount of immersion.. Essentially the brain stops subconciously filling in the gaps and starts pointing them out.

Zxanphorian: Yeah, i totally 100% agree on your theory ent, because, look at DM-Conveyor and CTF-Gauntlet, for example. They look more like factories and industrial areas than any industrial map in UT2003 can be like. I believe that more gamers would gravitate to a warish, military-like games (like i do) than sports-theme games. If you want sports, get a sports game. Games that combine sports with war-like situations are a no. ... I felt that there was a "life" in UT, and UT2003 seems lifeless; there isn't any soul in UT2003.

RDGDanClark: I'm not so sure, some of the most popular maps are based around themes that aren't war related. Even in UT1 we had great maps based on hockey, football and soccer. Maps like CTF-Bedrooms (in it's many incarnations) aren't really warlike situations. On the other hand, trying to turn a war-style game into a sports game (i.e. Bombing Run) doesn't do much for me. Trying to turn UT into Madden is a bad idea.

Foxpaw: Well, we'll just call that Urban Warfare. :P Seriously though, I think that most UT2003 maps feel like an arena dressed up as a real environment, rather than a real combat environment. Good for gameplay maybe, but I think the atmosphere is just as important.

EntropicLqd: I'm not convinced there is anything inherently wrong with Boming Run as a gametype. At the end of the day you still need to kill off the opposing team if you want to stand a chance of winning. If you take out the whole "commentator/sports" concept behind UT2003 and keep the idea of Bombing Run it suddenly becomes more palatable. I do wonder if they simply tried to hard when putting the maps together - that is - started with an idea for map flow and then build the environment around it rather than put the environment together and fit the map flow within it.

Map Flow

Having started writing this piece I realise that the biggest factor in the "blandness" of the UT2003 maps over the UT maps is the map flow. As a general rule the maps in UT really worked. They played as great as they looked. Sure there are some generally accepted balance issues on a couple of the maps but even so the maps played well. The same cannot be said for the UT2003 maps – even though they all look gorgeous.

I think the following things contribute to this.

  1. The new scaling of the player size means that the players look out of place within the maps. They players just look too small for the environments they find themselves in.
  2. The new jumping moves change the way the game is played significantly. In UT you could dodge across the map to cross the map in an extra second or so. In UT2003 you have to dodge-jump everywhere just to keep up. There is a map whose name I'll remember in a minute (CTF-Core I think) where you feel like you want to dodge jump down a set of steps. It's something you can't do without hitting the ceiling. This just breaks the map flow for me every time I do it.
  3. The move to static meshes changed the way maps were built. The change is very profound and I suspect the re-use of the static meshes across all of the maps has more to do with the bland "didn't I just play this map" feel of them than most other things.

To back up that last point - DE's Grendel Keep is an excellent level. It flows well and has great atmosphere. It's also very "clean" in terms of detail. There is a definate lack of meshes to get caught on, and the majority of meshes that are used are used for decorative purposes - in much the same way as semi-solids were used in UT.




Zxanphorian:Also, another way I felt more immersed in UT is characters. The first time i played against the Skaarj Hybrids in UT, I was admittenly scared of them, and my hand, grabbing the mouse, jumped away from the computer desk. That didn't happen in UT2003. At all. Also, the boss in UT is and always will be more scarier than Malcolm in UT2003.

EntropicLqd: I'm sure the problem with the characters in UT2003 is purely one of size rather than there being anything really wrong with them. It's hard for me to pin down really as I find the character scaling so irritating. I think the reason Xan is more scary then Malcolm is down to the choice of level. Playing UT2003's Malcolm on UT's hyperblast would have been hardwork.

Zxanphorian: You may say that because the UT2003 characters have too many gadgets on them. In UT, they were cut and dry to the point.

EntropicLqd: Nope. I've just finished re-testing my statement. If I set the xGame.xPawn DrawScale to 1.25 then I find the game much more playable. The characters seem to fit better into the environments. I don't know what the actual difference is in height between UT and UT2003 - I just wanted something that looked right.

WheatPuppet: I agree with the character design thing. In UT the most "out-there" models (at least the ones that came boxed with the game) were the Necroth ones. In UT2003 a lot of the models–esp. Mr. Crow and family–have this S&M quality that I find very hard to take seriously. I'm not looking for high art in gameplay models–it's UT, after all–but I think they could've done better than that.


Tarquin: If you write in MS Word please turn off "smart quotes" – the source here is full of ugly ’

EntropicLqd: Sorry - I forgot about the apostrophes :(. I normally write in notepad. That should be better.

Zxanphorian: AHHHHHH PAGE OVERRUN!!! Jk :) Thanks Entropic! This gave me an idea of a page that has wikiers write about a certain concept about gameplay, like map atmosphere. In those pages there should be a main body that all people edit and a debate section, that is self-explanitory. Nice job entropic for writing this piece. But, this piece needs more info and examples. (may i edit the body?)

EntropicLqd: Feel free to hack and slash the body of the document around all you like.

Zxanphorian: Admin, please delete that subpage of Zxanphorian, please

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