For the Love of a Game – Modding UT4

Posted on August 20, 2018 by the_hack

 

I’m not your traditional salty gamer, I’m more of a creative humanist type person, so I find it strange that I love a game. It took me a while to come to terms with this, as I’m not even a gamer per se (I don’t play many of them). Yet there it is, UT has been quietly eating my soul.

I played Unreal Tournament offline for fifteen years, since I discovered it on my girlfriend’s computer back in the day. My previous exposure to the genre was limited to Quake (1) and Duke Nukem, two games I enjoyed exploring at my own slow pace, basking in the digital worlds created by unnamed creative geniuses. I bought 2004 and ut3 and enjoyed them in the same way, purely offline. In the back of my mind, I thought I might like to make levels for these games one day, but I was far from ready to dedicate to a path (while those around me were already half way down theirs).

Mapping

Fast forward to 2014, I had been working as a freelance web designer for a few years, and heard about the new Unreal Tournament and community development. Somehow I still didn’t realize it was an opportunity for me. It wasn’t until after a year of playing the new game online, that I decided to install the editor and try my hand at a level. I wanted to get experimental and create something new, different, novel. And I sure did – my early efforts were full of ridiculous and fun tricks.

Over time though I came to learn about balancing a level and creating enjoyable situations. I created maps for competitive 2v2 and duel, as well as good old DM. I thought about and discussed item placement and flow at length with experienced players. I iterated the crap out of my levels and incessantly demanded playtesting from our small au community. Without watching people play the levels via replays, it would have been harder to learn what works.

Modding

Fast forward again to 2018, and I’ve created a few levels I’m very happy with (Lathe, Hack01, Grotto, Dying Sun), and moved into modding. The reason is similar, I want to introduce new concepts to the community and push UT in the direction I believe will create the most fun. With little exposure to code, let alone blueprints, it’s been hard going and there have been many questions to the generous folk in the UT/Modding discord server. I have been able to string together a few experiments that are ready for prime time, notably Fluidity: a movement experiment, and the Airgun: a new starting weapon.

A note on the UT project: The original concept for the new Unreal Tournament was that the game would be developed hand in hand with the community. It actually went sideways for a few reasons: the community all love different iterations of UT, all of which are quite different, and wanted the same game; players had biased investments in mechanics and game modes that they were already quite good at; changes in versions were understood as future direction, not just an iteration for play testing, and people riled, and left. They wanted a game, not a project. However, until the success of Fortnite demanded the team jump project, it was humming along nicely, and there’s no reason to think it won’t again when the time is right.

In the meantime, community development is still humming along and these mods I’m working on are my contribution – experiments and suggestions for play testing.

I’m interested in changing the experience for players coming from outside UT:

Unreal Tournaments default movement is uniquely linear among modern arena first person shooters (AFPSs).  There is no momentum passed between movements. T he new Unreal Tournament changed this slightly, allowing the faster dodging speed to be continued into walrus and slides, which is extremely welcome as it means there is room to move faster as you learn the game, but this still requires quite a lot of time to get into.

Fluidity

Unfortunately, it takes too long to master these movements. It’s my belief that while games should have high skill ceilings, these should be more in the meta and less in the raw mechanical. Fluidity offers another way to obtain momentum, one that players are likely already familiar with – the auto jump. It’s a simple concept: after a dodge, players hold jump to automatically jump when landing, and to maintain most of the lateral momentum from the dodge. Autojump is present in many AFPS games, notably including Quake Champions, UTs main competitor going forward. However Fluidity maintains the integrity and uniqueness of UT, as it relies on the dodge mechanic to instigate.

Dodge was originally a combat mechanic but was adopted, over time, for map traversal. While wall dodges were not possible in the original title, the 2004 and 2007 iterations of UT allowed it. UT4 embraces the concept at another level, allowing single button dodging and one tap wall dodging. It’s a key part of the game. Fluidity continues and extends this.

 


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