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| The Greatest Game You've Never Played: Allegiance's R3 release. (18 comments )|
by: darrellwu (24) | Posted in cluster Editors Challenge Sponsored by Intel Round 2
Posted 75 months ago ( edited 75 months ago ) in category DEFAULT
Properly executing a stealth bomber run in the finest multiplayer game ever made is a complicated but rewarding experience. You warp into an enemy sector with your cloak on, weapons unloaded, and your shields deactivated to lower your sensor signature, then set up seven clicks from the enemy base. You choose a location an enemy scout is unlikely to stumble upon, and hide behind an asteroid. At this distance, you know it's safe to deactivate your cloak and let your batteries recharge as fellow pilots similarly make their furtive entry into the sector and also set up their ships at different cardinal directions from the base, in order to divide the defense. You know you will need anywhere between two to five stealth bombers to successfully execute a run, depending on the quality of their base. You're lucky and your team is well organized; not only do three more stealth bombers enter the sector, your commander arranges for a feint on a resource gathering operation in order to draw away defenders.
|» MEDIA (5)|
Scouts with nanite repair guns support a bomb run.
Defending a friendly miner from assaulting enemy interceptor
Allegiance's tactical view and many built-in voice commands.
Three scouts supporting a fully-manned flagship.
Saitek Cyborg EVO system software
Three sectors away, a group of your team's interceptors charges towards enemy miners, their roaring afterburners lighting up the starry sky and broadcasting their presence to all as the miners frantically relay distress signals. From his perspective at home base, your commander watches as enemy fighters scramble to defend their threatened miners. “Their figs are out, sbs go now!” he orders over the chat channel, as the lumbering bombers begin their slow progress toward the enemy base. At six clicks you reactivate cloak. At five clicks you are briefly worried to see a scout exit their base, but it quickly teleports to the repair the threatened miners. At three clicks you load your nuke from cargo onto your weapon rack. The large missile makes your sensor signature shoot up and a small red icon alerts you that you have been detected. They know you are coming now, you activate your shields and hope you can get a few nukes away before your fragile, ungainly ship is popped like a bug. Luckily their defenders were distracted by the timely feint from your allies. You are only two clicks away before fighters start streaming of the base and vector towards the approaching bombers.
Your targeting computer tells you that the nuke has a range of one kilometer, but you know your ship's forward momentum will give it additional reach, so you fire early, at 1.3 clicks. Around the sector, white rocket contrails streak toward their base as other stealth bombers unload their deadly cargo. The base is a shielded, sturdy structure though, and it will take more than four nukes to destroy it. Gears whir as your ship loads another nuke onto the missile rack. An enemy fighter is streaking toward you, intent on not giving you a second shot. An urgent beeping alerts you that a heatseeker has locked on to your ship, you dodge as best you can and madly deploy chaff. Bullets streak past your cockpit, but the nuke is now armed and well within range; you let it loose. More whirring - the missile rack is empty and needs to reload. You attempt to evade the fighter but your ship steers like an elephant and has the hull of an ant. He closes on your position and his triple gatling guns quickly tear through your thin shields and armor, forcing you to eject. That victory is short lived though: you watch from your escape pod as your second nuke impacts the base and it disintegrates in a shuddering explosion. You hear laughter and cheers over the team's chat channel. With satisfaction, you set a course for home, calling for pickup from any friendly ships that may be en route.
It might come as some as some surprise to you to learn that the finest multiplayer game ever made was released 7 years ago, was published and developed by Microsoft, and is currently available entirely for free. This is Allegiance, a sadly overlooked gem of a game that never succeeded in capturing the public consciousness despite garnering heaps of critical praise upon its release, including a “Best Game No One Played” award from Gamespot and a spot in FiringSquad's own all-time “Top 10 PC Games” list (http://www.firingsquad.com/games/top_10_2004/page2.asp). Eventually, Microsoft shut down the game servers and Allegiance seemed destined for obscurity. Today Allegiance is enjoying something of a renaissance however, thanks to the public release of the source code, generous server providers, and the continued balancing and development work from a dedicated fan base. A recent new release of Allegiance has made the game more accessible, grown the community, and looks to expose the game to gamers who may have missed this treasure the first time around.
Even with all the resources at its disposal, Microsoft was unable to successfully market the game, which undoubtedly has something to do with just how original it truly was. Even by modern standards Allegiance is a game that is startlingly innovative and at the time of its release it was truly without precedent. A mixture of multiplayer action, RTS, and Wing-Commander inspired space simulation genres, the experience of playing a game of Allegiance might best be described as like Homeworld – except every ship, turret, and repair craft is piloted by an actual self-motivated human being.
Needless to say, this creates significant twists on the gameplay experience, whether you are playing from a commander or a pilot's perspective. For the commander, playing Allegiance is an at times rapturous, at time maddening, but always unique experience. The replacement of unit AI with human pilots means that sometimes your units will behave with stunning prescience and responsiveness, assigning themselves objectives based on the state of the map or responding intelligently to broad directives you type into the chat window. On the other hand, sometimes your erstwhile squadron will behave with infuriating selfishness, pursuing meaningless dogfights with enemy pilots while leaving your resource gatherers undefended or obstinately refusing to pursue essential but less action-packed objectives. Even these frustrating situations are, in their own way, unique experiences, though: your pilots are always unmistakably and gloriously human. For a pilot, Allegiance replaces the arbitrary objectives and mission points of other multiplayer action games for a dynamic, ever-changing RTS battle map wherein your goals have a underlying logic and you can see tangible effects of achieving those goals: more resource gathering, more money for your commander, and ultimately ships higher on the tech tree for you.
Allegiance is a fast-paced multiplayer action game that nevertheless rewards intelligence and teamwork as much as much as twitch reflexes. Learning how to dogfight well is only a small - and possibly the least important – part of the game. Acquiring more cerebral skills such as optimal sensor probe placement, troop transport piloting, or effective miner harassment goes a long way towards helping your team win. It is also a game with incredibly immersive, even epic, moments. It's impossible not to feel a great swell of pride as you watch your team launch a mighty assault frigate, crewed by four and surrounded by support ships to repair it and interdict rushing enemy fighters with proximity mines.
Keeping it all under control
As you might imagine, a game with so much happening at once can be difficult to control. Allegiance can by piloted by mouse, but a simple keyboard-and-scroll-mouse setup will probably feel woefully inadequate as your fingers fly all over the desk targeting specific ships, sending and acknowledging voice commands, all while modifying your weapon loadout in order to responding to a changing tactical situation. A mouse with more than three buttons, such as Logitech's MX500 series, goes a long way towards making the game more easier to play and less frustrating. Eventually, however, I bought a Saitek Cyborg Wireless Evo joystick (a wireless version of the joystick reviewed by FiringSquad here:http://www.firingsquad.com/hardware/saitek_cyborg_evo_review/). Reasonably priced and with a plethora of available buttons, all customizable through installed software, the Saitek Cyborg Evo is an excellent controller for use with any complex action game. Between the many trigger buttons, an 8-way hat switch, a built-in throttle, and two different shift buttons which effectively triples your available keypresses, you can map just about any keypress or sequence of keypesses imaginable into the Saitek software and never take your hands off the stick and throttle while in-game. From the screenshot of my control setup, you can see that I've mapped all the primary movement and weapon controls, as well as frequently used targeting and voice chat commands, to my joystick. There are more voice chat and targeting commands hidden behind the shift functions of the stick.
The Wireless version of the Cyborg Evo is powered by a single double-A battery that seems to last long enough for one month of reasonably frequent play, and connects to your computer via a USB wireless receiver. In a nice design touch, the Cyborg Evo offers simple tool-free reconfiguration so that you can modify it to fit the size of your hand or switch it from right to left-handed. Though I usually consider wireless peripherals to be something of a gimmick, I find myself appreciating the wireless aspect of my joystick far more than I thought I would. A joystick takes up substantial desk real estate so the ability to easily stow the joystick underneath the desk or on top of bookshelf or monitor is more useful in this case than it might be for other peripherals. At around $50 retail, it's a great value for playing any game that demands a lot of different commands at your fingertips. The joystick is not without fault, however. Like many more budget-priced joysticks, the Cyborg Evo's base isn't quite sturdy enough and can topple over if you aren't careful. This defect is easily remedied if you jury-rig something to affix the joystick to your desk, but that would defeat the convenience of having a wireless peripheral. Numerous users of the Cyborg Evo also report issues with the joysticks “dead zone” when its centered. There have been some users who complain of their controller creeping their craft in one direction even when the joystick is at rest, other users, including myself, find that the dead zone is too large and requires too much movement of the stick to even nudge their craft. Luckily, Saitek has released a utility that lets you tweak the deadzone yourself, and this seems to fix most problems.
The Rennaissance: Allegiance R3
With such a captivating and original gameplay experience, one might wonder why Allegiance never became the phenomenon it richly deserves to be. The complexity and intimidating learning curve of the game certainly may have played a part. Allegiance was also released before Valve's retail release of Counterstrike firmly established the revenue model for multiplayer games – provide free servers and sell the box. Instead, Microsoft made a key misstep in selling Allegiance with only partial free online play.
Allegiance's failure in the market may ultimately be to the benefit of gamers, however. After Microsoft shut down the official servers, they released the source code to the game, which is now available for free. It is to the game's credit that it inspired a small but passionate and devoted following that programmed their own server lobby and login system, complete with moderation tools. Development work on the game also continued, as bugs were fixed, units rebalanced, and even new factions were released. Unfortunately, the game's network code was very problematic with routers and network hubs, which meant that Allegiance was unplayable by many college students on school networks – a substantial hurdle, given the demographics of multiplayer gamers. The Allegiance community's recent “R3” release, however, fixed this issue and the number of Allegiance players has been growing steadily ever since.
The game may also be easier to learn now than even during its commercial release. Community-run “Cadet” and “Allegiance Command School” programs provide new players with resources and mentoring as they learn the game. Additionally, the nature of the gaming community for a game this old means that the ratio of savvy veterans to clueless new players on any server is very high, and new players won't waste any time on aimless, confusing games where no one knows what is happening.
Allegiance is exciting, fun, deep, free, and now its technical issues have all been fixed. There's never been a better time to explore this stunning slice of video game history and admire how truly forward-looking its design was. Even compared to recent attempts at RTS-action hybrids, such as S2's Savage, Allegiance matches up well thanks to ingenious design decisions that encourage coordinated play and cooperation over uber-skilled players going it alone. It is, in fact, the finest multiplayer game ever made and quite possibly the greatest game you've never played. You owe it to yourself to try it.
- training videos (work in progress), by Lawson
|18 User Comment(s) • 10 root comment(s)|
| xts (27) Apr 03, 2007 - 02:24 pm|
|» Allegiance .... is nothing compared to Freespace 2|
There are many reasons why allegiance failed but one of them is the inherent complexity and also inherent nerdyness of space games.
Freespace 1 and 2 are probably the best space games ever made in existence, the rest don't understand the action oriented gameplay mechanics necessary for a space game.
Things like Navigation and trade are boring as hell in most space games. You need to find activities that are actually fun for the end user and implement them.
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| TDThompson (1) Mar 24, 2007 - 09:04 am|
|» Good review, and good luck!|
"Lawson" here. Thanks for pointing out my Google Videos in your review! I hope Allegiance gets more attention. It's got tons of potential.
I 100% agree with the bad treatment of newbies causing rifts. Compared to most online games, the interaction level in Allegiance is substantially higher; you have many opportunities to get into personal spats if you're taking it too seriously.
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| LtWarhound (2) Mar 21, 2007 - 06:59 pm|
|On further reflection, let me add this.|
The community as a whole is pretty good. The admins, the mods, the people putting in endless hours and real cash, those people are great. @Alleg tags are the people to ask for help, btw, you'll get it.
Its the vets with atti tude that are the problem. My negative encounters happened back in Sept of 2005. Scanning their forums today, I see the same sorts of complaints that were posted back then, 'n00bs' vs vets. Doesn't take too many harsh encounters before a new player decides climbing the steep learning curve + dealing with hostile vets isn't for him, and off he goes. Shame. The game really rocks.
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| LtWarhound (2) Mar 21, 2007 - 04:43 pm | Edited on Mar 21, 2007 - 04:45 pm|
|I was in the beta, and played the retail for a bit. I very fondly remember doing just that sort of stealth bomber attack. I also did a bit with the free version, prior to R3.|
This game honestly deserves all the praise its gotten, and then some, no game before or since has matched it.
However, it really does depend on the community. Sadly, it takes a lot of good players to make a good game, on both sides (or all sides, since you can have 2,3 or 4 teams). And as you might expect if you have any public server team gaming experience, just one player can screw it up badly, and even easier if he's the commander. If you've played Savage, or Natural Selection with a bad marine commander, you know what I mean.
When I first heard of the free version, several years after the retail died, I was excited to get back into it. Read all the docs they had, set my ingame callsign with the 'newbie' tag on it, just like they requested, then waited to get into a game. And waited. And waited. Most of the l33t commanders didn't like 'n00bs' in most of the games, it seemed, and limited the number they allowed on 'their' team (we are bad for their rating, you see). Finally got on a team. After waiting the better part of the hour for the game to start, thanks to the 'vets' stacking the teams then arguing about how to balance out the vets and the 'n00bs', I spent just 5 minutes in the fight before being booted and banned.
Why? 3 way game, the commander set up a deal in private with one of the other teams, and I was attacking an 'ally' resource harvester when he did this. In the heat of the fight, I didn't see him yell at me to stop, so, boot, banned, and that was it for me. Wasn't going to hang around for another few hours, in the hopes of getting into another game, only to risk another commander boot.
Great game, so-so community. Very steep learning curve (or relearning curve in my case) and elitist attitudes in abundance. Well, hopefully they have realized they can sustain the game without new blood, and done something to curb those attitudes.
"Atti tudes", how very odd, this software won't let you use that word, or at least won't display it.
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