Summary: Best multiplayer game ever. Best first-person shooter ever. First game to break Jakub's addiction to Battlefield 1942. And this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it's absolutely free. How much do we love Enemy Territory? Probably more than the devs themselves. Oh, and speaking of which, we've got a beefy interview with them about the game. How's that for sexy? Yeah, you like it when she calls you daddy.
You might think free is the best thing in the world. But really, when people offer you things for free, do you really want them? Like the time when Homer picked up the trampoline from Krusty, who got the better end of the deal? Didn’t uncle Jack come out on parole once for six days before being arrested again, but managed to tell you to never take your buddy’s advice and give the ‘free sample’ a quick shot in the arm? In fact, wasn’t that whole communism idea based on ‘free’? From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Basically, if you can do something, you bust your ass off doing it for free, so the bum around the corner who won’t do anything, gets as much as he needs for free. Let’s face it, free sucks. I present to you the last of my evidence: fat-free and sugar-free (more like flavor-free.)
Mods aren’t free – you pay for the game in the first place. So Enemy Territory – which is a free stand-alone expansion pack (read: free game), by all rights should suck on a Romero-ian scale. So why are my Battlefield 1942 discs scattered around the room, collecting dust whenever I’m not stepping on them?
Enemy Territory’s feature list seems a little on the short side when you read it. That there are six maps seems to be a huge knock against the game, until you play them. The maps are huge, have a lot of detail and multiple stages. A tank must be escorted and fixed along the way to a fuel depot. It and its companions will face artillery barrages and airstrikes called by the enemy team. Panzerfausts will knock the tank out of action while MG42 wielding soldiers cut down any engineers trying to repair the tank. An Allied covert ops agent breaks the stalemate at the chokepoint by stealing the uniform off a dead Kraut and wreaking havoc behind enemy lines. With the machine gunner, panzerfausts and artillery out of action, the tank can move up to the next choke, and so on.
Similarly, the idea of putting classes into a first-person shooter doesn’t seem that impressive – the concept is at least half a decade old. The trick to balancing classes is not to make them equally capable, but equally desirable. In a straight-out firefight a medic is no more and no less powerful than a soldier, covert ops agent or engineer. They can all use the Thompson or MP40 without penalty or advantage. Of course, the classes have unique abilities that make them necessary to the team. Medics heal the injured and revive the near-dead. Soldiers can use heavy weapons like MG42s, panzerfausts, flamethrowers and mortars.
Skills are more difficult to balance. There is a fine line between rewarding players who’ve played longer during the campaign, and punishing those who didn’t join at the start. ET has a bit more breathing room than MMOs because the skills are reset after every campaign, and uses it to great advantage. The skills make a significant difference but aren’t going to break the balance of the game. More important than the level of the skill is the ability of the player to use them.
SIDEBAR: Fuel Depot is my least favorite map. It can be horribly imbalanced if the Axis entrench themselves and not let the Allies through. On the other hand, Allies can grab some seriously cheesy wins if the Axis players don’t guard the objective which is way back in the rear.
Quake III Sexy?
Enemy Territory has the distinction of being the nicest-looking Quake III-powered game we’ve seen, and that includes the titles we previewed at E3. Like Medal of Honor, it makes fantastic use of the outdoor capabilities of the Team Arena engine, but improves on MOHAA with better textures and modeling. Special effects haven’t yet been left behind by more modern engines, with ET making striking use of smoke and light.
Levels are quite large, though not on a Tribes scale. What really sets them apart is the imposing level of detail put into each map. Grass, bushes, snow, tree stumps and more cover up a landscape that’s broken up by bridges, huts, and rocky outcroppings. All of these terrain features have a profound effect on gameplay. Field ops agents discreetly moving into cover from which they can survey an enemy encampment in order to call in artillery. Flamethrower-toting soldiers can spring up in a gap between two small hills to lay waste to a batch of freshly-spawned foes who were rushing to a battle.
The sound effects are truly spectacular. Gunfire has that solid oomph to it, without relying on volume or excessive bass. Voice effects are used to keep players updated of objectives and happenings in the game. The moment a primary or secondary objective is updated in status, the players are notified with a voice message. If the Germans have loaded ammo onto a rail car, both teams get a warning. If the Allies have breached a tank barricade, there’s another notification. The system works great.
What doesn’t work great
Where things get a little rough are when the weapons, skills and maps are put together. Certain scenarios can get very broken with the right combination of luck and ingenuity. Soldier-class players wielding mortars can pinpoint spawn areas or choke points right in front of those areas. Similarly, Field Ops can call in artillery and air strikes to those same places. Fortunately, those skills can be used only so often due to an energy replenishment bar.
Sure! My name’s Paul Wedgwood, though I’m known better online as Locki, and I’m the Lead Designer at Splash Damage. Splash Damage was formed in June 2001 because a number of us had been working for a year and half on a mod for Quake 3 called Q3F and we realized that there was potential to start a game development company. We’d been invited out to Texas for QuakeCon by Robert Duffy at id a couple of times and he seemed quite impressed with what we’d achieved with Q3F.
As Robert was helping begin some conversations between us, id, and Activision, we were working on two or three different commercial projects, including the creation of in-game camera technology, HUD and maps for a television series called Lock n Load (which broadcasts QUAKE III matches). We also created nine multiplayer maps for Games Domain (the most famous of which is probably Market Garden). We did this for around six months and managed to get the core Q3F team all moved to the UK. The first thing we did for Activision and id Software was to produce three multiplayer maps for the Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Game of the Year Edition (Tram Siege, The Damned and Rocket) and then we moved on to working on Enemy Territory, which we’ve been working on for about a year.
Q: Just a few questions on the business side of things, since people are so curious about the whole matter. Could you give us the story of how and why Enemy Territory became a free download rather than the stand-alone expansion it was supposed to be? Were there any periods where morale or finances made you wonder if it was worth the trouble, and if so, how did you struggle through?
To be completely honest, it’s been very smooth for us all the way through development. Activision and id Software have always told us that they were very happy with the way Enemy Territory multiplayer was shaping up, and they have been great business mentors to us throughout.
Had it been any other publisher or executive producer, I think there’s a chance that Splash Damage could have been in trouble when the retail product was cancelled. As it stands, we’ve been well looked after and are very proud of our association with Activision and id Software as a result.
SIDEBAR: The news comments on The Firing Line #3 seem to be quite abundant!
Actually objective-based game-play, constructions, and several of the “new” Enemy Territory features already existed in Return to Castle Wolfenstein’s original multiplayer design document (created by id and Nerve). Using this original design as a base, we worked towards making the objectives in Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory more plot-based – to the point where the whole map is built around the objectives and mission story. For example, in the map Rail Gun (based on Operation Dora from World War 2) the Allies have to stop the Axis from loading and firing a huge gun. In the process, the Axis team must move a tug around the map to collect the shells and transport them to the gun. In another map, Gold Rush, the Allies must steal and then escort a Jagdpanther tank through narrow streets in an African town in order to steal gold from a bank in the town square, while the Axis team tries to impede their progress by constructing barricades.
We all liked the ideas of “mobile objectives” and changing battlefield conditions throughout play by having teams build new structures, since it brings so much more of the map into play and continually forces teams to modify their strategies. Creating this new depth in the objective-based gameplay required some new technology that would allow us do things like have tanks move slowly on predefined paths, or allow teams to construct buildings and bridges in the midst of combat.
Q: How close has Enemy Territory's multiplayer come to the original vision you guys had in mind? What kinds of changes has multiplayer seen during development, and since the test?
First, the vision for Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory is really based on a number of ideas that were in the original RTCW multiplayer design document that id and Nerve put together. It was incredibly valuable to have that base, and the final ET design was a great collaboration between id and Splash Damage. The game turned out much like everyone had envisioned, but as with any game, the actual game-play itself has been constantly refined and balanced throughout production, with many new features being introduced that weren’t in the original game design document.
The main reason for this, is that the project evolved naturally, rather than have it constrained to only the ideas in the initial design document. We were able to quickly get basic systems working on the RtCW base and then start tweaking the systems right from the early months of the project. We played matches with id and Activision that helped us not only keep improving the game, but also keep everyone in synch with the direction. It was particularly valuable to have id, and particularly Kevin Cloud, so involved in the daily workings of the project. With id so involved, the development process worked much like it does for their own internal development, which again allowed features and gameplay to evolve very naturally, through tons of play-testing and discussions (and ICQ chats) about features and balancing.
SIDEBAR: ICQ is old skool chat!
Our first priority is wrapping up the ET server patch. Following the server patch we will be releasing the Level Design Tools. This package will include everything a level designer needs (including media and documentation) to start making missions or campaigns for Enemy Territory.
We definitely want to keep the community supplied with all the support they need to keep ET growing, but we’re not ready to give any more details now.
Q: Has the experience point/skill system had the impact you wanted? Was it a difficult pitch to the gaming public?
It’s my favorite part of Enemy Territory’s game-play, and I’m really pleased that it’s been received so well. In terms of First-Person-Shooters, it’s not so much innovation as evolution, but it was a goal from the beginning that Enemy Territory have more depth than other similar games. When we started to think about adding a skills and rewards system, the initial discussions were about whether or not it could work in a short campaign of perhaps only an hour! The difficult part is striking a balance between making the rewards worth having, but not making them so good that a player joining a game in progress feels overwhelmed by everyone else that already has their rewards. It’s no fun to join a game as a newbie and be immediately obliterated by a level-zillion ‘technomage’. Principally, we wanted to reward players who played for their team’s benefit, so even players without great FPS “deathmatch” skills, could still contribute to victory by being an outstanding medic, or by standing on a hill and spotting landmines, or building bridges and other installations. Teamwork is a key component of Wolfenstein multiplayer in general, and the skills and rewards system extends that even further.
I read a review recently where somebody called Enemy Territory a “Thinking Man’s Shooter” and I think that’s a fair analogy. We’re throwing a lot of new stuff at the player, so it’s quite a demanding game. It would appear, however, that the popularity of Enemy Territory shows that players are not only able to handle it – they really enjoy it.
SIDEBAR: Recently I’ve been getting into a lot of old-school fighting games, like Street Fighter II. I hate Guile.
I don’t think people tend to remember the retail price of a game (or lack of one), they remember the hours they spent playing it, swearing at strangers and abusing their mice.
Enemy Territory has introduced a new depth of game-play to online FPSs and it would be great if elements of the game, like persistent skills and in-depth objectives, might begin cropping up in future FPS games. We’ve introduced more things for players to get good at beyond shooting and running, and we’re presenting players with more choices, more trade-offs, and tougher tactical problems.
The maps, the objectives, the classes, the new class abilities all combine to produce a constantly-demanding Paper-Scissors-Stone dynamic, which is a definite change from the highly-skilled mass-dueling of most FPSs. If you kept on getting killed in previous FPSs, you just had to learn to shoot better. In ET, if you find your team of Paper keeps getting cut by the enemy Scissors, it’s time to spawn as Stones. No one class or weapon or tactical position is immune to all the others. If your team keeps getting stuck, you probably have the wrong mix of the wrong classes with the wrong weapons. Online FPS players haven’t really had to think about that before.
Q: Given Activision's continued investment in ET, it would be natural to conclude that your two companies might have something in store for us. Care to give us any hints of what the future might hold for Splash Damage?
Unfortunately, due to a series of ill-judged drinking bets, we have to polish Activision’s cars for the next 28 years. Wax on, wax off, wax on, wa…
As far as the near term, we’re working on the forthcoming Enemy Territory server patch. We’ve received good reviews about the quality of the servers and with this patch we expect to increase the stability of them as well. Once that is out, I think you’ll find even more ET servers online, which is always good news for players looking for just the right server.
As for our future projects… you can expect that they will definitely include Activision and id Software, but you’ll just have to keep an eye out for the official announcements!
Thanks for your time and candor on the subject. With ET having turned out to be such a great game despite the challenges it faced, we're really looking forward to your next project!
SIDEBAR: It was EASY taking screens of ET. So easy. The game has me hooked!
Graphics and Performance
Normally the only redeeming feature of a free product, free is part of a great product this time.
It’s fast, lethal and yet intelligent. Deep without being complicated, methodical without being slow. There are skills that don’t punish the new but reward those who worked on them. Newbies don’t feel helpless but the hardcore don’t feel held back. We have yet to see a first-person shooter achieve this kind of greatness, combining all these features without a hitch. Now if only there were vehicles…
SIDEBAR: We would like to again thank Paul Wedgwood for the answers, Caryn Law for arranging them and Activision/Splash Damage for being so co-operative even on the tougher questions!
This is not one of, not possibly, but the best multiplayer first-person shooter on the market. Quake and Tribes will just have to make room in my heart for another favorite classic, the kind of game that keeps me awake until 3am and wakes me half an hour early just to get an extra bit of play time before work calls. And to top it off, it’s free.
You’ve got the review, you’ve got the interview, you’ve got the highest score a first-person shooter has gotten on FiringSquad. If we can forget Terence’s Dungeon Siege review, this would be the highest score we’ve ever awarded. Is that enough controversy for you? Are there enough old-school Quakers and current-king Battlefielders and Counter-Strikers to dispute this? Or are you the new bloods, the Enemy Territory fans, ready to defend your game to the death in the most bloody arena on the internet – the FiringSquad news comments? Then Sound Off! and Finish Him!
SIDEBAR: The flames… oh the flames. How I missed ye.
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