The PC version of Unreal II didn't include any multiplayer support when it shipped in February, but Legend Entertainment had intended from the start to include a multiplayer mode called "XMP" (for "extended multiplayer"). While deadline pressures forced the team to cut the multiplayer support a year before the game's release, Legend got the go-ahead from Atari to start work on XMP several months ago. When it's complete, XMP will be released in an expansion pack that will be freely downloadable for PC owners of Unreal II. The upcoming Xbox version of Unreal II will also feature the XMP mode, which will be playable via Xbox Live.
We spoke with Scott Dalton, senior level designer at Legend, to get more details on the team-based multiplayer mode, its three classes, and its vehicles.
GameSpot: Early in the game's development, it was said that Unreal II would have a multiplayer component, but this was later cut. How closely does the XMP mode currently in development resemble the original design?
Scott Dalton: In spirit it's very close to what we hoped we could make for Unreal II originally. However, to orient toward a great online experience, we started the project entirely from scratch with the latest version of the Unreal engine, only bringing in a few pieces of tech that we needed. We took the core ideas of what we'd been hoping to do (the three multifunctional classes, the Citadel-esque multiple-flag type of gameplay, and deployable defenses), and added various features that weren't originally planned (such as vehicles, jump jets, skills, and so on).
So it holds true to the original goals of XMP, but it has evolved some since the original design. Given that we had a small team work on this from design to beta in a few months, we're very pleased with how it's turning out. XMP is something we all wanted to see happen, so it's been great to have a chance to do so.
GS: The Xbox version of Unreal II will also have the XMP multiplayer component. How similar are the Xbox and PC versions of XMP? Is it possible that the two versions will be compatible for online games?
SD: We actually began on XMP prior to Atari's decision to do an Xbox version of Unreal II. At that point, it made a lot of sense to provide XMP for Xbox Live, so we began talking with Tantalus, which is handling the Xbox side of things. The two versions are largely similar. There are a few visual differences between the two, and of course the control schemes are different, but by and large they're both XMP. Unfortunately, due to different optimizations in the code, assets, and levels, the two will not be compatible online.
GS: What's the most distinctive element of XMP that makes it stand out from other multiplayer action games?
SD I think that XMP stands out for the feel of the game mode. It's a unique blend of the capture the flag, domination, and conquest gameplay types. The balance of maintaining team energy and taking strategic deployment points, while trying to take control of all four artifacts and defend them, is really fun. Of course, to support that, there are all the deployable weapons, vehicles, turrets, classes, skills, and so forth. That makes for a lot of variety to the action.
GS: Of the three classes, what's your personal favorite?
SD: I enjoy playing all the classes, so I switch around a lot during most games. My personal favorite is the tech. He's middle-of-the-road in terms of movement capabilities and armor, but he's a fast hacker and has good medium-range weaponry. I enjoy heading out in the field, hacking stuff for my team, and setting up defenses. Plus, there's nothing like a good-close range shotgun blast to show whose generator it is.
GS: Are the weapons in XMP the same as those in the single-player game? Have there been any changes or additions?
SD: While each class has a selection of weapons from the single-player game, we've tweaked every weapon to suit them to the faster pace of multiplayer play. We've also added some mine types, and of course the various types of player-controlled turrets.
GS: Vehicles weren't a part of the Unreal II single-player game, but they're slated to make an appearance in XMP. How much work has it taken to get vehicles in the game? Has any of the vehicle code for Unreal Tournament 2004 been used?
SD: Vehicles have a great impact on the feel of any game, so we've been careful to balance them into the game, while giving them a unique flavor. For example, you can pull off some pretty crazy stunts with them due to the turbo burst. There's also a visceral thrill to hitting an enemy with the grinders on the front of the Raptor and seeing the fountains of blood spew from the gutblowers on the side.
Unreal Tournament 2004 has a type of vehicle code called S-Vehicles that uses a single rigid physics body on a skeletal mesh. Our vehicles are made up of component pieces, each with its own physics, so they're different in that aspect. While Peter Carlson, our vehicle programmer, has had duties on another project to take care of, he's been setting up S-Vehicles as a side project. Both types of code offer a somewhat different feel, so we hope to allow both as a server-side option for release.
GS How many multiplayer maps are planned? Will the environments resemble locations in the single-player game?
SD We currently have six maps in XMP, and we hope to be bringing out some additional ones as time goes on. A number of beta testers interested in making new maps have approached us, so that number is likely to grow soon after the game is available.
The locales in the six maps are all entirely new. We wanted to put in a lot of new places for combat, and given the radically different movement capabilities and gameplay styles, straight XMP versions of Unreal II maps wouldn't have been fun. We may release some familiar locales reimagined as XMP battlefields in the future, however.
GS How large are the maps, and how many players will the PC version of XMP support? We've heard that the Xbox's multiplayer may support up to 16 players. Has this had any effect on how the XMP design has been developed for that version?
SD The PC version supports up to 32 players, which is very intense. There hasn't been much difference between the Xbox and PC versions insofar as number of players in concerned, because the game is a lot of fun in smaller matches as well. Internally, we generally have the team jumping in for three-on-three or four-on-four matches, and these are a blast.
That said, the tactics evolve somewhat when you get into seven or more players on a side. The battles get a lot more hectic, with manned turrets on defense, vehicles moving everywhere, and strike teams trying to take key points in the map and penetrate the enemy base.
The maps are larger than your usual CTF map, but smaller than a massive Battlefield 1942 map. We've concentrated on making the player vs. player action every bit as exciting as he vehicular combat, so the maps are intentionally constrained to provide a balance between vehicular and pedestrian combat.
GS XMP is currently in closed beta testing. Do you expect to publicly release a test version of XMP before the final release?
SD We're not sure at this time. We hope to be able to do an open beta, but we may go straight from the closed beta to release depending on how things unfold.
GS When will the XMP expansion be released?
SD We're not sure of the exact date at this time. Once we've worked out the remaining bugs and wrapped everything up, we hope to move forward with releasing it.
GS Anything else you'd like to add?
SD Thanks, and I hope people enjoy XMP!
GS Thanks, Scott.