Unreal Tournament Preview
Fairly unknown San Francisco-based developer Secret Level is the team responsible for bringing Epic's PC game of the year to the Dreamcast. We sat down with the team at Secret Level to see how it's been converting such an amazing game to the Dreamcast.
Epic's acclaimed PC first-person shooter, Unreal Tournament, will be conquering its second next-generation platform this March when it comes to the Dreamcast. Infogrames, the game's publisher, handed the job of converting Unreal Tournament from the PC to the Dreamcast to fairly unknown San Francisco-based developer Secret Level. We sat down with the developer's VP of production Pete Clark and VP of software development Josh Adams to get the skinny on the conversion process.
Secret Level's biggest goal in converting Unreal Tournament from the PC to the Dreamcast is to keep the integrity of the PC game on a console platform. According to Clark, the primary focus of Secret Level is to bring the experience of the PC game to console users. "More than anything, we want to capture the feel of the PC version to provide console gamers the same great experience," said Clark. "Prior to the release of the next-gen systems, it wasn't possible to make this type of game happen. So now that we can, consolers will finally get a taste of what PC gamers have been thriving on for a while." And while PS2 owners can pick up a version of Unreal Tournament on Sony's next-generation system, the Dreamcast version promises to outshine the other versions of the game with a slew of new maps, enhanced graphics, and online play. "UT for the DC is really easy to set up and play quickly. Plus, you're getting a few more goodies like new maps, a new mode of play, and online play, which you won't find on the PS2 version," Clark added. In fact, he prefers the Dreamcast version to the original PC version. "The Dreamcast game is more social when compared with the PC version. [In the Dreamcast version], you get a chance to sit on the couch with your three buddies for a game of deathmatch, talk some smack, and have a good time. You can't really do that [in the PC version] unless you have a bunch of PCs in the same room."
The Dreamcast version's online mode will easily outclass both the PS2 version of the game and other Dreamcast first-person shooters. Unreal Tournament will be run on several SegaNet servers and will allow up to eight players at a time on a server. According to Adams, the online mode will be extremely easy to use. "The server selection process has been incredibly simplified, and we've made the interface a lot more user-friendly for gamers who might not have played online before," said Adams. And while Dreamcast users won't be able to set up their own servers, Clark has promised that SegaNet plans on running plenty of games with a variety of maps and mutators. Additionally, the online mode of the Dreamcast version of Unreal Tournament will be Dreamcast exclusive - Dreamcast players won't be able to play on PC servers, and PC players won't be able to join SegaNet servers. Clark felt there would been an unfair advantage to PC players, and letting them join SegaNet games and destroy DC players would make playing online less fun.
Secret Level has worked closely with both Epic and Sega to ensure that Unreal Tournament will be one of the Dreamcast's best games. Close communication has allowed Secret Level to deal with the hurdles in the game's development process. Adams comments, "The programming team over at Epic helped us out on numerous occasions. We also took a couple of trips over to the sunny East Coast. Sega has been equally helpful, especially with showing us a few tricks on how to save memory." And, according to the team, there have been plenty of bumps on the ride. Taking a game that required 64MB of RAM on the PC and fitting it on a platform with only 16MB of available RAM took some creative thinking. "The limited RAM budget of the DC (16MB) has been far and away the most pressing issue," said Clark. The game's control was another big issue. Clark admitted that the control had to be tweaked to work with the Dreamcast's controller. "We had some controller issues early on, but auto-aim helped us out significantly. A lot of the people who play FPS's on the PC are hard-core gamers/control freaks. Consoles are targeted at an entirely different audience, and we and Epic had to account for that." Still, Clark maintains that gamers will not have to swing for a Dreamcast keyboard and mouse to enjoy UT. "I play with only the controller, so I haven't felt any sort of negative impact. We cut out some of the 'less popular' functions, like ducking, but by and large, everything you could do with a mouse and keyboard can be done on the standard DC controller. And then there's always auto-aim, which I love. And just for those who can't get used to the controller, we have implemented support for the DC keyboard and mouse."
Still, while Secret Level was able to squeeze most of the PC version of Unreal Tournament into the Dreamcast, some of the game had to be cut. Clark comments, "I really, really, really wanted assault mode. I can't tell you how many hours we spent thinking of ways that we could make it fit. But the maps are just too damn big! Another thing is the relics mod. There are some really fun [mods], but again, the memory was too limited to incorporate them. But we did get a lot of the original game in despite these two setbacks, so either way, [the DC version] is definitely Unreal Tournament quality gameplay."
And judging from the quality of the latest build of the game, Unreal Tournament will definitely raise eyebrows on the Dreamcast. With graphics as clean and beautiful as those of the PC version, a silky smooth frame rate, more than 60 maps, the Dreamcast-exclusive team deathmatch gameplay mode, and the online mode, the Dreamcast version of Unreal Tournament could be the best version yet. The game is scheduled to be released this March.
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