Category: Mods and Maps

Covering those custom maps and modifications for computer games. Because playing the stock game sometimes isn’t enough.

Mods and Maps: Soldier of Fortune, Inc. for Quake — Not *that* Soldier of Fortune.

A few months back, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Bethesda re-released the id Software classic Quake on modern systems and the PC. Ported to the versatile KEX Engine by Nightdive Studios, it added the base game, the two official Mission Packs, the MachineGames developed Dimension of the Past made for the 20th anniversary in 2016, and a newly made expansion, Dimension of the Machine, also by MachineGames.

Going back through Quake was a nice nostalgia trip, and while I had already played through the game countless times in the past – most recently in June to test out the fan-made Copper rebalance mod – It felt good going through the tech bases and castles with nailguns and the Thunderbolt once again.

The official port has licensed mod support, similar to the Unity-powered Doom remasters on these same platforms from a year or two back, with Midway’s port of Quake to the Nintendo 64 being the first supported mod. Though it does also support some older Quake mods if they were just simple levels and not involving complex scripting from recent source ports, which means stuff like the oft-praised Arcane Dimensions don’t work in the remaster yet.

Colored lighting on Quake 64, at the cost of more boxier level geometry. A fair trade, honestly.

It made me think of many old custom levels from the early days of modding, and one that I thought of was during that wild west period, when map makers would offer to make stuff based on licensed properties as free promotion. One of which was based on a TV show that most of you probably don’t remember.

Kinda hard to watch this show nowadays, but okay.

Soldier of Fortune, Inc. for Quake is not what you think it is. It has nothing to do with the later 2000 game by Raven Software. Rather, this three-level pack existed as a promotion for a television show, back in those days when people could just make custom levels and have them officially sponsored by those companies, akin to stuff like Chronic for Quake III Arena made to promote The Marshall Mathers LP.

But what is Soldier of Fortune, Inc.? SOF was a TV series created by Dan Gordon, an ex-Israel Defense Force soldier turned screenwriter, produced by Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Productions and Rysher Entertainment. Named after the magazine of the same name, SOF was an action series involving a rag-tag group of soldiers trying to stop various people doing the bad things. In essence, it was a modern-day Mission: Impossible. It often aired in late-evening time slots alongside shows like Baywatch, which meant it was made to be one of those shows that tried to capture some of the Baywatch audience by also being an action-packed romp.

The show did get renamed for the second season, losing the Soldier of Fortune branding. Now called SOF: Special Ops Force, the show had a few notable cast changes, including basketball player Dennis Rodman playing a supporting character and Peter Graves doing an introductory narration, further leaning into the Mission: Impossible trappings. The show ended in 1999 after that second season, being mostly forgotten by the general populace.

I was reminded of this show’s existence thanks to a podcast. It Was a Thing on TV – a TV obscurities podcast hosted by a few of my game show colleagues – had recently done an episode on Thunder in Paradise, another short-lived action show starring Hulk Hogan and Chris Lemmon stopping evil villains on beachfronts. Much like Soldier of Fortune, Inc., Thunder in Paradise was trying to capture the Baywatch crowd, but wasn’t successful at it either, only having one sole 22-episode season.

Thunder in Paradise would get a video game adaptation for the Philips CD-i and DOS that was during the peak of full motion video, using an episode from the TV series but with more footage shot for the game. It made me think of similar action shows from the ’90s that got video game adaptations, and suddenly I started thinking about how a similar action show somehow got a custom level pack for Quake, back when that was a thing that could happen. Nowadays those same entertainment companies just cut a check to Activision to put John Rambo in Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War for $25, complete with low-quality sound bites from the movies.

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Gun Game: My favorite multiplayer game mode.

I’m probably gonna show my age with this one. While I don’t think I’m one of those “30 year old boomer” types that people meme about these days, I certainly have been playing multiplayer games for a long, long time. I’ve been playing them for literally decades at this point. I’ve played most of the notable ones, like Quake, Unreal Tournament, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty 4, you name it, I’ve probably dabbled in it at some point.

But sometimes I wanted more than Just Deathmatch. Stuff like Capture the Flag or Domination helped, but it just wasn’t enough. There was one mode popularized in a game that really caught my interest and was a fun mode that I wished more games did: Unreal Tournament’s Assault mode. Seriously, why isn’t this in every game???

Kidding aside, the other game mode that I’ve learned to love over the years is Gun Game. A simple deathmatch variant, the goal is mainly to kill enemies with a specific weapon, leveling up to the next weapon, and repeating this process until a player got a kill with every weapon. It’s been around for a while, and any game that features it will certainly pique my interest.

My earliest experience with the gun game concept is Soldier of Fortune. While mostly known for its excess gore and goofy Hollywood story, SOF did have its own version of Gun Game. The mode was simply called “Arsenal.” This was before the “gun game” parlance became commonplace.

Getting a kill in Soldier of Fortune was satisfying. Not because of the gore, but because of a really goofy fanfare that played each and every time. That needs to come back.

Despite the different name, it’s similar to the gun game most of us know now: A set of weapons are given to every player, with the goal of getting one kill with each weapon to win. The big differences that there was no fixed pattern of weapons, and when someone got the final kill with their last remaining weapon, instead of ending the game, they got a “big winner bonus” score and the game started anew with new weapons until the score or time limit was reached. Good for those who end up with a bad layout of weapons and can hope to rebound on the next set.

Though while I remember playing Arsenal in the mid-2000s, when the original Soldier of Fortune was mostly a skeleton crew of hardcore players by that point, the one I remembered more fondly was Counter-Strike: Source’s gun game mod.

Man, cs_deagle is a map I’ve seen constantly used in these kind of modes. Surprised no one’s copied it.

In the gun game mod for CS:S, the goal is to take out enemies of the opposing team with one of each weapon, with the famous knife often being the final level. Regardless of whatever side you were on – Counter-Terrorists or Terrorists – you needed to get a kill with every weapon. So in addition to the weapons that are available to a specific faction in the regular game, CTs still had to get kills with Terrorist-exclusive weapons like the Galil, MAC-10 and AK-47, and Ts needed to get kills with the CT’s USP, M4A1 and the AUG, just to name a few.

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Ghosts I-IV for Quake: A different kind of soundtrack.

If there’s one thing I need to improve on in my life, it’s to write something in the moment. I’ve bought plenty of games, played a bevy of mods, grabbed other assorted things for potential blog fodder…

Then I do nothing with it. This has happened more often than not, but only because I get the problem of being an ideas person and rarely act upon them. I’ve been slowly improving on this front, at least more than I was years ago.

Which brings me to this post about a game mod. I played this on a whim back in 2018, and thought it was pretty neat. While I’m currently wrapped in a few other things right now, I thought I’d write something quick for this month.

A few years back, I wrote an article praising the wonders of Red Book CD audio. CD audio tracks that would play in certain games, from PC classics like Half-Life, to even Sega CD games like Sonic CD. Unfortunately, modern technology is not too kind to the concept, as it often struggles to work properly on modern devices. In some cases, digital re-releases of games like Starsiege: Tribes didn’t even come with the CD music, removing part of the ambience.

There have been solutions thanks to source ports and game updates. For instance, playing Half-Life on Steam has all its music files as MP3s, so if the game (or a related mod) calls for that CD track, it’ll play it without needing the CD.

Looks just as good as it did in ’96.

Which brings me to a classic in Red Book audio: Quake. One of the earliest PC games to use it, popping in the CD would fill your ears with weird ambient music by Trent Reznor and his band Nine Inch Nails. Modern source ports such as Quakespasm actually support playable CD tracks in MP3/OGG formats, which means one can rip the soundtrack from their copy of Quake – or just find it on the internet, I doubt id and Zenimax care these days – and play it easily, proper looping and all.

There’s a handful of Quake map packs that come with custom soundtracks tailor-made for the level pack, such as Travail. Others outright replace the Nine Inch Nails soundtrack with different ambient tracks, like EpiQuake or Quake Epsilon. But what if I told you someone replaced Nine Inch Nails music with Nine Inch Nails music?

Ha! Now I won’t be burned by hot slag. Take that!
(Oh wait, now I can’t get out…)

“Ghosts I-IV for Quake” is an interesting mod. Replacing the original 1996 soundtrack with the entirety of Ghosts I-IV, an album by Nine Inch Nails with nothing but ambient instrumentals seems like a good fit. In a sense, Ghosts I-IV is a spiritual successor to the original Quake soundtrack, even if there’s little similarities in style.

The album itself is interesting: Frustrated by their record label, Trent Reznor severs his contract with Interscope Records and decides to go independent – for a while anyway – and released this under a Creative Commons license. This license is how the mod exists without lawyers getting involved, as it’s a free mod for a commercial video game.

Shooting switches with the power of magic pellets!

There is one other feature of this mod: There’s no monsters or weapons. Now there’s mostly empty levels with switches, lifts and other assorted things, but nothing to shoot. With god mode turned on. In a sense, this changes the perspective of the game entirely. No longer a straight explosive romp, it’s strictly an exploration-based affair.

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Mods and maps: Half-Payne, where Max Payne invades Black Mesa.

When I wrote about Half-Life: Before, I had realized that writing about such a mediocre Half-Life mod felt disappointing to me. I usually try my best to avoid going for easy punches and writing about bad stuff. Besides, there’s other people that cover bad stuff so much better than I ever will.

So I wanted to make good and write about a different Half-Life mod. After all, Half-Life is probably the game that got me interested in mods, after Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. So after playing and writing about Before, I had stumbled upon an existing mod that had recently updated, and decided to give it a whirl once more.

I always get a kick out of crossover mods. Counter-Strike into Half-Life. Mario platforming in Doom. That sort of stuff. I don’t remember how I found this one, but last year I had stumbled upon one of the coolest crossover mods I’d seen. This Half-Life mod takes the concept and character from another iconic game franchise and transplants him into the original game.

This is why I said “grab your Berettas and painkillers” at the end of the Before article. We’re about to do some bullet time in Black Mesa.

“I was in a game modification. Funny as hell, it was the most horrible thing I could think of.”

Half-Payne is pretty self-explanatory: It’s Half-Life but instead of the crowbar-wielding silent protagonist Gordon Freeman, you play as Max Payne, the pill-popping, dual-wielding protagonist from the titular series.

I remember when this sequence was pretty cool. A shame that nowadays it looks out of sync…

Sounds pretty simple on the surface. Max Payne’s primary gameplay feature was the “bullet time” mechanic, one of the earliest action games to use that feature. Go into slow motion and shoot enemies with your trusty Berettas. That seems easy to make, right?

Well, I figure that making something like bullet time work is a complicated process unless the engine is made for it. Remedy’s engine for the first two Max Payne games – and presumably the engine that Rockstar used for Max Payne 3 – was built to handle slow motion on the fly. The older GoldSource engine that Half-Life uses doesn’t really have such an ability built in but the later Source engine that powers Half-Life 2 does (“host_timescale”). Surprisingly, thanks to Half-Payne’s creator suXin, they somehow found a way to make it work, and it works gloriously.

(Update: After I published this, suXin, the mod creator, responded to me on Twitter by clarifying that the GoldSource engine does have support for slow-motion, it’s just not something that can be accessed normally compared to the Source engine:)

Credit to the mod’s creator for clarifying that for me. Original tweet here.

 

Similar to Counter-Life, Half-Payne gives you the dialogue of Max Payne from the previous games in the series, alongside some of the iconic weapons like the Berettas, the Desert Eagle and the Ingrams, alongside the normal Half-Life weaponry. Painkillers replace medkits, and since Max Payne is just an ordinary guy in a coat and not a scientist in a futuristic suit, all instances of HEV chargers and batteries are gone entirely.

It even says his name! How considerate of them.

Even all the enemies are unchanged from Valve’s classic game, which I can understand. I mean, replacing all the enemies with mafia goons or killer suits from past games would look even more tonally inconsistent than the mod already does. Maybe for a custom campaign, perhaps?

For additional tension, try playing the Black Mesa Minute mode throughout the campaign. It’s quite tough.

It’s got all the essentials of Max Payne: bullet time, some of Max’s iconic arsenal, even lines from the game. But it doesn’t end there. suXin added bonus modes from the Max Payne games, like a Black Mesa Minute mode based on New York Minute from the first game, and a score attack mode like in Max Payne 3. That and the existing game is good enough to make it fun to play through.

I may not have enjoyed VVVVVV, but having a mode based on it is good for a laugh.

But it doesn’t end there. Wanted to play the game more like SUPERHOT where time moves when you move? Wanted to play through the game but only shooting can make Max move? There’s a lot of bonus game modes in the game that while don’t completely fit with the theme of Max Payne or even Half-Life, that they give endless replay value beyond playing through the Half-Life campaign once through.

Surprised the scientists are pretty chill with a gun-wielding maniac helping them out.

They didn’t have to do that, really. Just having Max and bullet time would’ve been nice for me. But going the extra mile like this gives the mod a unique flavor despite being a “what if X was in Y” crossover mod on the surface. Even small touches like letting CD/MP3 music play through level transitions and having Max Payne 3-styled subtitles for everything are nice quality-of-life features that I wish all Half-Life mods had.

Someone should tell that alien to look behind him…

Something I hope they add in the future would be support for Opposing Force, Blue Shift or other notable Half-Life single player campaigns. I mean, they already use the Opposing Force Desert Eagle model, might as well go all the way.

If you wanna check it out, it’s available here. I will stress that this only works on the Steam release of Half-Life. suXin says this version is required, presumably because of updates in the GoldSource engine that are unsupported or missing in pre-Steam releases. I know there’s very few people out there still using the pre-Steam (or “WON”) version of Half-Life these days, but it bears mentioning.

Now I wonder if anyone’s ever done a mod where Gordon Freeman is in Max Payne. Bashing mafiosos with a crowbar would be hilarious to play at least once.

Half-Life Before: A mod that should’ve gotten the red light.

I remember a couple years ago when Steam Greenlight was a thing. A way for more independent publishers and developers to get their games on Steam, Greenlight was a simple voting system where one’s game could be published under the system if it got enough support.

Unfortunately this lead to a lot of fairly questionable works hitting Greenlight. A fair share of games using stock assets from Unity, Unreal, and such. Others were people not understanding copyright law and posting stuff like World of Warcraft to Greenlight. One game was a fairly unremarkable team shooter that got re-posted to Greenlight several times after the creator had difficulty taking constructive criticism, even changing the name to “Tactical Anal Insertion” in a fit of rage.

On the bright side, games like Divekick, Broforce, and Undertale were some of the more standout choices that made it to Steam thanks to Greenlight. So it wasn’t all bad, even if there were people spending the $100 to release a proof-of-concept game that wasn’t even in a playable state.

Though, not everything was a game. Sometimes software made the Greenlight seal of approval. Even community mods like NeoTokyo made it into the mix, which was nice for people to get their project noticed. Though, much like a majority of Greenlight submissions, not all of them were winners, such as this one.

is it “artifact” or “artefact”? and what parallel world are we talking about here?

Half-Life: Before is a cheap free mod from developer Creashock Studios, a one-man studio who I hadn’t heard of until this game.

Now I’ve played a bevvy of Half-Life mods. Some of the best and most notable like They Hunger, Poke646, Azure Sheep and many others. Though for every good mod, there’s at least a dozen bad ones. Before falls into the latter category.

The story really doesn’t make a lot of sense: You play as Black Mesa scientist Andrew Winner as they’re teleported onto a cargo ship to… find something to go to Xen? The story isn’t that clear, and the brief amount of story given doesn’t explain much beyond what the Steam store page and the main menu gave me.

One option when you start is using this machine gun in this helicopter to take down the headcrab zombies. Or you could just take them down with your normal weapons.

So it’s a Half-Life mod. Some mods try to make the areas look unique and different, changing up everything so it barely resembles what Valve made, like Poke646. Others are content with just giving the player new levels to play with while leaving the Half-Life formula intact. This is not a bad thing, I’ve played a fair share of decent level packs.

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