Sunday, April 14, 2024

Tears of the Kingdom Adventure Log, Entry 33

Link was in need of a lengthy break, after searching through Hyrule for one too many hours, and with "Link" I really mean myself. I had arrived at a point where the game wasn't engaging any longer and I needed something else, where for the past four weeks I've been playing some other things for fun, like Lonely Mountains: Downhill and my beloved Unreal Tournament series.

But during all this time I couldn't shake this feeling that I'm 15 Korok Seeds away from the 100%. I've completed all Zelda games so far and I don't want this to be the exception, but I also don't want to be doing it just for the sake of completion. Normally, whenever I go the extra mile in games, like beating the Path of Pain in Hollow Knight, I do so because I'm looking for an excuse to keep playing the game, because it's fun and I want to keep playing it. If I grow bored of a game, then I don't want to force myself to keep playing it. And unfortunately I grew bored of Tears of the Kingdom.

Partly, this is my own fault, because I was replaying Breath of the Wild right before Tears came out, where this ended up being too much of the same. And I'm also too stubborn about not using any guides for my first playthrough, which is only adding to the tedium. But I also blame the game itself for being too much filler and for re-using the same world, which is something I don't want Nintendo to ever do again.

Anyway, with this post I want to briefly talk about what I've been up to before I went into the break, at least from what I can remember. It's not much, but it just makes sense to have this cut, before I return to the game, hopefully refreshed and with less of an urge to play 20 year old arena shooters instead.


Ominous Omelets

Part of the frustration also came from making only very slow progress with the remaining things that I want to achieve, like filling the recipe book and powering up my horses. Even though you can reliably get new recipes from Lurelin, it takes way too long and I have yet to get something that I actually need for Malanya.

I'm still trying to figure out the "Vegetable Omelet" and I thought that maybe I can understand things better by making more of the "Cheesy Omelet", which is the only omelet variant I have so far. For that one I needed to use an egg, Hateno Cheese, but also rock salt, and a mushroom. You leave any of this away and you will only get a regular omelet for some reason. It doesn't make any sense to me whatsoever and replacing the cheese with vegetables didn't get me to the desired result.

It also doesn't help that it only records your last five creations for any given food, which makes it impossible to track in the game what you've already tried. The bright side is that you don't actually have to cook absolutely every variant to complete the thing. And to emphasize this again, it's really a me-playing-blind-problem, because you can just look it all up on the internet and quickly be done with it. But if you don't use any guides or tools, then this doesn't seem to be intuitive in any way, at least not to me.

Link walking next to Payah without a shirt, who thinks "Now I'm hungry".

At least I'm getting closer, because most of the stuff that's still missing in my recipe book are the different toasty and frozen things, which should be easy enough to fill out. I hope.


Bird Watch

The other big remaining goal is filling the compendium and here I have successfully completed the "Creatures" section, where it was just mostly all the different pigeons and sparrows that were missing. With most other animals you might spot them from a distance and then may seize the opportunity throughout the game, but these birds are hard to spot and easily scared, so that you really have to put in a conscious effort to look for them and then use your full stealth gear to be able to take a good picture. I also remember how finding all the sparrows was quite annoying in Breath of the Wild...

Link overlooking the Guchini Plain with the Gleeok in the distance

At least, for the most part I could just refer to my completed compendium from the previous game as to where to find them, but the Rainbow Sparrows still gave me a hard time. I remembered that you can encounter them on the bridge at Lake Floria, but I accidentally scared them all away and then for some reason they never respawned. I was also going in circles on the Guchini Plain again, bringing back flashbacks of my beetle hunt, because the Hyrule Compendium in Breath of the Wild states the "Faron Grasslands" as a possible location. Of course these "common locations" can be misleading and it may also be different for this game... So, after searching through the Faron area for an hour or so, I got nothing and turned the game off in frustration.

me standing in full Sheikah gear right before a Rainbow Sparrow

The game must have felt this, though, because the next time I loaded my save file, it spawned a Rainbow Sparrow right at my feet. Problem solved! (Luckily, I was wearing the full stealth gear.) And once you have them in your compendium, it's enough to find them again for a better picture:

camera close up of a Rainbow Sparrow

Now, what remains are the materials, where I'm missing more than half of them, but that's mainly just all the horns. I have all of them in my inventory, so this will be nothing more than some mindless busy work, which also contributed to my loss in motivation. So, I will have to find a way of making this more interesting...


They Still Haven't Reached Their Friend...

My next goal will be finding the last Koroks, where this has slowed down tremendously, from discovering over a 100 between updates to now only a hand full. Well, it was only really three since last time, which includes a double, where my hope is that I have more of those Backpack Koroks left, because this would lower the number of how many I actually have to find.

Link with the Korok mask in front of a Korok camp in Akkala, the vortex beach in the background

They tend to be in the middle of nowhere, which also explains why I keep missing them, because I'm usually drawn towards points of interest... Now, as already mentioned, 15 Korok Seeds are left for me to find. I will probably document the final 10, just to highlight the ones that have escaped me for such a long time.

 

Progress:

  • Korok Seeds: 985/1000 (+3)
  • Recipes: 135/228 (+3)
  • Map Completion: 99.39%

Compendium Completion:

  • Creatures: 92/92 (+13)
  • Materials: 58/126 (+6)

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Twilight Princess Manga, Vol. 11


The tenth volume ended with the battle against Dark Beast Ganon, which is Link's last action as a wolf, both in the game and the manga. As a result, the last volume invests a lot of time into the final battle against Ganondorf, something that the other Zelda manga probably would have resolved in a couple of pages...

There was a lot coming together in the volume before, as one epic battle in Hyrule, and only little of that remains in the final volume. You can see Ilia releasing Epona, who then goes to assist Link and Zelda in their battle, which is nice connection, because in the game the horse basically comes out of nowhere. Ilia then gets attacked by some Bokoblin (or whatever), where the manga cuts off, and we later see her next to a dead King Bulblin, who has given his life to defend her and others... Again, this is a good use of this character and also quite the redemption.

The rest focus almost entirely on Link, Ganondorf, Midna, Zelda, and... the Hero's Spirit. The latter actually joins Link for a chapter during this "duel" with Ganondorf and then has one final moment together with Princess Zelda, who has the memories of the Zelda from Ocarina of Time, re-uniting her with the Hero of Time. It's a very beautiful scene.

Ganondorf gets defeated with the same goofy expression as in the game as he gets pierced by the Master Sword. But the manga leaves out the infamous and creepy neck snap moment with Zant, right before Ganondorf dies for real. This scene has spawned theories and discussions left and right, where Akira Himekawa just dodges it entirely. Well, it never really made that much sense to being with, since Zant was already blown to smithereens by Midna, so I can understand the decision. But it would have been nice if the manga tried to give some explanation.

Instead, it will give you something else to talk about, at least if you're into shipping. Other than Ilia, the game doesn't really dive much into the territory of love interests for Link, but the manga doesn't hold back when it comes to the relationship of Link and Midna. Well, he already kissed her on the cheek in the previous volume and as she is about to leave, he acts like a child, wanting to go with her. So, she first slaps him and then kisses him for real, creating a memorable good-bye moment, worthy of her dominant character. And Link's heart breaks right with the Mirror of Twilight when she departs.

Meanwhile, Ilia is waiting for Link to return, but all she gets is Shad, who has a crush on her in the manga and is looking to score. So, he's in love with someone, who loves another, who loves another, who is out of reach... Typical stuff, but it's more than what you usually get from Zelda games, at least from the later ones. The earlier games had a bit more going on for Link, like with the implied kiss at the end of Zelda II, Marin in Link's Awakening, and even various girls in Ocarina of Time. Today he gets abused by giant, chubby fairies.

Anyway, Link has ran off for adventure, leaving the Master Sword behind. Sadly, the manga doesn't seize the opportunity to show what really happened at the end of Twilight Princess. Link ditched the Master Sword, because he found a much better weapon – the Phantom Crossbow. And the he goes to blow stuff up all over Hyrule! If that's how the manga ended, then it would have been perfect...

Nah, jokes aside, the Twilight Princess manga has too much unnecessary filler for my taste to be perfect. I've really enjoyed the course they've taken with many of the characters, like Zelda and the Hero's Spirit, adding a lot more depth to them. And the overall change of direction, making this more mature and really taking the time to tell the game's story, is so much better than what they've done before. But it could have been at least one volume shorter by cutting out characters and scenarios that aren't from the game.

Still, it's pretty much a masterpiece compared to the earlier manga, and I'd love to see this take on another Zelda game, where the best candidate is probably Skyward Sword. Especially the relationship between Link and Zelda is something that can shine here. Of course, there are the much popular Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, but to me the manga always had this "retro" feel to it, where I'd like for them to focus on what's left from the classic Zelda games. A Link Between Worlds would be another candidate, though one for the shorter, less serious style from before, like Four Swords.

In any case, I'm curious to see where Akira Himekawa will lead us next...

Sunday, March 31, 2024

My Unreal Tournament 3 Map Collection

boxart of the game with various screenshots of custom maps floating around it

After documenting my Unreal Tournament 3 setup, it's now time to get into the meat of every Unreal game: the many maps. It's a big part of the reason why you can just keep playing Unreal Tournament, because with every map you can get a very different experience. All in all, I have over 150 custom maps installed. Together with the 60 official maps that's enough to entertain you forever... or at least for a while.

Most of these come from map packs, where I will list all the ones that I have. But I've already talked about the Community Bonus Packs (because they are more than just map packs) and the Domination mod, so I won't repeat that here and instead focus on what's left, which is exclusively low poly stuff. And I will also show off some standalone maps, but only some highlights.

All the praise goes to UnrealArchive.org, a website that dedicates itself to preserve custom contents for the entire Unreal series. Originally, they didn't have Unreal Tournament 3 in there, because it was a little bit more complicated, but they made it happen eventually. All download links in this post will direct you to the Unreal Archive.

Again, every community-made content goes under ..\Documents\My Games\Unreal Tournament 3\UTGame\ in Windows. Custom maps specifically go into \Published\CookedPC\CustomMaps. You can organize things there via subfolders, without the need of additional configurations, where it's generally a good idea to put map packs into their own folders and so on.


Low Poly Map Packs

HOLP Level Packs

HOLP1
HOLP2
HOLP3 Vol. 1
HOLP3 Vol. 2

HOLP stands for "Hardcore Oldskool Low Poly" and this what you download if you want your maps to look they are from the original Unreal Tournament. Well, that doesn't actually do them justice, it's mainly about building the maps via basic geometric shapes (the "brushes"), like in the old days. And some of these maps still look very pretty, where this style can lead to a very clean look, something that the stock UT3 maps won't offer.

When UT3 was still "new" those maps were absolutely essential, because they enabled you to play the game with the best possible performance. This doesn't really matter today anymore, but they are all so good from a gameplay perspective that you still want to give these map packs a good try.


COMP - Competitive Map Packs

COMP
COMP2

The COMP packs were made in the same vein as the HOLP series: low polygon counts, high amount of gameplay focus. All these maps were designed with competitive play in mind.

Impressively, the second pack was entirely made by the same guy, N00b_Zaibot. Many of his maps look a bit similar as a result, where I often can't tell on first glance what was what, but rest assured that the gameplay is excellent with all of these.


UOF LP Map Pack

Download

If that's still not enough low poly goodness for you, then the UOF LP map pack will have you covered. UOF stands for "Unreal Old Friends" and there are several other map packs from this line as well, where it might be worthwhile to check them all out. One of them even has Domination maps.

From those other packs I really DM-UOF-Aero, which is another good low poly map, and CTF-UOF2-Legacy, which is a fantastic CTF map, combining the ideas of Eternal Caves and Vertebrae with some beautiful outside scenery. But otherwise I'm not a big fan.


Standalone Maps

CBP3 Bonus Maps

Even if you have all five volumes of the Community Bonus Pack 3 installed, you don't necessarily have all CBP3 maps, because there were a couple of standalone releases. Here's what I could still find:

CTF-CBP3-Andhera
DM-CBP3-Daoist
DM-CBP3-Maidenlike
DM-CBP3-Radiant
DM-CBP3-Suraj

Andhera and Suraj are two more maps by nELsOn, who loved to create maps inspired by the original Unreal, which take place on the planet Na Pali. Raed and Saip are two of my absolute favorite CPB3 maps, so it's good to have more where they came from.

DM-CBP3-Daiost - a Japanese-themed temple with lots of beautiful scenery

Daoist and Maidenlike are lookers, two of the most beautiful maps that you will find for the game. I also love how Maidenlike gives you all four basegame power-ups (UDamage, Berserk, Invisibility and Invulnerability) all at once, that's just crazy. Makes you look and feel like a "Mutant" again from the UT2003/4 game mode of the same name. And it's gimmicks like this that can make a map stand out.

As for Radiant, there is a CTF version of the map in the packs, but you can also play it in other modes via this DM version. Given that you like Spider Mines. It's also a bit more gimmicky, but I've enjoyed it quite a bit back in the day.


HOLP4 (Inofficial Collection)

You can also find a variety of standalone maps in the low poly style from the authors of the HOLP packs, like the sharp-looking DM-Saturation for example:

DM-Saturation

There were even plans to make a HOLP4 in late 2010 / early 2011, but that never came to be. Still, I was able to collect twelve more of such maps to make my own inofficial version of HOLP4, which I'm going to share here for the first time ever:

HOLP4 (Inofficial) Download

Here is also a list of the individual maps found in this pack:


The Keepers

As already said, I won't be going through every single map that I have outside of the Community Bonus Packs and other map packs, even though it's actually not that many. But I wanted to list my absolute favorites, where I think that these maps should be in every UT3 collection:

CTF-Mako
DM-Aelon
DM-Crash
DM-Phera
WAR-Araja][-SE

Now, let me explain what makes each of them so great...

CTF-Mako

CTF-Mako is similar to CTF-1on1-Joust from UT2004, which means that you will spawn inside the enemies' base and can grab their flag immediately. So, this is essentially a duel map for Capture the Flag, but it also works well enough in 2v2, where this one is a bit larger than Joust used to be and gives you underwater routes.

The map offers a clean low poly style with high poly elements mixed in, where it offers both visual clarity and some eye candy, kind of like how some UT4 maps were designed (thinking mainly of Sector 23). Speaking of, the author Stevelois seems to be still quite active making maps for UT4, according to his blog, which makes me want to check out that game more.

DM-Aelon screenshot

DM-Aelon was made by XYZ 8000, also know as DeathoX 8, who has contributed quite a bit to the HOLP and COMP packs. All his (or her?) maps are recognizable by a signature style, where Aelon is no exception, but it also offers very beautiful visuals on top, instead of the low poly style from those packs.

The architecture is a typical DeathoX 8 map, it even has those single-block-elevators, but it's inside a cave, which looks all so natural and smooth. It's really the best of both worlds.

DM-Crash screenshot

Next we have DM-Crash, which is a remake of a 1on1 map from UT2003 and UT2004. You can actually find plenty of good remakes of maps from the original Unreal and Unreal Tournament. And I'm talking about proper remakes here with updated visuals, and not just some conversions. But with UT2004 it's a different story... There's Torlan, of course, but otherwise there aren't that many.

And this makes this remake of Crash stand out, especially since it perfectly captures the look and feel of the original, but with the possibilities of UT3/UE3. However, it may suffer a bit from the same problems as some of the base game maps, where it's visually too busy.

DM-Phera screenshot

DM-Phera is yet another Na Pali map by nELsOn, who I've already mentioned above, and it's probably my favorite from all those. It takes place on a clocktower of a Nali church, which got hit by a flood and is now surrounded by water. The top of the tower spawns a Redeemer and the bell will ring whenever that happens. There are also Nali Healing Fruits all over the map as a replacement for health pickups and overall this is a very tight map for lots of memorable action.

It uses one of the music tracks from the Community Bonus Packs, CBP3-Velocity, but the map also works great without music, because it has such a strong ambient atmosphere, using a variety of sounds from the original Unreal. If you love the atmosphere of that game, you will like this map for sure.

WAR-Araja screenshot, flying through some mountains in a Cicada

Last but definitely not least, we have another map taking place on the planet Na Pali and the only Warfare map in this list: WAR-Araja][-SE by minifloppy. You can also find ONS-Araja for UT2004 by the same author, where this is a remake of that and an impressive one at that.

The environments look really beautiful and I like the Nali crosses on top of the mountains, that's such a nice touch. And of course I adore the usage of sounds from Unreal, especially those howling wind sounds. This really takes me back. But it's not just nostalgia for Unreal what makes this so great, but also nostalgia for UT2004's Onslaught mode, where this map is a lot more extensive with its seven Power Nodes than what you will usually find in UT3.

The "Classic" link setup doesn't work as intended, however. It tries to remove the additional orb spawners, but the orb will still spawn there and just float in the air... But you can just use the "No Orb" mutator if you want things to be more like Onslaught.

Instead, I've replaced it with two link setups of my own, which I personally found more fun than the default one. There is no node editor in UT3, but you can still create your own link setup by providing a config file for the map in question. If you want to try my setup for this map, open the \Config\WAR-Araja][-SE file and replace its contents with the following:

Another thing worth pointing out about this map is how it makes great use of the Stealthbender vehicle from the Titan Pack, which is a very rare find. Only two official maps have it. In general, I'd wish there were more such large high quality maps, which embrace the variety of vehicles this game has, instead of always going for the same stuff...


Honorable Mentions

Here are some more good maps, which I wanted to share, but where I don't feel as passionate about them, probably because they are lacking in one aspect or another. So, they might be great visually, but not so memorable in gameplay. Or the other way around. Still, they are all worth checking out:

CTF-Eternity
CTF-Eurus
DM-Acquisition
DM-Gardenia
DM-Liandri
DM-Purgatoria
DM-Rankin-2010
DM-Restrict
DM-Rustees
DM-Valon
DM-Ventilation
VCTF-HangingGardens
VCTF-HangingGardens-Nightfall
WAR-Flare

Friday, March 29, 2024

My Unreal Tournament 3 Setup

Unreal Tournament 3 boxart as wallpaper

Do you have a game that you just love to play and still play from time to time, even though no one else in the entire world seems to like it? Well, for me this is Unreal Tournament 3 – one of the less popular games in a series that was effectively killed a year ago. The original Unreal Tournament and Unreal Tournament 2004 are much more favored and still have an active community today, despite the hurdles, but UT3 is dead and has been for over ten years.

And while I also still like the other Unreal games, where I was a big fan of the series twenty years ago, UT3 is the one I keep revisiting the most, because it has the best weapon balance, my favorite game modes, and the cool Necris vehicles. Plus, it still looks pretty good, where today I'm finally able to fully enjoy the game in all its glory without any FPS drops, which wasn't possible when it first came out (and only added to its demise).

Now, you won't be able to purchase this game any longer, unless you're tracking down a physical copy. And while Epic Games had announced to bring it back as "Unreal Tournament 3 X", I'm not holding my breath for this any longer, because they probably decided at some point that it wasn't worth the effort.

So, instead I've returned to what remains of UT3, and I can't stop playing it, even though I'm only going for botmatches just for fun. And this is remarkable in itself. Well, you play video games for fun in your free time, of course, but that free time is valuable and usually there is always some incentive: to make progress, to see the credits, to clear challenges or achievements, to unlock goodies, to compete with other players, or to increase your rankings. There is none of that for me here, I only play it for the enjoyable "pew pew" action in a great variety of modes and maps. But I've also been busy fostering this variety.

With this post I want to document my efforts of turning my copy of Unreal Tournament 3 into what's the best Unreal Tournament experience for me personally, on the PC in the year 2024. I will go through the different mods and mutators that I use and explain why I use them. And I will list a variety of tweaks that I made myself, for the off chance that someone else out there is still interested in this game and facing some of the same issues.

Unless stated otherwise, any paths referenced in this post are found under ..\Documents\My Games\Unreal Tournament 3\UTGame\ in Windows 10/11.

 

Patch 2.1 & Titan Pack

Download

First, we should talk about the official stuff. If you have the Black Edition of the game (I think it was only available on Steam), then you already have these updates by default. If not, you should definitely install all this. It's even required for many of the community creations.

The Titan Pack is a free update that adds 19 new maps to the game, two more characters, two new gametypes, and the eponymous Titans mutator. This includes the three maps from the first Bonus Pack (making it obsolete), as well as all the content that used to be exclusive to the Xbox 360 version.

It's really what redeemed the game for me back in the day, after its sad state at launch. Greed even became one of my absolute favorite arena shooter game modes, where it's the perfect blend between Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. It's part of the reason why I still like to revisit Unreal Tournament 3.


MapMixer

Download

Right after the official patch 2.1 and the Titan Pack, this is probably the first thing that you want to install. MapMixer replaces large parts of the default UI with something much more sophisticated, where you can organize map lists, create custom gametypes, modify bots, and enhance your experience in other ways. It also adds an ingame UI, where you can change teams or rules on the fly.

First and foremost this mod will let you organize your maps better. It creates its own map database, where you can overwrite data like player counts or the map author directly in the game, but also other info via the UTMapMixer_MapDatabase.ini config file, even the map name. Well, you can edit the ini-files of your custom maps for this as well, but with MapMixer you can preserve the original values and simply use the layer on top to make things look pretty or consistent.

MapMixer Quick Match Team Deathmatch, Filter: Low Poly

My favorite feature is probably the map filters. It already comes with a couple of pre-defined filters, like one for official maps or the different map sizes, which is something that the original Unreal Tournament had. But you can also make your own based on different criteria. You can even add comments to maps and use them for filters.

For example, I tag any low poly map with "LP" and any remake of a classic map with "RM". The latter lets me have a "Classic Maps" filter, where Unreal Championship 2 gave me the idea for that one. And I do have a large collection of low poly maps, which focus on performance and gameplay, from the time where UT3 didn't run as well on my PC. Those create a stylistic rift in the game, but thanks to the filters I can just switch between "low poly" and "high poly" modes.

The custom gametypes are also a great idea, where you can take one of the existing gametypes and set a list of mutators that are enabled by default. So, you can make something like "Instagib CTF" from UT2004 to keep it separate. However, I found that the Translocator rule setting isn't working properly with these, where it always will use the base gametype's default. So, in the end I only came up with "Survival" from the Unreal Championship games (Duel with the Survival mutator) and "Onslaught" from UT2004 (Warfare stripped of most the additions), where the latter was just an experiment and I haven't kept it.

But custom gametypes also let you experience gametypes on maps from other modes, without the need for any scripting, where the best thing to try yourself is "Vehicle Deathmatch", which is the basic Deathmatch mode on VCTF and WAR maps. This works surprisingly well and even lets you access most vehicles around Power Nodes. Don't bother with creating a team-based variant, though, because only the vehicles in your base will be unlocked for you and you can spawn anywhere. I was unable to find the/an "Unlock Vehicles" mutator to solve this, but there is the Allow Hoverboard mutator to use the Hoverboard in any mode, which is nice to have for this.

Another custom gametype I've made is "Vehicle Greed", Greed restricted to the VCTF maps, which simply helps to separate rules and mutators from the normal Greed mode, so it's easier to switch between the different map sizes.

 

MapMixer: Broken Level Previews

Another problem that I had faced with MapMixer is that it tries to load the level previews as 2D textures, but some maps have wrapped those into materials for a slide show (like in UT2003/4) or other effects, or use a video file instead. They all work in the normal UI, but MapMixer will only give you black screens... Sadly, this got never fixed, but it only affects a small number of maps out there. And it's still possible to correct this yourself, but this a bit of a hassle...

CBP3 Daoist with a visible screenshot in MapMixer

First, you need to open \Config\UTMapMixer_MapDatabase.ini with an editor. All of your map data gets stored in there, but this can also be used to modify things, like the displayed name or even the preview. The latter is saved as sImageMarkup in the values. If it's "none", then you're out of luck, the map in question most likely doesn't have a screenshot in its package. But if it's something like "<Images:DM-Example.MAT.map-pic>", then you can potentially fix it.

You will need to open the custom map via the Unreal Editor, which comes with the game (start the UnrealFronted.exe in the install directory of Unreal Tournament 3). Then look for the map's package via the Generic Browser window. You should find the linked preview in there, so something named "map-pic" following the above example (it's different for every map). And usually you can find the basic preview image(s) in there as well. It's probably marked as something "NeverStreamed", but you can still link to this in your map database to fix the missing preview.

Copy the reference and insert it into sImageMarkup="<Images:x>" as the x. And voilĂ , now it's working! To potentially save yourself the trouble, here's a list of all alternate previews that I've detected so far for the maps in my collection:

The only map where I wasn't able to do this is DM-Cipe by Cr4zy, because this has only a video in it and nothing else... If you're really crazy about this, you could theoretically make your own package with screenshots in it and then use that in your map database. This way you could even fix maps that don't have any preview at all.

In any case, while it's unfortunate that MapMixer doesn't support other preview formats, doing this adds a lot of consistency to the map lists. I'm personally not a fan when maps try to stand out too much, e.g. by adding text with the level name to the screenshot, because I like for them to fit in with the rest.


MapMixer: Unique Previews for all Necris Maps

The above method can also be used to adjust some other previews, where it always has bothered me how some of the Necris variants of official maps come with a unique preview image, while others don't. The game does have fitting images somewhere in its files, however, and you can use those to create a better visual distinction in the menus:

  • WAR-Islander_Necris:
    UI_Objectives.WAR.T_Islander_25_0

  • WAR-Serenity_Necris:
    UI_FrontEnd_Art.MapPics.map-pic-war-serenityNecris
  • WAR-Torlan_Necris:
    UI_Objectives.WAR.T_Torlan_47_3

Curiously, WAR-Serenity_Necris even has an official screenshot among the files, but for some reason they had decided to not use it. But it was probably to keep it consistent at first, because these three maps were all part of the base game, while the other Necris maps then got added via the Titan Pack.


MapMixer: Additional Panel Backgrounds

The main menu of MapMixer uses different pictures for the background of the interface, which run in a slide show. It's the first thing you see after the (now unavailable) login. Half of these images come from the official map previews, while the other half comes from the singleplayer campaign. You can add to this whatever you want, however, where you could use the previews of some custom maps for example (see above).

MapMixer main menu with the Betrayal preview in the background

In my case, I wanted the preview images for the different gametypes, because you don't get to see those any longer when using MapMixer. If you want them as well, you only have to edit the \Config\UTMapMixerFrontEndUI.ini file and add the following lines to the [MapPreviews MapMixerUI_PanelStorage_SlideShow] section:

Note how both Onslaught and Titans got such artworks as well, even though these modes don't exist in the final game. Onslaught was turned into Warfare, and Titans ended up as a mutator that can be combined with most modes.

If you have the Domination mod installed (more on that later), there is even more to add:


Exposing the Singleplayer Maps

There are two variants of official maps that by default can only be played via the singleplayer campaign: VCTF-Containment_SP and WAR-Torlan_Leviathan. The former removes the containment field around the Darkwalker, so it can be used on the entire map for some fun. The latter is a trimmed-down version of WAR-Torlan, which pitches a Leviathan against four Vipers and potentially a Darkwalker. It's probably the worst version of the map, but the Leviathan is quite rare in the game...

free-roaming Darkwalker in VCTF-Containment

So, if you want to access these maps via the "Instant Action" botmatches, you can add them there via the magic of config files. All you have to do is create an ini file somewhere under \Published\CookedPC\CustomMaps with the following content:

You can name this file whatever you want, e.g. sp-maps.ini. I've actually turned this into two separate files named after the individual maps, just to follow the usual conventions for custom maps.

If you're using MapMixer, you may also want to add them to the list of official maps. First you will have to review and accept these two additions in the main menu. Then you can exit the game, open the \Config\UTMapMixer_MapDatabase.ini file and look for the entries of VCTF-Containment_SP and WAR-Torlan_Leviathan. Then change bOfficialMap=False to bOfficialMap=True for both of these. (Technically, you could use this trick to turn any map into an official one...)


Malcolm

Download

Other than the above two maps, you may be wondering about Malcolm, who was prominently featured as a playable character in the first previews of "Unreal Tournament 2007" and appears in the campaign as a key figure, but you never get to play as him yourself. And this custom character changes this.

Malcolm in th character creator

I don't know how much of it is actually "custom" and not just a clever exposure of what's already in the game, but it's pretty much perfect. The model, the icon, the voice lines, it all feels like this could have been official content. Well, the voice lines are taken from the campaign, so there is that, and of course the game must have a model of Malcolm somewhere in its files...

The only problem is that Malcolm doesn't really fit into any of the existing factions, so he comes with a "Thundercrash" faction just for himself. And this causes him to appear quite often in botmatches with random contenders, probably because it randomly chooses a faction first... I personally don't mind, because it only adds to his prominence, but with MapMixer you could also just put him to his Iron Guard buddies to keep his appearance rate lower.

 

Community Bonus Pack 3

Download (zip versions)

The Community Bonus Packs provide content add-ons in the spirit of the official Bonus Packs from past Unreal Tournament games, where it's not just maps, but also some additional characters, power-ups, and even the Domination game mode. There are five volumes in total.

While I wasn't the biggest fan of these compilations initially, these packs have grown on me quite a bit, where I gave most of their contents a second chance. That doesn't mean that I like everything now, but since there is no real need to keep anything for online usage, you can just curate the contents any way you see fit.

the new character Rankin on a remake of Alpu

For example, I think that the characters Rankin and Hyora from the volumes 3 and 5 are excellent additions, who fit the original game roster very well (I also adore the classic voice clips for Rankin). War Machine and KaT on the other hand appear quite different from the rest of the Liandri robots, where I personally don't like them as much, so I've removed them again.

It's similar with the power-ups, where the Concussion Field and Speed Boots from Vol. 3 are a lot of fun, while the weird Nightmare in Vol. 4 single-handedly ruins the map Yarith for me personally. Most of the maps in these packs are really good, but you will ultimately not love all of them...

That's why it's better to have the zip versions of these packs around, just so that you can manually remove whatever you don't want to keep in your game.


Domination

Download

Several gametypes from previous titles didn't return in Unreal Tournament 3, but you can find mods that bring some of those back. The best one is without a doubt Domination, which is my second-favorite gametype in the original Unreal Tournament. Similar to Greed, it's an objective-based team mode, which hits this sweet spot of being more interesting, without ever becoming too stressful. And it's really nice to have both of these gametypes in one game.

Two variants of this mod exist. There is the full version that also comes with the Double Domination mode from UT2003/4, support for multi-teams, over 20 maps, and more. And there is the lightweight version that is bundled with the Community Bonus Packs (see above), which only installs the classic Domination mode and nothing else.

Believe it or not, I actually prefer the latter. I never was a fan of Double Domination, so I don't necessarily need that mode, and I also disliked the majority of the maps that come with the mod. The main exceptions are the remakes of Cidom, Condemned, Gharden, and Lament. They are all really good and as close to official Domination maps as you can get with this. VDOM-Downtown is also interesting, because it's the only Domination map with vehicles out there and it's based on an official map.

Luckily, there is a way of getting whatever maps you want from the mod without installing it and/or messing with the main install directory. You can open the UT3DomFinal_WinSetup.msi installer file with 7zip and extract the map files, together with DLC_DomMapInfo.ini. Add the missing hyphen to the map files (after the "DOM") and then place all files under \Published\CookedPC\CustomMaps. You can give them a try to see what you like. Once you know which ones to keep, remove the rest and then open the ini-file with an editor to remove any map info of the ones that you don't want.

at the end of a Domination map, Titan Rankin on DOM-CBP3-Enslaved

Technically, the CBP3 version of the mod also comes with Double Domination, it's just deactivated. To enable it you only have to outcomment its section in the UTDom.ini file, found in the main install directory under \Unreal Tournament 3\UTGame\Config. It even works with the  CDOM CBP3 maps, even though they technically weren't supposed to. But since those maps weren't designed with Double Domination in mind, they aren't that much fun there.

Speaking of the CBP3 maps, they are really the highlight for Domination, especially the two from volume 3: CollisionCourse and Enslaved. What I like about these maps is that they aren't just Deathmatch levels with some control points in them, they really offer some unique concepts that are only possible with Domination.

CDOM-CBP3-Collision Course takes place on a space ship that's about to crash into the atmosphere of a planet. During the match the hull will begin to breach, making certain areas essentially inaccessible. This includes a control point on the bridge, which afterwards can only be reached with the nearby Shield Belt.

CDOM-CBP3-Enslaved on the other hand offers a really cool visual effect, where Necris tentacles get deployed and retracted based on which teams owns the control point. You can get something similar in Warfare with certain Power Nodes, but here the effect is instant and very impressive. Also, the Concussion Field power-up, which creates a bubble of death around you and seems to be exclusive to this map, is such a good fit for Domination.


Good / Essential Mutators

This is a list of custom mutators with their download link, which I either use very often or even keep activated pretty much all the time:

With Blossom you can individually disable all the different post processing effects that make the game look too much like Gears of War: bloom, blur, depth of field, and desaturation. Here is a comparison, before and after:

You can find an excellent article about this on the GreatEmerald blog. There are also alternatives, like the Color Control mutator, but it's highly recommended to use something like this to improve the game's visuals.

Arguably, the single most important entry in this list is the Dodge Jump mutator, which brings back the dodge jumping from UT2004. It's not as floaty, however, where it does feel really great in UT3 and adds a lot of interesting possibilities in many of the maps, all while still preserving the "in your face" nature of the first Unreal Tournament. With this mutator the movement really becomes excellent.

Let's move on to some mutators that are more gametype-specific. With No Deployables you can deactivate all pick-ups for deployables, like the Spider Mine traps that are found on some Deathmatch levels, e.g. Eden Inc or Ocean Relic. Those can be very over-powered and annoying, so this is a good option to have.

The Orb Fix is actually an official patch, if I recall correctly, which was meant to be an interim solution. But Epic Games never released another patch for the game, so this mutator was here to stay. Anyway, this fixes a bug, where the orb wouldn't show on the mini-map any longer after one round, so you want to be running this together with the Warfare mode.

Another nice mutator to have is Vampire, which brings back the mutator of the same name from past games. It lets you heal by damaging opponents, but only up to 100 health points, so it doesn't overstack. This can be quite fun in game modes like Capture the Flag or Greed, where you might be up against several enemies in a row that stand in your way.

Finally, we have UTComp, which gives you a number of competitive settings. I mainly use it for the hitsounds, because I really like having those, but you can also adjust skin colors, change crosshairs, have an advanced scoreboard, and more. But if you don't care about any of these things, feel free to skip it. It's probably the least "essential" in this list and it also was never finished, so there is still some beta version floating around.

 

Broken Mutators

There are also some other recommendations for essential mods and mutators that you will find elsewhere, but they didn't really work out for me, one way or another. Let me explain why. I will still link to those that I found quite useful, despite their flaws.

The most prominent one is probably foxMod, which is mainly for enhancing the AI, but it also adds splitscreen support to the PC version and other things. Well, I didn't need these other things and my experience with the "improved" AI wasn't the best. I usually play on the Masterful or Inhuman difficulties, depending on the mode, and without the mutator I often get very close matches, where the result may even be decided in the very last second. It's thrilling. But with foxMod the enemy team turns into a complete pushover, making the matches very one-sided and boring.

Your own team mates can also become useless or annoying. The biggest problem I faced where Cicada pilots trying to pick you up. While the idea is nice, they don't ever stop doing this, which becomes a problem if you want to do something else or even can't get in. One time I turned into a Titan and then a teammate came out of nowhere and kept lifting me up with the Cicada until I fell into an abyss... Good job!

The worst part, however, was that this mutator has a heavy impact on the performance, especially in the Warfare mode with many bots around. There are some adjustments you can make, but this didn't really help, and on top of this the mutator also made my game crash several times. So, in the end I uninstalled it and never looked back.

Next we have the Camera Control mutator, which lets you change the camera perspective for any of the vehicles, similar to how it used to be in UT2004. However, it doesn't work with turrets and it breaks the zoom function of some of the vehicles, like the Goliath and the Nemesis, where for me personally this was rather annoying. If you use the scroll wheel for the next and previous weapon commands, you also won't be able to scroll through the deployables when using the Nightshade or Stealthbender, where you have to use the direct weapon switch keys instead. It's still highly recommend to give this mutator a try nevertheless, because it lets you experience some of the vehicles in a whole new way.

One mutator that I also really liked and still have installed is Taunt Control, which lets you mute your bots with some settings. For example, you can adjust them to only give status updates, but to not taunt, because the ever-same lines can get annoying after a while. However, it doesn't work with custom characters who have their own voice lines, e.g. Malcolm and Rankin, which then causes the game to let these characters taunt excessively, which is even more annoying... But it would be in my list of essential mutators if it weren't for that. Sadly, I wasn't able to find a fix for this.

Another mutator that has its heart in the right place, but ended up flawed, is Destructible Deployables. The idea is that you can shoot down the Spider Mine traps, but it only works with the ones deployed by Nightshades and Stealthbenders, but not with the pick-up. And the former can now be pushed around, which causes a number of new issues...


To Be Continued

That's it for setting up the game with everything you may need or want. But a big part of Unreal Tournament always has been the many community maps out there, where I also want to go through my collection a bit and point out some map packs and highlights that you should get for sure. I will do this in a follow-up post.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Leipzig Book Fair 2024 Loot

 

photo of the eleventh Twilight Princess manga and a variety of sticker sheets

Last weekend I've visited the book fair in Leipzig, which is also a "Manga-Comic-Con" at the same time with lots of nerd stuff. It takes up around 25% of the convention, but you will instantly notice how that's the most popular part, with many cosplayers around and such.

Well, here you can see what I took home with me. Nintendo is always present at this convention with a booth and you can get some free My Nintendo merchandise by scanning a QR code. You need to login with your Nintendo account and you will also get 100 Platinum Points, where the mission reads "Completed: Check in at Manga-Comic-Con 2024". But of course you will only be able to do this once, unless you have multiple Nintendo accounts.

Last year they gave away "My Nintendo"-themed pens and tiny ring books. This year it was sticker sheets... The Super Mario sheet was separate, they kept handing this out to people around the booth, but for the Tears of the Kingdom Ganondorf and the Pikmin 4 artwork you had to check in.

I'm not sure if they had other motives, because I was there at the last day of the convention only. Maybe the days before they also had Link and Zelda... But you were getting both stickers twice and as I said you can only do this once. And it's not really important, it's just stickers.

As you can see, the convention was also a reminder for me to finally get the last volume of the Twilight Princess manga. I will share my impressions about it once I've read it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Lonely Mountains: Downhill

screenshot of the game

This is one of the games that has been distracting me from Tears of the Kingdom lately, where I want to talk a little bit about it, with some connections to Zelda in mind. It's currently on sale on both Steam and the Nintendo eShop, where I can only recommend to try the demo to see if this might be something for you.

Lonely Mountains: Downhill is a simple game, all about driving down a mountain on a bike. It's played from a top-down perspective with a fixed camera and looks very pretty, despite or maybe because of its simplistic polygon visuals.

What makes this so good is its controls and physics. You pedal, steer, break, and sprint. That's it, that's the four actions that you can do in the game. But it all just feels so responsive that the biking in itself is a lot of fun. The best thing I can compare this to is the Master Cycle Zero from Breath of the Wild. If you enjoy driving it around Hyrule, then chances are that you'll like this game.

Here it's all about learning the different trails to score good times, where there are insane possibilities for shortcuts everywhere. So, this is mainly for the crowd who likes doing time trials, but there are also challenges about avoiding crashes. The tracks normally have a number of checkpoints and when you crash it will set you back to the last one without delay, so you can retry instantly. But you can also just explore freely, where a lot of effort went into creating the environments and you may find some hidden secrets.

There are four different mountains, which have four different trails each, but there is free DLC that adds a fifth, more difficult trail to each mountain. In addition, there is a fifth mountain with four trails available as paid DLC. So, all in all, that's 24 different courses, though there are some overlaps between the trails of the same mountain. You can also unlock night versions of all the trails and other changes, so there's plenty to do.

It's highly recommended to play with a controller and the screen-based steering, where you will go in the direction of your analog stick. The alternative are left / right controls, similar to the classic Micro Machines games, and I personally find those very confusing.

One thing to emphasize about this game is its atmosphere. There is no music, it's all just pure ambient sounds, but it really takes you to these places and absolutely makes you feel like you're biking in the middle of nature. This is something that I always loved about the old Nintendo 64 Zelda games, where you may even hear some familiar bird sounds, and Lonely Mountains: Downhill really perfected this craft.

My only major complaint is that the camera sometimes is a little restrictive, so that you don't really see where you're going and have to learn the courses at first to be able to drive them without accidents. This can lead to some frustrations and I really would enjoy the game more if I could just zoom out a bit.

Also, I feel like the physics can be a bit too punishing, where I sometimes feel like I should make a jump, but then just crash anyway. But I haven't unlocked all the different bikes yet, which can give you better stats, and it may just be a skill issue.

Today's Run

Another thing to keep in mind that this game has a "daily ride", where participating in them let's you score different cosmetics during a season. For the dailies everyone will play the same trail with the same setup and under special conditions, so that there's a new experience each day. The better you score compared to other players on a leaderboard, the more points you will earn to unlock the different items, like helmets, backpacks, paint jobs, and stuff.

The seasons are completely free, so you don't have to pay extra here for some "Rider Pass" or whatever. But of course this is yet another game on the market that wants your attention on a daily basis, where there are way too many. They are also keeping it quite tight, where a season may last only one month, but it takes (at least) 15 days to unlock everything. So, if you're conscious about this type of consumer trap, then be aware about this.

Cosmetics from previous seasons are also completely unobtainable right now, which means that a new player you will have missed a ton of "content". At least the game doesn't rub it in your face, so there's no list of "here are all the nice items that you could have had if you had been playing the game from day 1 and it's really your own fault that you didn't". It only shows you the things you have. And since the game's graphics are very simplistic, it may not even matter that much...

That being said, it's the perfect game to be played in-between. You can play this in very short sessions – spend around five to ten minutes to drive down a mountain, feel good about it, and then move on. And the daily rides are a good incentive to do just that.