Over the years our beloved mod community has become a hive of creative ambition, with individuals separated by entire nations and time zones banding together to make their dreams become interactive reality.
Sadly though, most of these mods never see the light of day, often amounting to little more than a collection of promise-filled screenshots, and the fragmented remains of failed ambitions. As a result, many of us can’t help but feel a bite of pessimism every time a new, highly ambitious TC is announced, given that even the most modest of mods don’t always reach a playable state. But every now and again something comes along that defies this mean, something which boasts not only ambition, but practicality. It is with great pleasure then that I present to you a preview of one such rarity, which has taken form on one of the most unlikely of foundations. Introducing, Terminator FPS.
Terminator FPS is an upcoming TC modification for Epic Games’ Gears of War. Developed almost solely by 19 year old college student Kevin Bryant, the mod was originally intended to be a first person spin-off entitled Carmine-Chronicles.
Inspired greatly by contemporary shooters such as Killzone 2 and Call of Duty, the story of Terminator FPS integrates with the canon of the critically acclaimed franchise. However project lead Kevin has been keen to avoid any direct links with the stories or characters of the movies.
“I tried to avoid the main characters being involved in the plot because I want to leave that for the official writers to decide. So I came up with Sergeant Dawson, no one too important to the terminator saga.” Kevin explains. “I wanted the player to be just a small soldier in a huge conflict. The mod takes place in 2029, so all the weapons are plasma weapons, and the T800s are the most reliable of skynet's arsenal. I do eventually want some twists in the story that tie in with the films, such as the discovery of time travel.”
The mod is to be released episodically, though the story itself will centralize around the same character. Although the previewed build did little to expose its storytelling mechanics, the introductory cinematic did an acceptable job at setting the scene, complete with a bleak narration on the downfall of mankind, and an original score featuring that classic Terminator soundtrack rhythm.
From third to first
Two of the most recognizable aspects of the base game are its third person camera mode, and the cover system which modern action games are rarely seen without. Both of these features however are absent from Terminator FPS, which is opting for a more traditional approach to action combat.
“In this first person mode, taking cover caused many glitches and was almost impossible to fix so I just took it out completely. Personally I'm not a big fan of cover systems in first person shooters anyway.”
Considering that the base engine is also that of equally successful Unreal Tournament 3, it begs the question “Why not mod UT3? Particularly given it has a far larger user base”.
“UT3 is a newer version of the engine, but in my experience requires much more scripting to get things going. Gears of War already has many gameplay mechanics I wanted, including melee attacking, reloading, sprinting, and aiming. In my opinion Gears of War has more features in Kismet which are suited to right-brained designers (like me), whereas UT3 supports more traditional methods.
Building an FPS for the game has been difficult but it is also fun work. This project has had much frustration but communities like Moddb help make the production very motivated.
As for the fanbase, I know that Gears of War on PC is not very popular, and it stinks that it does have such a small fanbase. But I started the project on Gears so It will stay with Gears, although I do like the UDK given by epic and I do plan to use that in future projects.”
Colourful, bleak and frenzied
For the most part this is your standard FPS affair, though the gameplay and atmosphere is extremely frenzied. Plasma bombs fall from the sky left right and centre, the screams of your comrades lie barely audible beneath a torrent of gunfire, and although during the play test I rarely had to fight any more than 3 enemies at any one time, there was a constant sense of intensity, surging onwards through the oppressive plasma fire.
“I want the player to feel small, fighting a big army of machines. I'm sure you can tell more work was put into the scenarios than the gameplay mechanics, but in all honesty originality is not my intension. Just like call of duty and killzone 2, I want the atmosphere to feel hostile and overwhelming. For example, the artillary fire create smoke screens that make it harder for the player to see what they are shooting, but the badguys don't have a problem with it. That gives the player a feel that they are fighting against something with obvious advantages.”
This frenzy extends beyond the gameplay itself, and into the visual style. I for one am sick and tired of the whole ‘post apocalypse’, desaturated-colourscheme-cack that the current generation of videogames seem so fond of (will someone please explain to me why, since we now have the technology to make our dreams come to life, developers dreams seem to be so visually sterile?). While that visual style is fundamentally still ever present, Terminator FPS has bought a few artistic brushes of its own to the palette.
The vivid blues and purples of the plasma fire descending overhead, coupled with some neat lighting effects and custom materials give this mod an authentic ‘noir-mageddon’ aesthetic, which really suits the source material well.
“I incorporated a custom material which gives the illusion of god-rays (or light rays, those things EVERY crysis screenshot makes a point of focusing on). Unreal engine 3 has an incredible material system that can be used to make more than just textures. Layered 'screen textures' with low values (so it can only pick up intense light) are placed infront of the player and are radiated using a 'bump offset' to create the effect of light rays emmiting from an intense light source.”
It is little details like these that further allow Terminator FPS to distance itself from Gears of War, and stand as a true TC. Unfortunately consistency in this department becomes an issue, as quite often you’ll come across props and textures from the original game. Likewise while the character and weapon models themselves boast an admirable level of detail, the environment generally does not. The decayed ruins of mankinds valiant defiance against technology line the backdrop nicely, but the foreground and areas of combat are often somewhat sparse. It doesn’t ruin the experience, just dilutes it a little.
Combat, bloody combat
During the playtest I experienced combat against a variety of enemies, each of which have been crafted with a clear attention to detail, and respect for the source material. Though for the most part they’re essentially ‘re-skinned’ versions of those in Gears of War, this is barely noticeable. Anyone familiar with the movies will instantly recognize the T800’s, the HK’s and vertical Tanks.
“Some non-canon baddies will be in it too. The Tboomer(a heavy weapons T600), the Berserkinator(a robotic version of the berserker from gears of war), and one that kind of behaves like the Flood from the Halo series will eventually make an appereance. Many of the weapons from the 20th century are not effective against the terminators so that scratches a huge chunk of the mod's potential arsenal. All the weapons will be from the future scenes from the first two films, which so far only covers the plasma rifle and charge bombs. The eventual plan will be to also include mounted and portable turrets, and one of those missile launchers that they use to shoot HKs.”
For the most part the enemies look great, and it’s a special thrill to have a severed-in-half Terminator crawling its way towards you in one last attempt at ending your miserable organic existence. However what’s clearly lacking is behavior, as most of them will remain in a single position and soak up your ammo until they die. In some ways I’m hesitant to complain too much about this, as given the intensity of the atmosphere it acts as a nice balance to have relatively simple targets to aim at. But this is Terminator, these things are supposed to be ultimate enemy, and its difficult to really buy into that concept when they’re generally so easy to dispatch of.
While FPS lovers will find little wrong with the formula and aesthetic of Terminator FPS, where some may find themselves alienated is the control scheme, as the mod is currently designs for the Xbox360 controller, with keyboard and mouse support very much a secondary objective.
“One of the reasons I chose Gears of War is because it was originally designed for the Xbox360 gamepad. I wanted a shooter to feel more like a console game, because consoles, frankly, are more mainstream. However I can’t ignore the demand for mouse and keyboard support, and will eventually make UI graphics that also represent the mouse and keyboard.”
Although this play test was of an early build, the amount of custom content, quality of said content and general standard of the mod is impressive, particularly given the size and inexperience of the team. Furthermore the team is taking an objective and professional approach to its development, as they understand what’s missing, and the amount of work yet to do before the mod is in a state fit for public release.
“There's no exact release date but I plan to have the first beta test before the end of 2009. Although people love the Coop function in Gears of war, I wont be building this into the mod as it uses Games for Windows Live, and modding is not allowed on this server.
After this I have plans to work on projects using UDK, but I can't say if it's terminator or not. But right now for the Terminator mod for gears, I want to have many cool things that fans would enjoy in a singleplayer experience.”
If the team continue to push their goals and standards as they have thus far, Terminator FPS will not only be a thoroughly enjoyable modification, but also a strong indication of the teams own technical expertise. They’ve made constructive use of the base engine, enhancing what works and removing what’s redundant, and even at this stage it’s made for an immersive, fun FPS.
Thanks to Kevin for participating in this preview, and you can learn more about Terminator FPS.