October 12, 2007

New Alien Arena 6.10 blows away its FPS competition

Author: Joe Barr

Today, COR Entertainment is scheduled to release version 6.10 of Alien Arena 2007, the popular free software, 3-D, first-person shooter built atop id Software's Quake II engine, which was released under the GPL in 2001. The new release of Alien Arena comes with seven new arenas, a better arsenal of weaponry, and a new game mode for one-on-one duels.

If you're a gamer but not familiar with Alien Arena, think of Quake III or Unreal Tournament and you won't be far off the mark. If you're not familiar with those icons of the first-person shooter genre, think massive, sustained, unrelenting, ankle-deep-in-blood, kill-or-be-killed carnage which can be enjoyed solo, just you against the bots on your PC, or, if your taste in killing tends toward living targets, in multiplayer mode on a network server.

Alien Arena is a 3-D game, so to try it you'll need hardware support for 3-D acceleration. You'll also need, at a minimum, a 1GHz processor, 256MB of memory, and 500MB of available disk space. Downloads for both Windows and Linux versions of the game are available at a number of sites.

To install the game, unzip the download file, which contains both executables and source code. At the command line, change to the alienarena2007 subdirectory created when you unzip the download, and enter ./crx to start the client, or ./crded to start a dedicated server.

To display Alien Arena's console in the top half of the GUI, press the tilde (~) key. From there, you can change game options, chat with other players, or use any of the 138 available commands. I used the console the first time I started the game to set my name with the command NAME WARTZILLA. To close the console, press the Esc key.

You can also set and change your game name in the GUI. Use the arrow down key to highlight GAME OPTIONS and press Enter twice. That takes you to the Player Setup screen, where you can also choose one of 11 different player models, a red or blue skin, left- or right-handed play, Internet connection speed, and various download options. By default, the game automatically tries to download new maps, models, and sounds when you connect to a server.

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If your play control settings are not to your liking, tweak them to your heart's content by first highlighting the specific control, pressing Enter, and then pressing the key or button you want to use for the action. Don't be afraid of messing things up; an option at the bottom of the page returns everything to the default settings.

You can change video options in the same way from the main screen. By default, you are in full-screen mode at 1024x768 resolution. To change that, highlight VIDEO OPTIONS and press Enter. There are also options to set brightness and display options, which may impact your performance in terms of frames per second in game play. Unlike the GAME OPTIONS, changes to video require you to explicitly apply the changes when you're done, or they won't stick.

Once you have customized everything to your liking, you're ready to play. You can play in SINGLE PLAYER mode, select JOIN SERVER for a multiplayer game, or start your own dedicated server.

I recommend at least an hour or so of SINGLE PLAYER experience before you venture onto the Internet for multiplayer games. Select SINGLE PLAYER, press Enter, then choose the level of play. EASY is the default, but it's not really all that easy. The bots are quite capable of sending you to eternity, even at the easy level.

You may also want to use SINGLE PLAYER mode to explore the many maps available as playgrounds. I count 43 maps in the SVN version of the game I downloaded and built the day prior to release. Each map combines a mode of play -- Death Match, Capture the Flag, All Out Assault, and so on -- with an arena, such as Atlantis, Omega, or Babel. There are 22 maps available for Death Match play, for example. You can change maps at the console with the MAP MAP-NAME command.

Selecting JOIN SERVER at the initial screen brings up the screen shown here. It's probably a good idea to select REFRESH LIST and press Enter before proceeding, to ensure that only currently active servers are displayed. Click on any of the servers listed to see information about the server and the players on it. When you find a server you want -- the USA Beginner Team is a good place to hone your multiplayer skills -- highlight it using the arrow keys, then press Enter.

The default game mode is the Death Match, where it is every player for himself. The rules are simple: kill everyone else and avoid being killed. Other game modes include Capture the Flag, All Out Assault, Deathball, Team Core Assault, and the newest one, Duel.

In Capture the Flag, you must steal the other team's flag and bring it back to your team's base. The team with the most captures wins. All Out Assault is like Death Match, but you can hop in vehicles and travel in them. If a server is running Duel mode, only two players are allowed at a time, and they go head-to-head. I've not had a chance to try Deathball and Team Core Assault yet.

When you join a server that is running a team game, you'll be asked if you want the server to assign you to a team, or to pick between the red and the blue teams.

If you ever need help with Alien Arena, check the game forums. You may find others have had the same problem and found the fix. If not, you can post a message, and more knowledgeable folk, developers as well as users, can have a look at it.

There are both Windows and Linux versions of the game. According to John Diamond, the game's lead developer, Alien Arena has been downloaded more than 500,000 times since it was released two years ago. He guesses that about 10% of those downloads were of the Linux version, but notes that about half of the game's regular players are running the game on Linux.

I wrote last year that "Tremulous is the best free software FPS game I've had the pleasure of playing." Alien Arena has changed my mind about that. They're both great, and both stand on the shoulders of the free software Quake engine, but Alien Arena is now at the top of my list.

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