June 9, 2007

Scorched 3D makes tank battles fun

Author: Joe Barr

Whether or not you remember the days when DOS was DOS and real geeks played Scorched Earth, a turn-based warfare game with tanks trading shots at each other until one was destroyed, you might find Scorched 3D, a modern remake of the old classic, just as addicting today as those playing the original did then.

Scorched 3D is written in C++ and released under the GPL. It is available for the Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux platforms. You can download a binary for the platform of your choice, or grab the source code and build it yourself. I got my copy courtesy of the Ubuntu repositories. You'll want to have a graphics card capable of hardware acceleration and be running with a driver capable of exercising that capability.

The Scorched 3D startup screen offers you six choices: you can start the tutorial, start a single-player game, start a network (LAN or Internet) game, start a game server for network play, change your game setup, or view game help files as HTML -- assuming you installed them. On Ubuntu, that means installing the scorched3d-doc package as well as the game itself.

It's probably a good idea to visit the game settings page first and choose the window size you want for the game display. While you're there, browse all the other functionality and details that can be configured. If nothing else, it will give you a good sense of the level of quality and attention to detail the developers have put into this project.

Boot camp: the tutorial

I recommend going through the tutorial at least once to learn the basics of game play. Your interactive tour starts with the MOTD (Message of the Day)/Rules window and then goes on to explain how to set your nom de guerre, character type, tank icon, and color. Next, you are taken to the island, also known as the arena, where you are told in no uncertain terms what the game is all about: "This is the Scorched3d battle arena. The objective of the game is to destroy all other tanks in the arena. The last tank alive wins the round, the tank with the most rounds wins the game."

You're also taught basic keyboard tricks, such as pressing S to see the scores, or A to automatically aim at a selected target, or the 0-9 keys, which offer varying camera views of the island. I found it slightly annoying that when I pressed the 3 key, I was returned to a closeup view of my own tank, rather than a closeup of the tank I was targeting; it wasn't what I wanted to happen.

Alternatively, you can left-click on a part of the island that you wish to view. For an example of why this is called Scorched 3D instead of simply Scorched, right-click and drag to spin the island around the camera view indicated by the mouse location when you clicked. You can zoom into or out of the selected viewpoint using the wheel on your rodent.

As you can see from the image on the right, the game play interface is basically a window with a view of the arena and a circular area in each corner. The circle in the upper right corner shows a global view from 30K feet of the entire arena, with markers showing the locations of each player. In the lower right corner, you'll find information about the status of your tank. Weapons information -- selection, trajectory, ammunition and such -- is located in the lower left corner. Finally, the upper left corner provides information about the wind. You'll need that to accurately target the enemy.

Speaking of targeting, after you have decided which tank to fire at, use your left and right arrow keys to point the weapon in your target's direction, the up and down keys to adjust the trajectory, and the plus and minus keys to raise or lower the velocity of the shot. Let me offer some advice based on first-hand experience: Firing your weapon straight up, in the absence of a strong wind, can be detrimental to your health. Make sure the trajectory is not set to 90 degrees.

If I have made game play seem complicated, it's not. Find the bearing to your target. Adjust for wind. Modify trajectory. Increase or decrease power. Fire! If you missed, wait and hope that you survive until it's your turn again, then refine the parameters based on where the last shot hit and try again. If you hit and destroy a target, congratulations. Go find your next target, and do it all over again.

You are rewarded with a sum of money each time you kill an opponent, and that allows you to buy offensive and defensive weaponry for your tank. At the start of each round, a window shows your cash balance and offers items for sale. By default, you start play with a "baby missile," but you can add nukes, lasers, and all manner of wicked weaponry as you go, if you have the cash to pay for it.

Network play

After you've spent enough time in boot camp and playing locally against software-generated foes, test your skills against live opponents over the LAN or over the Internet. From the startup screen, click on the icon next to "Join a game.." and you'll see this screen appear. Click on Internet or LAN, and the server section will be populated with the servers found. Click on one of the servers, and the player section shows who is playing. Finally, click on Join Game in the bottom right corner of the window.

You'll see the MOTD/Rules window appear, and behind it, the game arena. Click OK on the Rules window, set your personal info, just as you learned in boot camp, and you're there. You will probably need to wait until a new round begins before you can start killing opponents. When it's your turn to play, you'll be alerted by a message appearing across the top of the game play window, as shown here.


Scorched 3D is an extremely well-done game, one of the best free software offerings I've found. It's not only fun, it's also well-documented. I am not surprised that it has been chosen as Project of the Month on SourceForge.net, or that it has been added to the Ubuntu repositories. The fact that you don't have to invest a whole lot of time in learning the ropes before you can start wasting time playing and enjoying the game is a plus. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it an 8.

One final tip -- if you see a tank named Warthawg in game play on a Scorched 3D game server, flee for your life. My military career as a tank commander may only have spanned a few days, but my skills have already catapulted to me to the 842nd-place ranking on the server.


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