The Birth of the Arena Shooter

1999 was an interesting year. We were coming up to the end of the millenium, Robbie Williams and the Wamdue Project were in the charts, and we were staring into the face of the imminent global destruction set to be caused by the millennium bug. In the gaming space, the Dreamcast released, and on the PC a new genre was heating up: the arena shooter. These games concentrated on the deathmatch (and other multiplayer formats) for their gameplay. Online was the focus, of course, but most had a complete ladder-tournament system built in, played against bots.

Two of these games came out within a day of each other. Coming out first, on December the 2nd, was iD software’s Quake 3 Arena. It was the first game to use iD Tech 3, and was absolutely gorgeous. This was due to the engine being able to render spline-based curved surfaces, something not seen before, giving a lot of the arenas a very organic look. You could choose from a vast variety of characters to play as, including the Doom Marine, the ranger from the original Quake, and a literal eyeball with legs.

Gameplay was as you would expect: Deathmatches to a predefined score limit, with a regular selection of weapons from the Quake and Doom games on offer. Deathmatch was the only option here (remedied by the Quake 3 Team Arena released later) with up to sixteen players on a map. This was occasionally broken up by ‘Boss Battles’ which were one-on-one duels on small maps.

The next day, Epic Games dropped Unreal Tournament (I’m using UK Dates here — UT was actually first released in the US).This game had a lot more options in it than Q3A, with many more match types, and even an opening cinematic which gave a tiny glimpse of a story. There wasn’t much to this story, just that the Landri Corporation set up these tournaments as a way to control the prison population. Not War and Peace by any means, but it gave UT a place in the Unreal universe.

Side note: Yes, there was an Unreal universe. Unreal was a single-player, story-based FPS experience which predated Unreal Tournament by a year, and was the first game to use the — now super popular — Unreal Engine. It even received  a sequel which continued the story.

There were six game types on offer: single and team deathmatch; capture the flag; domination, which saw you fighting to control points on the map as teams; last man standing, which focused on deaths instead of kills, as you had a limited life count; and assault.

Assault was an interesting one. This was one team assaulting a base, and another defending, with various objectives to accomplish before doing so. Once completed, the teams switch, and the new attacking team have the amount of time the first team completed it in to capture the base, else they lose.

Also, giving you more options to play with, the game featured mutators. These changed the gameplay in various ways; such as InstaGib, which replaced all weapons in the map with one-hit-kill pulse rifles.

I will be playing through both games over the next few weeks, and posting the results on the B3 Youtube channel. You can find the first episode of Unreal Tournament right here.

Disclaimer: I suffer from what I’ll describe as real-life input lag these days, and am not as fast as I was in my younger days, so these will be played on the easiest settings so that I can get through them without too much trouble. You may see occasional flashes of brilliance, but they are few and far between, so please go easy on me!

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