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The Slacker's Guide - Desert Combat and Wesnoth

by Chris Barylick
October 14th, 2005

Battle for Wesnoth:
"I love it when a plan comes together," exclaimed George Peppard, typically through a cigar and ear to ear grin at the end of each episode of "The A-Team". Words to live by, and likely gray matter I'll never get back, come to think of it.

But sometimes a plan does come together, with or without the discharge of approximately 50,000 rounds, excitingly flipped cars, homemade weaponry and an amazing "building" sequence. Long the object of mixed criticism, the open source scene has been seen as something between the software industry's greatest and most altruistic achievement (a group of programmers working to make something better for no money), and its black sheep (a group of programmers working without the set focus of the commercial software industry and thus flawing potentially great software).

In the case of Battle of Wesnoth by the 'Wesnoth' Open Source Developers, open source shines again with the version 1.0 release of their long-awaited fantasy role playing game.

Developed over the past few years with source code available to anyone who wanted to contribute or help develop the game, Battle for Wesnoth functions as a turn-based strategy RPG in which players can either fight to regain the throne of their kingdom or lead the undead to conquer everything in sight. Somewhat similar to the Civilization games in terms of the overhead map and unit movements, players must recruit new units, gain resources and pay attention to changing stats that may help or hurt their units while trying to gain control of the surrounding area.

A 52.2 MB download for the Mac OS X version, Battle for Wesnoth requires Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later to run and also includes a full level editor with which to create new maps, units, campaigns and story lines. The engine, which is fully scriptable, allows players to write shortcuts for common tasks and the game includes full multiplayer support over LAN and Internet connections with an official network having been created to easily find or create new campaigns.

Finally, a rich and detailed tutorial engine explains the basics in a clear, graphical style while having the player move through the basic steps of the game, thereby reducing the learning curve to almost nothing; and better graphics and sound than one might expect emanate from the computer, making for a surprisingly fun game experience even within the first few minutes.


Preparing for melee combat in Battle for Wesnoth.

Battle for Wesnoth, which hit version 1.0 on October 2nd, is completely free and available for the Mac, Windows and Linux operating systems.

Desert Combat:
When Battlefield 1942 came out for the Mac last year, I saw what had made Windows users flock to the game in the first place. Here was a classic first person shooter with some terrific tactical elements as well as different roles that could be played to help support the battle.

If heavy artillery was needed, a player could spawn in as an anti-tank unit when the next wave of reinforcements was called in. A couple turns later, you might have a go as a sniper, clearing the way for a capture point to be taken and your side to move up. Factor in some incredible vehicles, amazing terrain and realistic weapons and you had a title worthy of its marquee status.

Leave it to a mod group to make a great thing even better. Desert Combat, a free total conversion modification developed by Trauma Studios, which in turn was purchased by Digital Illusions, makers of Battlefield 1942, has hit version 0.80 and breathed new life into one of my favorite FPS titles for the Mac platform.

Free to anyone who wants it (easy download links can be found over at macologist.org, just create a free account to download files), the mod works as a total overhaul of the items, characters, models, textures and sounds of the original Battlefield 1942 (the Road to Rome and Secret Weapons of World War II play as their original selves) and stages the player in the middle of the Desert Storm campaign with the United States fighting Iraqi forces.

Where detail and precision are concerned, this simply blows everything out of the water. Extensive weaponry and vehicles have been added for both sides with the original, balanced feel of the title remaining. Standard infantry units will carry machine guns, a hand gun and grenades while specialized support units vary the game play, medics carrying health kits while engineers can repaired damaged vehicles and support units will be equipped with binoculars with which to call in artillery strikes as well as smoke grenades to aid their teammates. Additional weaponry for each unit almost pronounces the role they offer to the battle; anti-tank units now carry a second, faster-firing rocket unit while grenade launchers have been attached to heavier infantry units. A deployable mortar has been added to both sides which can be accessed by anyone yet disappears from the map when the character that placed it has been killed.


Gunning from a helicopter in the Desert Combat 0.8 conversion of Battlefield 1942.

Specialty vehicles both add to the fun of the mod as well as support the overall balance. Standard Humvees and tanks are complimented by units with rocket launchers while a wide aircraft selection serves a variety of combat roles from tank hunting and heavy bombing to standard attack fighters to gunships that can be used for prevision suppressing fire to a stealth bomber that's still in development. The idea of a mobile aid station has been added with the inclusion of a non-combative Humvee that serves as a dispenser for health and ammunition while a medevac helicopter performs the same task but with a longer range.


Hitching a ride from a passing tank in Desert Combat.

Seeming to pick up where Secret Weapons of World War II left off, Desert Combat offers mobile anti-aircraft units to both sides as well as rocket launchers, a set of full attack helicopter systems (few things are as fun as manning one of the two mini-guns while a friend flies over an enemy capture point and strafing an area) and a transport helicopter. Entirely new play styles can be seen via the inclusion of technical pickups, automobiles and tankers, which may not be equipped with weaponry, but seem to be more centered around the idea of using the vehicle to race towards an intended objective or simply running down an opponent.

Where mods have been considered cool but finicky to install by nature ("OK, take the third file and move it into the fourth subfolder of the game's data folder, the one with the cryptic name..."), the Macologist Team has done a bang up job with their Mac installer, courtesy of Jason Harris.

The program, which runs as a standard graphical installer, places the files where they need to be and provides a dedicated launcher program that can be easily added to the Dock. Hunting for Desert Combat multiplayer games is a cinch thanks to the distinctive Desert Combat helmet by hosts running the mod and games synch and run as expected across the GameSpy network. Just make sure you're up to date via Aspyr's latest update for Battlefield 1942 (grab it via MacGameFiles.com and have both Desert Combat 0.7 and 0.8 installed (0.8 installs on top of 0.7 and despite the 464 and 539 megabyte file sizes, it helps to play it safe), enable PunkBuster in the multiplayer mode and you're good to go.

From a quality perspective, this may just trump the original, and it's easy to see why Digital Illusion bought Trauma out. The models are amazing, the levels fun and the attention to detail are second to none. Gunfire and close hits resonate almost perfectly and carry grittier, more convincing tones than the original title.

Battlefield 1942 is available from Aspyr for US$38.99 before delivery (direct Amazon link for $38.99).

System requirement are: Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later, an 867 MHz or faster G4 processor, 256 MB of RAM, 1.6 gigabytes of hard drive space, a graphics card with 32 MB of VRAM and a DVD-ROM drive to run. Desert Combat 0.8 is available as a free download via the good folks at macologist.com.

As always, if you've seen anything cool or new in the Mac universe, please let me know.

Chris Barylick covers games for The Mac Observer, and has written for Inside Mac Games, MacGamer, UPI, the Washington Post, and other publications.

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