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The Slacker's Guide - From the Way-Cool Tree Fort Clubhouse: Tremulous

by Chris Barylick
June 27th, 2006

Sometimes I wonder about them. The open source software scene has always been a strange beast by nature. Good of heart and even better of intention, the average computer user doesn't regard it askance, provided they know what it is, but may not know what to make of it.

Here is a community composed of thousands of people, each contributing to a larger project. And while they invite comments and ideas from anyone interested in the effect, the average user may seldom have any idea of what to say. To the larger world, these people are essentially the equivalent of a group that's built themselves a tree fort, sealed themselves away and proceed to work on the job of their choice.

Every so often, something really cool drop from this tree fort. Tremulous, a stand-alone game based on the OpenGL source release of the Quake 3 game engine, fits into this category. A weird but classic offshoot, Tremulous combines elements of first person shooter titles with character building elements of a real time strategy title.

Similar to the gameplay and upgrade factors made famous by Counterstrike, the game allows players to choose opposing sides (humans versus aliens), then rewards each kill with points that can be used towards the purchase of different weapons and more powerful combat units.

Earn your way towards higher end combat units in Darklegion Design's free Tremulous game.

Not a bad concept and Tremulous makes the idea as fun as possible. Upon reaching an upgrade for either the alien or human sides, the player is granted an upgrade towards either a mechanized or monstrous new form to supplement the unit's original abilities. Factor in the presence of "builder" units that create other units such as weapons, items and new spawn points (absolutely critical to winning), and the game's tactical elements become that much more interesting.

Unlike a strict first person shooter, strategy comes into play and becomes critical. If a point is overrun and spawn points are destroyed, the opposing side will have to fall back, coming that much closer to defeat. Learn the ins and outs of a map and the terrain becomes yours, even if the other side has more spawn points or their units have earned new technologies to aid them.

When Aliens versus Predator was released several years ago, the one thing that caught players off guard and either made them bounce up and down with joy or curse their opponents was the wall climbing ability presented when playing as an alien. Although this was tricky to master and made navigating a map that much harder, it proved extremely fun and the core reason to play as a race that could essentially only use close range melee attacks. This has returned in what might be considered a simpler form in Tremulous. Here, players choosing the alien side can climb any surface they wish to sneak behind and get the drop on their human opponents

Tremulous may not be a commercial effort, but the design team that composes Darklegion Development did their homework. Textures and sounds are as rich as they can be under the well-used Quake 3 engine and the lighting casts a suspenseful/murky feel. Modeling for the aliens is second to none and while first level units appear as either crabs or spiders, just wait a few levels until waist-high spider-like creatures begin charging your character. It's moments like this where the human player falls back, frantically firing a rifle that seems smaller and less effective with each passing second. This is also the moment where one realizes that for this reaction to occur, someone must have devoted an amazing amount of time and attention into the production of the title.

A Dragoon unit moves towards its human prey in Tremulous.

Tremulous functions as a stand-alone game and is a 102 megabyte download that expands to occupy 107.7 megabytes of disk space once installed. The game requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later to run, which is built into Mac OS X 10.4, to run). The game is available for free and players interested in contributing to future development efforts can go to the #tremulous IRC channel on the server (with clients such as Ircle) to talk with the developers.

Unfortunately, there is a downside. Tremulous is an online-only game. Though free and a terrific title, the development team has stopped short of coding bots, or computer-controlled players into the game, the task proving incredibly difficult and time consuming. Not the worst thing in the world and the title remains incredibly fun, but one almost sees where their money goes with a marquee commercial title like Unreal Tournament or Quake 4.

That wraps it up for this week. As always, if you see anything new, cool or useful in the Mac universe,


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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