Monday, December 17, 2007

The perils of playing old cult classic games on the internet

Observation: Games with a small but hardcore following become less accessible over time, asymptotically so if they do not have a built-in automatic download feature.

Evidence: When a dedicated game community likes a game/mod enough, a whole cottage hacking industry builds up around it, providing micro-mods of varying degrees of usefulness. The most prevalent are various forms of Admin Mod, which provide features like map voting, player kicking, and shoehorning in the Unreal Tournamnent "multi kill!" sound effect at appropriate times. If these mods are completely server-side, connecting to a server is no more difficult than a 'clean' one; you just get all sorts of nonstandard text popping up and occasionally are booted from the server by a gaggle of Polish teenagers who are convinced you are cheating. Counter-Strike, while heavily adorned, features strictly server-side hacks; the only required downloads are custom maps, and the standard set is popular enough that you can simply find another server. Soldier of Fortune 1 is much the same way.

Soldier of Fortune 2, on the other hand, is quite a bit more painful; every server is invariably layered thick with modification, and no one has standardized the versions. Fetching the latest mod release from SOF2Files.com is insufficient, because every server seems to be running a different version; even if you have the file in question, it occasionally downloads. This would be quite a bit less frustrating if the download rate was not consistently capped at 1 KB/sec. The other problem is that of finding human opponents. Sure, there are many decent-quality SOF2 bots out there. The problem is that most fucking servers are running them. A server that claims to have 12 people playing is almost invariably 12 bots. Even picking oddly-numbered player-counts does not help.

It begs the question; whence comes this vast wasteland of deserted servers, buzzing only with the soulless thrum of bot-on-bot carnage, when the total number of players is but a pale shadow of even the server-count?

Also, is there a way to not broadcast bots as active players? If I want to play with myself, there's a very nice singleplayer campaign (or fleshbot, for that matter).

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