Welcome to 'The Esoteric Beat', the news report that provides new and unusual ways to think about games and culture. This week's column looks at developer commentaries, mods and Sfeer.
- Half-Life 2 owners had a unique freebie this week with the release of Valve's Lost Coast technology promo via Steam. Not a great level to play, admittedly, but looking good with the HDR technology that has the pixel-heads slavering and yapping about the future of polygonal gorgeousness. What was perhaps more interesting still was the inclusion of developer commentary by Valve throughout the level. We want more like this. Akin to special edition DVDs of our favourite films, could games one day be released with interactive developer commentary, demonstrating elements of the game and explaining the tricks of the trade? Starbreeze's excellent Chronicles of Riddick did something similar on PC last year with its own developer commentary, but could it ever become more than a gimmick? For modders, for example, a walk-through of a level with some expert advice from the developers could prove invaluable to creativity.
- And so, on to some esoteric mods. We picked up on two new Quake-engine total conversions built in the wake of Id's release of the Quake III source code via art games site Select Parks. Tremulous, an FPS/RTS multiplayer hybrid reminiscent of Natural Selection, is a Quake III total conversion, and is available on its own website. The other title, Warsow, is a little more radical, being a Quake 2 hybrid engine game which mixes cell-shaded stylings with martial arts and a touch of violent future-sports. Amongst UT 2004 mods, the standout mods of the last few months are the fantasy melee mod, Soulkeeper, and then arter-than-thou noir space exploration game Hollow Moon. Making the weirdest use out of Half-Life 2's physics is sandbox toolkit Garry's Mod, in which people make the weirdest things. If you've not tried this out yet, then you're well overdue some time at the controls of this wild physics-toy playground. Garry's Mod demonstrates just how far just a few coding tweaks can push the Half-Life 2 engine. Eclipse, meanwhile is a little more mainstream, utilizing Half-Life 2's physics systems to the tell the story of a telekinetic girl in a fantasy land.
- This week's offbeat interactive art is Sfeer. It's an interactive 'space' made out of photographs and animations. Taking its queue from the way in which we navigate virtual spaces in games, Sfeer takes a city and allows viewers to navigate it through photos and animation, via a touchscreen interface, resulting in some deeply weird and abstract visuals. The project is currently working to map new cities, including Budapest.
[Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]