Previous Week April 2nd, '99 Next week

Daikatana: ( / AntiGMan

Daikatana Mplayer deathmatch demo
Or: Revenge of the raging Romero!

"The q2 engine is dead, Long live Unreal" - a very, very, foolish man.

Daikatana is an ION Storm game. ION is most famous for its' two gaming gurus, John Romero and Tom Hall both former-Id guys. In Id, They worked on games like Dangerous Dave, commander keen, Wolfeinstein, and Doom. Romero also made some of the more memorable levels in Quake (Crypt of Decay, DM3). They quit Id and gathered many talented developers (most of them, BTW, are already out of ION) to work on three projects (now already four). One of them was John Romero's 3d-shooter Daikatana, which was supposed to feature true Combat-Role-Playing elements, along with cooperative Non-Player Characters (Half-Life has already beaten them to it). However, the move from the Q1 engine to the Q2 engine, far-fetched original design, and the recent departure of many of ION's team, held back the release date for a very long time now.
A few weeks ago, it finally came out - with a few limitations, of course. The demo contains two deathmatch levels, and is only playable on Mplayer's online gaming service (it's free, though). As a treat, players get to participate in a ladder-style tournament, where the winner gets to play against the one, the only, John Romero. I wasn't much excited with the idea of a Daikatana Deathmatch Demo. I really wanted to see a single player demo of the game. I just couldn't wait to get my hands on a 3d-shooter single-player game with true CRPGish elements. I've also heard nasty rumors about a skill system in DM, which I believed would unbalance the game.

The day it was out, I rolled my sleeves, and went... To download. 34 megabyte of a demo, available from four servers, all SLOW. The file came corrupt the first time (probably because I switched servers a lot), so I had to download it AGAIN, which was a torture, even with my ISDN. This was not the only thing that intimidated me. The system requirements stated: P200 (according to readme), PII 300 recommended, with an OPENGL capable 3d accelerator. I only have a p233, and a reasonable accelerator (my newly purchased DM3D II), so I was afraid the game was going to crawl on my PC. I decided to try my luck anyway, and was very glad when I finally got to download an undamaged file. I then opened it, just to discover the Mplayer client program needs Internet Explorer, which I: A) hate B) not comfortable with C) do not have. So I had to download another 12 MB. By that time I was starting to wonder whether this is truly worth the effort. (Irony is, a few weeks later, I still downloaded the kingpin demo, which weighs more of all of these together).
And then, I finally got to play Daikatana.
And I wasn't disappointed.

It (barely) downloads, it annoys, it takes a lot of space. Does it play, too? Yes, it actually does. Games on Mplayer are hosted on-server - meaning everything goes through Mplayer. The first time I tried to enter a game, I obviously tried to pick the servers entitled "beginners" but found them full. Finally, I found a server I COULD fit into - "no cable modems please" (Implying perhaps that the other servers were full of cable-modem users?) and started getting' to the fraggin'.

The demo has 5 weapons: first is the Disruptor glove (Romerus for fist) - which can actually do some serious damage if you're able to hit with it. Second is the Ion Blaster (Romerus for "that energy thingy") which is a rapid-fire weapon with shots bouncing off walls - Pity you can't hit yourself though. The third is the Shotcycler-6 (Romerus for semi-automatic machine gun), a Shotgun/chaingun combo, which shoots a few rounds on a press of the fire button, but stops in order to reload. The beauty of this baby is that your character is actually pushed back with each round spewed (this also occurs with other weapons, but is most emphasized with this one). Next is the C4 Vizatergo (Romerus for proximity mine-launcher), which launches mines that explode if someone (including the owner) is stupid enough to go near them or smart enough to shoot them. They make high-pitched beeping noise, which helps you to detect them. Interesting to notice - the mines do not lag gameplay, however you will find them really annoying, even if avoidable. Last is the sidewinder (Romerus for "Ride my Rocket, you little piece of ****!") which shoots two rockets whirling one around the other, and looks very impressive. The weapons are all very strong, and balance seems very weird. The proximity launcher is so powerful it's annoying, and a player with a disruptor glove could in many cases win over a player with the sidewinder (unless the last is trigger-happy). In most cases, 3 shots of everything would wipe a player (and the amounts of blood coming from each shot are, well, ridiculous). However, that's excusable, because the game is still really fun.
There is a skill system, and it doesn't horribly corrupt game balance. The skill system gives each model various initial skills (1-5) in power, vitality, speed, attack and acrobatics, and the skills slowly increase according to your kills. Also, taking a rune with a skill's name would max it to 5 (though Romero stated in a recent interview that it'll change to 4, and 5 will be reachable only by gaining experience). The runes act as temporary and respawning power-ups, and therefore do not unbalance the game seriously.
Here's a rundown of the skills: There's the obvious power skill - notice that taking a power rune is much more forgivable than the similar q2 rune due to its temporary nature. The Vitality skill acts like lithium's resist (at least I think it does...). The speed skill makes a considerable change at your character's movement rate - with a rune, you even take damage when bouncing into walls. The attack skill speeds up your weapon's attack rate - for example, taking a rune makes reloading on the shotcycler 6 redundant. Finally, there's my personal favorite, the Acro skill, which enables you to jump half the height of the map. Try visualizing an Acrobatics 5-C4 Vizatergo-Sidewinder rocket jump - and here's a serious bug - that one actually bumped my head against the sky, and dealt damage! On the other hand, maybe I've entered a higher part of the atmosphere... The interesting thing about runes, is that once a player takes them, ALL players hear the name of the rune from the exact spot he's taken it (not that it matters much, because they respawn at the same place). Meaning, you've got a rune - everyone knows you have it, and can place you on a certain spot in the map. Id's designers have already borrowed that trick for Q3A. Also, aside from medkits which only heal you to 100, There are various health artifacts to boost your health (I once found myself - believe it or not, with 500 health!) and that might make those weapons up there a little bit weaker.
I never gave much thought to map design in my reviews. I think good maps have the right sense of mood, the right amount of gimmicks, and a bonus factor to maps that succeed in spreading the action across the level, instead of concentrating it in one room. On the other hand, rooms shouldn't be too annoying - Lava and poison are good when used in the right quantity, and camping spots should be identified and removed (Quake's DM4 is an example of a failure in both cases). From the mood point of view, each game has its own theme, for the most part- Half Life and Quake 2 are hi-techy, SiN and Blood bring the air of harsh streets, and Quake 1, was, of course, medievelish. Since Daikatana's single player involves a time travel element, the game will contain a lot of different environments - and the deathmatch maps bring two which aren't all too unfamiliar. The first, Gibbler on the roof, already scared me just by the name. No fear, though - the roof isn't good enough a camping spot, it's very easy to get to or to target, and it's usually full of mines placed by angry players. It's a "harsh street" map alright, and most combat does occur on the streets, but notice there are also a lot of windows and porches viewing into them. The apartments nearby are full of treats, and there's even a secret (yes, a secret! Trouble is, everyone can hear you finding it, since it makes that cool divine inspiration sound effect) but you'd still spend most of your time doing combat outside. The second map, Storm Sector 7, is hi-tech in mood, and is smaller then Gibbler. It's a mostly open factory with less features and less runes then Gibbler, but it does have two things that make it unique - one, that amazing rain effect, and two, it has two health refiller stands (think of them as your emergency water-cooler). The stands are useful, but many players have an annoying way of treating them - they use them, then MINE them, and get easy kills against players In need. In general, however, while this map looks better then Gibbler, it plays itself out very fast. Notice though, that due to the small number of players Mplayer allows (up to 16, and usually no more than 8) you might find playing SS7 more fun than Gibbler.

But what's really bugging me...
My fears about Performance were needless. Thankfully, the game ran very well. Though the visual difference is obvious, from, say, Q2, or SiN, it didn't hog my PC too much, and it's probably another case of exaggerated system requirements (I even read somewhere that someone could fit it on his non-accelerated p133). From the latency aspect, I usually had 200 ping, though it seemed to jump to around the 400-500 in battles. Generally, however, it was playable, and I actually found myself able to avoid some rockets. There were a lot of times when Mplayer informed me my connection was not good enough for gameplay and put me on chat-only mode, similarly to the (which is ANNOYING - anyone here consoled at all by being able to chat with ppl you want to play with?). My real problem, though, was the bugs.
Many were the times when, to my amazement, I found myself respawning with a sidewinder. However, it acted very much like a Disruptor glove, and probably didn't look as intimidating to other players. I also found the occasional sidewinder escorting me and blocking half of my top view as I go. And as I've mentioned before, the sky textures still act like ceilings. There was nothing seriously buggy with gameplay. My problem is: if Daikatana has been in the works for more than two years, how come a demo, which is supposed to make me buy the game, is so full of bugs?

And it's not only the bugs. The demo doesn't do enough to make it different from other shooters. And here's why I don't like deathmatch only demos: I can deathmatch whenever I want, and there are Q2 mods that are much more fun to play than all those demos. A deathmatch demo cannot justify buying a game. Especially one that takes so much time to download, is full of bugs, and doesn't have weapon balance. The only reasons you might want to download it are:
  a) If you're a download-mazochist (and you need something that'll test your modem and nerves almost as much as the kingpin demo)
  b) If you really need a refreshing deathmatch experience, and can't wait for the LAN/Internet version due soon (see my post at the forum).
  c) If you think you're good enough to get all the way up to John Romero (and do notice, that you can't win the grand prize, because it is limited to US residents only).
I know I qualify for (a), at least.



  • Demo (download locations) -
  • Demo (34MB) -