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Map Title: The Calling
This map is an early map for Unreal submitted to Myscha's Level Design Charette contest that The Rescue of Panunu won. But I've always found this map much more memorable than Panunu.
You start off in a small office room being gestured to follow a Nali projection (the obvious "Calling" of the title). The office looks decent enough, although the visuals of this area are somewhat ruined if you take a look out of the window (the "outside" is very obviously a textured cube). You then move on to the "Nali world" that initially gives off a very Unreal feeling with the way the terrain is pulled off, although there are a few very obvious cuts in it that look ugly and the alignment is lacking. It's not completely familiar though as there are a couple of new elements such as cylindrical Nali huts, which look reasonably good, although their exterior (and interior) wall texture is unconvincing. The other main site in the initial terrain is a "Haunted house" that makes excellent use of fog for a creepy set-up that provides the atmospheric highlight of the level and is pulled off well architecturally (although the default-textured light beams on the upper floor are a little weak). You then move on to a precarious wooden bridge and finally the climax at a small "Skaarj" base textured in playership, which fails to convince, however, despite this the interesting pyramid design and force field still manage to provide a visual highlight for the ending (and make it look somewhat alien).
I've already mentioned the main texturing problems, there's nothing special about the rest of the texturing but it's pulled off well enough, although the texture on a small water pool in the terrain appears slightly odd (the ripples look way too big and fast for the waterfall there) and the floor of the final room also doesn't look right.
The lighting has a few factors that set it above a lot of early Unreal maps, namely fog use, as it is utilised very well to enhance the atmosphere of certain areas (although the water under the bridge is not affected by the fog, making it look out of place). The final base also makes good use of green at the force field and the lighting is all sourced, though the coronas are kind of ugly. The psychedelic lighting in the starting warp also works well. While simple compared to modern maps it is a still a cut above most of the maps available at the time of its release.
Sound use isn't so positive, there are no ambient sounds whatsoever, so the only sounds provided are by the birds etc around the level, even the waterfall and forcefield give off no noise. Music is used in the form of "Nali.umx", including song sections. Unfortunately, it randomly plays at the wrong speed (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't), it still provides some atmosphere but considering how well the rest does for such an old level it's a shame it let itself down here.
The story involves you being called from your office to another world where you must save the kidnapped priest (rescuing a Nali priest being the required story of the contest). Most of this is given in the readme, although the warp to the other world is well done and shows this story in-game to some degree. After reaching the priest you find yourself in a infinite flyby of the terrain area, this provides some sort of payoff although more could have been done. Translator messages are thin, but they help you along and provide a little setting, as well as humour, the only lacking factor in this regard is a facetious translator message by the author, that could take some people out of the game.
There are some nice scripted set-ups such as the house I mentioned earlier and a surprise after getting the Razorjack, both of these are well done and add to the awe, and the choice of opposition is sensible, though the end combat against a couple of krall was pretty lame. No difficulty settings are implemented (beyond the standard enhancements that are given to enemies) and I finished the level easily on Unreal. No Dispersion Pistol is provided, and the only weapons you get are the Automag, Eightball and Razorjack, however, due to how short the level is this is more than enough to get by and I wasn't starved for ammo at any point (although I felt like I couldn't be wasteful), still, not providing the DP is a dodgy practice, especially as you must attack something at one point to make progress (a small puzzle).
The terrain part of the level is non-linear, but exploration is needed to get the weapons you need later, this still adds a feeling of choice, and it's pretty obvious which way you must go to get further, so you probably won't wonder off to the end part too soon. Of the early Unreal maps I played this has remained one of the most memorable, and the settings and sequences show that some thought has been put in to them.
Most of the technical problems come from playing the map in UT, namely the start, where the warp is messed up and goes a lot slower than it is supposed to, losing some of its effect, since this is a UT issue (and that's the "wrong" platform for it) it didn't affect the score much. It was also possible to land on some rocks at the bottom of the bridge and survive, but then explode the second you enter the water; the water or rocks should have been moved. I encountered no other problems in the rest of the level. The frequent fog use might provide some performance issues on weaker computers despite the low-poly build, but any computer capable of running semi-modern Unreal maps should have no problems.
This map has stuck with me for a lot longer than most early Unreal maps have (the fact I could still remember what it is being testament to that) and, due to being so short (around 15 minutes max), I recommend giving it a try. This map provides an example of Conceptual Grandness over other aspects as, while Panunu scores better all-round, I consider this a more interesting level.
None to date.