The universe of Unreal custom mapping. Born in 1998, living for more than a decade to 2010, to now and hopefully beyond that, as long as there’s energy in its community. The community of an extraordinarily great game which has impressed everyone, contains nearly infinite hours of entertainment and inspired many artists to successfully join the gaming industry. The past, the present and the future. At the beginning, there were three factions: one who made maps just for the sake of having fun within the editor, very common in the early years; the second one had much more ambitious mappers and they did care about creating good adventure-driven products; lastly, there were some people who did experimental stuff, mostly gameplay-related. Obviously, we players quickly grew with a harsh and critical eye; most of us became so evil to consider utter trash anything that wasn’t enjoyable enough or didn’t make a bit of sense; we were like “this sucks”, “that sucks”, “the architecture is all cubes”, “this map crashes too much”, “it’s too easy”, “where’s the story”, “where the hell am I?”, “what”, “just go and look at Shinigami Map Pack 1, that’s a great start on how to create decent levels”. So the first faction went bankrupt, and people decided to download and play again and again anything from the second one (led by that time by talented artists such as DavidM, EZKeel and Chicoverde); it continued its domination until today and forever, with its quality steadily increasing.
What happened to the third faction of the experimental maps? People generally never bothered about those; actually it’s a good thing they existed. Why should Unreal only be about adventures? True, you can play something like DeathMatch but we’re talking about multiplayer in that case; I’m talking about maps where you face a set of challenges or monster-mashing battles. Players liked to often play that stuff, mostly as a break from the usual single player template. There weren’t many of these maps; you may recall Expert Visuals, probably the granddaddy of this family; Unreal Rogue, which used a script to randomize the layout of rooms (which personally, feels completely out of place in Unreal); deCyber Duel, the formidable effort of EZKeel to create the best gladiator experience for the game. Hell, even recently, we had Bob, made by DavidM after many years of disappearance from the community. EXU2, while it is a mod, could be also classified in this series and today it’s still going onward in development. Pretty much, the third faction never died. We enjoyed playing these stuff once for a while, maybe not so much if there was an entire assault of them. Yeah guess what, gimmicks are gimmicks, they have a weird/specific replay value; plus, they’re not for everyone, as most of the users seek playing what Unreal was supposed to be with its atmosphere and original feel, otherwise putting an available level editor wouldn’t have been that divine as a gift. You get my point anyway: let’s have together lots of real adventures (the enjoyable ones, mostly) and a bunch of unique gameplay concepts, and you please everyone.
Still speaking about those unique maps, possibly the biggest reasons why there aren’t many of them is due to actually thinking what concept you want to have it into them and, how to make these ideas execute in the best way possible – this is the most important thing. While for any normal map you have to focus on the build, atmosphere, tension and story, on these ones you have to play with your concept from left to right and viceversa (we all remember deCyber Duel and the optional bug of making monsters fight each other; it wasn’t very nice). Playability on the other hand is an universal thing, that’s all you need to know if you already didn’t. So, by any means, it’s not an easy task experimenting with gameplay concepts: as usual, you have potential to create one of the most entertaining things ever made or something that will make you go “UGH”, and in a loud way. And we got an example which corresponds to the latter case. It’s a single map under the name of Cadet Training Sim or aaatrainer or Survival Simulation or even Cadet Simulation Exercise. Ah, so many names: two of them are written in the download links while the others as the real names for the map. Cadet Simulation Training is the full one. It’s an old map, released in 1999 (a year later after Expert Visuals) by David Smith, who did already release another pack called Twitch Factor; a certain user revived it in the forums and I decided to try it. Back in the day, its formula didn’t interest me: no enemies and you have to arrive at the end of the map by using your Dispersion Pistol to beat puzzles. Sounds similar to the recently released Bob – and what a coincidence, Cadet Training is made by another author with the name “David”. So you’re now asking why I have written that long introduction before starting to mention the reviewed map; no matter how much is away from the truth or how much stupid it can ever be (I’m modest here), but that was my point of view of the entire old Unreal history. If I didn’t write all of that, the review would have been already ended, because there’s not much to say about a map which can be finished in less than 40 seconds.
The point of Cadet Training, as explained in the readme, is that you’re a military cadet ready to face this simulation, where others have failed and never returned. It’s your turn now, armed with a Dispersion Pistol and prepared to face a jumping puzzle over a pool of lava, find buttons hidden below pillars, take the right passage, make a big leap with a pair of Jump Boots and oh it’s already ended. You don’t even expect that to end so quickly; let’s go more in detail. The main catch is that there aren’t battles, but you’ll lose one point of health per second, all the time – except when you’re in the water pool. Since it’s a Zone Info placed in the entire map which causes the damage, the water pool obviously uses a Water Zone but the author forgot to modify it to make it dangerous as well. Every second, you get hurt. You know what this means? As warned in the readme, you’ll consistently hear the grunts of your character being damaged: “UH! AH! UGH!” Etc… Either find quickly the pool for a pause, or turn down the SFX volume. Those, and noises from torches and lava are the only things you’ll hear in this map, aside from the music which is Isotoxin. Yeah, Isotoxin mixed with the UnrealShare human sounds. You don’t even hear this in underground hardcore clubs, I’m serious. The constant damage also provokes another problem: you’ll be lightly stunned every time you get hurt. This may be annoying because it will stop you from dodging, or even worse, jumping. So think twice before doing something in the puzzle with the lava pool, or else you’ll die.
The challenges themselves are insanely easy, not to mention, the health decrease is the least of your problems. It takes too much time before you die, plus there are some bandages and a Super Health Pack in your way, completely killing the time gimmick. The puzzles? The lava one is probably the hardest: you have to activate some platforms by shooting buttons and then hope you do correctly your jumps. After that you have to find more buttons hidden below specific pillars. Later you’ll arrive at the water pool, where getting out from it can be frustrating due to the poorly built geometry of the gap you have to climb. The last thing you have to do is use a pair of Jump Boots; if you’re fast enough to find a way out of the aforementioned pool maybe you’ll be able to make it to the last high jump. After that you’re done. Really, there’s no excuse for being this short. It’s easy to see how this map was made in 20 hours. Its build is as simplistic as it can ever get. It’s basically a set of corridors that look all the same; there are some detailed rails and a shrine-like structure, but beyond and that and all the additional rooms for torches, there’s simply no variety. Only a few textures from the Ancient package are used, and that’s a little weird since I was expecting something more futuristic for a military simulation, but I’m not going to comment more on this. Each light actor differs only for the coloration, either on the red or yellow side. Finding the doors can be a little annoying since they look like walls and you can hardly hear the sounds coming from movers.
After jumping and shooting buttons with your weapon (it’s what you mainly do here), you’ll enter a portal to return to the starting area, and according to a new message, you’re given the option to replay the simulation as everything has been reset; and wow, at the beginning your character was scared of doing all of this; idea changed? Too bad you’re not allowed to finish it a second time because you need the Jump Boots again and these don’t respawn, making you stuck at the final gap. Maybe if you’re fast enough in your first play, you can use your last charge of boots to arrive directly at the exit with a world record when you restart the simulation for the second time, since the exit is separated from the beginning with a rail. To make a little, overall resume, here’s it: the execution of the concept in Cadet Training Simulation is virtually nonexistent. This is the tragedy of experimental levels, and possibly the weakest custom map for Unreal I have ever played. I’m blunt as usual. It sounds like I’m going a bit personal but I am not able to mention anything, anything and anything positive from what I’ve seen. Sure, too many complaints for a very old, single player map, but it was released in the same month dominated by monsters such as Shrakith'a and StrangeWorld. Frankly, it was inexcusable.
Before attempting to create something unique, don’t rush. You have different objectives to achieve in your maps, but you have to create a good product like anyone else does (and should).
ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.1
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.1
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).1
SoundUse of ambient sounds and event sounds to give the level atmosphere, and the quality of any custom sounds. Appropriate use of music and silence to complement the atmosphere.0
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.1
Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.1
Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.0
Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.0
Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.1
Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.0