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Digital Paintball
 
 

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Digital Paintball V1.1
By Bill Mills

While commercial game companies have produced flop after flop when it comes to first person shooter paintball video games for the PC, a crew of volunteers has put together an adaptation for the game Half-life that takes it from a blood and guts shooter to team paintball action.

The story starts with Half-Life, a first person shooter from Valve.  This game was wildly successful in the late 1990s, because it was able to provide 3D game play with good looking graphics on the machines of the day.  It stayed successful because it was designed to be adapted, or updated with “mods.”  Instead of creating a first person shooter game from scratch, game designers could build a module for their game that runs the Half-Life engine.  For the game designer this makes development a lot less complicated (though still no small task) and for Valve it means more reasons for people to buy Half-Life.

The present DPB development team consists of 11 members who put their time and energy into the project not for profit, but for love of the game and a sense of accomplishment.  What they, and the previous team members have created is fantastic, especially when compared side by side with commercial paintball games.

The place to start learning about Digital Paintball is the DPB web site – www.digitalpaintball.net.  After a look through the site and its forums, one can see the sense of community that has developed around the game, with all the trappings of internet/forum/chat culture, and the flavor of paintball mixed in.  The DPB team members are credited not by their names, but by their online nicknames.  As important to DPB as its playability is its following.  DPB’s focus is as a multiplayer online game.  Several servers are constantly running, and due to distribution of players around the globe, it’s very difficult to get online and not find at least a few players to play against.  At times some of the more popular servers are maxed out at 20 players (while the game can handle more, servers usually restrict to 10-20 players to limit bandwidth costs.)

The first place to start with DPB is of course getting familiar with it through the DPB web site.  Following that, one needs to install Half-Life.  For as nice as its graphics are, Half-Life has some additional advantages.  Chief amongst these is the price.  Since HalfLife has been on the market for quite a while, it’s not nearly as expensive as a new top of the line video game.  The author was able to find the Half Life Game of the Year edition CD-ROM (which includes the multiplayer Counterstrike mod) through an online retailer for $15.  Members of the DPB forum have mentioned finding deals where an included rebate actually made purchase of the game free.  Another major advantage are the system requirements.  Because HalfLife is a few years old, it runs fine on computers that are a few years old.  The game was played for review on a 450MHz Pentium 3 and showed no signs of skipped frames or render lag at its highest resolution setting even while listening to ska music streaming from Shoutcast. 

The CD automatically installs easily under Windows (95, 98, ME, XP, or even NT.)  After installing, it’s a good idea to update the software, which can be done through the game’s menus.  The game will automatically locate Valve’s servers and update to the most recent version of HalfLife.  This is an important step.  If purchasing an older CD at a discount price (like the Game of the Year Edition) it will need to be updated in order to run DPB.  An important item to note, is that since HalfLife and its modules are so focused on Internet multiplayer use, Valve has set up the program to log in the user’s serial number with a central server.  This prevents one person from buying the game and then copying the CD for friends, as only one person can play online at a time with any given serial number.

Before moving on, one might wish to actually try HalfLife.  It is a first person shooter against wild mutant creatures in a secret government research facility that is falling apart.  Some parents may be concerned with the game’s “M – Mature” rating for graphic blood, violence and gore.  Younger players who are going to have to argue past mom to get HalfLife can point out that the blood and gore graphics of the game can be locked out with a parental password, and that the Digital Paintball Mod can be played without ever going into the HalfLife game.  Digital Paintball, being modeled after real life paintball is of course free from blood, gore, or violence.  It is a good idea to at least look through the manual to learn the basic key commands for HalfLife and concepts for how it operates.

Digital Halflife can be downloaded from the DPB web site, in the appropriately named Download section.  Digital Paintball is free of charge, courtesy of the DPB team.  DPB is then installed by running its installer program, and selecting the same directory as HalfLife.

Double clicking the DPB icon launches straight into the game.  The menus in DPB allow for configuration of screen resolution, sounds, and keyboard.  DPB uses the mouse to look around and fire, and keys to move, jump, run, duck and fire.  It’s important to learn these keys, but they are also user definable.  The author found it easiest to reassign all of the keyboard keys to the computer’s 10 key number pad, and use that left handed, while navigating with the mouse in the right hand.

Playing multiplayer (what DPB is designed to do) means either setting up one’s own computer as a server, or getting on an existing server, which is the easiest way to find other players online.  From the main DPB menu, one selects “Multiplayer” and then “Internet Games.”  While some DPB servers can be found by hitting the “update” button, that will result in a big list of servers (literally thousands) most of which aren’t for Digital Paintball.  The best way to get a good list of often used DPB servers is to check the “servers” page on the DPB web site.  Servers can be added to the list in the game by clicking the “Add Server” button and typing in the address for each server.

Click the “Refresh” button for an instant update of how many players are on a server, and what map is currently being played.  To join a game, simply double click on the server.  Once the user’s computer completes its connection with the server it will check to see if the current map is in the user’s computer.  If it isn’t, the map will be automatically downloaded and installed which can take about a minute – a small, dim and somewhat difficult to spot progress bar on the bottom of the screen will show the status of the transfer.  With the field loaded, the player will then be shown a preview of the field, and presented with choices of joining the Red Team, the Blue Team, or auto-assignment which will add them to whichever team has the fewest players.  In many respects it’s like showing up to jump in a walk-on game at a regular paintball field.

The next screen allows the user to choose their gear.  With a set number of credits they can choose the paintgun they wish to use.  A list of 10 paintguns, and two sidearms are available, as well as 3 barrel choices, extra pods of paint, and paint grenades.  Each paintgun has different characteristics, including its accuracy and rate of fire.  A word of caution, the AKALMP Excaliber in the game is somewhat of a “supergun” in terms of rate of fire and accuracy.  Because it is so far out of balance in the game, players are often kicked off of servers run by experienced DPB players for using it.  The paintguns used in the game can be viewed here.

The next step is playing.  If a game is already in progress on the server, the player will jump into Free Look mode (this can also be done by choosing to spectate a game rather than play.)  In free look mode the user gets to look all around the field and watch the current game in progress.  The mouse rotates the view, as in the game, but the movement keys move forward and back in the direction the player is looking, rather than along the ground.  That is, if the user looks at the sky, and goes forward they will move up into the sky where they can then use the mouse to look down on the field and watch the game as it progresses.

Once the game ends and the next is about go begin, the player is put into the spawn point – the starting box.  Some Digital Paintball fields have flags to capture, but most are simply played for elimination, one team against the other.  While the players are in their starting box they can look around, and jump to peek over any bunkers that might be in front of them, but they cannot move or fire until the countdown timer at the bottom of the screen reaches 0:00.  Then the game is on, players run to their primary bunkers laying out the paint.

As with real paintball, the paintballs in DPB arc in flight, and can be watched as they fly to their target, allowing a stream of paint to be “walked” into its target.  Likewise, incoming paint can be seen.  At a bunker players can both duck and lean out of the side.  When leaning, the player’s point of view tilts 45 degrees and they present a smaller target, taking advantage of the cover as in real paintball.  Run throughs and bunkering all work because the player’s movement is done with the keys, while they aim independently with the mouse, something that is critical to sweeping around the side of a bunker while shooting at the person behind it.

Also mimicking the real world, the paintballs in DPB splat making a splash, leaving a mark, and making noise when they hit.  This is an excellent way to tell during a game which bunkers are safe and which have already been sweet spotted.  Another aspect added by the sound, is voice communication.  DPB supports digital voice communication (though higher speed Internet connections like cable or DSL are needed to do this well.)  A player on one side of the world can literally shout to their team-mate who is on the other side, while they play together on a virtual paintball field.

Text communication is possible as well.  An invisible text window lies in the lower left portion of the game screen.  Text announcements appear here superimposed over the game when players join, leave or are eliminated.  When a player is hit, it is announced not only that they are out, but who hit them, and what type of paintgun was used.  Pressing the “i” key during a game brings up a text prompt, and allows players to type messages that also appear in this box.  This allows those all too important parts of paintball – talking smack and razzing your opponent after you blast them.

When a player is hit, they stand up and hold both hands above their heads before magically disappearing from the field.  This leaves no dead-box to count, but pressing the tab key can show the current status of all players in the game.  When the player is hit, they are immediately put into free-look mode until the start of the next game.  In addition to moving around, they can also select a chase mode, where their viewpoint will follow one of the players on the field.

While getting started playing DPB is simple, getting good takes practice.  It can be discouraging if one’s first games are on one of the servers frequented by experienced players, to go game after game and get eliminated off the break without hitting anyone.  Not to worry, just like paintball there are novices, rookies and newbies out there in DPB as well.  If the game is getting too hard, switch to another server – one with fewer players is more likely to have newer players.
 

Digital Paintball comes bundled with several maps, some of which are dream scenario paintball fields, while others are typical of fields used for walk-on play, and some are more like concept fields.  One of the keys to DPB’s popularity is that it is very customizable.  Several level editing programs are available, including Valve’s freeware Valve Hammer Editor, which can be used to create field maps for DPB.  Within the DPB community are several talented map makers who create maps that are not only good looking, but are timely.  In many cases DPB versions of fields from real world tournaments have been made available for download shortly after the tournament, or in the case of the NXL fields which are publicized in advance, before the tournament even happens.  Most of these maps are freely distributed by their creators, or loaded on to team or league servers.  Various maps online range from looking “gameish” to cartoon style, or edging toward photorealism.

In the Digital Paintball Community there are a number of teams and leagues.  Some DPB players are not content merely for walk-on play, but have formed online teams, sometimes called clans in reference to the name given to teams for online combat games.  Online leagues have come and gone, running tournaments, or at the very least scheduling matches between teams.  At the time of this writing Righteous Paintball, a paintball field that is run as an outreach ministry of Christ Fellowship Church in West Palm Beach, Florida is planning to launch a new league not only with online tournaments, but with actual prizes of paintball gear going to the winning teams.  Members of teams or clans are easy to spot online, through the convention of their user name.  They will list their name starting with the name of the team or clan in braces or brackets, such as -|.eR.|-WarpedChild, -{ECB}_AKAguyLMP, and :|AciD|:Grenego.

Additional customization to the look of the game from the player’s perspective can be done by changing the 3D models of the players and paintguns used in the game.  Like mapping, this requires some experience in 3D modeling and animation.  At the most simple level, a freeware program like HalfLife Model Editor can be used to examine a player model, and then strip out its surface graphics to allow them to be edited in a program like Photoshop (referred to as “reskinning” a model.)  For those not so adept at the technology, the freeware program DPB Customizer is available for download at refill.digitalpaintball.net (note: on some machines, the link text may appear the same color as the background – in order to find the links, highlight the text on the page by dragging the mouse from the top to the bottom.)  Also, it is a very good idea to scan these freeware programs for viruses.  When downloaded for review all programs listed were scanned from the listed sources and shown to be virus free. 

DPB Customizer is simple to install, and when run it selects how each paintgun will look in the game.  After customizing, DPB will still only have a choice of one Angel, for example, but that one Angel can be customized to be a Dynasty Angel, Cobra Angel, or have a number of fade anodizing patterns on it.  DPB customizer also selects paint colors, paint patterns (the pattern on the shell) and the jerseys worn by the players.

For all the fun DPB represents, it is not without its shortcomings.  A new player probably won’t notice, but the area where a paintball is recorded as a hit, and the exact outline of the player’s body don’t exactly line up.  Also, paintballs fly out from the person’s center, not the tip of their barrel (which is nearly impossible to notice while playing – mainly in free look mode.)  These are however being addressed by the DPB team, along with a host of new features, included fields and new player models which are to be released in Digital Paintball version 1.5 which is scheduled for release in mid June 2003.

Even with its minor flaws, the Digital Paintball team has done an outstanding job of creating a game mod with smooth playability that brings in the key aspects and even look of paintball.  Many reviewers have acclaimed DPB as “blowing away” commercially produced paintball video games.  It has been ranked as one of the "Top Ten Half-Life Mods You Aren't Playing" (but should :)” by Gamespy.com.  Got some time to kill and can’t get to the paintball field?  Give Digital Paintball a spin and check it out for yourself.

 


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