Hoping for Utopia

by on Jan.10, 2006, under FPS, game reviews, games industry, pc

dystopia mod

Dystopia, the best Source mod ever, gets to Update 4 this week. Signed, sealed and released! Cyberfans rejoice and a big congratulations out to Team Dystopia.

The update contains two new maps, with numerous gameplay tweaks overall. I am guiltily addicted to this slaverous mix of teamplay and action. Forget BF2! Dystopia features mixed team objectives and dual-sourced gameplay. Play as a decker and breach security systems in cyberspace… or join the fireteam and forage ahead as a heavy mechdroid in meatspace. Its fast. Its hard. But so much variety and choice are packed into this game that its virtually impossible to get bored. An extremely well conceived effort, and a visual treat.

Support the Source mod scene and go vote for Dystopia as Mod of the Year!

Valve and Dystopia

Team Dystopia’s early intentions were to release this as a demonstation of their capabilities. First as a Half-Life2 Source Engine modification, and ultimately as a commercial venture. They’ve met with mixed success, partially due to Valve’s (the maker of Half-Life2) resistance. Valve, rarely famous for kind shepherding of young game-makers, typically likes to completely own property invented within their engine. And with Dystopia, we can only guess that Valve is playing the same old game.

When Dystopia was released, Valve introduced a crashing bug into their game engine, which effectively killed Dystopia completely. Momentum lost. Its not likely intentional, but once that was fixed, we heard murmurings from Valve stating that “commercial-level releases in the mod community are discouraged”, supposedly because quality is “never achieved by indies on the first go”. Do it fast, do it iteratively, and build your fanbase. This was Valve’s preference. Listen to us, they said : Be Like Counterstrike.

cs 1.6

Ah Counterstrike. The mod that grew into the most popular online activity since pr0n.

And Valve owns it.

Now their reticence starts to make some sense. Don’t make your mod perfect on the first go, they say. Perhaps they mean : Let us examine its potential, first. Its too bad we’re a little smarter about this stuff now? The early mod days, including Counterstrike’s debut, had very little engineering sense to them at all. This made quality releases almost impossible. But when you look at the detail and the testing that go into upper-echelon mods today, you’ll find an entirely different animal. Some of them have pros on their teams. Others are funded. And many hope for a commercial payoff one day. The mod scene runs the spectrum, of course, with jokers and amateurs alike. But with Dystopia, it was a wholly different beast, and was professional right from conception to execution. Truly a model that should be rewarded. You can’t really blame the publisher, since its in their interest to see a return on their investment – which was the very platform from which these games have sprung. Yet, arguably, it was precisely those initial successes that fed Valve’s success today. They simply wouldn’t be here if we didn’t want to play the new Counterstrike (including yours truly – seven years running!). Valve wants to own the best of them, and its far easier to do that when they exhibit the merest seeds of success.

Rest assured, there are many people (some of whom I know personally) that are watching the outcome of the Dystopia venture with intense interest. Dystopia’s success could serve as a model for indie gamedev in general. I sincerely hope that Valve does the “right thing” and gives them a Steam publishing deal (like they did with Darwinia, another indie developed game). With quality, with fanbase, with a dedicated team and a healthy product, what do they have to lose?

In the meantime, we’ll have fun with Dystopia, and here’s to one day seeing them take their game to the bank. This stuff is the power politics of business, and Dystopia may not win. Personally, it’s Valve’s loss if Dystopia chooses to go elsewhere. I mean, what if Counterstrike was made for Quake?

5 Comments for this entry

  • Kafka

    Design Synthesis has a guest blog up on Valve's Steam product, including some interesting discussion about the modding community
  • b1alpha

    Oh yes I would have to agree thedeviluno, it is so sweet yum yuum. I think I might even buy HL2 just to get it.. hrm..

    yep Kafka you might have a point!
  • thedeviluno

    Oh its going retail no doubt about it. Its just too good. So sweet like honey.
  • Kafka

    Thanks, Fuzzy, for both correcting my assumptions and adding a bit of colour to the development of a great mod.

    I guess I wouldn't blame Valve for concentrating on revenue projects. They are a business after all, and exist in one of the most difficult industries on the planet. I have heard from various sources that Newell is not entirely pleased with Day of Defeat's sales numbers. So it makes sense that they'll be pimping their pipe out to non-Source games.

    There's only one slight contention that I have about this fact - and that's the sheer promise of popular mods. I've already argued that Counterstrike made Valve what it is today. So, its in Valve's best longterm interests to pay attention to the serious mod-teams. That's just my opinion; reality may fall somewhere in between.

    Congratulations on the good experience that you guys got out of Dystopia. I truly believe that you will one day bring it to retail.

  • Fuzzy

    First up, thanks for the kind words about Dystopia.

    While you've made a few incorrect assumptions, much of what you've written here is close to the mark.

    The only part I really need to clear up is you comment of: "First as a Half-Life2 Source Engine modification, and ultimately as a commercial venture."

    It was never our goal to take Dystopia the mod to a commercial release. Our aims were: to create a game we all loved, to gain experience in games development and to give back to the online gaming scene.

    However, we have stated that we'd love to do a retail game based in our Dystopian universe. We believe it has the potential to host a full single player game (which would obviously include online MP too).

    So in a way we did expect the Dystopia mod to showcase the team's talents to the industry. I can honestly say that this has been successful, many of our team have landed professional jobs in the industry. Myself included, I now work for Australia's biggest game service provider.

    RE: Valve

    During our development, back in Feb 2005, Valve flew 4 members of the team over to Seattle to spend a week working in their offices and playtesting our alpha version. During this time we got a lot of excellent feedback and advice.

    Leading up to the release of the demo of Dystopia we began to find it difficult to get responses from Valve to our questions. Rather than being anything evil, I'm convinced it just shows how busy they have been.

    For a long time leading up the release of HL2, both Gabe Newell and Doug Lombardi mentioned (in various interviews) their plans to release mods via Steam. I feel that the only thing stopping this from happening is Steam's success at attracting professional indepenent developers. They're simply too busy working with "real" devs to distribute their games to have the time to work with "amature" developers. Of course their priorities are obvious; work on things that bring in money before doing things for free.

    Right now I feel that there is something far more important that Valve is "failing" at. The SDK codebase hasn't been updated since June 2005.

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