Sunday, 18 March 2018

Running Unreal Tournament 1999 on Windows 10

A while back I had a look at The Long Dark, a fascinating survival game that takes place in the snowy wilderness of Canada. You are a man, or a woman - sadly the game others transfolk - trapped in Canada after the electricity has failed. The temperature is minus twenty degrees centigrade and the wolves are very hungry.

I played the game during a cold winter here in the UK but I never thought I would experience it for real. However over the last month Britain has been devastated by almost three inches of snow on two separate occasions, with temperatures in the south of the country dipping as low as minus figures. The north has been affected as well, but they're used to it.

Conditions have been so bad that I had to go out to the shops on several occasions to buy some food. Indoors I began to suffer from cabin fever until it dawned on me that I have a television and the internet and a computer and indeed everything that I normally have.

In The Long Dark you can only pass time by sleeping or playing cards with yourself, but I have Unreal Tournament 1999. Or rather, I used to have Unreal Tournament 1999.

Everybody remembers CTF-Face, "Facing Worlds". The modelling is minimalistic but the scale is impressive and it's great fun. The music probably did more to introduce the US audience to drum'n'bass than anything else. Unreal Tournament dates from a time when computer games depicted women as fantasy sex objects; how times have changed.

In the nineteen years since I bought the game I seem to have mislaid the discs. Back then there was an arch-rivalry between the two leading first person shooters. In the blue corner was Id Software's Quake, which was fast-paced, uncomplicated, action-packed, but visually very drab. In the left corner Unreal, which was a visual and aural feast but boring to play.

Unreal was an awkward mess, with some clever ideas and a few memorable setpieces marred by a perfunctory storyline and gameplay that mostly consisted of running around large empty maps for ages shooting one or two baddies every few minutes. At the time I remember thinking that it was a great demonstration of the underlying game engine but not a great game, and indeed the Unreal engine is still very successful today, and has essentially outlasted the Unreal franchise.

The music was actually written by Michiel van den Bos. I've always assumed that Unreal's use of Soundtracker / MOD / Demoscene musicians was just a cost-saving measure - other games had "real" music - but the soundtrack remains one of the game's most memorable features.

As a single-player game Quake also had problems, but it was a huge success as a multiplayer title. The compact levels and uncomplicated gameplay lent themselves to quick bursts of action, and it seemed for a while that single-player games were old fashioned and that multiplayer games were the future. Quake and Unreal both had multiplayer sequels; Quake III Arena was extremely popular at the time, but I greatly preferred Unreal Tournament. It had masses of diverse levels, plus bot AI that felt more natural than the cursor-tracking-through-walls bots of Quake III.

I mention bots because I have never, to this day, played either of those games against other human beings. Back in 1999 I didn't have broadband internet, in fact very few people did, and I wasn't prepared to drive my tower PC across north London to attend a LAN party. Furthermore there was no way a contemporary laptop - affordable or otherwise - could play either game at a decent speed. Nonetheless UT was and remains an entertaining single-player experience, which is good given that there are very few servers around today.

What happened to Unreal? The single-player, story-driven Unreal begat an unimpressive sequel in 2003 and then died off. Unreal Tournament however remained popular for a few years after that, but faded away after the third instalment in 2007. The problem is that old-fashioned arena-style "twitch" shooters fell out of fashion - the Quake franchise also died off, at roughly the same time - and at the risk of opening a massive can of worms I have always assumed that games consoles had something to do with it, not least because publisher Epic Megagames seemed to give up on Unreal after the success of XBox cover shooter Gears of War.

In the 2000s games consoles achieved rough technical parity with PCs, to a point where games were often developed for the console first and then ported to PCs, which irritated PC gamers who suddenly found that their beloved PC originals (notably Deus Ex) had become streamlined and cut-down despite running on PC hardware. Furthermore console controllers were never any good for first-person shooters, and the big console FPSes were generally very linear. When I was young no-one spoke of games in terms of the hours spent to complete them. The thought of a game having a "twenty-hour campaign" made no sense - you could play Civilization for as long as you wanted. But console games tended to have very linear campaigns, with replayability encouraged not by the chance to explore new parts of the game, but instead by the chance to tick a few virtual boxes and unlock a special player skin.

Meanwhile the multiplayer components were aimed at ordinary, casual people who were not prepared to dedicate their entire waking lives to perfecting their mouse aiming skills and learning the optimal track to take through certain levels. Casual gamers. Filthy casuals. People who play games purely for entertainment. Eww.

I pity those people. As I sit here in 2018 freezing and alone in a damp-ridden bedsit, diabetes long having taken my ability to sustain an erection, my threadbare pyjamas exuding the ammonia smell of urine, I can console myself with the knowledge that I know CTF-Niven back to front. Unlike those saddoes who only play games for fun. They wasted their lives having fun and building relationships and learning useful skills; I invested my time wisely by studying CTF-Niven in UnrealEd so that I knew exactly where everything was, and by training myself to use the shock rifle's alternate fire consistently.

Still, after going through all of my old CD/DVD wallets and dismantling all the cardboard boxes and chairs in my house - I ended up with lots of tinder and reclaimed wood, and I found a rifle bullet underneath one of the boxes - I eventually gave up and bought the game again from Steam, for £5.99, two pounds cheaper than from Good Old Games. I imagine it's freely available via Bittorrent. £5.99 is a small price to pay to take my mind off the thought that the only people with whom I have regular social contact are the employees at McDonalds.

The ones behind the collection counter, not the tills; I use the self-service checkouts, because that way I don't have to interact with anybody. Diabetic people eventually start bleeding in the eyes, and they go blind and their feet rot off. I console myself with the thought that if I die my body will not go undiscovered; the people in the bedsit beneath me will smell my rotting flesh through the hole in the corner of the toilet area, besides which the next rent payment will fail anyway because I have spent so much money on computer games.

The Actual Point of the Blog Post
But anyway. Back in 1999 my PC ran Windows 98 SE, with an overclocked 32-bit single-core Celeron 300A, 512mb of memory, and a 3DFX Voodoo Banshee that used the Glide API. Probably at 800x600, or perhaps 1024x768 on a 4:3 15" monitor. Even back then I had given up hope of losing my virginity; neither a sustained relationship nor a random fling were ever going to happen, and I had neither the guts nor the money to pay for it. The Glide API is long-dead, as is 3DFX, but UT supports OpenGL and Direct3D as well. And software rendering! Which doesn't work.

Nowadays however my PC runs Windows 10, with a 64-bit quad-core i5-2500K, 8gb of memory, and a GTX 750. It says something about how times have changed that I don't bother listing CPU clock speeds. No-one cares about clock speeds any more. UT still works today, but at least when bought from Steam it requires a bit of tweaking, although surprisingly it doesn't seem to have a problem working on one monitor of a multi-monitor setup.

Firstly resolution. The game was made when 1600x1200 was extraordinary, and the main menu doesn't go up to 1920x1080. Pop open your UT directory, which is in Steam\steamapps\common\Unreal Tournament\System, but can more easily be reached from Steam by right-clicking on UT, selecting Properties - Local Files - Browse Local Files:

Now scroll down to UnrealTournament.ini and pop it open with Notepad. Say it loud, "I'm black, and I'm proud", and scroll down to the WinDrc.WindowsClient section, and change the FullscreenViewportX and FullscreenViewportY values to your native desktop resolution. In this example I have also changed WindowedViewportX and Y so that it runs in a full-screen-sized window:

Save the file and pop open User.ini. Scroll down to the Engine.PlayerPawn section and find the lines that say DesiredFOV and DefaultFOV. Off the top of my head they default to something like 90. Change it to 95, or 100, accepting that the weapon models might look odd. The reason for this is that UT was built for 4:3 monitors and looks zoomed-in with widescreen displays.

You can go mad with this setting. A value of 170 makes the game look like a defished fisheye image, which doesn't change the fact that you will not be saved by the Holy Ghost, or by the god Plutonium, in fact you will not be saved:

For comparison, a shot I took in the Vatican museum earlier in the year with a fisheye lens, defished.

There's something else. I find it more comfortable to run Windows 10 with a higher desktop scaling factor so that I can lean back a bit:

As you can see I have the desktop scaled to 125% normal size. UT gets confused by this and cuts off the right-and-bottom edges of its display. Pop open the UT folder again and find UnrealTournament.exe. Right-click it and select Properties - Compatibility, and tick the box that currently says "Override high DPI scaling behaviour", with scaling performed by the application:

At this point UT works. Or should work. Are there high-resolution texture packs? Probably, but I can't be bothered; I don't play UT to look at decals. You might want to go to UT's preferences window and tick font size - double:

And that's it. You can now play Unreal Tournament 1999. I'll probably pop it open and play it for an hour and then never again. Nineteen years further on I will look back at this blog post. The images will be broken; the text will only be available via an archive. I will be unable to comprehend the words, or recognise that my former self wrote them. I will reach out my hand to the screen and then violently throw it away, knocking my soup onto the floor, and when the care assistant returns she will be very upset. She will turn the computer off.