Delta Force – A Memory of Voxels

I wish I could have seen the expression on my own face when, at the EverQuest Next reveal, they first said the word “Voxels.”

I am pretty sure it would have been a dubious frown, that serious look I get when things do not add up.  My lips disappear as my mouth forms a tight, inverted U.

And that is all related to a game called Delta Force.

Delta Force

Delta Force

NovaLogic brought out Delta Force back in the late 90s and it was something of the pinnacle of pre-3D accelerated shooters.  It had a single player campaign, not terrible computer AI, and offered online mulitplayer matches that we have come to expect from shooters.  But its big bragging point was terrain.

It launched at around the same time as Starsiege: Tribes, another game I loved, and which became something of a cult classic that got played for years beyond what one might expect.  Tribes, building on the ideas of Quake, attempted to create an outdoor multiplayer shooter using the 3D technology of the time, which was giant polygons with textures that looked like you laid bad linoleum in the forest.

Cyclops Attack! Run!

Not Tribes, but you get the idea

So its world was often a lot of flat planes laid out.  And, of course, you needed a 3D accelerated video card of some sort… probably a 3dfx model if you were like most people… in order to play.  And such cards were reasonably rare at that point.

Meanwhile Delta Force used a voxel based engine that used all those volumetric pixels, from which the word “voxel” is derived, to create an ugly (by today’s standards) but much more realistic terrain.  There were all sorts of places to hide, shallow depressions, rises, outcrops and such which, when combined with the positional abilities of the game… you could stand, crouch, or go prone, which was also somewhat uncommon at the time… allowed all sorts of tactical flexibility.  Plus the environments were huge compared to other games.

Looking out on an Uzbek land

Looking out on an Uzbek land

But the key to the whole package was that NovaLogic’s engine gave you all of this without requiring a 3D accelerated video card.  Absolutely the right move in 1998 when the game shipped and undoubtedly one of the factors leading to its popularity.

One of out IT guys brought a copy into work to show us and I am pretty sure that most of us bought a copy of the game on the way home that night.  There were some attempts to play as a group from home, which lead to my first voice coms experience when we tried using Roger Wilco.  That went okay.  But it was when we all brought a copy into the office and found that it played well enough on the standard 200MHz Pentium Pros that were common at the time that the real fun began.  Over the local network, using the phone system for coms, battles ranged.

NovaLogic followed success with more success, bringing out Delta Force 2 and so forth, creating a whole series of games.

But time was not on their side.

While ignoring 3D video cards was a good plan in 1998, by 2000 things had changed.  The introduction of nVidia’s TNT2 chipset, made reasonably priced and performing accelerated 3D video card readily available.   This alone pretty much killed 3dfx, marginalized Matrox and S3 in the consumer market, and could be said to have started the trend that eventually sent ATi into the arms of AMD.  It also made 3D configurations so common that the NovaLogic forums were often full of questions and complaints about why somebody’s brand new TNT2 card did not improve Delta Force‘s performance.  No 3D support became a burden.

That was the end of NovaLogic’s dominance.  They did okay with Joint Operations, which continued their traditions of lots of players on big battlegrounds, but other franchises did better.  MODs on Battlefield 1942 made it more exciting.  And other titles stepped in, so that every year we hear about another Call of Duty when it comes to shooters, but nobody mentions NovaLogic.

Years passed.

Then there was the EverQuest Next reveal this past weekend, and the word “voxel” and a flood of memories.  Included in that was “voxels = bad,” which was entirely built on my distant memories of the Delta Force franchise aging badly.  Voxels are good, or good if you want to create landscapes that are not made up of polygons.  It was NovaLogic’s engine that did not stand the test of time.  Or such is my memory.  As usual, the freshness, accuracy, and reliability of all memories older than 30 seconds on this blog are not guaranteed.

So I decided to see if NovaLogic was even around still.  First I looked at Steam.  There I found that not only did NovaLogic appear to still exist, but all of the Delta Force games were apparently up for sale on Steam.  Delta Force alone was listed for $19.99, which was too much for me to spend on nostalgia, but it made me go check out NovaLogic’s site.  There I found I could get Delta Force for just $4.99.

That was a nostalgia compatible price, so I bought a copy, downloaded it, installed it, and much to my surprise, it actually ran.

Of course, I was immediately reminded of how far we have come.  The game wanted to play at 640×480, which on my 1600×1200 monitor ends up being very blocky in full screen or a very small in windowed mode.

Shooting a distant tower guard

Shooting a distant tower guard

And there were even tinier settings.

Delta Force Settings

Delta Force Minimal Settings

I recall there being a school of thought for the game that had you play at the minimum setting with the minimum color because your responsiveness was greatly improved.  You ended up just shooting at what amounted to single pixels when sniping, but it worked for some.

So I loaded up the game and played a bit.  And it played quite well.  I had to go fix the controls.  I have raged in the past about EverQuest at launch having not grasped the WASD movement standard, something the went back as least as far as Lode Runner.  But here was Delta Force thinking I would use the arrow keys for movement.  I had to swap that over to WASD first thing.  But after that it was fun.

I ran some missions, which were harder than I recalled.  The AI did well enough to make me keep my head down.  I have memories of completely broken AI, but I think that came in with later installments of the series.

Then I downloaded and installed the latest patch for Delta Force, which promptly broke the game so that it would no longer let me play single player.  And the likelihood of playing multiplayer seemed faint at best.  As much as I would like another such opportunity, I don’t think there are any more internet hosted games out there.

So I uninstalled the game, cleared out the folder, and then installed it again and was off and shooting.

The default weapon is fun, the M4 with a scope.  But the real good times come with the big sniper rifle, the Barrett Light .50.

The game itself holds up pretty well after all these years.  Graphics, not so much.  What was described as sacrificing “looks for game play” makes the screen hard to look at some times.  And playing sniper at long ranges, even with the video cranked up to 800×600, you still end up shooting at stacks of pixels.  But it gave me an evening of fun and I might go finish out the campaign just for kicks.

And I found that, while the individual game price on Steam is pretty outrageous, they do have a bundle that seems reasonable if I feel like a full round of nostalgia.

Prices calculated in 1950s dollars

Prices calculated in 1950s dollars

Save $260 on that bundle!  Such a deal!

If you are interested in pictures of the game in action, there are more after the cut.

Unless you have a tiny monitor, they will all show as full size in the gallery viewer.

Included are some of the game screens and me using a few of the different weapons.  You will see the scope mode over and over, which is interesting in this day and age.  They tried to combine the scope view while keeping your wider vision available.  The “two eyes open” scope method.  It can be confusing at time to have two aim points.

Also, in a few of the pictures, you can see the tracers.  Red tracers are the bad guys, blue tracers are friendly.  Though they all hit just the same.  In open multiplayer a lot of people favored games with tracers turned off, as they were very obvious pointers right at your position as soon as you opened fire.

And the terrain itself.  It looks blocky.  In fact, it looks like I am playing on oatmeal world when full screen on my monitor.  But it works as advertised, being huge with lots of varied features in and around which to hide and shoot.  We shall see how EQN fares with its voxel based engine.

Delta Force from days gone by.

7 responses to “Delta Force – A Memory of Voxels

  1. I only began using WASD for movement a couple of years ago. I’ve used the arrow keys ever since I first played EQ, adding them in as an option on every MMO that didn’t already have them set.

    Can’t remember why I finally decided to change, or which MMO prompted it. Maybe I finally ran into one that wouldn’t allow a rebind.

    Mrs Bhagpuss only changed to WASD from arrow keys last year when we started playing GW2 (I think). Either that or TSW.

    It also took me many years to stop playing MMOs in first-person and I still rebind the screenshot command to the minus sign on the number pad and hide UI to F10 in every MMO. Old habits die hard, if they die at all.

  2. WASD made sense to me… at least compared to the WASZ diamond pattern, on which I always found difficult to keep my fingers correctly oriented … way back in the Apple II days.

    For shooters, it was ingrained on me back with Marathon. I disliked movement not being the arrow keys until I watched somebody else play and realized that it made sense, at least for the right handed demographic. When you need your right hand on the mouse to aim, WASD is in the sweet spot for your left hand to control movement.

    So I was somewhat surprised that even a late 90s shooter wouldn’t have had WASD as the default. But maybe the developer was left handed. Arrow keys (or number pad) for movement make complete sense if you are left handed.

  3. I have vague memories of playing this game back in the day on my crappy Wal-Mart desktop. I remember playing the solo campaign and missions and hitting a wall somewhere down the line and quitting after repeated deaths for game crashing. Also, iirc, Novalogic came out with “Amored Fist” but I can’t remember if that was before or after this title.

  4. Wow this is a blast from the past. I have very fond memories of playing Joint Operations multiplayer. It was my first experience participating in very large online battles.

  5. First, ESDF is vastly superior to WASD. Especially if you can touch type.

    Second, for EQN the world is only conceptually built of voxels as I understand it. The engine still renders the world as polygons. This was mentioned on one of the EQN panels at SOE Live.

  6. @Brian – I think I have a post about what a pain it is to move from WASD to touch typing and back. The only hang up with ESDF is that you often have to remap some additional keys, and I swore off comprehensive key remaps somewhere in my early 30s. In the end, I have gotten used to moving between touch typing and WASD, but I know what you mean.

    So no “oatmeal Norrath” worries then? Not that I had any. I assumed that the tech had moved forward in the last 15 years.

Voice your opinion... but be nice about it...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s