Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica mods.

I don’t think I’m assuming too much when I extend a hankie of sympathy to our readership in the wake of Battlestar Galactica’s finale. The series was a boon to those who liked their sci-fi with more grist and less camp. Ron Moore’s top-shelf writing combined with stellar (hah!) performances and the best special effects on network television set a new benchmark for not only the Sci Fi channel (excuse me, SyFy) but for all mediums of entertainment set among the stars.

As soon as the show finished, I knocked back a g&t and asked my friend Ben:

“How has no one made a credible shooter out of this?”

As a videogame IP, BSG has seen a few forgettable drops in the bucket. A 2003 PS2/XBOX shooter was based on the pre-Moore show circa ninteenseventywhatever, and a 2007 XBLA shooter didn’t even get its rudimentary mechanics squared away. I wanted something to replicate the frantic action and dizzying aerospatial gymnastics of the show’s combat sequences.

Of course, the modders had already made this game.

It’s embarrassing to admit that I discovered Beyond The Red Line through Kotaku. They did a brief wrap on Monday summarizing the (apparently) proliferate efforts of modders to replicate BSG on computer screens. Only two out of the four are serviceable (well, 1.5 – Ben has tried to play the Homeworld 2 mod Fleet Command, and it never seems to work) but if you want to check out Kotaku’s wrap, go ahead. I want to talk about BTRL.

Beyond The Red Line is built on the venerable shoulders of Freespace 2, unwitting apotheosis and swan song of the space-sim genre. When the source code was released to the public, fans of defunct space sims everywhere started cobbling together meshes, re-skins and total conversions of their pet IPs. Wing Commander has an FS2 mod (we’ll talk about that later), as does Babylon 5. With the most sophisticated flight mechanics the genre ever saw, FS2 is a perfect host for aspiring Viper jocks.

Almost any maneuver possible in the show is possible here – you can spin on any axis, slide like a greased pig across a tile floor, and weave in-between the superstructures of colonial ships. The presentation is great, for a mod (I don’t mean this in the pejorative – understand, this is a labor of love pieced together by volunteers. Qualifiers are necessary, and are not meant to be condescending) – colonial radios crackle with the same warbly distortion as the show, and the Viper cannons fire with the same quiet roar, muted by the vacuum. Seeing the exhaust contrails of Vipers mingle with those of Raiders and create a fine lace pattern... fans of BSG have waited for this.

Unfortunately, the BTRL crew only has a demo to offer. A lot has yet to be seen – conspicuously absent from the first three levels is the hulking battleship Galactica. We see plenty of it in BTRL’s promo videos, surrounded by fireballs of flack, all guns blazing, but we can’t experience it yet. This will be the crucible for BTRL, and ultimately, the game’s test of worth. If they can deliver on what these videos promise, their achievement will be monumental.

While they’re presumably working on the final product, check out the first three levels and send them your thoughts. Crack the whip. Make them work weekends. I want this game finished, and if I could have it tomorrow, I’d be most pleased. Okay? Thanks, fellas.