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MODvelous Monday: 6/9/08


While Xbox 360 and PS3 users have worked themselves into a veritable tizzy over downloadable content, PC users have been accustomed to having the lifeline of their favorite games extended far past their in-the-box values since the days of Doom - and even before that. What's more, we're used to downloading new levels, weapons, characters, and entire new episodes absolutely free of charge.

Big Download understands that a five-hour game can be extended by hundreds of hours via total conversions, brand new monsters, and weapons you've always wanted to see in your favorite title. MODvelous Monday, our newest recurring column, celebrates the best mods for games new and old. Half-Life and Half-Life 2, StarCraft, WarCraft III, Diablo II, Doom and more will all be represented here - and that's where you come in. Interested in mod coverage for a particular game? Leave comments in each MODvelous Monday's comments section and tell us what games you'd like to see represented here. You suggest it, we'll cover the best mods for it.

This week's MODvelous Monday column looks at two custom maps for StarCraft, Blizzard's forever-popular RTS.

Mod: PACMAN
Developer: Goran1
Type: Single player

Download Link
Required Game: StarCraft

Installation Instructions:
- Download the PACMAN map.
- Place the .scx file in your StarCraft map directory. Typically C:\...Starcraft\Maps.

Running the Mod:
- Launch StarCraft.
- Load a player profile.
- Click Play Custom, then open the PACMAN map file from where you placed it in your Maps folder.

Review


"Well...PACMAN."

StarCraft map designer Goran1's description of his custom map is explanatory enough. Pac-Man. 'Nuff said. We've all played the iconic yellow pizza's game before, right? In summary, you guide the titular hero through mazes filled with white dots while keeping away from four ghosts. Grabbing a power pill renders Pac-Man temporarily invulnerable, which allows players to increase their score by turning the tables on the ghosts.

Goran1's Pac-Man-themed map ports the franticness of the popular arcade game to StarCraft. Pac-Man is replaced by a Zealot, Binky and his ghostly crew by Infested Terran, power pills by flags, and white dots by Vulture mines. The mod begins with Pac's familiar opening bleeps and bloops as the camera pans to the map's center, showing one ghost escaping their holding pen. The camera skims down to the bottom of the map to show a different cage, this one containing three Zealots. One vanishes and re-appears in the map's center, and the game is on. Players must quickly select the Zealot and madly click around the map to collect as many pellets... rather, detonate as many mines as possible before the Infested Terrans blow you to oblivion.

Goran1's translation is largely positive. Unlike Pac-Man, the playing field isn't completely viewable, so having to shuffle the camera while pounding the right mouse button to move adds a sizely boost to the game's intensity. Controlling the Zealot is pivotal, as he'll begin to attack the mines if left alone. Anything that slows your progress allows the Infested Terran chasers to gain significant ground, and frankly, these aren't your daddy's ghosts. Confusing them by rounding corners and doubling back is still an option, but unlike their predecessors, they follow no prescribed patterns.


In fact, it's not so much a question of if the chasers can get you, but when. This was the case in the original game unless players knew exactly how and when to maneuver Pac-Man, but at least the power pills provided a quick means of escape, an easy score increase, or both. Not so in Goran1's map. The power pills, now flags, don't render Pac-Zealot invulnerable, nor do they cause the chasers to run away in fear. Touch a chaser, you die. Touch a chaser while under the faux protection of the power pill, you die.

Because the only means of protection you'll receive is found via the "tunnels" that transport Pac-Zealot from one side of the screen to the other, the mod is a bit more intense than most would prefer, and completing it is sometimes an impossible feat. Still, much fun can be had trying to clear the map, and players who have memorized Pac-Man's patterns should find a challenge in a game that, unlike the original, cannot be won.

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Mod: Lord of the Rings RPG
Developer: mimi
Type: Single player

Download Link
Required Game: StarCraft: Brood War

Installation Instructions:
- Download the LOTR RPG map.
- Place the .scx file in your StarCraft: Brood War map directory. Typically C:\...Starcraft\Maps.

Running the Mod:
- Launch StarCraft.

- Click Single Player, then click StarCraft: Brood War.
- Load a player profile.
- Click Play Custom, then open the LOTR RPG map file from where you placed it in your Maps folder.

Review

One Blizzard expansion pack to rule them all, one map maker to find them,
One map to assimilate the entire The Lord of the Rings trilogy and in the fog of war bind them
In the Land of Brood War where the Zerglings lie.


If you've been a gamer before or since Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings resurgence in 2001, you've probably played at least one game based on the book-to-movie phenomenon. Some stay true to one of the trilogy's installments, others extrapolate a single snippet of Tolkien lore to create an entirely new tale, but rarely is the entire trilogy seamlessly brought together in one complete package. StarCraft map creator mimi has magnificently welded The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King into one expansive StarCraft: Brood War map that takes players through the Mines of Moria, across Fangorn Forest, and all the way to Mount Doom itself.

With Dark Templar and Zealots standing in for hobbit models, Ghosts and Marines for elves, Infested Kerrigans for Uruk-hai, and various buildings representing familiar settings and objects such as Galadriel's tomb, players start out dodging Naz'ghul while attempting to meet up with Strider at the Prancing Pony.

mimi's enjoyment of and strict adherence to Tolkien's narrative manifests itself through expertly designed and paced environments and cutscenes. Players will cross a river after Frodo has been stabbed by a Naz'Ghul's blade and watch as Arwen signals a river (of exploding Protoss Corsairs) to eradicate the pursuing Dark Riders. You'll watch helplessly as Gandalf stands against a Balrog in the Mines of Moria -- and then take control of the Protoss Templar as he battles the beast, represented by an Archon.



Sitting in on legendary encounters such as the forging of the Fellowship, Boromir's execution at the hands of the Uruk-hai, and Gollum's tragic role of Frodo's guide is what makes the mod so much fun to watch. Though the world is aesthetically StarCraft, mimi's cutscenes allow it to become Middle-earth such that players will not see Terran, Zerg, and Protoss units, but rather hobbits, dwarves, and orcs.

The mod's gameplay is just as engrossing, though not without some frustrations. Some cutscenes are so well-done that the player doesn't realize that they're not actually passive experiences until he has died. When Arwen signals the river, the player is quietly given control of Frodo, who, of course, is with Arwen during the incident. If Frodo happens to be standing in the water's (Corsairs') path, he'll be instantly killed.

Other issues exist with the level-up system, which allows the player's Terran and Protoss units to upgrade their offensive and defensive ratings. Rather than doling out experience points for kills, the player is awarded minerals and vespene gas at specific points throughout the adventure. Because of this, the tendency to win battles is completely based on skill rather than grinding for experience points. On the one hand, such a mechanic can be used to finely tune the game so that all players are made to experience the game on equal terms. Each of the game's battles is not a hack-and-slash affair, but instead must be approached strategically; if you die, game over, so make sure you're on your game.

On the other, less attractive hand, some battles, such as the excruciatingly difficult defense of Helm's Deep, quickly become a tedious trial-and-error exercise.



Compounding the sometimes high level of difficulty is the requirement of keeping almost all characters alive. It stands to reason that the game would be lost if any of the primary characters were to be slain. If a few citizens of Lothlorien are killed in its defense, well, that should be chalked up to collateral damage. Tragic, but not so detrimental that I should be booted from the game. This is what happens, which leads one to believe that mimi is so intent on following Tolkien's tale so exactly that if a character didn't die in the books, he, she, or it won't die in the mod, either.

Rigid and linear it may be, but more than anything else, mimi's LOTR RPG is great fun. If you're looking for a relatively quick way to re-experience the entire LOTR trilogy, this tiny download contains a few hours of good times that is only somewhat extended by a few tough scenarios.


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