Review: BZFlag

by Gregory Ng Dec 02, 2004

We are now in that state of limbo between Thanksgiving and Christmas where despite best intentions, no one at work really concentrates on anything. Because of this, let me offer you a great work diversion: hunting down your co-worker and blasting them into oblivion. I’m not talking about office rage. I’m talking about some serious tank warfare.

The game is called BZFlag and I have now been playing it with co-workers for 3 weeks now. BZFlag stands for Battle Zone Flag. The game is simple and incredibly addictive and it might cause me to achieve zero productivity until well past the Christmas holiday. First some personal history

I’m the furthest thing from a hardcore gamer. It’s pretty tough to be one when you are a Mac-exclusive user. Mac Gaming has been a hit or miss proposition for me. I was heavy into SimCity with my Power Performa 6115. When I got my 8500, I played a lot of Myst . But recently, I really haven’t gotten into games for the Mac. Occasionally I’ll play some Big Bang Chess , but normally I just play games on my PS2. In recent history the biggest problems I have had with Mac-compatible games have been:

Subpar graphics
Too memory intensive
Not fun

And when it comes to network games the list of complaints get even longer. Many games lack the wide range of compatibility needed for many people within your network to play along. Let’s face it: assuming you are in a Apple-only work environment, you may be flying with a G5 but the guy in accounting is probably crawling with a G3 iBook.

Then I stumbled upon BZFlag and I now play at least twice a day during the work week and at least once during the weekend. Here’s the premise:
You: A tank
Goal: Blast your co-workers into smithereens

Sounds fun eh? The game consists of tanks navigating around a world of boxes and pyramids. The basic controls are arrow keys or mouse for moving, mouse button for shooting and tab for jumping. You have 3 cannon shots at any given time. Once the blast detonates, your tank reloads. (all settings and controls can be changed to your liking) Sounds like a glorified Combat game from the Atari 2600 days right?

But it’s more than that. The minimal graphics create a world that is just enough to pull you in and not enough to choke your processor. This is a great example of how you could have the most realistic type of graphics but if it isn’t fun, you won’t play it. There are many different types of games you can play. You could play a straight out melee where it’s every tank for themselves. There’s also a capture the flag game where you team up with tanks.

So why the Flag in BZFlag? Perhaps the most amusing part of this game is the introduction of Super Flags. Super Flags are white flags interspersed around the playing field. Picking up a flag can give you special weapons are powers. You can score a Guided Missile where you lock your opponent in the scope and a heat-seeking missile hunts them down. You could also land the coveted Oscillation Overthruster which allows you to drive through the boxes. But there are bad flags too and you don’t know where they are until you find one. These flags can cause your scanner to be jammed, they could make you extremely obese, or they could limit you to only making left hand turns.

The best part of BZFlag is that it is open sourced. What does this mean? It means that anyone who is compelled to sit down and hack the coding can create new weapons, behaviors, and battlefields. I’m not one of those people but after joining a game on the internet, I’m glad other people are. Online, there are battles that are happening right now that contain multi-leveled worlds and game play so fast you’ll get killed every 5 seconds. These guys are serious BZFlaggers.

But before you throw your tank into the ring online, rally some co-workers and try this gameyou won’t be productive at your job ever again.
BZFlag can be downloaded for free at MacUpdate here .

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