Monday 16th May 2022,
XP4T Brave.Bold.Banter.

Trauma in the Desert: How One Mod Defined an Entire Series

planes trains n battleships

Classic Eagle /BF play – a dude with a gun, about to be shot by a plane, which launched from a battleship and is about to be shot by a tank, protected by other dudes with guns. So. Much. Action.

While Battlefield 1942 was slated for a mid-2002 release, it finally arrived in September of that year. Expectations were high, and everyone was keen to get their hands on it. For most, it was well worth the wait. PC Gamer UK gave it a solid 88%, noting that it was “the year’s other multi-player game” (a reference to Unreal Tournament 2003, which had unfortunately released at the same time and was their 91%-scoring Game of The Month). It’s interesting to note that PCG also mention that “those of us who are lucky enough to be able to install and pay for broadband will be able to make the most of our time in the War.” Indeed, while the game shipped with a reasonable Single Player campaign, it was the MP that would make or break it. Unfortunately, the GameSpy-powered multiplayer game browser was a dribbling mess to begin with. Coupled with the legendarily over-vigilant PunkBuster, BF 1942 must surely have been one of the most patched games ever, with almost weekly updates released to nail down and shore-up the net code, improve the game browser, and (sometimes) tweak and balance the actual gameplay. And this at a time when cover-mounted CDs on magazines were still the best means of distributing patches! Still, DICE beavered away like mad, and eventually everything that could be fixed was fixed, by which time the GameSpy and PB tech had improved anyway, and more and more people were getting better and better ’net connections. Two expansion packs followed – the essential, well-received Road To Rome (which added the Italian front and playable French and Italian forces), and the less well-received Secret Weapons of WWII (a pun on Noah Falstein’s Secret Weapons of The Luftwaffe, the culmination to LucasArts’ 16-bit and DOS WWII aerial combat sims, Battlehawks 1942 and Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain), which added some really good maps but a few really weird, over-the-top weapons, as well as a Rocket Ranger-style jet pack… There was also the eventual ‘modernisation’ of DICE’s war in the form of Battlefield Vietnam, which used a modified Refractor 2 engine to create quite convincingly claustrophobic jungles, although ultimately it was somewhat less well received than its predecessor and remained a divisive choice among BF fans. Ironically, its 2005 re-release as Battlefield Vietnam: Redux (timed to coincide with Apocalypse Now Redux, Francis Ford Coppola’s new cut of his seminal Vietnam movie) included an official, EA-made WWII mod, based on BF 1942.

Coming full circle (or at least a fat semi-circle) on this, the first of our two-part look at how the Desert Combat mod came to define the Battlefield series, we must finally look at the BF 1942 modding scene. Although it didn’t initially ship with modding support, EA eventually released a suite of specific tools and plugins (including an installer wizard creator) when it became clear that the BF community was a) incredibly strong, b) intent on modding the game to within an inch of its life, and therefore c) continuing to create epic sales of the continually re-packaged original and its expansions. Inevitably, the first mods were simply new maps and uniform re-textures, but it didn’t take long for the real game-changers and total conversions to begin appearing. In the three years of BF’s lifetime before Battlefield 2 officially hit in October 2005, taking many of the most significant mods with it, the list of well-made, exciting, inspiring and essential 1942 mods grew enormously. In fact, they even have their own Wikipedia entry. Truly, the modding community around BF 1942 represents one of PC gaming’s finest hours (I’ll get my coat). There’s the Battlefield Pirates mod, the Warhammer 40k mod, Battlefield 1918 (a WWI mod), even a full-on Star Wars mod, Galactic Conquest, which was tolerated by LucasArts right up until they released their own take on the online FPS, the beloved Star Wars Battlefront in 2004. At that time, Battlefront was a target of hate for many BF and Galactic Conquest fans, who felt that the ‘sudden’ death-by-lawyer of the mod was a most cruel and unusual punishment.

GC 1

Galactic Conquest for BF 1942. Back then, we weren’t quite as soaked in Star Wars games as we are now, and for a fan-made project, GC was truly amazing.

Battlefield mods were big news nearly every month in the gaming press for those few years, with new mods and updates to existing favourites garnering significant page space in the print media and on early gaming sites. Many of the larger, team-built mods had either focused on fantasy settings, or had gone the hyper-realism route. Forgotten Hope, a popular 2003 mod, added more than 250 new weapons and vehicles to the game – more even than any of the mainstream, AAA shooters of the time. But there were relatively few that looked forwards, towards the present day. Of those that did, one stood a clear head-and-shoulders over its brethren. It was a mod that even spawned not one, but two divergent mods of its own. Yes friends, we have finally arrived at Desert Combat

Pirates Alpha 0.1

One more, because there’s so much awesome here: Battlefield Pirates. Look at that guy, surely the piratiest pirate that ever pirated. I wonder if he was with Skidrow?

Come back next week as we watch with sweaty delight as the Desert Combat mod and Battlefield 1942 get it on, producing a huge family of modern-day shooters…

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About The Author

Old London geezer, now resident in the Polish hinterland. Linguist, committed Trekker, old-skool D&Der and gamer since the Colecovision was cooler than yo-yos...

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