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For many years, I considered myself to be an avid gamer. From high school through college, and even the first few years after getting married and having kids, there were plenty of times when I would stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning blasting away.
When network gaming came out and became wildly popular along with the Internet itself, the late night gaming episodes increased in frequency.
However, as I’ve gotten older and the kids and job have become more demanding and time consuming, those late-night episodes eventually faded away into a distant memory.
But I must admit, there are times when I discover yet another game – another highly addictive, networked game – when I am brought back to my heyday college years of binge-gaming and lots of caffeine. Recently, I stumbled across just such a tank war game called BZFlag, and I had to share.
A Strategic Tank Battle
I first caught wind of BZFlag in Tim’s article on open source games. Tim didn’t actually write about it, but one of the readers briefly mentioned, and I quote, “bzflag rules!!!”
Once I downloaded and installed BZFlag, I realized why the excitement. It is a really cool tank war game.
BZFlag stands for Battle Zone capture the Flag. It’s a 3D tank battle game that’s fast paced and at times pretty intense. There is no single-player game – it’s all about team-match network gaming. Some of the games may be set up as one huge team against a second huge team in a classic capture the flag game. Other games are set up in smaller teams – much more intense.
From what I can tell, there are lots of active game servers almost always available, with plenty of players available.
My favorite part of the game is just how much information is on the screen at once in a pretty cool heads-up display. There are a lot of controls, which take a little bit of time to get used to…it took me a while to realize why all of the other players were flying around whenever I tried to shoot them – you can jump with the Tab key!
The HUD display has the real-time scoreboard in the upper left corner, status updates at the top, team scores at the upper right, a scrolling kill roll at the bottom, and most importantly – the radar at the lower left. The radar is the area of the screen you’re going to want to watch the most often, because it’s where you can aim your shots to ricochet off walls to destroy the enemy tanks. Trust me – it’s a lot harder than it sounds, as you can see from the screenshot below.
That’s the screen you’ll see when you get destroyed – I saw it more often than not. Some of these folks have gotten really good. At first you’ll want to try to get up close and personal and blast tanks away like a first-person shooter. Most of the time the enemy tank will launch itself into the air before you can do anything.
After a while, you’ll see that the real art of this game is carefully planning your shots so that it cuts off the path of the enemy tank when he or she least expects it. Or bouncing your shot off a wall nearby and blasting the tank from behind. Getting the knack of jumping helps too. Here I am soaring over the battlefield after some dude tried to blast me.
Another helpful tactic is shooting through the barrier/shield doors (enemy bullets can’t get through, but yours can), and taking pot shots at the enemy tanks through the slots in the walls, like the one I’m peeking through in the screenshot below.
Most of the strategy of this game takes place in that little radar window at the lower left. In the screenshot below, you can see my tank in the center of the screen against a square wall. If you look closely, you can see where my shots (just little specks on the radar) went through the openings in the walls, bounced off the corner wall, and headed for the red cluster of enemy tanks. The goal is to outsmart them before they outsmart you.
Is BZFlag worthy of being called one of the most popular open source tank war games ever? I’m not sure about that, but I do know that it’s very easy to get addicted to it. I was informed by my wife that I had been playing the game for three hours (it felt like 30 minutes). That’s the sign of a great game.
Give BZFlag a shot (get it?) and let us know what you think. Is it fun, or do you find it boring? What’s you’re take? Give your feedback in the comments section below.