Every so often, I find myself wandering back to see how far along the MTA:SA project has come. I sometimes take a look at the google code and roadmap updates, but find that information to lack the depth that I desire. IRC chat can sometimes give good insight, but is very hit and miss depending on who is there. There also appears to be almost no developer or tester blogs that shine light on the project. So, I decided to grab a few buddies, install the server locally, and test out the latest developer version of MTA:SA 1.0. I hope this can help others looking for similar info.
For reference, I am a long-time GTA player who still remembers running over a conga-line of peds in GTA2. I also played MTA:SA Race for a while, and even scripted a very simple game mode. Before this week, I had not attempted to play any nightly developer build of MTA. I fully understand that nightly builds can be flaky and not production quality. This is an opinionated, critical review of a nightly build so take it with a grain of salt.
Following the instructions here, I installed mtasadm v1.0r612 (20090410), data v407, and resource v118. I also had my buddies install the same version. Note: They had to install the resources to both server/mods/deathmatch/resources and mods/deathmatch/resources in order to prevent some never-ending "loading resource" message.
Before starting the server, I found that there were dozens of "resources" with almost no documentation. I tried researching a few but gave up. There really needs to be better descriptions of what a resource does and how it can be used (e.g. common commands, etc).
Next, I tried to start a local LAN server from the UI. Bad idea. Nobody could connect and it took a while to find out that running a dedicated server is (apparently) the only way to get a server running that allows local connections. Even then, people had to quick connect by IP. If you want to do this, I'd recommend looking at server.conf and verifying everything is the way you want. Also, if you want to run a public server (available via the in-game browser), don't ask me as I tried to do this multiple times with no success.
Side note: The game itself has a user login requirement for playing online. Thankfully, it can be disabled by the server. This is good since all of my buddies (who did not have MTA community accounts) were unable to get these set up via the in-game registration feature. Yes, I know that it works to register via the community web site, but I still don't see the point.
After getting the server set up, about 5 of us were able to connect to the game. We messed around for a while on the default map, which is really just a test-map designed for development. We were able to walk around, get in vehicles, see the sights, etc. It appears that all of the vehicles work, from bicycles to helicopters. There appeared to be no signifiant syncronization problems, and the server never crashed. The graphics and sound (even the radio) worked as expected. However, there were no guns or peds to drive over, so we decided to move on to another map.
Not knowing the default game modes or maps was probably the second major annoyance. At first, we didn't even know how to get to the gamemode/map list. After some research, I did find the commands. However, I hope that this eventually turns into an easily discoverable in-game UI. Also, the wiki seemed to be mostly geared towards development, and not helping a newbie understand the game.
Fortunately, we figured out what to do, and eventually tried a number of the game modes. Here are all the modes listed by default:
assault (Assault) [8 maps]
battlefield69 [2 maps]
cdm (Classic Death Match) [1 map]
ctf (Capture the Flag) [7 maps]
cto (Capture the orb) [1 map]
ctv (Capture the Vehicle) [1 map]
fallout (Fallout) [0 maps]
hay (Hay) [0 maps]
interstate69 (Interstate 69) [5 maps]
race (Race) [20 maps]
stealth (Stealth) [6 maps]
tdma (Team Death Match Arena) [8 maps]
teamwars (Team Wars) [1 map]
We went through as many modes as we could, and a few maps in each mode if possible. Some of these modes worked and some didn't. In one mode we couldn't even get past the start screen where you select your team. I fully expect that to get fixed in the future. However one thing I found very annoying was that many of the maps were out-of-vehicle only. That is, there were no vehicles to get into. Frankly, if I would want to play a shooter-only game, there are much better options than GTA. However, one of the best aspects of GTA is that it mixes both in and out of vehicle modes into the same game, producing a game style that is unlike any other game. Please take advantage of this! Also, at least a few built-in maps for each mode would have helped make it easier to take a look at the various modes.
One game mode that captured the feel of GTA was "Capture the Vehicle". It had spawn points that two teams would try to bring a neutral vehicle to. You could get out and shoot at each other, or try to drive over your opponent. Unfortunately, the maps were absolutely enormous for 5 players, which quickly became very annoying. It sometimes took us 3-5 minutes to get to each other, only for one of us to quickly die and have to start it all over. This makes for very tedious gameplay. I don't see how 30 players could even do it. So, please provide multiple small maps (or at least the same maps with closer spawn points) for under 10 players in each gamemode. It would be very much appreciated.
Another thing I noticed was that many maps have very few guns and or parked cars. Having to fight a pistol battle every time I saw an enemy got boring fast. Also, sometimes when my vehicle got totaled, I would have to walk for 5 minutes to get to a new point, or just kill myself. Please add lots of these everywhere. That said, all of the guns once found did work as expected. Yay!
Finally, I'd like to comment on the 3rd-party resources and scripts available online. Many of the scripts looked very promising. There was one or two for "peds" which would have definitely made the party more fun...if I had gotten them to work. I hope to see more information on getting these scripts running in the future. It would also help if there was some kind of review/rating system for the scripts which could help onlookers to know if something is worth trying.
In conclusion, the game shows much promise and does work in certain scenarios. I hope the developers continue towards a final release.