There wasn't a great deal of love for Quake 4 back in the day. I'm not sure how much of that was gamer sourness at being forced to actually purchase the new version (considering many were able to download and play Quake 3 for free from LAN adventures), but it wasn't particularly well received among the competitive community.
It's a shame, because Quake 4 solved one of the major problems facing arena shooters at the time — sitting in a server, waiting for your turn. At the time iD called it instancing, where you could have multiple duels ongoing within a single server, but the technology was never utilised anywhere else.
With the return of arena shooters, and more deathmatch-oriented FPS in general, I've been hoping that the concepts and tech might be revived. And it has — in the latest Unreal Tournament.
They're called hub servers, and they're kind of like a super-server version of the normal servers you'd find in the Unreal Tournament server browser. Epic's set hubs up all over the world and there's one in Australia, so naturally I checked it out.
When you connect to the hub server, you're given a choice of game modes. "Think of a Hub as your own little mini gaming network," the official Wiki says. "The biggest benefit of a hub is it allows your servers to join, chat and then create matches in a wide variety of game modes to fit their current desire."
Epic's explanation is a fraction vague, so for clarity: as a player, if you just want to play a game of Deathmatch, you simply select the mode and the hub will create a instance within the hub that others can join and play. It's basically the same idea behind multiple duels within the same Quake 4 server, but on a broader scale; the hub can support multiple games with multiple game-types. If more players want to play more game types, then the hub simply makes a new server on demand and shuts it down when it's not being used.
"The Hub itself which is a chat room for setting up matches and the instances that it creates. That's right, the Hub will launch new servers on demand. This is a great way to maximize system resources as the Hub itself is fairly light weight."
This is the Sydney server at the time of writing: as you can see, people have created three separate instances. You're not locked into the standard game mode settings either: if you want to play around with the mutators on a map of your choice with a mode of your choice, you can go right ahead.
There's no shortage of maps either, although there's only one official map that's finished with the rest being work in progress shells (levels with placeholder assets and flat grey textures).
It's a cool piece of tech, but importantly it's a clever way to keep your community engaged. If someone falls out of love with part of Unreal Tournament — they don't like the Deathmatch meta or the particular maps played — they can easily and quickly fire up something else from the hub.
Having the central chat also means you're still connected to everyone else in the hub, so if you want to play something that's a bit unpopular you're not immediately isolated. There are still plenty of people who can flit in and out, increasing the likelihood of people hanging around for longer and trying different modes (something that has soured the Call of Duty experience quite a bit, where the majority only plays one or two of the playlists).
Of course, if you have a private server or a favourite you can always go to the old school browser and hunt it down that way. You can even connect manually if you want through the console, and Epic has promised to continue supporting traditional servers until the end of time. That last statement is a fraction untrue, although it's worth noting that you can still happily play on UT, UT2003, UT2004 and UT3 (well, nobody really plays UT3 these days, but you know) servers today.
2016 is increasingly looking like a year for shooters, big and small. FPS games have often been the ones to drive a lot of innovation and change in gaming engines too, and it'll be cool to see what other features Epic rolls out in the new Unreal Tournament. After all, everything that's being made available should — in theory — be able to be used by developers for other UE4 games too.