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UKPCGC Finals coverage

Full coverage from the UK PC Gaming Championship finals in London, including reports from many of the key matches...

UKPCGC - try saying that after a few beers...

What Is It?

The UKPCGC is a new kind of gaming tournament, with six teams of two to four players having to battle it out in eight (count 'em!) different games during an exhausting 13 hour competition.

All the teams in London this weekend had earned their place there by winning one of the six regional qualifiers during the summer, and had picked up a £1500 cheque for their efforts.

And the prizes for the finals are even bigger, thanks to heavy sponsorship from AMD and Microsoft's MSN Gaming Zone.

He Shoots! He Scores!

The contest is split into four sections - action, strategy, driving and sport - with two games for each section.

Each of the action and driving games are decided by two matches, with one player from each team taking part in every match. For each match, the winner will gain 5 points for their team, second place gets 4, third gets 3, and so on down to zero points for the loser.

The strategy and sports games are played one on one, with each team playing every other team at every game once during the day. That's 5 matches on each game. A win gives you 2 points, and a draw gets each player 1 point.

This means that there are a maximum of 20 points up for grabs in each of the four categories.

After a series of qualifiers around the country over the last few months, six teams had earned themselves a place in the finals...

Unlucky (Un)

Winners of the London qualifier, Unlucky is made up of four A-level students. They had a hard time qualifying against Team Duellist, but proved to be more than a match for some of the more famous players at the finals.

Dodgy Spider (DS)

Dodgy Spider is a trio of 22 year olds from Wolverhampton and Preston, united by their love of drinking. Qualifying in Birmingham with some relatively low scores, they were the real outsiders at the finals.

Happy Campers (HC)

Winners of the Glasgow qualifier, Happy Campers are made up of a trio of teenage students and a 26 year old Civil Servant. All of them are QuakeWorld fanatics.

Special Ops (SO)

Another group of teenage students, Special Ops were the youngest team in the finals. Winners from the qualifier in their home town of Manchester in the face of some strong competition, they were looking good for the finals.

Blue Boodas (BB)

The smallest team, this pair won the Cardiff qualifiers. Garr is a fairly strong all-rounder, but Tasan is better known for his Quake II skills than as an RTS player. "I don't like these games," he admitted. "Where's the railgun?!?"

But their main problem was that both Garr and Tasan would have a busy schedule throughout the day, playing four different games each! The finals were exhausting for all the teams, but it was going to be hardest on the Blue Boodas.

Inept (In)

Inept won the Drop-In qualifier, and were favourites to take the title at the finals. Daishi is a well-known strategy gamer, and Billox is one of Britain's better known Quake II players.

Ramah also put in a strong showing on the driving games, and although IOU was the youngest finalist (at just 15 years old) he was expected to do well in the sports games. A well balanced and talented team.

The strategy section of the UKPCGC featured a beta version of "Age of Empires II", and Cavedog's "Total Annihilation : Kingdoms".

Each team would play five matches on each game, taking on every other team one on one during the day.

Fit For A King

The AoE2 beta was surprisingly stable and looked beautiful, although there were still a few graphical glitches and some problems with the captions.

The only other issue was that the game seemed to be very defensive, with some games won by a player simply building lots of walls around his base and avoiding any real combat.

We'll be bringing you a full review of the game as soon as we can get hold of a copy...

Daishi came here as the favourite for the RTS games, and this game showed why. After just 15 minutes it was all over bar the shouting - Ironfist's army had been annihilated, and a squad of Daishi's horsemen had overrun his base.

Ironfist tried to fight back, massing his villagers in the town hall to defend it. But Daishi just moved his troops to another part of the base and started demolishing that instead. Taking advantage of the lull, Ironfists's villagers carried out a quick sorite to build a tower, but it didn't last long once Daishi found it and the villagers had to flee back to the town hall.

After a few more desperate attempts to fight off Daishi, Ironfist realised he couldn't win and resigned, with just 20 minutes on the clock.

An impressive start for Daishi.

By the time I arrived, Meandy had already developed an interesting strategy. Selecting one of his unit builders, he'd order it to conjure up a mass of cheap units, painting the entire screen by holding down the mouse button and moving his mouse around at random.

"Do you think you have enough of those?"

Meandy paused for a second, looking at the screen intently, then replied "No" and went off to do it again on another part of the map.

He was obviously doing something right though, because after half an hour he had pulled out a commanding 4000 - 1900 lead. He had built up his sacred stones fast, and was maxed out on mana already.

Ten minutes later he was maxed out on units as well, and had a fairly solid grip on his side of the map, even though his army was mostly made up of weak troops with a handful of stone giants. Building a line of sacred fires, Meandy admitted "I've got no idea what these are, but I'm going to build a lot of them!"

Meanwhile Skinner was preparing a nasty surprise - a big flight of dragons. They looked impressive enough, but when he flew them out over Meandy's base just five minutes from the end they were shot down before they could cause much damage. This gave Meandy lots of points, giving him an unassailable lead.

With 30 seconds to go, Skinner announced "I've got a masterplan", but it was too late to do anything. The match ended with Meandy the victor by a country mile - the score was about 17500 to 5100.

"I probably should have played this before", said Meandy. He never really worked out what half the units and buildings he was constructing did, but despite this his army of low cost troops was more than a match for Skinner's dragons.

Vlad's team, Dodgy Spiders, won the Birmingham qualifier with some of the lowest winning scores of the UKPCGC, and came to the finals as the underdogs. Vlad admitted he'd gone along to the qualifier "for a laugh", but he and his team had walked away with £1500 and a place in the finals.

Because of this, Dodgy Spiders were taking a more relaxed attitude to the finals than many of the other teams. 15 minutes into his match Vlad lit up a cigarette and stopped to chat with his team mates.

Unfortunately when KaP's attack came, Vlad was lacking defence, and KaP's footmen slaughtered most of Vlad's villagers in short order. With just twenty minutes on the clock Vlad had just one villager left to face the dozen or more troops that KaP had inside his base, and he was trailing by over 600 points.

Admitting defeat, Vlad resigned from the game before turning round and asking "is the bar open?"

The game got off to a slow start, with both sides building up their bases. There was little or no combat for the first fifteen minutes. Chris found Tasan's base with one of his galleys, but after a short scuffle it was sunk after causing only minimal damage. Both sides seemed evenly matched, with around 1600 points each.

Meanwhile Chris was building up his defences. His favourite strategy seemed to be to build a huge wall around his base and then sit behind it for the entire hour, winning on points.

After twenty minutes both sides reached the Castle Age almost together, and continued to match each other point for point. Tasan pulled out a small 100 point lead as Chris tried to eat a Big Mac with one hand while playing the game with the mouse in his other, but it was short lived.

With Chris starting to take the lead, Tasan brought up some siege equipment to try to break through the Great Wall of Chris. Tasan appeared to have more men at this stage, but the huge wall around his base helped Chris hold them off as he started to build towers just behind it. The first one was completed just as Tasan finally made a hole in the wall, bringing him to a standstill again.

With seventeen minutes to go Tasan advanced into the Imperial Age, but Chris was still slightly ahead on points. With their infantry escort cut down by Chris' towers, Tasan was forced to withdraw his siege weapons, harried by scout cavalry all the way. After that the game settled down again for a bit, with Chris holding on to a narrow 200 point lead.

Nine minutes from the end Chris finally reached the Imperial Age as his research efforts really kicked in, giving him a 700 point lead - the first time either player had pulled out a significant lead.

Tasan launched another attack, but then for some reason withdrew again before his troops had got half way to Chris' base. A couple of minutes later, and with still only 800 points in it, Tasan regrouped his forces and attacked again. They arrived at Chris' base just a minute from the end of the game, and although they finally started to break down his defences it was too little too late.

Chris took the game 6350 to 5360, mostly thanks to research.

The two players might have agreed to play at a faster game speed before the match started, but the computers hadn't. Even the Playing Fields' mighty Athlon 600s couldn't take the strain of the processor hungry game at high speed when the real battles started...

The map being played had a canal down the middle of it, with just one bridge crossing it. Both sides had heavy defences, reducing much of the game to a stalemate. By half time KaP had taken the lead - 2500 to 1660 - but the lead was shrinking all the time.

The turning point came as KaP massed up a flight of dragons to attack Chappy's base, 35 minutes into the game. Seeing the dragons approaching, Chappy looked worried. "This could be a problem".

But the dragons went down surprisingly easily to Chappy's ground forces, and he gained a lot of points from killing them. Chappy took the lead 3150 to 2870, even though KaP was still ahead on kills.

Five minutes later KaP launched another dragon attack, but again it was fought off. KaP obviously likes his dragons, but although their attacks caused a fair amount of damage (and even more panic), it wasn't enough, and KaP was giving Chappy far too many points.

With fifteen minutes to go, Chappy had picked up a 1000 point lead thanks to his dragon slaying skills. As KaP threw more and more dragons at Chappy's base, the game continued to slip away from him.

Then, in the final minutes of the game, Chappy finally took down KaP's defences around the end of the bridge. With just a minute to go Chappy maxed out on units, and send his entire army streaming into KaP's base. KaP tried to hold them off with (you guessed it) more dragons, but as the game ended he was going down. Final score - 5910 to 4130 to Chappy.

KaP couldn't understand why he had lost though, being ahead on kills and having had more mana through most of the game. But the rules were clear - if the match went the full hour it was decided on points, not kills. After a rather half-hearted appeal, KaP conceded defeat.

After rapid defeats at the hands of both Daishi and KaP, Vlad was looking for payback. "I want to kill something!" he announced as the game began.

Surprisingly Vlad actually took the lead at the start of the game, until after just nine minutes Ironfist advanced out of the Dark Ages and took the lead. It didn't last long though, and even Vlad was surprised when we told him he was winning.

Meanwhile Ironfist had built a small fleet of galleys and sailed it around the back of Vlad's base, taking out several fishing ships before Vlad could sink them. Twenty minutes gone, and Vlad was slightly ahead - 2100 to 1950 - although Ironfist had already made it to the Castle Age.

Vlad built up an impressive fleet of war galleys in the mid game, and sailed across to Ironfist's island, sinking the rest of his fleet and then attacking his dock and towers. As those towers started to take their toll, Vlad shouted "Run away!" and pulled his fleet back again, losing the initiative.

Ironfist loaded up a small raiding party into a transport and landed them into Vlad's base. The raiding party of knights slaughtered Vlad's infantry, giving him the lead again. "Haha! Now I lose," Vlad called out.

It soon got worse though. Ironfist managed to land a group of peasants on Vlad's island, and his navy and horsemen held off Vlad's attacks as they built a castle right outside of Vlad's base! The castle was impressive - a huge stone keep that was more than capable of defending itself. Vlad couldn't do anything about it, and his navy had already been sunk.

With 25 minutes to go, Vlad was fucked. Ironfist now had an archery range, a tower, and the castle right outside Vlad's base, and was on the offensive again. Vlad tried counter attacking with catapults, but was soon beaten back. A few minutes later Ironfist had another tower outside Vlad's base and had advanced into the Imperial Age, giving him a healthy 6100 to 4800 lead.

"I was doing alright," explained Vlad, "but then I got sidetracked and forgot what I was playing."

Just as Vlad seemed certain to lose, the animator suffered a fatal heart attack .. or something like that. The game crashed on both computers simultaneously, with just seventeen minutes left on the clock. Vlad eventually conceded defeat, avoiding the need for a rematch.

The opening saw Daishi expanding rapidly across the map, setting up sacred stones to collect mana. He soon had a small army of footmen and what looked like primitive zeppelins, which he marched into Tasan's base just six minutes into the game.

Tasan managed to hold off the attack, but it had unbalanced him and Daishi already had a second, larger force ready to move. Tasan was caught in a corner of the map, with troops moving in on him from all directions and Daishi already controlling much of the level. With just nine minutes gone Daishi was already looking victorious.

A steady stream of zeppelins and infantry was sent into Tasan's base, leaving him fighting for survival while Daishi continued to build up his army and base. Tasan could only watch helplessly as Daishi took the win with just ten and a half minutes played!

Unfortunately I missed most of this game, because the ending at least was very interesting...

Skinner had been almost wiped out, but the game was nearing the one hour deadline and he was still 2000 points ahead of KaP. All he had to do was stall for five minutes to win on points. Things went pear shaped when KaP's forces tracked down his monarch though, and he was hounded across the map by them before being cornered and slaughtered.

With just two minutes left Skinner was watching helplessly - KaP couldn't pull back enough points to win unless he could wipe him out completely, and he didn't seem to be able to find his last sacred stone. But then, with less than a minute to go, KaP finally tracked down the building and set about it with his troops.

With only seconds to spare he demolished it, and took a hard earned victory that showed why this game is called Total Annihilation...

KaP found Ironfist's base early on in the game and harassed it with a scout cavalry unit, but Ironfist managed to fight him off easily. The game was neck and neck after five minutes.

Just a couple of minutes later Ironfist made it to the Feudal Age, but he was still only slightly ahead (the score was 700 to 630) and KaP joined the Feudal Age soon afterwards. The scores were dead even again after ten minutes.

Meanwhile Ironfist was building a big wall to defend his base. Fourteen minutes into the game KaP got together a big posse of infantry and headed over to Ironfist's base to raise some hell, only to find himself locked out. Before he could even break through the wall, Ironfist had already built a second wall just behind it to block him again, setting the tone for the whole game.

A few minutes later KaP was still stuck outside the walls, and Ironfist had pulled out a small 100 point lead and begun building towers just behind the wall. By the time KaP finally broke through the outer wall and began attacking the second one, Ironfist was already building a third short section of wall behind that!

With twenty minutes gone, Ironfist was pulling out a significant lead - the score was 1900 to 1600, and KaP was still on the wrong side of two walls! It was a hopeless situation. Ironfist was throwing up new towers and walls faster than KaP could tear them down.

Ironfist's lead was still growing, and KaP still hadn't built any siege weapons. In fact he seemed to have given up on breaking into the base, though Ironfist was still improving its defences. And although KaP got to the Castle Age first, by then he was already 600 points behind.

As the game reached half time KaP grouped together another army and went looking for a hole in Ironfist's defences. There was no hole. After a short skirmish in front of the city walls KaP pulled back again, just as Ironfist joined the Castle Age and upgraded all his defences again.

Things got confusing then. KaP was certain he had all the relics, though he only seemed to have picked up one of them, and couldn't work out why he wasn't getting a countdown to his expected victory. He wasted a lot of time moving the relic in and out of his monastery trying to puzzle it out...

Meanwhile Ironfist reached the Imperial Age, bringing him another upgrade to his already impressive city walls and defensive towers. He formed a big army and marched them out across the map, using sheep as scouts to find KaP's forces.

Somehow he avoided KaP's base entirely, and instead found a relic just a couple of screens behind it! Quickly he grabbed it and then marched back around the south of KaP's base and got it home safely. Amusingly KaP still thought he had all the relics, and was still trying to work out why he wasn't winning...

With 44 minutes gone, KaP finally stopped playing with his monks and went on the offensive again, but he still couldn't break through the walls. Ironfist was 1800 points ahead by this time, and building another bloody wall!

A few minutes later KaP tried again. This time he almost managed to break through the outer wall, but had to withdraw again as the defenders inflicted heavy casualties on him. At last he got the message, and started building some siege weapons, but it was already too late - there were only twelve minutes left, and Ironfist was over 2000 points ahead.

Gathering together some infantry, archers and knights to defend his lone battering ram, KaP marched into battle again. As the action hotted up outside Ironfist's walls the frame rates dropped off alarmingly - let's hope this is just a problem with the beta code we were using.

Luckily for the computers the battle didn't last long though, as Ironfist's strong defence made short work of KaP's unbalanced and unwieldy army. Hounded by cavalry he withdrew what was left of his forces, regrouping for one last attack as the game drew to a close. Again it was brought to a standstill and then broken up by enemy cavalry.

The game ended with Ironfist in a commanding lead - 8800 to 3700. Once again we'd seen a spectacular demonstration of just how powerful walls can be in Age of Empires II. I like this game already!

This game was one of the few delayed by technical problems - Chris' computer crashed as the game started, and it took two reboots before it would load up again. After a few minutes of frustration they finally got it running though, and the game started for real...

Vlad got off to a slow start, but took a slim points lead, despite Chris reaching the Feudal Age rapidly. After just eight minutes Chris had found Vlad's base and attacked his shipyard. Soon he had three galleys attacking it, and Vlad couldn't get anyone close enough to repair it without them being attacked as well.

Things were looking good for Chris - although he was still behind on points, he was ahead on technology and now had control of the stretch of sea between the two bases. After twelve minutes Vlad reached the Feudal Age as well, but the score was still very close and Vlad didn't seem to have expanded as rapidly as Chris.

As Vlad stopped for another cigarette I was expecting Chris to take the lead, but things didn't quite work out that way... Chris managed to land a small raiding party on Vlad's island, but they were wiped out fairly quickly by a pair of towers that Vlad had built earlier. Meanwhile he had also built a second dock around the back of his island, away from Chris' navy.

With 25 minutes played Vlad was 1000 points ahead, and moving his navy to attack Chris' main dock. With control of the seas, Vlad now began landing troops on Chris' island, and found it open to attack. There just weren't enough troops or towers to hold the base, and it became easy pickings for Vlad's army.

It wasn't all over though. With 40 minute gone, Chris had rebuilt his navy and was attacking Vlad's fleet with fire ships and galleys. It was looking like turning the battle, until suddenly Chris resigned the game! Vlad had been overrunning his base with siege weapons and footmen, but even so the situation wasn't entirely hopeless, and there were only 20 minutes left to play.

Still, Vlad was happy to pick up the win for his team, which was trailing in last place by quite a margin.

The two action games being played at the UKPCGC finals were Unreal Tournament (Epic provided a beta version of the game for us to play with), and of course the latest version of Q3Test.

Well-known players Tasan and Billox were the favourites going into the finals, but there were surprisingly strong performances from a couple of the other players as well, and the games were often very close and exciting.

Q3A vs UT

Of course, the inevitable question was which game is better?

Tasan seemed to prefer Unreal Tournament, describing it as "quick" and saying he "liked the weapons". He was less happy with Quake III Arena, saying he didn't like the Q3Test levels and calling the game "very campy", something which Billox was to demonstrate rather well in the last game of the day.

Billox was hedging his bets. "Both are pretty cool games. I don't know which I'll end up playing." His performance on both games at the UKPCGC finals won't make that decision any easier either...

The first action game of the day was a fifteen minute free for all on Unreal Tournament's DM_Morpheus. Inspired by the "woah" scene from The Matrix, this map consists of three giant skyscrapers, with players leaping between their rooftops in low gravity.

Tasan (BB) took the early lead, with a sniper rifle kill followed quickly by two frags with the minigun. He was also the first player to reach the Redeemer (which fires a nuclear missile with splash damage to die for), but having fired it he was so eager to escape the blast radius that he fell of the building and died, dropping him down to second behind Billox (In), who had just took the lead with ten frags.

Billox was the next player to grab the redeemer, and used its alternate firing mode to pilot it around the map before finally dropping it right next to Tasan. Billox was building up a respectable lead by now, until Jon (Un) took him down with the pulse gun's alt-fire shaft mode .. twice in the period of just a few seconds.

Grabbing the sniper rifle, Billox soon pulled back though. As Tasan was taken down by Rocket-8 (SO), Billox had already amassed a nine frag lead over him. Picking up the invisibility gave Billox a chance to do some sniping without being spotted, and by the time Meandy (HC) took him down Billox was up to 32 frags, 14 ahead of Tasan!

It soon got even worse though, as Billox proved the Redeemer and invisibility are a lethal combination. Sitting securely cloaked and behind a wall, Billox piloted the missile right into the middle of a big firefight, taking out four of the other five players in one shot.

Just to rub it in, Billox grabbed the Redeemer again and piloted it while in mid-jump, scoring two more kills. As his view switched back from the missile cam he found himself hurtling earthwards between two skyscrapers, but by pure fluke he landed right on the edge of the bottom platform. A truly spectacular maneuvre.

By the time Jon managed to kill him again, Billox had 48 frags. The last minute saw Jon picking up a whole string of kills to push him into second place with 27, while Tasan was left behind on 22. Billox was the clear winner though, with 52!

Next up was fifteen minutes on Q3Test1. Again Tasan took the early lead, with Vlad the last of his opening hat trick of frags. The lead changed back and forth between Jon and Tasan for the first couple of minutes, with Madkez taking the lead soon three minutes in.

Meanwhile Billox was languishing in fifth place. He explained afterwards that he had been unlucky with his respawns, and had been taken down several times by rocket launcher wielding opponents before he could get to a weapon at the start of the game.

Five minutes into the game Madkez (HC) was pulling out a slim lead, with Jon second. Third place Tasan grabbed the quad, but couldn't find anyone to use it on, finally killing Vlad just as it ran out, before being blown up by Billox. Tasan managed to pull back into second though, plasma-ing Billox and then showing the business end of his rocket launcher to Jon and Billox in quick succession.

With seven minutes gone the game was too close to call - the top three places were covered by just two frags! Tasan took the lead with a pair of handy little kills with the rocket launcher and railgun, as Jon grabbed the quad but failed to make a mark.

The action was fast and furious for the next few minutes, with none of the top three players able to pull out a lead of more than two or three frags at most. Tasan pulled off a nice mid-air rocket shot on (appropriately enough) Rocket-8, but by then the lead was changing with almost every frag.

Jon took the lead by machinegunning Vlad (DS), grabbing his rocket launcher, and promptly firing it into Billox's face. By the time Tasan hunted him down he had reached 34 frags, and a pair of quick rocket launcher kills after he respawned extended his lead to four frags.

Then came a surprise recovery from Billox, who suddenly made his way up to second place! To be honest I'm not quite sure how he did it, but it was certainly impressive. With just a minute to go the game was still ridiculously close, until Jon picked up four rocket launcher kills in the last seconds of the game to secure his win.

Jon ended up with 46 frags, but just behind him Tasan had 42 and Billox and Rocket-8 had 41 a piece. A great match, with all the lead players showing why they were.

The second Unreal Tournament game was held on Hyperblast, a level set on board a ship speeding through space. It's a true game of two halves - the inside of the ship has normal gravity and is made up of fairly tight corridors, whereas the outside has very low gravity and is wide open.

Billox managed to minigun his way into first place, only to be taken down by Vlad. He pulled back with four quick frags though, including a double kill with the shaft. He was on a real spree with the pulse gun, until falling off the outside of the ship into space.

He was still five frags in the lead, though the rest of the players were much more evenly matched. Jon, Meandy and Rocket-8 were all fighting hard, and it was very close until Jon grabbed the pulse gun and shafted his way clear into second, killing Billox twice in quick succession to leave him only two frags behind the leader.

Jon was the only player who seemed to have mastered the translocator, and he was using it to great effect to move around the level quickly and safely.

Billox managed to hold the lead, but as he fell off into space again Jon was only one frag behind! Things soon evened out though, as Jon also fell off the ship and despite desperately trying to throw the teleporter device back into the ship repeatedly as he fell, he couldn't save himself.

Meanwhile he had fallen back to third, and had to pull off another pulse gun run to regain second. Billox was already six frags clear of him though.

The last two minutes saw some frantic action as Jon and Meandy matched each over frag for frag, second place changing every few seconds. The rest of the field was close as well, and Rocket-8 managed to lift himself into fourth, ahead of a disappointed (and no doubt exhausted by now) Tasan.

In the end Billox had claimed a convincing victory, but the next four places were very close, with Jon edging out Meandy for second, and Rocket-8 holding on to fourth.

The last match of the day was played on Q3Test2, and although the winners had already been decided, second place was still very much up for grabs.

Tasan took an early lead with five quick frags, but Rocket-8 and Jon were both playing strongly as well. After a couple of minutes of frantic action, Rocket-8 and Tasan were tied with eight kills each.

Things soon went pear shaped for Rocket-8 though, as he fell off the edge just as Tasan picked up two easy frags. At the other end of the map Billox was camping the railgun platform, keeping well clear of the real action and picking people off from a safe distance.

It wasn't working too well for him at this point - he was last equal with Vlad! Vlad's game got even worse though, as he grabbed the quad only to fall off and die before he could use it.

Meanwhile Tasan had pulled out a lead with 17 frags after five minutes, although all the players were suiciding frequently in the heat of the action, keeping the scores surprisingly low.

Finally getting his timing right, Billox's aim improved throughout the match, and before long he was moving back up the field again. After seven minutes he had reached third place, and he still hadn't moved off the railgun platform. Nobody else dared go over there to remove him though...

Tasan was still in the lead with 27 frags, while Rocket-8 was falling back. Billox soon managed to catch and pass him, taking second place with just five minutes left to go. Tasan was still six frags ahead though.

Some great sniping helped pull Billox back into the game though, and just a minute later he was within two frags of the leader. Billox briefly took the lead at one point, but Tasan soon regained it with a quad rocket rampage.

With just a minute left to play, Billox was still camping the railgun. It's surprising he hadn't taken root there. As Billox took the lead again, Tasan decided it was time to do something about him. Heading over there with nothing but a machinegun he managed to shove Billox off the edge, regaining the lead in the dying seconds of the game.

The final results saw Tasan two frags ahead of Billox on 45, with Jon and Rocket-8 third and fourth ten frags behind them. Another close and fast paced game, although Billox's shameless camping is sure to raise some eyebrows...

Unfortunately I managed to miss the snooker games (they all clashed with something more interesting) and the Actua Soccer matches were all cancelled, so this section is going to be rather short...

Actua Soccer

The only real hitches for the UKPCGC finals were all to do with Actua Soccer 3. Most players wanted to use one of the Sidewinder gamepads, but unfortunately The Playing Fields only had three of them between six competitors. Everyone had to use the tilt pads instead to avoid giving any player an unfair advantage.

This didn't stop the complaints though - at least one player claimed to have lost a game (which came down to a single goal difference at the final whistle) because his thumb had become so cramped using the tilt pad that it had seized up and slipped off at the crucial moment.

In the end it didn't matter though, because the Actua Soccer fixtures were all unceremoniously ditched, and all teams were given full points.

Actual Sucker

Why? Because Actua Soccer 3 is a buggy heap of shit (that's a technical term). The game crashed frequently throughout the morning, forcing games to be rescheduled and replayed. Even worse, there seemed to be some sort of synching problem with the net code.

Two players would enter a game together, and pausing one game would halt the other as expected. But what the two players saw was completely different. In one game I heard about, one player was scoring a goal while the person he was supposedly playing against was taking a corner. The final scores didn't match up either - in one game both players won by several goals to nil. Clearly this wasn't going to work, so the game was abandoned.

They Think It's All Over

And this wasn't the first time that AS3 had caused problems for the UKPCGC. During the qualifiers players had played against the computer AI rather than other human players (which is why the net code problems hadn't been spotted before).

Unfortunately there's a serious bug in AS3's AI, and if you take the ball to the right spot on the edge of your opponent's goal area and kick the ball to the left goal post the goal keeper will never save it. One player racked up a rather ridiculous 109 (!) goals in just 15 minutes by expoiting this bug during the qualifiers.

All in all, AS3 proved to be a bit of a farce. It's a shame the UKPCGC didn't find these problems beforehand, but there wasn't much they could do about it once the problems did appear, and other than that the finals ran remarkably smoothly.

The driving section of the UKPCGC finals was made up of two races on each of the two games - "Need for Speed : Road Challenge" and "Midtown Madness".

The first race on each game clashed with some of the strategy games and I missed them, but the final two races were both dramatic and decided the outcome of the competition...

The second NSF race took place on Snowy Ridge, an icy circuit up in the mountains.

The start was chaotic, with most of the players involved in at least one crash or spin, but as the field began to spread out it was Madkez (HC) who had the early lead. Meanwhile Chappy (DS) was taking up the rear of the field and losing ground rapidly.

Madkez didn't hold the lead for long though, as Smile (SO) made a charge at the end of the first lap. Ramah (In) moved up into third place and closed in on Madkez on the second lap, the pair battling all the way round the circuit. This gave Smile the chance to pull out a ten second lead by the end of the second lap.

As they started the third lap, both Madkez and Ramah crashed off the circuit and Garr (BB) sneaked through into second, only to skid off the track. But then Ramah managed to roll his car right over on to its roof, dropping back to fourth place.

Ramah made a strong recovery in the final lap though, and when both Madkez and Garr lost control and crashed near the end of the lap, he was there to pick up the pieces and take second place.

Smile had won the race convincingly, with Ramah second, Madkez third, Garr fourth, Chris (Un) fifth and Chappy half a minute behind in last place...

Next up was Midtown Madness, with a grueling seven lap race through Tunnel Turner.

Ramah, who was aiming to seal the UKPCGC title for Inept, had a terrible start, spinning in the very first tunnel to end up in fifth. By the end of the first lap he had managed to pull back to fourth, thanks to some rather drastic shortcuts between checkpoints.

Lap two saw Ramah make third and start to chase down Tyco (HC) and Slap (DS), who were fighting for the lead. Then as they started into lap three, Slap dropped off the circuit somewhere, and Tyco span to give Ramah the lead. He soon pulled out a big lead, and was dominating the race by the end of the fourth lap.

Meanwhile, further down the field Garr (BB) and Smile (SO) were fighting over fourth, until Garr's car crashed into the barrier, losing three wheels and earning him a five second penalty.

Chodak (Un) had made his way up to second, but as he went into lap six he lost control of the car and crashed, letting Slap scramble through ahead of him. Slap had impressive pace, and was beginning to close in on Ramah until he span going into lap seven.

Ramah was still in sight though .. just. As they neared the end of the final lap, it seemed hopeless for Slap. Only a miracle could give him the win now.

And then it happened. Going into the final straight, within sight of the finish line, Ramah spun! The audience roared, but then Slap came round the corner and piled straight into Ramah, earning himself a five second penalty as his car disintegrated around him.

A relieved Ramah managed to scramble across the finish line to take the win, with Slap right behind him in second. Chodak took third, Smile was fourth, Tyco finished fifth, and Garr slipped down to last.

A dramatic finish to an action-packed race. And once the scores had been worked out, it was realised that Inept had earned enough points to secure their victory, making them the first UKPCGC Champions before the final round of action games even started.

Inept had already won the finals before the final round of action games even began, taking the weight off Billox's shoulders. They walked away with a cheque for £10,000 and a top of the range Athlon-based PC for each player. Not bad for a day's work!

Meandy's third place in the Unreal Tournament final helped pull Happy Campers to second overall. They won a monitor for every player, and a cheque for £1000.

Meanwhile Unlucky had managed to catch Special Ops and tie them for third place, thanks to strong performances in both the final action game rounds from Unlucky's Jon. They all got Riva TNT2 graphics cards for their efforts.

Fatigue had taken its toll on Blue Boodah, leaving the not-so-dynamic duo in fifth place, ahead of Dodgy Spider who (as expected) came last. They might not have got any big prizes, but they had still won £1500 for winning their local qualifiers, and the Dodgy Spiders at least had a great time at the finals.

This is the first time anybody has tried to pull off a competition like this, with teams having to compete in a wide range of multiplayer games to win the overall contest.

Remarkably, apart from the problems with Actua Soccer 3, it all went very smoothly. In fact, cancelling the AS3 matches actually left them ahead of schedule for most of the day, and allowed the Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament matches to be extended to 15 minutes.

Of course, it wasn't perfect, and there are some things that (in my opinion at least) could be done better next year...

Artificial Stupidity

The regional qualifiers saw players taking on the AI rather than real live opponents. Although this ensured as level a playing field as possible, it meant the qualifiers were less exciting and less realistic than they could have been.

The big problem is that AI is usually no match for a human. Although Unreal Tournament's bots are very lifelike, the AI is most games is atrocious. The bug in Actua Soccer 3's AI that allowed Inept's IOU to score 109 goals in fifteen minutes is a particularly nasty example of this.

But perhaps more importantly, playing against AI and playing against humans are two completely different skills. They react and play very differently, and different strategies and abilities are needed to defeat them.

In my opinion it would be better to run the entire contest with player vs player matches, even if that means limiting the number of teams that can take part in the qualifiers and/or using online games to pre-eliminate any time wasters.

This would make the qualifiers more entertaining for spectators, and ensure that the team that wins is really the best prepared for the finals.

Screening

Some sort of screening system for the games is also required for next year. Almost all of the problems this year were down to one game - Actua Soccer 3. If the UKPCGC organisers had discovered the bugs and multiplayer problems before the event, this could have been avoided.

There was also a lot of use of beta software - Q3Test and betas of Unreal Tournament and Age of Empires 2 were all being used, and although they worked a lot better than the release version of Actua Soccer 3, it was a bit of a risk.

Personally I would want to see a panel of experts formed to assess potential games, select which would be used, and ensure that they worked as expected before the event.

This panel would be made up of gamers and journalists (both online and print), and should be independent of the organisers to avoid potential sponsors swaying the decision.

Hello Stranger

Another problem with using brand new and even beta software is that the players aren't familiar with it.

Some people seemed to think this was a good idea, as it evens things out, but I know I would hate to be dumped in front of a computer the day before a major tournament and be told I had to learn to play a whole new game.

It also gives an unfair advantage to people who can get hold of the games beforehand, either legitimately or through warez. At least one player admitted getting hold of a pirated version of AoE2 to practice on, and some players had got a head start with Unreal Tournament as well.

If this is going to become a serious gaming tournament, the players really need to be at least somewhat familiar with the games they are going to have to play before they get to the finals...

Conclusion

Of course, that's just my own thoughts. If you've got your own opinions, why not drop us a line?

At the end of the day though, despite a few problems and complaints the event ran very smoothly. It's a real tribute to The Playing Fields and their co-organisers and sponsors that the whole thing went as well as it did.

Let's hope that next year it's even bigger and better!

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