Let’s Play Some Air Buccaneers

UPDATE: From 7pm UK time? EDIT: Use .zip version of the game for Steam UT2004.
Keen-brained readers might recall a comments thread conversation we had about the lack of airships, balloons and other dirigibles in games. I decided we had to fix that, and the easiest way to do it was by starting up a game of the brilliantly barmy balloon combat mod for UT2004, Air Buccaneers. You probably don’t remember it, as it was one of the more obscure mods of the time, but it’s wonderful, mad, and remarkably atmospheric. In it two teams fight with cannons, blunderbusses, “air-mines” and other steampunk equipment, as they traverse the skies in rickety balloons. It’s brilliant. I downloaded it, and booted it up and… disaster. No servers. Fortunately, the heroic men at PC Gamer UK stepped into the breach and put a server up! ( Now it’s down to you lot to get the mod, and bring this work of airship excellence back to life, if just for a few evenings. More details below.

Okay, assuming interest – you guys are interested, right? – I’ll try and be on for a bit tonight (Wednesday), and the again on Saturday. If there’s lots of interest we’ll try and sort out a competition of some kind.

And perhaps a kindly North American-based reader might look into temporarily setting up a North American server? That would be really good. Not vital, but great.

As I say, we’ll have to see how it goes, but I think bringing lost multiplayer games back from the dead is one of the best reasons to play games on the PC, and it’s our duty to make them have a last hurrah. Today Air Buccaneers, tomorrow something else! Probably.

Obviously you’ll need UT2004 to play, and I think that’s on Steam, or can be picked up cheap elsewhere. Air Buccaneers is here, and the PC Gamer server is, well, the only one you’ll see on the server browser.

To your cannons!


  1. negativedge says:

    This looks way too dark and murky for a game about BALLOON PIRATES


    I guess it’s probably UT’s fault

  2. Kevin Lee says:

    Yes, you’re right. We should have houses held aloft by thousands of colorful balloons a la Pixar’s Up and instead of airships, and instead shooting cannons we just throw chubby asian kids at each other. Instead of your gun jamming from time to time, your back goes out and you viewpoint gets stuck either straight up or straight down for a period of time.

  3. Kevin Lee says:

    Oops, had an extra “and” in there. -1 internet for me.

  4. MD says:

    Do you reckon it is worth me giving this a go, despite the fact that I live in Australia and will probably get a ping in the two- to three-hundreds? For some games that is enough to well and truly ruin things, but given the more sedate pace of AB it could be worth a try. I actually have a copy of UT2k4 and even a disc containing the mod itself, so the only barrier to entry is the hassle of freeing up disc space and installing.

  5. Bob says:

    I got unreal 2004 the other week from a 2nd hand shop, but it didnt have freaking serial number in it! I know there is ways around it, but doubt I’ll be able to play online :-( Damn you CEX and damn me for not keeping the receipt lol

  6. MD says:

    Looks like I was a bit optimistic, and ‘well into the 300s’ is a more realistic pingstimate. Probably not really worth it, curse my geographical isolation :’-[

    I do agree very strongly with the spirit of this though, and would happily participate in something similar directed at a less ping-dependent game (e.g. something turn based, I guess).

  7. Bobsy says:

    Unreal Tourney 2k4 can be had for ten of your most scurviest American dollars at Gog.com. Plunder!

  8. Stromko says:

    MD: It depends on how well the netcode is in UT2003 I suppose, the mod itself seems like it’s well-designed for poor pings. It’s not the frantic bunny-hopping multirocket craziness of vanilla Unreal Tournaments. The latest version of Air Buccaneers isn’t too bad for offline play as well, the AI is just smart enough to get off the ground and help load cannons and such, so you’re able to get a feel for the game.

    Real tactics, teamworks and gameplay are only really possible online though, so RPS is doing good work giving people another chance at that.

    I’ll definitely give the server a shot, I’m way over in NW U.S. so I’ll probably get a good first-hand idea of how badly ping affects this semi-ancient thing.

  9. Stromko says:

    Err, I meant UT2004, not 2003. That is indeed what this mod is for.

    I picked up the whole Unreal pack on Steam a few days ago for 20$. Getting UT2004 by itself wouldn’t be a bad idea though, it’s the game that the original Alien Swarm and (I’m pretty sure) Killing Floor came out for, and it’s really the peak of the Unreal universe for raw playability IMO.

  10. marxeil says:

    I’ll try to join.

  11. Stromko says:

    Getting 160 – 246 (peaks at server start) ping, assumedly traveling from the northwestern United States to somewhere in Western Europe that’s rather good I suppose. I’d suspect UT2004’s netcode is based around the prevalence of broadband back in 2004, so it should only be more stable and responsive now. It might get laggier when there’s other players on the server, but I’m not too disappointed since I know I’d only have been able to play about an hour before my headache medicine kicks in, anyway.

    A few tips that occur to me for beginners:
    Install is pretty simple, just open the Air Buccaneer’s zip and drop the folder called AirBuccaneers into your main UT2004 folder. In the game, go to Community to activate the mod. You’ll have to enable ‘stat tracking’ to log into the server, which I believe just entails making up a name and password in the UT2004 in-game settings. Either I was already registered from long ago, or it doesn’t require any special registration.

    To aim a cannon or steer a ship, switch to your hands (default: 1 key).

    If you fall off, looking up and hitting E should throw out a towing rope allowing you to climb back aboard. Also quite helpful for boarding actions. This seems to be toned down some compared to older versions so it’s rather tricky (current version of the mod is 1.6).

    Each airship comes with a complementary AI loader, just get behind a cannon and hit the right mouse button to order them to load a cannonball. This makes loners on small boats no more viable than before, but much less tedious. A dedicated loading, aiming, firing team yields much better flexibility, up-to-the-moment accuracy, and speed of course.

    Switch to the torch to fire a cannon. It comes pre-loaded with propellant, so before firing just load a cannonball for a regular shot, airmine(s) for rockets (10 can be loaded at once and will fire in turn), or additional gunpowder for a close-range flamethrower.

    The large airships, intended for large crews, are also mobile spawnpoints of a sort. Use the glider in your base to be moved to your team’s large ship(s), wherever it may be. They should be focal points for much of the insanity that goes on in matches.


    I’m pretty sure I got UT2004 and a big pile of mods for like $10 at a brick and mortar store a while back.

  13. Kemuel says:

    Man, I’m looking forward to this. A couple of years ago I played at lot of this mod with friends on a LAN, and its a hell of a lot of fun.

    The secret to success is to load your cannons with gunpowder pouches every so often and use their flamethrower attack. I had a friend who became annoyingly good at these amazing flamethrower broadsides where he’d just strafe past doing tons of damage.

  14. Rob Lang says:

    We once played this for 12 hours straight at a LAN game in Norfolk. It rocks. A slow pace but plenty of tension.

    We want a UT3 version!

  15. Jazmeister says:

    I was really interested to read about the Decadence mod for source. It was in an issue of Gamer that’d been very recently published at the time, and sounded awesome. Booted up, two servers, nobody playing. Probably the Spy vs Sniper update. I watched it for days. :C

  16. pkt-zer0 says:

    Hoho, steampunk. Seems interesting.

  17. Davee says:

    Oh yeah, I played the crap out of this mod when it was released, and I loved every moment of it. Boarding enemy baloons mid-air by jumping from one to another ftw.

    Too bad I can’t find my UT2004 discs… Argh! I -really- want to kill me some scurvy RPS dawgs! Guess I’ll have to pay up on Steam then.

  18. Davee says:

    (Argh too for editing beeing borken!) Also, you should warn all readers that this mod contains murderous mushrooms. I’m not joking, those things are freaking scary.

  19. OgunBadbooks says:

    Air Buccaneers is home to some of my fondest MP memories. Anyone who hasn’t played it is missing out on the best pirate/balloon combat game ever. Damn shame Ludocraft didn’t carry it on/hand it over in Unreal 3.

    Shall be be doing some reinstalling this eve and get on the server – be nice to track down some old players, there are still a handful out there. Will post on the forum in case anyone still visits.

  20. KBKarma says:


    I need to reinstall UT2k4, just for this. One of my all-time favourite mods. I played it at several LAN parties. General consensus was “This is really fun”.

  21. KBKarma says:

    Huh. Has editting been removed again? ;_;

  22. Davee says:

    Heh, sorry for my triple-posting, but does anyone know if the Steam version of UT2k4 (Editor’s Choise) is mod-friendly?

  23. Carra says:

    Bought the Unreal package on steam recently. I’ll think I’ll give this mod a go :)

  24. MD says:

    @ Stromko: thanks for the advice, sounds like it’s worth a try.

    @ Davee: My boxed copy of the Editor’s Choice Edition came with a bunch of mods, and as far as I know that was what made it the Editor’s Choice Edition (along with the latest patch being pre-applied, probably), so it’d be pretty dodgy if the Steam version wasn’t mod-friendly. Looks like it is though, as there’s a thread on the Steam forums giving mod-installation instructions, and as far as I’ve seen there’s no mention of incompatible mods.

  25. MD says:

    Mods mod mod mods, that word is stuck in my head now. At least so far nobody has called them MODs.

    *is banned from rps for pre-emptive pedantry*

  26. Ging says:

    Any steam game should work fine with mods – you just have to find the games folder in your steam directory structure and install as per usual.

  27. Paradukes says:

    Awesome :D

    I reinstalled both UT2004 and AirBuccaneers recently, although I’ve never before had the chance to play AB online.

  28. MD says:

    Ging says:

    Any steam game should work fine with mods – you just have to find the games folder in your steam directory structure and install as per usual.

    Unfortunately that’s not always the case. The Steam version of Stalker:SoC needs a lot of tweaking to be made mod-compatible, and some games are worse off. From what I’ve read, the Steam version of Deus Ex is incompatible with every major mod, unless the main .exe is replaced with the one from the non-Steam version. Not sure about other examples, but I’m pretty sure those aren’t the only (and maybe not the worst) cases.

  29. Crane says:

    Hmmm. I can’t seem to detect the PCGUK server; I just get an empty browser. Can someone perhaps post the IP here?

  30. Howard says:

    Has anyone with the Steam version of UT2K4 got this to work? everytime I install the mod UT then tells me that me CD is invalid and neither UT nor the mod will work.

  31. l1ddl3monkey says:

    Oh no – now I have to reinstall UT2K4 and wait six months for it to finish patching…

    I did play a bit of AB when it was originally released, would quite fancy another bash at it.

  32. Howard says:

    Sorry – it says my “CD *key*” is invalid, not the CD! doh

  33. Jim Rossignol says:

    IP is

    I guess I’ll aim for 8ish UK time.

  34. Senethro says:

    Downloading Steam version now. Is there any chance a kind person can do some tech supporting for CD key errors? I suspect I’ll have one as well.

  35. Howard says:

    Okay, resolved the issue. TI was caused, as per bloody usual, by Steam being a waste of fricking space. when it installs Ut2K4 it does not create a file association for .ut4mod files (cos that would be, you know, useful, logical and the right thing to do )

    Anyway. Simplest way to fix this is download the NONE .ut4mod version of the mod and simply extract the contained folder to your UT2004 folder within steam. This done explore there, go into the Air Buccaneers folder and run the bat file.

    There is a fix if you REALLY must use the .ut4mod file but I’ll only post it if needed as it is fiddly…

  36. Howard says:


    You are using a stats enabled server? For an obsolete game? Yeah, let’s create another layer of bullcrap to wade though. I haven’t logged into enough redundant things today…

    Thanks a bunch…

  37. Jim Rossignol says:

    Howard: relax! It’s not my server, it’s just been donated by someone who was kind enough to give a shit about bringing an old mod back to life.

  38. Howard says:

    Fair play. Sorry. Stupid painkillers have worn off and my back is apparently making me grumpy…

    Back to the mod: Odd kettle of fish and much different to when I played it last (version 1). Am having a look through the site now for some instructions ‘cos some things are just weird. I for one can do nothing with the gliders bar launch myself humorously into the air before plummeting back to the ground lol

    Hope to see you lot on there later so we can all fail together =)

  39. Senethro says:

    What do you mean by the NONE version? Should Steam users install from the zip rather than the .exe?

  40. armlesscorps says:

    I read about this years ago in one of the PC magazines, probably PC gamer, where the writer was waxing lyrical about how original it was and how great the gameplay was. I downloaded it pretty sharpish and it was awesome. I cant quite remember the specifics but you had to aim your cannon at other balloons which in itself was quite a monumental task, and you could board other balloons aswell. I think I probably played it almost as much as UT2004.

  41. Cian says:

    I used to live on a daily diet of Red Orchestra with occasional snack breaks of Air Buccaneers and Alien Swarm. I think I played vanilla 2K4 maybe twice.

  42. Benny says:

    Really glad i gave in to the unreal pack deal a few weeks back now on steam.

    And reviving old MP games and mods seems like a brilliant idea as you rarely ever get to try them much. Cya there at 8ish (and expect much uselessness on my part :P)

  43. idmmao says:

    I’m idling on the server while I do some work, if anyone wants some practice. I’m on the east coast and I’ve got about a 110ms ping, entirely adequate for a game this slow paced.

  44. Howard says:

    Yeah, if you have the Steam version I would recommend downloading the .ZIP format of this mod, not the .ut4mod version.

    Just crack it open and extract the contained folder to your install DIR. All done =)

  45. Serondal says:

    I LOVED this freaking mod! I could never find anyone to play it with so I just played by myself for hours wishing there were bots smart enough to play this sort of game.

  46. Oddtwang says:

    Count me in for a while at least – I used to love this mod back in the day. There was a small but tight community which meant organised matches were loads of fun.

    Must try to remember my leet piloting, defending and cannoneering on a small ballon singlehandedly skillz :)

  47. Serondal says:

    I sadly don’t have UT 2004 any more so I can’t join ya guys. This reminds me also of the awesome pirate mod for BF1942 where you had GIANT ships where several people could man the cannons and what not. I miss mods of this nature. That mod Pirates VS Knights VS Vikings is pretty freaking awesome though ;)

  48. Davee says:

    Oh man… I finally got around to purchase UT2k4 on Steam – but it seems like their payment system is malfunctioning, it keeps rejecting my creditcards! First at the info-page, then after about five or ten minutes of “Working…” at the review-page.

  49. Davee says:

    Oh, nevermind. My persistance persuaded Steam into taking my money. Yay!

  50. Serondal says:

    Normal UT2k wasn’t all that bad honestly. I loved the assault levels where you had to go fight against a defending team on sometimes rather crazy terrian like a moving convoy of super trucks that was racing across the endless desert sands. Very groovy baby, yah!

    Also I seem to remember the ability to get in vehicles in certain combat mods which included some pretty awesome ones like star fighters and mobile artillery guns that launched spy sats into low orbit to help you aim ! In fact I can’t remember having that much fun in a multiplayer FPS game in a long time, maybe I’ll go snag it off steam if it is really really cheep ^_^