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There s a bit near the beginning of Uncharted 3 where protagonist Nathan Drake evades a police entourage by clambering up a drainpipe and onto a roof. The building overlooks the city s skyline and, while it s dark, the mass of light that radiates from the metropolis sprawled out in front of him lets him see for miles. It s a wonderful moment, but, while impressive, quickly feels bogus.
You see, in games like these you often can t actually reach the panoramic vistas, the gorgeous rolling hills, or the far-off knife-edge cliff faces, but are instead too quickly funnelled off down the next linear pathway towards the next foregone conclusion. You hardly have a chance to properly enjoy each moment of reflection before the story is moved on, and this makes me sad. (Incidentally, it looks like players will have the chance to sample the above and play many other PlayStation 3 exclusives on PC in the not so distant future if you d like to see what I mean in this instance.)
Conversely, having spent the past week ebony armour-deep in SureAI s Enderal a Skyrim total conversion mod whose scale almost matches that of its source material I was reminded of what draws me to games like these in the first place. Against games like Uncharted, it s not their open-ended quests, nor is it their divergent missions; their multitude of weapons and characters, or even their sprawling maps what I love about open-world games is simply knowing it s possible to explore their arenas from corner-to-corner, to pore over every inch of their sandboxes, or to delve into each one of their nooks and crannies.
Finding the highest accessible point in the map is the first thing I do when dropped into an open-world environment, before I pick a certain spot out in the distance and try my damndest to make it there alive or, more times than I care to admit, die trying and revel in whichever wildlife/scenery/baddies I encounter along the way.
From a practical perspective, besides facilitating these hands-on moments, trekking to and from these vantage points allows for a better understanding of the map itself. Truth be told, though, there's something I find wonderful about knowing that particular small patch of land, that dilapidated farmhouse, that seemingly abandoned island that I can spot from aloft my perch can be reached and explored, just because. There might be nothing real merit there on arrival and there's often not but I delight in the fact that in these games it can be done.
In Skyrim, I first discovered the Oghma Infinium book by stumbling upon Septimus Signus outpost after spying it from atop the College of Winterhold s roof; in New Vegas I meticulously planned an ambush on Caesar's Legion from the mountains located to east of their camp; in The Witcher 3 I climbed the Kear Trolde bridge in Skellige just so I could jump off into the water below because, well, why the hell not? There is, after all, no wrong way to play games.
I ve played and enjoyed the entire Uncharted series, and many games like it, but I ve found my fondest moments in games over the years have stemmed from the ones I ve created myself; the off-script set pieces and the moments of sheer randomness. Perhaps you could call it a problem with authority, but I like being able to roam where I want, when I want and spotting such places from the peak of a mountain, bridge or magic school is the best means for it.
Five years in the making, hobbyist studio SureAI has now released the English language version of Enderal: The Shards of Order, a total conversion mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Off the back of its multi-award winning Oblivion total conversion Nehrim: At Fate s Edge, Enderal is easily the small studio s most ambitious project to date one which not only offers players an entirely new playground to explore; but also a host of new characters to interact with, 30 hours-worth of campaign to plough through, and some completely overhauled systems to tinker with.
Naturally, the mod s release was marked with a launch trailer:
Last year, we caught up with a few members of the SureAI team to learn about the making of the mod which is a relatively long but interesting read. Expect more words about of Enderal: The Shards of Order at some point later this week, however learn what Jody Macgregor thought after spending 20 hours wandering its sprawling bounds last week.
The best part of was when I turned into a kid. In flashback I explored the village my character was born in from a first-person perspective lowered to child-height, then watched it burn down to rubble. It wasn't even part of the main storyline, just a sidequest, but it was still affected by who I was and where I came from. It's a clich backstory for a fantasy hero to have, but seeing it play out made me feel connected to it.
Nehrim was German mod team SureAI's total conversion for Oblivion, released in 2010. Since then they ve been working on , a total conversion mod for Skyrim, and it begins with something similar. I'm a kid on a farm and my first quest is take a message to Daddy . The sun is shining, birds are wheeling in the bright sky. It's gorgeous. I take the first of many screenshots immediately. Things turn dark after this idyllic start because of course they do, but it's an immediate reminder of Nehrim at its best, making you feel like the world and your character existed before you clicked Start New Game.
After that I'm a grown-up on a ship to the theocracy of Enderal, choosing my face and race from a selection of half-breeds that will mark me as an outlander for the rest of the game, though none are as exotic as the cats and lizards you can choose in most Elder Scrolls games. The journey from here to Riverville, your typical fantasy starter village, is a tutorial that introduces new characters who then introduce new concepts and quickly clear the deck to make way for the next batch. I get knocked unconscious and wake up in different locations so often it's disorienting, but I guess travelling to a new country should be. It's a trick Enderal will recycle a lot.
These tutorials kick off a game where some things remain standard Skyrim, like the controls and physics, but other things feel alien. Fast travel has gone, although in a nod to Morrowind's silt striders there's a network of giant four-eyed birds called myrads who take you from place to place for 25 pennies. There are also teleport scrolls and within the gigantic city of Ark signposts let you jump from district to district. (Even with those signposts, I see a lot of loading screens whenever I go anywhere in Ark.)
Leveling skills by using them has been replaced with an old-fashioned experience point system. At level-up you earn points that can be distributed into skills by reading appropriate books, which is why I have spent all my money on books about lockpicking. There are also trees of perks to unlock, combining abilities familiar from Skyrim like rolling while crouched with new ones like Focus, which reduces the cost of spellcasting for a duration, and Flashpowder that blinds enemies.
These talents replace Skyrim's dragon shouts. My old favorites sneaking and archery are augmented by a talent that increases my critical chance for a short time while hidden, and a new set of elementalism abilities power up certain spells, turning the fire and lightning that shoots from my hands into a clutch move that can win most fights.
Most, but not all. Like Nehrim, certain parts of Enderal will not be suitable until you're higher level. After arriving at the city of Ark the main quest became too much for my level 9 character and I had to find side quests until I could get back onto the main track. Since each quest is rated out of four stars for difficulty it's easy enough to find simpler missions.
you probably noticed the main quest's plot has a lot in common with Mass Effect. An apocalypse that came to previous civilizations is returning for yours, but through researching how they failed to prevent it you might be able to succeed. The Precursors are called Pyreans and the Reapers are High Ones, but it's familiar stuff so far. That's OK since it's not like it was a very original plot even when Mass Effect told it, and telling a story well matters more to me than originality.
Other mods that add new characters and quests, like and , have been a fun way to see strange new places, but their writing and voice-acting remind you they're fan-made works. We criticize Skyrim for re-using voices and only having a few memorable characters, but other mods have made me appreciate how hard it is to get that stuff right. Not every bit of dialogue or plotting in Enderal is perfect, but so far it's better than anything I've heard in other mods.
Though there's a fair bit of tutorial to push past, now I'm eager for each twist of its tale and invested enough to be worried about the fates of its characters. My mercenary companion has an easygoing cynicism that's charming, the swearing sorceress reacts to each disaster with honest fury, even a passing art gallery owner sounded so genuinely defeated by the disinterest of her cityfolk I was happy to take on a job for her.
I'm playing a pre-release build of Enderal's translation so not everything is perfect. I've met a man in a bar who spoke German, and some of the signs and posters around Ark are untranslated as well. Nehrim was entirely voiced in German with only English subtitles, so a fully voiced English localization is a huge additional task they've taken on. Sure, no one can agree how to pronounce the name of the goaty local monsters the Vatyr, but it feels churlish to pick at individual flaws when the overall standard is so high.
I've done the textbook journey from a small village to a big city, solved a mystery with the convenient visions I've begun having, and earned a riding donkey named Whirlwind whose legs kick out with adorable clumsiness at high speed. The tone is slightly grittier than Skyrim this is a fantasy RPG where having special magical powers means also having a fever that might kill you, most of the potions you find have turned rancid, and the roads are lined with crucified skeletons. But in spite of its differences, moment-to-moment I feel like I'm playing Skyrim again.
While Nehrim tried to make a completely different RPG out of Oblivion, one closer to the Gothic series, Enderal seems like a slightly better-looking, slightly more linear, slightly lower-powered Skyrim. It has a desert and there's a grimy Undercity beneath Ark and people swear, but its mountains, spiders, and lockpicking minigame are all pure Skyrim. It's the most ambitious mod I've played yes, even compared to the one that not because it's different to Skyrim, but because it's of comparable quality. I liked Skyrim plenty, and having more of it is very welcome.
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting PC gaming days gone by. Today Andy finds fresh fun in the old brown corridors of Quake II.
The original Quake was a muddy medieval world of knights, Lovecraftian horrors, and grim castles. But the sequel, cleverly titled Quake II, goes in a different direction entirely. You re a space marine, naturally, who has crash-landed on an alien world called Stroggos. In a desperate attempt to prevent an invasion, Earth sent an army to the distant planet, but the Strogg knew you were coming and your arrival was a slaughter. The dropships were shot down by anti-air defences and pretty much everyone died, except you. And so, in true id Software FPS style, it becomes a solo mission.
There s a chance you don t remember any of that. After all, Quake II is not a game renowned for its deep, complex sci-fi storyline. But the inclusion of a plot, and mission objectives, was pretty unique for an FPS in the late 90s. As you play, a robotic voice regularly drones computer updated and gives you mission objectives. By modern standards that s completely unexciting, but back then it set Quake II apart from id s other shooters. It was more cinematic, and your actions felt somehow more meaningful. And by your actions I mean shooting , because that s the beating heart of the game. Shooting things, and avoiding being shot.
At the time, Quake II was a technical marvel. Powered by the id Tech 2 engine, it boasted features that seem unremarkable now, but were amazing in their day. Hardware-accelerated graphics, coloured lighting, skyboxes, and the ability to return to previously completed levels were among its once groundbreaking features. After the release of Quake II, the engine powered several other games, including, in the early stages of its development, Half-Life. Quake II also had massively improved networking, making it one of the best early examples of an online FPS. Mod support also dramatically extended its lifespan for anyone lucky enough to have an internet connection with which to download the things.
People are still making mods today, in fact, including a few that let you play the game at high resolutions and with some graphical improvements. It ll still look like a game from 1997, but it makes it a bit more tolerable to modern eyes. Character movement is mapped to the arrow keys by default, but after some rebinding you can have it playing like a modern FPS. Although, weirdly, strafing is faster than moving forward and backwards. A strange sensation that took me a while to get used to. But for such an old game, Quake II is surprisingly playable.
A big part of this is its arsenal. It s still one of the finest collections of FPS guns on PC, and every weapon you wield has a distinct personality. The chaingun rattles at incredible speeds, getting steadily faster the longer you fire it. The super shotgun is like a handheld anti-aircraft gun, and you can almost feel the power as you unload it into an enemy and hear that echoing boom. The exaggerated kickback on the machine gun, which rises slowly as you fire, gives it a sense of physicality. And I love it when you fire the grenade launcher and hear the metal clink of the grenades as they bounce around the level. Every weapon, except maybe the blaster, is a joy to fire.
But the best of the lot is the railgun. This metal tube of death fires depleted uranium slugs at extremely high velocities, which leave a blue corkscrew of smoke in their wake. The railgun is incredibly accurate it s like a sniper rifle without a scope and it can cut through several Strogg at a time. In fights with multiple enemies, a useful strategy is running around until a few of them are lined up, then firing a slug. Seeing it tear through a line of bad guys is one of the greatest pleasures in first-person shooting.
And the things you shoot are just as well-designed. Quake II has the standard FPS structure of starting you out against small groups of easily-killed grunts, increasing the challenge the deeper into the game you get. In the first few levels you re fighting shotgun-toting Guards, beefy Enforcers with chainguns, and Berserkers who lunge at you with big metal spikes and later fire rockets at you. The way enemies explode into chunks of bloody meat, or gibs to use the parlance of the times, is still gruesomely satisfying. And there are other grisly touches, like when you don t quite kill an enemy and they squeeze off a few extra shots before they finally collapse and die.
But this is just to ease you in, and it s not long before id starts throwing its meanest creations at you in force. The Strogg are weird cyborg hybrids, with mechanical limbs and eerily human, grimacing faces. Gladiators stomp around on metal legs, firing their own version of the railgun at you. Mutants are angry, feral beasts who pounce on you, usually from dark corners. Brains, perhaps the weirdest enemy, attack you with tentacles and blood-stained hooked hands. There s a huge variety of things to kill, all with unique behaviours and weapons, which keeps the game interesting especially when you re facing several types at once.
The hardest thing to stomach when revisiting Quake II is how brown it is. The switch from dark fantasy to sci-fi leaves the levels brutal, industrial, and metallic. There isn t much variety or detail in the environments, and the colour palette is depressingly muted. The actual design of the levels is great, with plenty of secret areas and multi-level arenas to fight in, but the lack of colour and almost nonexistent world-building make it feel like a bit of a slog at times. But I remember thinking this back in 1997, and really it s a game about combat, not drawing you into its world. And since the Strogg live only for war, I guess it makes sense that their planet would be like one giant factory.
When you ve fought your way through the Strogg and infiltrated the headquarters of their leader a space station in an asteroid belt above the planet it s time to complete your final objective: kill it. The Strogg leader is called The Makron, and it s a two-stage boss fight. Its first form is a powerful exoskeleton which comes equipped with a BFG10K, the most powerful weapon in the game. And, unlike your own BFG, it can fire it multiple times in quick succession. When you destroy the mech, it s time to kill The Makron itself, which also has a BFG as well as a blaster and a railgun. Luckily the arena is littered with power-ups, health, and ammo, including a secret underground chamber that can be accessed by pressing a hidden switch. When the boss falls, you step into an escape pod, and that s it. The End unceremoniously flashes up on the screen, and your only choice is to go back to the menu. Imagine if a game ended like that today.
Quake II is still a great game, and I m surprised by how well it holds up. There s something about the feel of the weapons, the way they re animated and how they sound, that makes them some of the best examples in the genre. Even the new Doom, which is a fantastic ode to this era of shooter design, doesn t have anything quite as enjoyably punchy as Quake s railgun.
WASD feels inevitable today. Once mouselook became standard in 3D games, it made little sense (at least for right-handed players) to hold your left arm across your chest to reach the arrow keys. The WASD keys were more comfortable, and offered easy access to Shift and Space. But even though WASD seems like the obvious choice now, far fewer players used it 20 years ago.
Our favorite four letter word was never a foregone conclusion, and didn't become standard through some gaseous enlightening that spread to every PC gamer simultaneously. The new movement scheme took several years to catch on, and while we can t know whose fingers found their way to WASD first, we do have a good idea of who popularized the style: the greatest Quake player in the universe, Dennis Thresh Fong.
Fong made history when he took home John Carmack's Ferrari 328 after winning the first-ever nationwide Quake tournament in 1997. And when he won that tournament, defeating Tom "Entropy" Kimzey on Castle of the Damned, his right hand was on a mouse, and his left hand was perched over the four keys we now consider synonymous with PC gaming. But even then, not everyone played that way.
In the early days of first-person shooters, Fong says the keymappings were all over the place, and even the great Thresh had only just started to play with a mouse at all. Imagine him just a few years before, sometime around 1993, as a teenager losing a match of Doom against his brother Lyle. Like many Doom players, Fong used only the keyboard. Without the need to look up or down, it was a natural choice so much that using a mouse was even considered weird. His brother, however, was playing with a keyboard and trackball, and he was winning. It wasn t every game both were excellent players but Lyle won enough that one summer Fong decided he had to learn to play with a mouse. After that, he was unbeatable.
Right after I made that switch, my skill improved exponentially, says Fong. Pretty much, from then on, I never lost.
It took some experimentation including a strange attempt to move with WADX but Fong settled on WASD and has been using it since Doom. Did he invent the scheme? No, probably not. Others were also gravitating to the left side of the keyboard for Doom at the same time. But without Fong's influence, the default could have ended up different. It might have been EDSF, or stranger configurations like ZXC to strafe and move backwards, and the right mouse button to move forwards. Some early shooters bound movement to the arrow keys. In 1994, System Shock used ASDX, while Descent used AZ for forward/reverse and QE for banking (if you didn't happen to have a joystick).
Fong tells us he even knew a player who used ZXCV to move.
I m certainly not going to take credit for the creation of [WASD], says Fong. I stumbled across it. I m sure other people started using it as well just based on what was comfortable for them. I definitely think I helped popularize it with a certain set of gamers, particularly the ones that played first person shooters."
It s likely that he did. The very concept of a professional gamer was new at the time, and Fong was well-known on the west coast as the best player around. As Fong s celebrity grew, the one question everyone asked him was: What s your config? His answer could be most readily found in , which describes the WASD formation as an inverted T. And his guide carried weight. Even before his success as a Quake player, Fong was a Doom champion, and so people imitated him, just as the kids at the basketball court by my house spend far too much time trying to hit Steph Curry s 30-foot shots.
The evidence can be found on old bulletin board systems. In , a poster recommends using Q and E to strafe and A and D to turn. Another suggests using the keypad for movement, and someone else says they use A, Shift, Z, X. It wasn't the case that everyone simply gravitated to the 'obvious' choice of WASD or ESDF, and in , we see how Thresh's performance in the Quake tournament spread his style. His play was so impressive, the poster looking for his config speculates that it was impossible for him to turn so fast with a mouse.
Another legend, Quake programmer John Carmack, took note. Even when I was hanging out with Carmack, wherever, at E3, random people would come up and he would hear them asking me what my configuration was, says Fong. So he ended up building a Thresh stock config into Quake 2.
It was a relief. Not only could Fong sit down at any computer with Quake 2 and instantly load his configuration, every time he got the question, all he had to say was type exec thresh.cfg.
Convenient as it was, Fong doesn t think the inclusion of his config was the main factor in the rise of WASD, and I d agree. By the time Quake 2 was out, WASD was starting to feel like common knowledge. I used it, and I don t remember hearing Thresh s name associated with it at the time, though it s possible his configuration entered my consciousness two or three people removed.
And yet games, strangely, took a while to catch up. Carmack may have bundled Thresh s config with Quake 2, but when it released in 1997 the default controls were still arrow keys. A year later, though, that changed. If Thresh's Quake tournament win was WASD's first watershed moment, the second came in 1998 with the release of Half-Life. The Quake and Doom players at Valve perhaps influenced directly or indirectly by Carmack, Thresh, and other top Doom and Quake players included WASD in Half-Life s default keyboard and mouse config, which helped solidify it as the first-person shooter standard.
Valve engineer Yahn Bernier checked Half-Life's original config file for us and confirmed it included WASD. "I remember finalizing this file (maybe with Steve Bond) during the lead up to shipping HL1 but don t recall specifics about when WASD was settled on or really why. We probably carried it forward from Quake1 " he wrote in an email.
The same year, and less than a month after Half-Life, Starsiege Tribes also made WASD default. Quake 3 followed suit in 1999, and WASD's popularity grew even more. It was also the default binding in 2000's Daikatana, but Half-Life, Tribes, and Quake 3 probably had a bit more to do with its popularity.
There were still plenty of heretical control schemes in 1999 like System Shock 2's, which defaulted to WADX (and S for crouch). But WASD had momentum. If it wasn t already ubiquitous by 2004, World of Warcraft defaulting to WASD codified it for millions of PC gamers. Now it s in RPGs and MOBAs and even strategy games, controlling camera movement over maps.
Interestingly, Valve boss Gabe Newell doesn t use WASD. I personally don't like WASD as it takes your hand away from your typing home keys, he wrote in an email to PC Gamer. I always rebind to ESDF. Newell's not alone there. Do a little Googling and you'll find plenty of people arguing that ESDF is the more natural configuration.
More surprisingly, another Half-Life developer, level designer Dario Casali, also rejects WASD. Instead, he prefers ASXC. It feels natural to me, where WASD feels odd, wrote Casali. But lots of people scoff at my config.
What would PC gaming be like had EDSF or ASXC been Half-Life s default? No offense intended to Newell or Casali, but I shudder to think of it. ASXC just sounds bonkers to me. Newell's fairly commonplace ESDF is more palatable, but as Thresh echoes, it feels harder to hit Shift and Control while easier to mispress one of the surrounding keys. For me, Thresh, and millions of PC gamers, it s WASD for life.
You can read more about the history of Quake celebrating Quake's 20th anniversary. We're also celebrating by , and Thresh himself will be playing on our US-West server today, Friday, from 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm Pacific time.
Wes Fenlon also contributed to this article.
The great and mighty Quake turned 20 earlier this week, a moment in gaming history we marked (and continue to mark) by putting up our very own PC Gamer Quake servers for the week. We've also got a really good Quake retrospective I'd encourage you to dig into here. Wolfenstein: The New Order developer MachineGames is getting in on the fun too: It's created an all-new Quake episode, and released it for free.
Happy 20th to Quake @idsoftware! As a gift to the fans, we created a new episode of the game https://t.co/BTgju8tLuI pic.twitter.com/gHlxBgjcBUJune 24, 2016
Installing the episode is easy: Just extract the archive to its own subdirectory inside your Quake directory, then run the Dopa batch file. It works perfectly well with the GOG version of Quake and presumably others as well (GOG's release is the one I tried it on), and you can trust me, it's perfectly safe and won't set your PC on fire.
I haven't finished it yet, but I'm midway through the second level and so far it's really good. The level designs have been really clever so far, with lots of secrets to find, and yes, there is a hidden (but not too-hidden) teleporter to Nightmare difficulty, if that's your thing. Enjoy!
Twenty years ago, id Software released Quake. You ve probably heard of it. What s less known is that Quake was an idea that had been gestating since id s early days, back in the era when it was best known for the side-scrolling Commander Keen series. The first Keen promised that coming soon as The Fight For Justice, an epic RPG starring Quake the strongest, most dangerous person on the continent, who would explore an epic RPG world armed with a hammer in what id was already calling The finest PC game yet. Instead, it would take half a decade before Quake s adventure came out, breaking both technical limits and id Software itself.
When Quake arrived, it was a true 3D action game everything built in polygons. Until then, most games had just faked it. Wolfenstein 3D took place on entirely flat maps. Doom offered different heights, but everything was still drawn in 2D. It wasn t possible to have rooms under rooms and the like. Duke Nukem 3D and other Build engine games, particularly Shadow Warrior, used advanced cheats to fake the effect. When you jumped into water for instance, you were actually invisibly teleported into another zone elsewhere on the map. Quake was truly 3D, doing things like spiral staircases and lava pits for real, and being as twisty and turny as it liked.
There had been full 3D games of course, like Descent, or the Freescape games that powered the likes of Castle Master even as far back as the ZX Spectrum. To do this, though, they typically had to choose between simple and slow. Quake didn t. It was a technical showpiece and it moved like a greased-up ferret on a decent PC. No excuses. No compromises.
Or at least, no technical compromises. Of Quake s three great achievements, the single-player game is easily the weakest. It s not a terrible game or anything, but where Doom still stands up as a great campaign full of detail and wonderful design despite its simplicity, Quake is a largely bland and joyless experience whose memorable moments were almost entirely restricted to the first shareware episode. They were pretty cool, though. A main menu in the form of a 3D level, with each chapter s area themed around the aesthetic to follow, forcing you to jump a lava pit to select hard mode and seek out the Nightmare mode in the small level beyond. Big baddie Chthon, hurling fire in his lava lair. The first time having your face eaten off by a Fiend. The low-gravity physics of the secret level, Ziggaurat Vertigo. They re effective, as was the experience of being in a fast-paced 3D world full of action.
Players hoping for a constant stream of such innovation were disappointed. Despite the Lovecraftian influences, there was little to fear or any sense of anything great going on. There were no more giant, dramatic bosses, with the final one, Shub-Niggerauth, just being a static blob defeated with a cheap telefrag rather than a weapon. There was little sense of place. The levels were murky shooting galleries, where even Doom had tried to make its locations feel like real locations to whatever degree of real you can get from starbases slowly being taken over by biotechnology. Certainly players just coming in from Duke Nukem 3D and its real-world settings and constant variety couldn t help but be disappointed, even if Quake has honestly aged much better. It s still dull, but at least unlike Duke it s not writing cheques its engine long stopped being able to cash, and much easier to take as a simple shooter rather than a bigger Experience.
The main problem was that after years of promises and expectation, to have a game that was basically Doom again only set in a castle was something of a letdown both internally and externally. All the RPG features, most planned new gameplay concepts, even the idea of a main character wielding a hammer, had been sucked out, mostly to get the thing out of the door. This led to a major schism within id. John Romero packed his bags to go start Ion Storm and create the more narrative/detail driven game that he wanted to make. (In a case of history repeating, his co-founder Tom Hall had done much the same over the original Doom, which he d also envisioned as being much more of a story-driven experience than the shooter it ended up being.)
Luckily, multiplayer was a whole other matter. Here, the stripped down simplicity and full 3D allowed for fantastic arena design in genuinely atmospheric levels full of cubby-holes to camp and launch assaults from, and even the occasional gimmick, like hitting a button to slide back a level s floor and drop unwary players into a pool of lava. It felt great. The weapons had real kick. Gibbing other players was a pleasure.
Outside the game, it helped that by 1996 online play was finally becoming viable for PC gamers across the world. While Doom had spawned a huge scene in its day, getting online in 1993 was a pipe dream for most players outside of universities. At home, gamers were lucky to have a null-modem cable to connect two PCs together, never mind enjoy the fun of epic LAN parties. Of course those who could got to enjoy a truly wonderful experience.
And so, people played Quake, and saw that Quake was good. The rocket jump alone took Quake to a whole new level. This wasn t an id invention, but a discovery by fans, so of course the maps hadn t been designed to handle it. The result? One of the net s first famous speed-runs , in which the whole game was obliterated in under twenty minutes with tricks like bunny-hopping to raise incredible speed, and rockets to hop through what were meant to be tantalising doors only intended to be accessed after collecting a key or going all around the houses.
Playing fairly or not, the raw sense of place and weight that 3D offered soon made the fakery of 2.5D untenable. It became impossible to ignore that sprites were just two-dimensional, and that when killed, their collapse was a totally canned animation rather than reacting properly to physics (though it wouldn t be until Half-Life that games took the next step and made it standard to give characters skeletons instead of keyframed animation, ushering in the still ongoing ragdoll comedy era).
What all of Quake s technology really empowered though was its community. It was the first game-as-platform, made possible by not just by the 3D engine, but Carmack including an interpreted language called QuakeC that allowed modders to do more than simply create their own levels and make the monsters look like Bart Simpson. They could completely bend the engine to their wishes.
And the modding community ran with this. When you bought Quake, you were buying into a whole universe of content online. Initially this was limited to simple-but-cool additions, like giving the player a grappling hook to scale and swing around levels in ways that had been impossible with previous 2D engines. Experiments gave way to full total conversions like , which swapped the players out for vehicles and turned deathmatch into a 3D vehicle combat game. Others proved that the sky wasn t close to being the limit. A little game called Team Fortress, for example, began as a Quake mod, launching with the Scout, Sniper, Soldier, Demoman and Medic classes and building from there.
The ability to create stages, have polygonal characters, and have multiple people control them in scenes also spawned machinima filmmaking. Quake s early examples of machinima may be the of the genre by modern standards, with celebrated stuff like and now looking somewhat yeah... in the era of Red vs. Blue and Source Filmmaker and whatever the hell people are doing to the Overwatch girls today. At the time though, they were often very impressive, especially when run live in-engine, and did pave the way for something new.
Much as the Doom mapping community still puts out new levels, Quake still has a modding scene. This month sees the release of . Last month, joined the fray. Also, Carmack open sourced Quake s code in 1999, coders have been able to completely overhaul the old engine and bring it much more in line with modern standards. offers real-time rendering of light and shadow, and likely Quake as you remember it looking if you haven t played it for a while, while others, like focus more on accuracy.
One of many flowcharts mapping the history of Carmack's code, via Wikipedia. Click for full size.
No game since has managed to replicate Quake s spectacular level of success as a canvas for modding. Others have impressive modding communities, for sure, but not the same scale. With Quake, anything seemed possible as long as it didn t take too many polygons. Games like Second Life tried to replicate the phenomenon online, and of course, now would-be programmers can get their hands on the likes of Source and Unity and Game Maker for free or almost free, rendering modding less important at least for making total conversions or a wholly new game out of the bones of the old.
However long it lasted, the Quake era was important kickstarting many an industry career, as well as providing the kind of playtime that most games can only dream of supplying. Some mods even got a commercial release, though not necessarily fondly remembered ones. , anybody? The answer, in case you re wondering, is hell no .
Finally, the Quake story became weird. After two official expansions (Scourge of Armagon, aka The One Without The Dragon In It , and Dissolution of Eternity, aka The One WITH The Dragon In It ), id disappeared for a while and released Quake 2 as a single-player focused SF shooter in which you played a space marine fighting the unfortunately named Strogg. It was not very good. At all. Its main contribution to the world was, along with Unreal, teaming up with 3D accelerators to splash coloured lightning around the world whether it liked it or not. Then Quake 3 ditched all of that for a futuristic arena shooter starring characters like a giant cyborg eye before Raven s Quake 4 went back to the Strogg nonsense for another single-player focused game.
With the newly announced , it seems clear a new Quake game is no guarantee of a particular story or style, but rather a way for id to make use of owning the name. Despite that, close your eyes and picture Quake . What comes to mind isn t just another game to be ticked off as completed, nor a technical achievement to be respected, but that rare game that blew past its limits. Quake lives on to some extent in just about every shooter that followed it, and made gaming a better, more advanced, and endlessly more exciting place for its existence.
Happy anniversary, Quake! 20 years ago, you brought 3D gaming and online deathmatch to the masses and built on Doom's modding legacy. PC gaming would never be the same, though we didn't quite know what ramifications Quake would have at the time. Two decades ago, it was just the next hotly anticipated game from the masters of Doom. To relive those simpler times, we've pulled together some old articles about Quake's development, written between 1995 and 1997.
Below we've embedded a few magazine articles pulled from the archives of PC Gamer US and UK. The first offers a glimpse at Quake before it was truly Quake a behind-the-scenes cover story that spends a little time talking about Quake's medieval setting and its total lack of a story. Says id's Jay Wilbur, story is "the last thing we do during the development process." More time is spent going ga-ga over John Carmack's new 3D engine and talking about network play and modding.
The second is a similar on-location feature from just days before Quake launched, written by former editor-in-chief Gary Whitta. We didn't have this issue on-hand for a scan, but some archivists took it upon themselves to put this article online themselves.
The last article is actually about Quake 2, but it's still a great read on the anniversary of Quake's release. It touches on the disappointment of Quake's singleplayer, and has some juicy quotes from Carmack about Romero's departure from id to form Ion Storm in the wake of Quake. Said the young Carmack:
"Quake was a really hard time for id Software as a company. It was such a design abortion: we went through a lot of different bad designs and directions. Really quite early on in Quake's development, I came to the decision to place everything in Romero's hands because I wanted one point of responsibility there. It's okay for someone who's a millionaire not to work if he doesn't want to, but it's not okay for the rest of the people in the company to have someone like that there. We had used him specifically as a figurehead for the press, and that all worked out well, but, you know, it does get to a point where it's a case of believing your own press."
Doom and Quake are the twin gods of FPS gaming. Their fates are inextricably bonded. With Doom s recent triumphant return, it s likely we ll soon catch wind of a new Quake. The time is ripe, too it s been nearly 11 years since Quake 4 released, and revisits to a more traditional, run-and-gun FPS design is a rising vogue. Whether it ll be called Quake, Quake 5, or Pennsylvania: Quaker s Revenge, id s younger sibling can draw from Doom s strengths and shortcomings to rightfully stand among the pantheon of successful reboots. Here s a few of its most important lessons.
Classic Doom is still being modded over two decades since its release and its thriving WAD community remains a testament to the creativity of its and player content. Even one of its original creators has . The same can t be said about Doom s SnapMap, a toolset intended for players to piece together and share custom levels in a seamless process. Its layout curbs complexity for approachability, and while ease-of-use for modding is a welcome concept on the PC, its sorely underscore the lack of true mod support.
Therein lies one of Quake 5 s most important lessons: don t halfheartedly embrace mods. Grant users the same tools developers wielded to craft the game and entrust the community to figure them out. WAD tutorials and Quake 4 mod beginner guides are a single Google search away; the new Quake s SDK can easily follow suit. A SnapMap-style system is a console-oriented implementation of modding that won t and hasn t achieved uniform success on a platform with modders accustomed to a far greater degree of creativity.
Id wisely chose to avoid saddling Doomguy with needless characterization. His sole concern is the exquisite art of separating demons from their organs it s all he needs to propel the plot, and no grimdark space marine trope can compare in effectiveness. Quake broadly follows suit; you re a lone warrior pitted against armies of ugly monsters. Combat rules supreme in both universes, and Doom s exposition was smartly presented as a secondary diversion instead of an unavoidable necessity. Optional data logs and brief first-person sequences of Doomguy punching some computer monitor is the best method for conveying as little or as much story as the player wants.
Quake 5 shouldn t stray from this angle. Doom s campaign doesn t falter if you skip over the finer details of the UAC s demon enslavement scheme, and neither should Quake slip if you don t care about the scientific findings of Strogg hair follicles but it s there if you want to read about it. Quake naturally fits this narrative method; in Quake 2, you could investigate, skip, or simply blow away MIA marines slowly being assimilated into Strogg.
A jaunt into the demonic home-realm of eternal torment is an inevitable checkmark on Doomguy s itinerary. The point of departure is a portal swirling in the center of the Mars UAC facility. The compound sports a straightforward rendition of corporate lab disaster interior decorating: chromed paneling, beeping science stuff, a neutral-voiced AI calmly recounting horrific casualty rates over the PA, and the occasional culty candle circle. Doom s depiction of Hell is a surprisingly tame translation: a rockier, redder Mars-style exterior with floating boulders and skulls carved everywhere. For a place acting as the planar trophy hall of conquered dimensions, Hell is less Dali and more Dio album cover.
That s not to say Hell is a visual failure. It accomplishes what it sets out to do as the barracks and arcane library of its demonic denizens. Festooning skulls and pentagrams at every turn is a safe reminder of Doom s traditional theme. Quake isn t so clear-cut. We ve already seen the original Quake s mythological medieval murk and Quake 2 through 4 s industrial sci-fi. If a new Quake paces with Doom and returns to a classic motif as a modern reboot, it should leverage the power of contemporary hardware and id Tech 6 engine effects to realize a setting with stylistic identity. It doesn t have to be suffocatingly abstract but expressive enough for it to scream Quake. Top Stroggification. Fashion a level inside a giant Elder God s esophagus.
Doom s music feels like riding the edge of a hurricane with the eye of Sauron in the middle. Composer Mick Gordon masterfully captures the seething, pulsing dread of exploring the dual desolation of Mars and Hell until the ambience shatters with an Imp s screech. Above the combat s din of ear-rattling explosions, super shotgun thunderclaps, and the gurgling foley of spilt demon blood rages an auditory transgression. Thrash drum pedal kicks pound metal guitar riffs into the braincage as the synth wails a prayer to carnage. It s melodized bloodthirst. When Doomguy s fist plunges into a Gore Nest and Rip & Tear crashes into the soundscape, it s a too-perfect tap into adrenaline mode.
Quake 5 s soundtrack shouldn t try for restrained sophistication. Quake favors savagery equally with its older sibling, and id has ample opportunity to sustain the brutality with a crunchy score befitting a violent brawl through Stroggos or Shub-Niggurath s mystical dimensions. Whatever the new Quake s choice of theme, it s important to set a great foundation for a mix of brooding ambience and cacophonous action cuts. Both have worked in the past: Quake s Lovecraftian Goth paired with Trent Reznor s while Quake 2 s militaristic invasion of an alien world kept rhythm to Sonic Mayhem s.
Both Doom and Quake shaped the very fiber of FPS movement. Their influence is used to this day: mouselook, sprinting, and sustained momentum were all molded by Doom s simple controls and Quake s 3D evolution. Doom 2016 s emphasis on old-school speed was a welcome relief to the sluggishness of Doom 3 s more survival horror style, and the frenetic combat reflected the importance of staying in motion to survive a constant threat. Quake is no stranger to this concept; it practically heralded the rise of bunnyhopping and trick-jumping in multiplayer and speedrunning circles decades ago.
As Doom demonstrated, embracing quick movement and level design modeled for circular killing sprees encourages an exhilarating challenge. Quake 5 should stay up to speed by adapting its predecessors aptitude for aerial improvisation combined with a mirroring of Doom s snappy acceleration. If Quake keeps the needle in the red, it ll hew as close to its roots as Doom did and could cornerstone a new era in speedruns, Defrag races, and acrobatic multiplayer frags.
Id wanted Doom s multiplayer to embody the genre s modern standards a progression system, loadouts, and so on but it also didn t want to stray too far off the path beaten by successful games which, paradoxically, elaborated on Doom s own format over the years. Those contrasts didn t translate into standout material; sprinkling an area with jump pads and having rockets flying everywhere isn t some sort of magical pedigree for an arena shooter, and locking away weapons behind the progression system didn t gel with the equal-footing ethos many came to expect from id.
This is Quake 5 s moment to shine brightly with a strongly defined multiplayer. It boasts the advantage of utilizing an experienced framework tempered by Doom s easily avoidable inconsistencies and the heritage of Quake 3 s competitive heyday. Its weapons and powerups should evoke the same breathy reverence as the railgun, rocket launcher, and quad damage instead of . It should forge heady memories as strong as . Should Quake stay strong with its identity, it may emerge once more as the flag bearer for arena gaming.
A mushroom towers above you, reaching for the sky. The place feels familiar, but the light has changed. Plants have taken root in previously barren land, new rocks jut from the earth like gnarled fingers. It s the same, but different a place inspired by what came before. A complete remake and re-imagining of Morrowind, in the words of Brandon Giles, one of the lead developers of the ambitious community project Skywind. The mod aims to draw players fresh and old to the world of Bethesda s 14-year-old RPG.
Skywind had its inception in 2012. The seeds can be found in Morroblivion, which ported Morrowind s content into Oblivion s engine. Once the project came to an end, some leftover team members decided to attempt a similar feat this time using Skyrim as their base.
It wasn t until late into the following year that the project evolved into what it is now, Giles says of the Elder Scrolls Renewal Project, of which Skywind is a part. [We] aspired to do something greater than a mere port of Morrowind. No one really knows the exact point that this switch happened, but I think as we got more and more talented individuals on board, we really broadened our horizons and looked to make something much more special. Since then the vision has only grown.
Skywind s global team was brought together by a love of the Elder Scrolls series. They re all volunteers, and their ultimate reward for the thousands of hours invested will be the finished project itself. The challenge they have set is to take a classic and renovate it, improving it graphically and bringing the world s density, life and interactions up to the standards set by today s open-world games.
The team, though scattered, has clear lines of management. Tasks are chopped into manageable chunks and assigned by the development leads. Countless spreadsheets are assembled in order to keep track of the various tasks and deadlines. The driving force is a small core team, working with and managing the vast array of people who have volunteered their time.
These team members all share the same broad vision for Skywind. Morrowind is a game that now shows its age. The locales feel barren and sparse compared to modern achievements, the fog-cloaked horizon is a stark contrast to the immense draw distances we re now accustomed to. The team have to address this disparity, filling in areas of the world with new content. This act of creation in a game so revered comes with its own difficulties the additions must merge seamlessly with the established world. Skywind will include the story and quests familiar to Morrowind players, but some carefully constructed new missions have been added. The ultimate aim is that new content should be indistinguishable from the old.
Modifying a classic is no easy task, and the team must tread carefully when deciding on additions. Every idea goes through a vetting process. When someone has a new suggestion, and they re serious enough about it, they write up a detailed plan and share it with the rest of the team, Giles says. Everyone leaves comments and suggestions and we work from there, and if it s worth implementing, we ll put in the effort to make it a reality.
Additions are rigorously scrutinised to ensure that they meet the same high standards across the board. The gatekeepers of quality are several industry professionals, who are lending their expertise partly because of a deep love for the Elder Scrolls series, and partly to work on a project that s free from corporate oversight.
Lore masters also pick over any suggestions with a fine-tooth comb guaranteeing that everything fits within the universe set out by the Elder Scrolls games. These team members have been followers of the series since the start, and are able to draw from their own deep knowledge of the world, as well as consult the extensive wikis and other reference sources. They are essentially historians historians with the advantage of being in direct communication with the creative mind behind a large part of the world and lore of Morrowind, former Bethesda designer Michael Kirkbride.
Enthusiasm can only take you so far, however, and the attrition rate among Skywind s voluntary team is high. The success of the project has been that, out of a number of people who have offered to help, you get one that really sticks with the project, Darren Habib, one of the team s veterans, says. I ll put a rough figure to it: out of every 100 people that join up to do some tasks, only one person will actually carry on to progress the project.
The bulk of development is therefore handled by the core team, but they still want the project to remain as open as possible. They leave the door open in order to attract unique individuals able to contribute. Burnout is high true of any voluntary project but the team understand this, allowing people to take breaks when they need them. They have managed to keep morale high with their continuous communication and recruitment. Everyone is kept in the loop and made to feel a part of the community.
The legacy of the original game released back in 2002 the third in the Elder Scrolls series still casts a long shadow. Its weird world is filled with wonders, from magically crafted mushroom architecture to the sprawling waterway-filled city of Vivec. Morrowind captured and continues to capture the hearts of its players.
The action mostly takes place on the island of Vvardenfell, which today stands out as delightfully alien compared to other locations in the Elder Scrolls series. All of Bethesda s worlds have had their quirks, but none have had nearly as diverse a landscape as that found in Morrowind. Each region feels fresh and different, its architecture and landscapes drawn from different inspirations.
The first Elder Scrolls games, Arena and Daggerfall, presented players with huge worlds, using random generation to map out and stock their myriad dungeons. Morrowind broke with tradition; Bethesda opted to create a smaller, more detailed, world than its predecessors. Throwing out the random generation, the game s designers hand-crafted every section of the world. This painstaking approach proved a massive undertaking, but the payoff was worth it. The developers love and attention shines through in the design of every location. From the caves of skooma-smuggling bandits, to the tombs cobwebbed with history linked to actual families in-game.
Post-Morrowind, there have been two new main Elder Scrolls releases: Oblivion and Skyrim. These build upon the foundations laid down by Morrowind, inevitably changing aspects of it as well. The strength of Elder Scrolls games especially Morrowind has always been believable world building and focus on exploration, says Max Fellinger, Skywind s game mechanics lead. Skyrim shifted away from this to present a more streamlined reward-curve, based mostly on dungeon-crawls.
The team faces the challenge of deciding which new features from Skyrim should carry over to Skywind and which should be consigned to history. They have to determine how best to retain the feel of Morrowind while keeping any improvements made by the new game. Abilities such as shouts, tied specifically to the Dragonborn protagonist, have been removed completely. In general, Skyrim felt more focused on player skill, like modern action games, while Morrowind focused on character skill, like a classical RPG.
For instance, contrary to the implications of its first-person action combat, Morrowind used the classic RPG dice roll to decide what happened in a fight. Your sword might hit an enemy s flesh, but it was a behind-the-scenes number that decided whether or not you did serious damage. It s a system that lacks responsiveness. Skyrim has far better feedback, because it s driven more by the player s actions than their character s stats.
However, as a result, Skyrim is more uniform when it comes to the character builds of its players. There are certain core abilities and skills that almost everyone upgrades, while others are largely ignored. Morrowind encouraged players to have more freedom in their choices. There s no single correct build. Some balancing issues remain, but in general players have a wider range to choose from.
The challenge, then: how best to fix Skyrim s problems without recreating Morrowind s unresponsiveness? The developers have a balancing act on their hands, merging two disparate systems into a cohesive whole. Their approach has been to strip down the Elder Scrolls and other RPGs to their core, and find out what makes them tick how the gears of their various systems mesh together. Ultimately, the team want to craft an experience that brings back some of the systems of classic RPGs, giving players the freedom to build a character in whatever way they want.
In Morrowind s original release, dialogue was largely confined to text boxes, with only a small percentage of it voice acted. Skywind again aims high. Its ultimate goal is to have all lines of dialogue fully voiced. Our biggest challenge is the sheer number of voice actors we re going for, voice acting lead Ben Iredale told me. Unlike Bethesda s situation, where they focus on a smaller cast of actors covering the majority of lines, we re looking to have a pretty massive amount of unique voices to cover the roughly 40,000 lines of dialogue that are in Skywind. We think it is worth the extra effort especially since it is one of the benefits we have as a community project there are so many dedicated fans ready to lend their voices.
Skyrim s world often comes close to a place that feels like home. At least until a guard tells you, yet again, about how their previous career as an adventurer was brought to a close by an arrow to the knee. Idle banter can make or break immersion in virtual worlds, especially those that support hundreds of hours of exploration.
For Skywind, Iredale says that a team of writers have crafted 9,000 in-game conversation lines between NPCs, giving each character their own essence of personality. The final release will include priests discussing the 36 lessons of Vivec, and merchants arguing over prices little touches that breathe life into the world.
On release Morrowind was praised for its vision and fully 3D world. Time has not been so kind. Its once vaunted graphics are now showing their age. Giving Morrowind back its beauty is a major objective for the Skywind team they want to recreate the world with all the bells and whistles we ve become accustomed to in modern games. This is no walk in the park: the team have to rebuild the world from the ground up.
Interpreting the low poly models and textures is one challenge, according to Aeryn James Davies, Skywind s lead artist. [It s] practically impossible without going back to the drawing board and looking at pre-3D concepting by the original team. We went back to the original concepts of Kirkbride and others and reworked it from the earlier stages. The 3D representation of 2D concepts are always limited by the technology of the time. Fourteen years is a big difference in processing power.
The evolution of videogame graphics in the intervening time has given the team the chance to make something really special, building on the ambitions of what came before. The redesign ranges from equipment to landscapes, with a particular focus on ensuring each area of the island has its own distinctive feel.
We felt that each region of the game deserved its own unique set of assets and textures to expand on the exotic nature of the original, says lead landscape designer Giles. As a result, each area looks and feels much different than from before. Any Morrowind purist might be upset by the new changes, but we really wanted to do something different instead of just adding shinier texture work and remodelled objects. There have been countless fans who have commented on videos or screenshots of the game saying it looks and feels exactly as I remember! so I think even with these major changes, the charm and spirit of Morrowind has definitely carried over to this new design.
Azura s coast is just one of the regions undergoing a dramatic change. It was originally sprinkled with menhirs, but the Skywind team have transformed it into a landscape filled with striking basalt formations, quietly betraying Vvardenfell s volcanic roots. An overhaul of this scale could have been a disaster, but it s handled with care by the team changing the visual identity of the region while staying true to the heart and soul of Morrowind.
The team s ambitions aren t restricted to improving the variety of the landscape, either. They re aiming to make Skywind s graphical quality in its entirety exceed that of Skyrim itself now almost five years old. The team feels able to do this because their focus is solely on the PC. Where Bethesda had to take ageing console tech into account, Skywind s developers are free to concentrate on a single, more powerful platform.
The mod itself remains without a release date the general feeling being that it ll be done when it s done. Still, there s confidence that it will, eventually, be done. In the years since the mod s initial reveal there has been the constant worry that it might end up as vapourware all stylish screenshots and video, but never making it to a final release. It s a consequence of the team s open development. Professional studios only reveal projects after years of work. Skywind has been in the wild since day one. Viewed this way, their progress in the last four years has been remarkable from a group of volunteers.
The project inches ever onwards, getting closer to its release, but there is still plenty of work to be done and new volunteers are always welcome. The team have a lot riding on this a lot of people to please but each and every one is convinced they will deliver what they have promised. They probably won t have to resort to using magic to get there.
By Edward Bals.