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The retro-FPS Dusk, as we said in our preview earlier this week, is "not shy about its Quake-and-Doom inspiration." It's fast, bloody, loud (Brutal Doom composer Andrew Hulshult created the soundtrack), and looks (and plays) like it fell out a rupture in the space-time continuum that leads directly back to 1994. It is also, with very little fanfare, now available for pre-purchase on Steam.
Dusk, like Doom, will ultimately offer 33 levels spread over three episodes, the first of which, "The Foothills," is playable now. One of three "Endless" survival mode arenas is also in there, if you just want to run around and shoot stuff until you die, without worrying about... well, anything else at all, really. Multiplayer doesn't appear to be live yet, but it's on the way as well. It goes for $20/£15/€20.
When the game's good enough, the mod scene lives eternal, and there may be no better proof of that than Quake. The most ambitious Quake map ever completed was uploaded on Quake mod site Quaddicted in June, and it looks unbelievable for a game that's now more than 20 years old. Called The Forgotten Sepulcher, the map is a modern reinterpretation of the original Quake map E1M3: The Necropolis.
Built by two Quake level designers, Simon "Sock" O'Callaghan and Henrik "Giftmacher" Oresten, The Forgotten Sepulcher is a stunningly intricate and densely interconnected map that pushes Quake far beyond its natural limits. As the download page notes: "This release exceeds several limits and the only engines currently capable of running it are specially modified versions of Quakespasm and Quakespasm-spike."
Put it this way: while the original E1M3 is made up of around 1,000 brushes, which is the term for each individual shaped block that makes up a map, The Forgotten Sepulcher features 60,000. Thanks to id releasing Quake's source code online, modern updates to the engine have been able to push it further and further, doing things that would've been impossible in 1996.
But the Forgotten Sepulcher isn't just detailed—it's also huge compared to most Quake maps. There are 297 monsters to defeat and sub-bosses, if you can find the keys to their locked doors. Nearly 90 secrets are tucked away waiting to be uncovered. There's a multitude of destructive objects. Enemies burst from doorways. Also, there are fishing ogres.
It was initially designed by Oresten, a teacher from Sweden, who'd been following Simon O'Callaghan's work on creating a campaign and mod for Quake called Arcane Dimensions, and decided to make a level for it himself.
"My intention with the map was to rehash the original E1M3, a swampy green-brick monster," Oresten says. But he wanted to build on it, taking advantage of Arcane Dimensions' additional monsters and weapons, tools and engine tweaks.
"I really liked the organic look and feel of the original map Henrik made and asked him to join the team," O'Callaghan, who has worked on level design for Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Crysis: Warhead, tells me. "We then worked together over last summer and developed the map further."
The main route winds around and through towering cathedrals, climbing to upper levels and crossing areas you've been through before, and then descends into broken chapels and flooded catacombs. Along the way, you'll open up shortcuts to previous areas, giving The Forgotten Sepulcher the feel of some kind of super-compressed Dark Souls. It's always a good idea to examine the environments for broken doors you can blow open and for places you can jump up broken masonry to reach walkways above.
In other words, it feels modern, even though it's written in Quake's super-blocky and monumental level architecture.
O'Callaghan and Oresten subdivided the first draft of the map into primary and secondary routes. You can access many areas in several different ways, often by climbing, but the primary route is lit with torches to make it visually obvious.
There are also all the little touches that remind you of its source material. There's explicit stuff, like the room early in E1M3 where there's an ogre behind bars, shooting grenades at you, and stairs that go down to the right and a great doorway to the left. This level is emblazoned on my memory from when it played at 15fps on my 486-66, but I'd forgotten how interconnected it is, just as The Forgotten Sepulcher is, too. E1M3 only had 47 monsters, though.
"I think a lot of the Quake style in [The Forgotten Sepulcher] comes from the consistent architecture and artwork," says O'Callaghan. "I really tried to keep the palette consistent and try to show progression with architecture. Like the place has been built over time and they re-used and upgraded things."
Look across the stonework of the opening space and you can see layers of geometry that show how it's been crumbling away. The harsh angles and lighting that Quake imposes make for powerful silhouettes. "Quake is very brutal with shapes, so the architecture has to look strong and stable, like it's stood the test of time."
The Forgotten Sepulcher is the newest addition to Arcane Dimensions, which is both a campaign of maps designed by various different Quake map designers and also a set of functional tweaks and features that are focused on making it easier to build complex maps.
A couple of months before release, though, The Forgotten Sepulcher hit even the limits of Arcane Dimensions and QuakeSpasm, the modern Quake engine on which it runs. Its 60,000 brushes are way in excess of even contemporary maps, which are usually 4,000-5,000.
Enter a third member of the team, Eric Wasylishen, who massively optimised the compiling process by transforming hand-placed elements such as vines and corpses into special entities to reduce the load on the engine, as well as shortening compiling into minutes, rather than the days to weeks that it used to take.
"Ha, there were horror stories of maps in the late 2000s and early 2010s when they were taking a month to compile," Wasylishen says. O'Callaghan says that his work on the compiler, which has allowed designers to design and playtest a lot more fluidly, has given new life to Quake's mapping community.
And the detail and scale it's lent to The Forgotten Sepulcher makes it a real joy to explore, and a perfect place to be reminded of Quake's super-smooth feel. The gib noises are perfect, even 20 years later.
Installation is fairly straightforward if you own Quake:
Download a specially adapted version Quakespasm and drop its files into your main Quake directory.
Make an "AD" folder in your Quake folder and drop Arcane Dimension's files into it.
Download ad_sepulcher and drop its files into your AD folder.
Run it from the Quakespasm shortcut, go to MODS in the main menu and navigate to the AD folder, and you're in Arcane Dimension.
To go directly to The Forgotten Sepulcher, take the portal to the left of where you start into the second level hub, and then it's directly to your right.
One of the best things about the original Doom was how fast Doomguy could run: you weren't so much a "guy" as you were a "hurtling rocket of death". So it might have taken some adjustment when Quake released, considering how slow the player-movement was by comparison, though the then-novelty of true 3D no doubt compensated for it.
But now we know why Quakeguy ran so much slower: it was because the levels were smaller. That's according to John Romero, who posted a lengthy blogpost at the weekend explaining the adjustment. Basically, all Quake levels needed to be less than 1.4 megabytes in filesize, and to achieve that, the levels naturally had to be smaller than many of those found in Doom.
So how to make them feel less small? Reduce player speed, of course!
"John Carmack decided that we could get more gameplay out of the levels if he slowed down the player's running speed," Romero writes. "In DOOM the player went at crazy-fast speeds and it was incredible. In DOOM we could make huge maps and player speed was not a problem.
"With Quake's maps, the hallways, rooms, and outdoor areas were all smaller because of the file size. So slowing down the player meant it took longer to finish a level, and longer to finish the game overall."
The post also goes into some detail regarding the rather clumsy (by today's standard) level editor used to create vanilla Quake's levels. Check out the whole post over here.
In addition to being the first truly 3D first-person shooter, the other completely off-the-chain feature in Quake was its soundtrack. Back in 1996, Nine Inch Nails was massive, having recently released the still-classic The Downward Spiral. Trent Reznor's next major release was the soundtrack for Quake, and what a soundtrack it was.
Thankfully we'll be able to own it on a physical format soon (unless you kept your CD-ROM), because the soundtrack is being reissued on vinyl. Since it's only marked as "coming soon" on the Nine Inch Nails website, there's not really much else to learn, except that it'll be a single vinyl edition and its cover mirrors the packshot on the original Quake retail release.
I've embedded a YouTube rip of the soundtrack below, so you can be transported back to a time when nailguns were all the rage, and bunnyhopping was in its infancy.
Here's how big a deal Doom's shotgun was: in a game with another weapon called the Big Fucking Gun, the shotgun is the one we remember best. It's reliable at practically any distance. One clean shot to the chest will eviscerate most enemies. Somehow that pump action reload animation and its cha-chick are satisfying every single time with only five frames of animation. How many other games are confident enough to give you a gun this good 10 seconds into the first level?
Before Doom, shotguns were for shooting clay pigeons. After Doom, they were for annihilating demons. And for annihilating practically anything else: as Doom birthed a new genre, you could rely on the trusty shotgun to be there almost anytime, more steadfast and reliable than a squirrely pistol or a ammo-hungry rifle. It's our pellet pal. Our blunderbuss buddy. In the wry words of John Romero, when we spent half an hour reflecting on the design and history of Doom's shotgun: "No other game has a BFG 9000 in it, but lots of games have shotguns."
Today we're celebrating that lineage by talking about some of our favorite shotguns and why we love them. Step one: make it kick, and make 'em bleed.
"Number one, the damage it does is the most important part," said John Romero. He was talking about weapon design in general. There's so much that goes into a good game gun, but those pain points have the biggest impact in making a weapon feel powerful. "If it does more damage than any other gun, it doesn't matter if it has no sound effects, you're going to be using it," he laughed.
OK, but all that other stuff is important too. Animation, sound effects, the works. When they all come together, you can just feel it. It's an almost animal hell yeah. Fullbright's Steve Gaynor practically got poetic describing this sensation:
"Shooter games can be about a lot of things—the complexity of tactics as you use the environment to your advantage, the cat & mouse drama of chasing and being chased, sneaking up on your prey or falling into your enemy's trap—but it's also always about that aesthetic moment where the trigger's pulled and the audiovisual effects deliver that moment of utterly blowing a videogame creature away. And that's what the shotgun's all about. It's loud. It's sudden. And above all, it's effective."
So how do design all that stuff to feel just right? Bill Munk, animator and creative director at Tripwire, had this to say about developing Killing Floor 2:
"We start with the gore system, which is a very important ingredient that makes shotguns feel devastating. Second is the impulse force applied to the creatures when they get hit, this is really important to not only make the shotgun feel powerful but also adds to the enjoyment of taking down a target. Third is the damage each pellet does, it's a hard balancing act because depending on what you shot, if it doesn't die or react the way you picture it, everything falls apart and the weapon feels unsatisfying. To balance shotguns in KF2 we first start with the price for the ammo, the weight of the gun and the time it takes to reload. Shotguns generally have massive damage but become less effective at range due to the spread of the pellets which also is a nice tool to balance these high damage weapons.
"Last but not least are the shoot animations. This is an area we've put a lot of time and research in. We animate the shots at high framerate so that we can animate the violent force when you fire a shotgun. This is a detail you barely notice in realtime but can feel the difference."
And when Killing Floor 2 slows down into Zed time, you can really see that animation at work.
You can see even more detail in KF2's shotguns firing and reloading here. They're ahead of the curve in animations, but the fact that Doom's shotgun still feels good with only five frames of reload animation shows how much the damage, muzzle flare, sound effects, and other elements of a shotgun can make it feel satisfying without much real detail.
Take Resident Evil 4's starting shotgun, a standard pump action. It's much simpler than Killing Floor 2's weapons, but blasting zombies with it feels a bit like smiting them with the fist of God. Part of that comes from RE4's once-novel over-the-shoulder weapon aiming. It's incredibly physical. You hold a button down to aim and Leon plants his feet. The camera zooms up to his shoulder, and it feels like you're aiming the shotgun with the whole of his body. The muzzle jerks sharply upward when you fire, and a single blast can send a whole crowd flying backwards. Leon pumps out the spent shell before recentering his aim. It's not fancy, but it feels sublime.
No game gun sounds more pleasing to the ear than a shotgun except for, maybe, a bolt-action rifle. And those two weapons have something in common: both are about a single moment of release, followed by a peerless sound saying fire again, baby.
Most game weapons are about a constant stream of sound. The blam, blam, blam of a pistol, the ratatatat of an SMG, the heavy thugthugthugthug of an LMG. With a shotgun, it's all about that one shot. It's a crack of thunder, not a boom. "You need a good, sharp, aggressive sound to drive the shotgun's presence home, not some underplayed thud but a good, bracing crack," said Gaynor.
But the reload can be even better. Only a heavy bolt can match the click of a double barrel popping open and closed or the cha-chick of the pump action. That sound effect really hasn't changed much since Doom 1, and it's easy to see why.
Sound is a big part of why we love shotguns, but it's also crucial to the "feel" of hower powerful they are. "I'd say sound is 70% of the feel of a great shotgun mostly because I've played games while they are muted and they lost the feel," said Kynan Pearson, who's worked on the Halo and Metroid Prime series. "The reload noise, the boom and the pain noises create a fantastic symphony of death."
Producer Matt Powers, who worked as a producer on the Medal of Honor and Call of Duty series, wrote about this on Gamasutra:
"I kept getting feedback that our shotgun was underpowered…people really kind of hated the shotgun. When I looked at the balance numbers, the shotgun was actually a little overpowered if anything. So…after much consternation I decided to attack the balance issue from the side of perception rather than through the actual numbers themselves. I went to our audio director to talk about changing the sound. He added a bit more low end to the fire sound, pulled out some midrange and bumped up the high end to give it a sharper punch. I did not tell the team that the only thing I changed was the sound, I just asked them to give it another try to see if the changes I made addressed the balance issues they were seeing. The feedback came back unanimously positive."
Animation, sound, weight. Those are some of the ingredients of a great shotgun. So how did id make the first FPS shotgun, with no history to draw on, back in 1993?
Our love affair with the shotgun started with Doom, but for Romero, it started with two other sources: Rednecks, and Evil Dead. In one of id's earliest games, a 2D sidescroller called Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion, you blast ghouls with a shotgun (and can even shoot at diagonals!). In Dave's first game, you had a pistol, but changing that to a shotgun in the sequel was an obvious move. "You're a redneck in Louisiana, of course you'd have a shotgun," Romero laughed. "We mentioned it when we were talking about Doom, we're like 'Hell yeah man, we had a shotgun in Dave and it was awesome. Why not?'"
Doom's shotgun wasn't originally in the plans for the game at all. The small team at id had the pistol, and plans for a rocket launcher, but they needed something in between. So they designed a rifle with a bayonet. The only problem: it wasn't cool enough. "We didn't like the fact that when you jabbed, it just didn't look good. It looked lame," Romero said. "We'd already had lameness issues with Catacomb 3D earlier, when you're using your hand to throw fireballs and stuff. That didn't look or feel cool. With Doom, we did have the bayonet in there, and I believe we even had it working, and it was just like, you know what? No amount of frames will make this look good."
As they started brainstorming sci-fi weapons like the BFG, their thoughts turned to Evil Dead 2. And voila: a shotgun and a chainsaw appeared. "We basically went, 'a shotgun would totally blow away that stupid rifle.' We made the shotgun, we made the chainsaw. It totally felt right in the game. We put it in, and it was just perfect. The gun cocking animation, the sound, it was perfect. The shotgun blast was great and did a good amount of damage. So that's what happened."
The Doom faithful may know that the shotgun was a cap gun model bought at Toys R Us and scanned into the game using a video camera, then edited and animated in a Carmack piece of software called Fuzzy Pumper Palette Shop. It was named after a Play Doh toy. What's surprising about Romero's story is how little tuning it took to get Doom's shotgun just right. They added a spread and randomness to the firing, but treated the shotgun pellets as if they were bullets, making the gun easy to implement. And because they "wanted every gun to be effective at super far distances," handicapping the shotgun's range wasn't an issue.
"It was important that whenever we added any gun to the game, it never nullified a previous weapon. There had to be a reason for keeping the pistol around and everything else," Romero said. "The shotgun, I believe used the pistol randomness, and also added some to the spread, but not too much. So you could kill stuff at a distance. It was not like a sawed-off shotgun that would have a massive spread."
That would come later, of course, with Doom 2's double barrel super shotgun. First person shooters have since skewed towards treating shotguns more like the sawed off: close combat killers with a very particular purpose, a more compartmentalized approach to "balance" that gives every weapon its role.
"I feel shotguns live and die by where they sit in the balance," said Pearson. "It's easy to make a shotgun too effective or nerf it so it's not dominant in the weapon selection. I feel like shotguns need drawbacks, but part of the satisfaction is the exaggerated quality of wrecking opponents at close range. I prefer tight spread with damage dampening at distance. Everyone has different preferences so it depends on the game."
We can still delight in a good kill with a well-balanced modern military tactical 12-gauge, but our favorite shotguns are the ones that defy those restrictions. Look at the shotgun in Halo: Combat Evolved, which was overshadowed by the pistol but still had tremendous range and a vast ammo reserve.
Other shotguns do something unique to stand out, either in how they affect enemies and the world, or in how they let lead fly.
When I get a headshot with a pistol I expect, at best, a backflip or an exploding skull. But much of the joy of a shotgun comes from its physicality. I want my enemies blown backwards by raw force. This is where other elements of the game come into play to make the shotgun itself better. A perfect example, Gaynor explained, is Bioshock's shotty:
"It reinforces what makes a great shotgun on its own—an awesome muzzle flash, great pump action animation, amazing sound design, and high destructive power—but also how important its effect on enemies can be. Not just the blood effects or how much damage it does, but how they flip, spin, and pirouette through the environment when blasted. BioShock used tech that allowed the enemies to do a crafted death animation—ie spinning through the air in response to catching a handful of buckshot in the side—and transition that smoothly into a dynamic ragdoll that leaves them convincingly sprawled on the environment in the aftermath. Blasting Splicers with the shotgun was great because the shotgun was great, yes, but also because the Splicers were such wonderful fodder, their reaction to your blasting being an integral part of the whole exchange."
This is one area where Valve's typically soft weapons really shine: Left4Dead 2's shotguns can lift a group of zombies off their feet and send them flying. They also absolutely shred enemies. Valve's Alex Vlachos gave a great talk about Left 4 Dead 2's wounds at the 2010 Game Developer's Conference, and you can see how the system works in this presentation. This applies to all weapons, but shotguns are your best bet for blowing off limbs or big chunks of torso.
Gaynor similarly praised the F.E.A.R shotgun's "effect on a highly dynamic gameworld, where firing this thing off causes dust, concrete chunks, and broken glass to fly everywhere. But of course it would be nothing if not for F.E.A.R.'s slow-mo bullet time mechanic, allowing you to enjoy the shotgun's effects at half speed, every frame of its destructive power lovingly rendered for the player's satisfaction. Jumping over a barricade, going into slow-mo, and hearing an enemy soldier shout "OOoooohhhhhh shiiiiiiittttttt" as you pull the trigger, causing him to backflip over a railing with balletic grace, is maybe one of the most satisfying interactions in any FPS game. Oh, and if you play your cards right and get up into point-blank range, this thing can straight-up mist an enemy in one shot. That's how badass it is."
Romero and Bill Munk both called out Soldier of Fortune's shotgun for similar destructive power. "Soldier of Fortune, especially for the time, really showed the brutality of a shotgun and made the player feel extremely powerful based on the gore system," Munk said. "But for overall feel I'd have to give it to F.E.A.R. The first time you experience a shotgun in slow-mo seeing every pellet fly and the ragdoll react to it is a thing of beauty!"
Soldier of Fortune sure wins for nastiness, though.
God I love the flak cannon. In my imagination, the flak cannon is what would happen if the god of death metal looked at a normal shotgun and turned it into an industrial tool that could conveniently be used to shred men into paste. It's not simply firing a shell when you pull the trigger: a metal piston slams forward to propel a disc the size of a hockey puck out of the muzzle, where it separates into a spreading pattern of glowing superheated scrap. You can watch every piece make bloody contact with your enemy, but it also has a utility unlike any other shotgun: bouncing those metal meteors around corners to shred bad dudes from afar. Is there any wonder it's our favorite gun ever?
When Doom gave us a shotgun to blast demons, it was novel. Now that every shooter has its own take on the shotgun—and it's usually pretty straightforward—we love the flak cannon and other alternative shotguns for stepping out of that mold.
The flak cannon's secondary fire is a perfect example: it concentrates the heavy damage of the shotgun into a single arcing grenade that's harder to land, but offers concentrated damage you won't get at range with a spreading flak cloud. Romero himself designed a shotgun that was meant to diverge from the straightforward utility of Doom's shotgun: Daikatana's Shotcycler-6.
Daikatana had rocket jumping, but because its rocket launcher fired two shots, it would really hurt. "I thought, can I make a safer rocket jump type weapon?" Romero remembered. "With the Shotcycler-6 I can do six shots, and if you jump it'll take you up to another place. I thought that would be kinda cool for people who are good, and know the secret of the shotgun jump. So it's basically six shots, who doesn't love that, with kickback enough that you can actually get propelled up in the air, almost like a rocket launcher."
Gears of War 4's Overkill is a madman's fusion of double-barrel and auto shotty: it fires a shell from one of four barrels on mouse click and on mouse release, giving you the flexibility for tactical timing or a panicked barrage of eight shots in the span of a second.
Bulletstorm's ridiculous four barreled shotgun has a charge shot that simply vaporizes enemies, burning them away to nothing but bones. It's a fitting middle finger to the concept of balance.
And though it was a short-lived glitch, not an intentional design, I have to sing the praises of the most overpowered shotgun of all time: Battlefield 3's briefly broken underslung M26 DART. A patch made every 12 gauge flechette pellet deal the full damage of the assault rifle's primary bullets, making the spread an ungodly cloud of death. And yet it's so politely soft-spoken.
Videogame shotguns are rad. When you use a good one, appreciate it: marvel at its kick, its cocking action, its thundercrack, and the knockback like no other.
"There's something inherently satisfying about video game guns that are built to be 'one shot, one kill' like, say, a hefty magnum revolver, or a bolt-action sniper rifle," said Gaynor. "And that's also the shotgun's job... with the added benefit of not really having to aim. Who could ask for more?"
Long live the gib.
The annual DICE Summit is an opportunity for game makers of all stripes to come together to share ideas, talk about new technologies, take part in roundtable discussions—and, for 16 famous developers including Feargus Urquhart, Jeff Kaplan, Randy Pitchford, and Tim Willits, to blow each other to pieces in a one-on-one, winner-take-all Quakeworld tournament.
The single-elimination FaceIt Quake Tournament at DICE will begin with the following matchups:
It's hard not to see Willits as a sentimental favorite, although I don't imagine he's had much to do with Quake (actually, according to ShackNews, the somewhat newer Quakeworld) in recent years. Kaplan is one of the top guys on the biggest competitive shooter currently on the market, which may serve him well. Obsidian is probably my favorite studio in the mix, but I have a feeling Feargus is going to be one-and-done pretty quick. (I'll be happy to be wrong, though.)
The action is set to begin at 10:50 am PT on February 22 and continue through to February 23, with semi-finals, and then the grand final, set to begin at 3:15 pm PT. Bracket and results are available at dice.faceit.com, and you'll be able to watch the action live on the FaceIt Twitch channel.
Wolfenstein 3D is primarily a game about shooting Nazis. Occasionally you'll shoot dogs too, but they're Nazi dogs. Occasionally you'll steal treasure, but it's Nazi treasure. Nazis are a common foe in videogames because they're unambiguously bad, thus triggering no moral quandaries among those who digitally shoot them.
But what if you could, uh, try to talk them out of being Nazis instead? Rather than fight fire with fire, what if we had an Earl Grey and a chinwag? Dialogue 3D —a "hack" of the original Wolfenstein 3D by Ramsey Nasser—offers one fairly convincing answer: You'd probably not have much luck.
The game comes amid much online debate relating to how people who are not Nazis should treat those who are. Some suggest having a discussion, whereas others are happy to punch them from here to next Sunday. I think it's fairly clear which side of that conundrum Nasser inhabits, and he makes a pretty strong case—albeit via a shallow 1990s videogame.
The game is free, only 7mb, and thoroughly unenjoyable to play. But you might as well give it a shot anyway.
Fellow PC gamers, we are gathered here today to remember an old friend, one whose warranty expired long ago. As laid out in the law of the upgrade cycle, we must let go of those components that can no longer keep pace with modern demands. And so, it is with heavy hearts that we say our final goodbyes to you, our constant companion for the last 20 years.
Rest in peace, humble optical drive.
You were once a cornerstone of this community, a bringer of joy, a portal to play, an ally in our pursuit of entertainment. You gave us the gorgeous world of Myst, the sublime soundscape of Quake, the unprecedented complexity of Half-Life. You were a marvel of your age, drawing realms of infinite possibility out of those small, innocuous discs. At the time, it felt like nothing less than magic.
Nearly 30 years ago now, you entered this world with a vision. Armed with Red Book audio and full-motion video, you sold us the Hollywood dream, treating us to , Jeff Goldblum , Christopher Walken , and... . Video games seemed poised to replace movies altogether; why would we watch if we could play instead? Alas, it was not meant to be, but we'll always have those fond memories, thanks to you. Your legacy will live on inside us all.
As we commit you to the great server in the sky, let us reflect on all the good you did for this world. Who can forget how crucial you were during the dial-up days? The spiral cords of our 56K modems strained under the weight of individual mp3s; the thought of downloading an entire 750MB CD-ROM was unfathomable. Even when cable internet arrived on the scene, we still relied on you to support us through the file-size boom of the DVD era. Steam might have dethroned you eventually, but your stability during the platform's was what kept us gaming.
In your youth, your laissez-faire attitude allowed our community to flourish unabated. I, personally, owe some of my favourite childhood memories to your liberal approach to game trading; as a kid, hiring and borrowing games was the only way I could afford to play. Thanks to borrowing a friend's copy of Diablo II, I discovered my penchant for click-'em-ups. Thanks to renting Battlefield 1942, I grokked the appeal of online multiplayer. Thanks to hiring out Baldur's Gate II, I realised that games could tell big, complex stories that actually leveraged their interactivity instead of ignoring it. Of course, we all understand why you had to jump on the DRM train once people started abusing your freedoms. Still, those unbridled early years were crucial in making our community as great as it is today.
Alas, those halcyon days are far behind us. The battle of the distribution models is over, and there's no question who lost. How could it have gone any other way? Steam lets us pre-order, pre-load, patch, and play, all without leaving the comfort of our desk chairs. Gone are the overloaded shelves buckling beneath the weight of bejewelled CD cases and boxy collectors editions. Never again do we have to rummage around in dusty attics and dank basements to find that old copy of Day of the Tentacle, only for you to whine like a circular saw when we put the disc in because it isn't mint-out-of-box.
For all the joy you gave us, we cannot ignore the dark times you begat. Refusing to read brand new discs until we'd carefully wiped off every minute mote of dust. Scratching up our favourite games as punishment for playing them too much. Demanding that we 'Insert Disc 2' when it was already in the damn tray. And those multi-disc installs! How can you expect us to set aside multiple hours just to swap GTA 5's seven DVDs in and out?
At least you re in a better place now, one where the RPMs are infinite and the CDs are truly scratch-proof. Because as much as it pains us to say it on this day of mourning, you were holding this industry back. Bite-sized games never stood a chance against the pains of disc-swapping. Aspiring developers cringed at the cost of pressing and shipping discs. If we hadn't moved on to the all-digital now, we'd never have known the haunting oppression of Papers, Please, the touching tale of Gone Home, the time-bending antics of Superhot. We'd have to bid farewell to our hundreds-large Steam libraries or else buy a second house just to store all the CDs.
The fact is, old friend, we simply don't have the space for you anymore. Not in our homes, and not in our hearts. Your place at the top of our PC towers is no more. Our no longer give you a berth. We will never again hear your mechanical whirr, your voice silenced by the hum of our bigger and better hard drives. From caches to ashes, from disc to dusk, your time is up. You re just too slow for this digital world.
16X. 8X. 4X. 2X. 1X. Eject.
Originally published in August 2016, this feature makes a return for Food Week.
I don't remember which game we were playing, but it was the kind of Japanese RPG that listed everything you needed to know about its characters down the side of the screen. Magic points, coins, food, all summed up with helpful numbers. Only one of them was abbreviated: HP.
“What does HP stand for in this game?” I asked my friend, an expert on JRPGs.
“Health pineapples,” he confidently replied. “You have to knock all the pineapples off before you can hurt someone.”
HP, whether it stands for hit points, health power, or indeed health pineapples, is one of many mechanics to come to video games via the original tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons. However, the idea of representing the amount of punishment a character can take with a discrete number of points is much older than D&D. And while we might all know what the abbreviation means, it turns out that what hit points are meant to represent isn't quite so obvious.
In , D&D's co-creator Dave Arneson explained that the earliest version of the game didn't have hit points. The rules had evolved from wargames he and fellow D&D inventor Gary Gygax played, in which a single successful attack was all it took for a soldier to die.
That changed when they started experimenting with having players control individual heroes rather than entire armies, as players identified with them much more strongly. As Arneson put it, They didn't care if they could kill a monster in one blow, but they didn't want the monster to kill them in one blow.
Arneson had previously made his own rules for a naval wargame set during the Civil War called Ironclads, and together with Gygax had collaborated on a Napoleonic naval game called Don't Give Up The Ship! Both games had a mechanic that allowed for ships to take multiple hits before being sunk, which they'd borrowed from the wargaming rules designed by author Fletcher Pratt in the 1930s. They borrowed those rules again for D&D.
In his book about the history of simulation games , Jon Peterson explains why hit points were such an important idea: Hit points introduce uncertainty and variance [ ] In Dungeons & Dragons, even when the prospects of a hit are near certain, the damage dice provide another potential survival mechanism via endurance, another way of forestalling death and increasing the drama of combat.
Like D&D, video game combat discovered a new sense of drama with hit points. Early arcade games like 1978 s Space Invaders typically killed players with a single successful enemy contact, using multiple lives to prolong the experience. Replacing that with the ability to survive a set number of hits before dying added a finer-grained rise in tension. It removes the frustration of being reset to the start of a level every time a player is so much as brushed by an enemy, and as the number of hit points remaining falls your anxiety rises in direct correlation.
Being on your last life may make you cautious, but there's a smoother transition with hit points. You gradually shift between playing more carefully as you approach half-health, biting your metaphorical nails as it dwindles below that, and sinking into erratic risk-taking when only a sliver of life remains.
Video games inspired by D&D were the first to copy hit points, as far back as 1975 games and , which were coded for the system designed by the University of Illinois. DND was also the first game to have bosses, who could have hundreds or even thousands of what it called Hits.
The first official adaptations of D&D to PC were the Gold Box series begun by SSI with 1988 s . They followed the rules of what was then called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons closely, which meant beginning characters had very few hit points. Playing around a table there s always the option to fudge dice rolls to prevent deaths from feeling too arbitrary, but the computer was never so forgiving and players got used to reloading frequently.
Games that weren t licenced had no such problem. The first Ultima began players with a tidy 150 hit points, and the second with 400. Important non-player characters like Lord British had totals so high that killing him , and by Ultima III players were luring Lord British to the beach so they could attack him with cannon-fire, as if he was one of the naval ships in the wargames hit points came from.
Arcade games tended not to represent hit points numerically, however. Memorably, in the platformer Ghosts 'N Goblins (ported to the Commodore 64 in 1986) Sir Arthur lost his armor on taking damage, continuing to fight in his underwear.
One of the first game to represent hit points with the now familiar life bar was , a 1985 dungeon crawler by Namco with a Vitality meter that changed from blue to red as you took damage from its bats, snakes, and cave sharks. While red life bars would go on to become standard, other ways of visualizing hit points have been tried with varying degrees of success.
1983 ZX Spectrum/BBC Micro game had a slowly depleting roast chicken that tracked your starvation, and dinosaur fighter Primal Rage used veins leading to a heart that exploded at the moment of defeat.
Other games have tried to make their life bar a part of the game world, as in first-person Jurassic Park game where it's a heart tattoo on the protagonist's breast you have to look down at to check. In sci-fi horror game Dead Space the life bar is represented by lights on the back of your armor, which would be very useful if you had a doctor standing directly behind you. Each of these visualizations is just a way of integrating a hit-point counter into the world, but in doing so they free the player from having to correlate a number with something that should feel real and immediate. They re all still the same old hit points, under the surface.
, a 1987 first-person shooter on the Atari ST, was an early example of both the deathmatch shooter and the idea of representing hit points visually. Each player was a floating smiley face, like a three-dimensional Pac-Man, and an icon of that face at the top of the screen became sadder as they took damage. Later shooters like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom would copy this idea, their protagonists' faces growing more bruised and bloody as they absorbed bullet after bullet.
MIDI Maze is an early example of another change in the way hit points worked, as it also had regenerating health. It wasn't the first, however. The action-RPG , released on Japanese home computers like the PC-88 in 1984, gave players back hit points when they stood still. Where other games had food and first-aid kits that functioned as magically as the healing potions in fantasy RPGs, regenerating health though no more realistic at least took health items out of the game world. It made healing an abstraction like hit points are, rather than requiring players assume Johnny Medkit has wandered the world ahead of them scattering healing items like seeds.
It was Halo: Combat Evolved that popularized regenerating health, which is ironic because it didn't really have it. Halo's hero Master Chief wears an energy shield that regenerates after a short interval without taking damage, but once that's gone he has a traditional life bar that can only be refilled with medkits.
However, the recharging energy shield was what gave Halo its famous 30 seconds of fun that happened over and over and over and over again as designer , letting players pop out of cover to shoot aliens and then duck back to recharge and reload, and that's what had a lasting impact.
The idea was copied and modified by plenty of other games. Call Of Duty has become the flag-bearer for regenerating health, taking the blame for its propagation though it wasn't introduced until the second game in the series. Even in the mid-2000s as it was first becoming widespread, regenerating health was criticized by old-school shooter fans for removing some of the drama and tension that hit points represent. It's still enraging comment sections today.
Three games released in 2005 and 2006 all tinkered with ways of making regenerating health retain the sense of rising tension that hit points were first introduced to create. Condemned: Criminal Origins, Prey, and F.E.A.R. all set a floor on automatic healing so that if you take enough damage to fall below around 25% of your hit points you can't regenerate back above that line. It models a difference between taking a serious wound and the kind of graze action heroes can just walk off, and adds grit to more serious games.
When the Just Cause games toy with this, only letting you regenerate a percentage of the most recent damage you take, it can seem at odds with their over-the-top action.
Horror games have also tweaked the way they use hit points to suit the genre. Zombie game Left 4 Dead slows you down the more you're hurt, making it harder to run away from the infected as if you're a movie character being worn down by the chase. In Silent Hill 4: The Room you regain health in your apartment, but when that safe space becomes tainted it stops healing you, a mechanical sign of its corruption that ensures you feel the same dread the character would.
Still, across all of these games, what hit points represent isn't entirely clear. Are they purely the injuries you endure, as the suffering face of Doomguy suggests? If that's true why is it so easy to get hit points back, whether through healing items or regeneration or drinking Fallout's irradiated toilet water?
In The Lord of the Rings Online hit points are replaced by morale, which explains why singing a jaunty tune helps top it up. In the Assassin's Creed games it's synchronization, a representation of how accurately your digital simulation is recreating historical events although that raises the question of why being hurt during events where your historical analogue was also hurt doesn't improve synchronization.
Even in D&D it's unclear what hit points really are. In the Dungeon Master's Guide for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition, Gary Gygax wrote that hit points reflect both the actual physical ability of the character to withstand damage as indicated by constitution bonuses and a commensurate increase in such areas as skill in combat and similar life-or-death situations, the sixth sense which warns the individual of some otherwise unforeseen events, sheer luck, and the fantastic provisions of magical protections and/or divine protection.
(Charmingly, the rules then went on to explain that Rasputin would have been able to survive for so long because he had more than 14 hit points. )
Constitution, skill, sixth sense, luck, magic, and divine protection are a lot of things to bundle into one number, and raise further questions about why, for instance, poisoned attacks cause extra damage to your sixth sense . When asked about what hit points really are at conventions Gygax was dismissive, giving different answers to the question each time. Sometimes he said hit points represent the way swashbuckling movie heroes survive so many fights, or that they were an entirely meaningless number that represented nothing more than a way of making the game's combat more enjoyable for players.
That second answer is perhaps the best explanation. Given that hit points started out as a way of simulating the ability of a ship's hull to weather cannon-fire, it's only natural that there's going to be some vagueness and necessary abstraction when we apply that same concept to our video game heroes. They may as well be health pineapples, after all.
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.