Among amateur rocket-launching circles, there's a bounty called "The Carmack Prize". It's named for id boss, Doom co-creator and budding rocket scientist John Carmack, and will reward anyone who can get a home-made rocket 100,000 feet into space and capture some GPS data from it.
The first people to claim the prize will pick up $10,000 from Carmack. Nobody has managed the feat yet, but late last month a team got awful close.
On September 30, Derek Deville made a rocket, named it Qu8k (pronounced "Quake", and using the classic id shooter's logo), stuck a camera and some GPS gear to it and shot it off a launch pad in Nevada's Black Rock Desert.
Sadly, he wasn't able to get a GPS reading from the rocket, but as you'll see from the footage above, he at least got the 100,000 feet part under his belt. While the beginning of the clip focuses on Qu8k's launch, eventually you'll get to some amazing scenes from a camera attached to the rocket's casing, which shows...well, what the Earth looks like to a home-made rocket that's just been shot 121,000 feet into space.
If you're wondering why Carmack has his name attached to the prize, he's a budding rocketeer himself, with one of the leading entries in a NASA competition to build a home-made lunar lander.
There's a peculiar tension at the heart of Quake. Something's not quite right. For this reason it's a game that sits apart from id's other efforts while at the same time still being fundamental to the overall Brown Corridor heritage of the shooter genre.
It was a game that did so very much to evolve and define the FPS, and yet it does not fit so easily into the conventions that the Texan Doom-makers' other games wallow in. This tension is what makes it one of the developer's most interesting games.
Like all the shooting games whose existence has spilled from the number-fuelled mind of John Carmack, Quake's primary contribution to the history of games was technical. The 3D engine was a significant development atop what was prevalent at the time, and it introduced the minor revolution of "mouse-look" - that is free all-axes viewing using the mouse - to the majority of 1996's shooter players.
Up until that time gamers had been playing along flat axes, usually with "faked" height. But Quake made things truly three-dimensional, and this meant two things: levels which didn't have to shirk vertical complexity and, well, you could perform rocket jumps.
"It was the atmosphere and tone of the game that left its biggest impression on my imagination."
Rocket jumps were, of course, able to make Quake's tortuous, labyrinthine multiplayer maps faster to navigate, and were an unintended side-effect of the game's blast physics that became a defined skill within that multiplayer game and also with the bizarre phenomenon of speed runs.
It was the architecture of that multiplayer game that defined Quake's second contribution. Despite the richness of the world, the single-player was almost a prologue against the appeal and longevity of the multiplayer. In fact it was not Quake's 3D engine that really mattered to Quake, as powerful as it was. The technical project that had far-reaching consequences for multiplayer gaming was John Carmack's work on network code, which produced the kind of online deathmatch that still prevails today.
The Quakeworld update for the game, which introduced network code that would work feasibly over dial-up connections, was transformative: an action game that could, thanks to predicting where players were going to be, allow play at the high latencies that early modems had the contend with. Almost unimaginable now, in a world of ubiquitous broadband, but there was a time when a good chunk of gamers was unreachable in the evenings by their home phoneline, for reasons of Quaking.
Despite being shackled with tin-can communications tech, the sheer pace and intensity of Quake would daunt most modern players: the unrealistic physics and breakneck pace make Quake's multiplayer more like a twitchy kung-fu rocketry than the rather more pedestrian combat situations that shooters since Half-Life have delivered to us.
Enthusiasm for Quake's multiplayer game was ferocious, and id were quick to sponsor it - putting up Carmack's Ferrari as a prize in a 1997 tournament, won by the first notable FPS pro, Dennis "Thresh" Fong. The Quake scene surged across a nascent internet, and it was to define the pattern of FPS games for several years to follow.
The Quake template is one that is rarer now, due to its demands on player skill, but its influences are still felt in odd corners of modern game design, where the physics bounce players from the ground, and frictionless rocketry dominates the deathmatch.
Technology, however, is not wholly where Quake's value lies. Not to me, at least. It might have been the tech that rippled down the years, but it was the atmosphere and tone of the game that left its biggest impression on my imagination.
What I refuse to forget when looking back at Quake is how strange the flavour of the game, both mechanically and in its setting, really is. Quake was a game peculiar for almost refusing to tell a story, and setting itself in a world disconnected from standard fantasy, sci-fi, military, or post-apocalyptic templates that we see reused so routinely. Today, when every shooter imaginable is hammered across the contorted spine of some story or other, to be dropped in a bizarre world that served as little more than a container for violence and secrets is unusual indeed. Hell, it was unusual in 1996.
While the Dooms were sparse, they still told their tale of space marines versus the occult. Quake 2 and 4 focused on the rather more conventional "Strogg" story of space war between humans and their alien enemies. Quake itself stood apart, practically unexplained. The character was dropped into a byzantine world, and fought for his life, while checking every corner of the spiraling maps for secrets and hidden passageways.
The reason for this weirdness can be found in Quake's difficult and unlikely genesis. It was in fact a failed combat-based RPG. The id team's original plans for something more expansive after Doom quickly led back to a game that was even pacier and more focused on first-person close-quarters combat dynamics than Doom had been.
"It is a rumbling, speeding, frenzied dark masterpiece that deserves never to be forgotten."
But that had not been the original intention, because Quake had even once contained dragons and other trad fantasy standards. The id team's work took a darker turn as the RPG was eroded, but on close inspection you can see the echoes of the RPG-action game that, for a while, id thought it was making. As it turned out they ended up making a slick and minimalist FPS, but the ultra-gothic fantasy overtones remain. Quake is a shooter set not within a science fiction, or really within traditional fantasy, but in some kind of brutal, mechanistic pseudo-medieval realm in between.
This sense of rough-edged, grim fantasy design permeates the shooter, from its environments of clanking metal and rough stone, through to its monsters: savage sword-wielding skeletons, shambling giants that throw lightning-bolts, and Cthulhu-mythos boss characters that lurk in disturbing dungeon underworlds.
It is even reflected in the weapons: an axe, an archaic shotgun, a clonking gatling gun, a nail gun, a lightning gun like a giant magic wand. All this is set against a backdrop unlike normal fantasy Big Bad backstories, and quite unlike the other Quakes' galactic war, and even unlike the exposition-free Mars-demons of Doom.
Quake was set in a dimensional war of some kind, where raiders travelled through sinister "slipgates" to murder in other worlds. There was a whiff of beserk magic to the power ups, and the whole thing reeked of the dead remains of the game it might have been. Quake is a genre outlier in terms of setting and atmosphere, and as such one of my favourite games.
You can see why when people look at the other Quake and Doom games, they question whether a return to these evocative hybrid roots might not be a good idea.
Playing Rage this week has once again seen people raise the nature of id's "derivative" settings, as has happened numerous times in the past decade. Indeed, Rage does borrow heavily from post-apocalyptic cliche, lifted from Mad Max by countless driving and combat games, and most recently carved into our mainstream consciousness by Borderlands and Fallout 3. It seems to have almost no connection to Quake at all.
When contemplating the studio's colourful history of shooting games it's perhaps easy to glaze over the first Quake in the lineage. Not as infamous or as influential on mainstream perceptions as Doom, not perhaps as widely recognised as its first and second sequels, nor as notably disappointing as Doom 3, Quake is the game which is beginning to get fuzzy in our recollections.
It should not, because it is a rumbling, speeding, frenzied dark masterpiece that deserves never to be forgotten. And forget it I will not.
There are plenty of Doom coffee mugs laying around in the world of Rage. But that's not the little bit of Doom I'm talking about, I'm talking about some retro gameplay.
I love this sorta thing.
Earlier today we posted our walk-through video showing how you to find a little bit of Wolfenstein 3D inside id Software's Rage. Here's a look at how to find Quake in the game.
This time around you don't have to just bump into a wall, you need to track down four buttons, click em and then find a portal. Fortunately, Game Front walks you through it.
It's not every day you get to play a new id game. If you're not counting iPhone games (and we're not counting iPhone games) or re-releases, the last new title the studio released was Doom 3. And that was in 2004.
So this week's release of post-apocalyptic buggy death simulator RAGE is something to be treasured, whether it ends up a triumph or something...less triumphant.
Given the fact that id has been around for twenty years now, and in that time has released some of the best games ever made, I figured today was as good a time as any to look back on them.
In the gallery above you'll find clips of most of id's games. Some of them all-time classics, some of them games very few of you have played, and others are from the Commander Keen series. Because Commander Keen is awesome.
Dangerous Dave in Copyright Infringement (1990) - The game that started id, John Romero's unauthorised Mario port (using his Dangerous Dave character from a 1988 game) proving that id had the chops to pull off tech (in this case side-scrolling) on a PC nobody thought was possible.
Commander Keen (1990-1991) - One of the best, if not the best platforming series on the PC, id's Commander Keen saw six released in just two years, making the Green Bay Packers famous to millions of gamers outside the US.
Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion (1991) - John Romero's Dangerous Dave makes his id debut in another great platformer. Note the shotgun. id will be somewhat preoccupied with it in the future.
Rescue Rover (1991) - If you want to see what Portal would have looked like if it had been released in 1991 (and starred a dog), go play Rescue Rover. It would get a sequel in the same year.
Shadow Knights (1991) - id does Shinobi in yet another platformer, this time with ninjas.
Hovertank 3D (1991) - id get some 3D experience under their belts with Hovertank, which, as you can see, is Wolfenstein. With tanks.
Catacomb 3D (1991) - What the hell were id doing in 1991? Working nine day weeks? Catacomb was another 3D game, this time much more fully-realised, and clearly pointing the way towards....
Wolfenstein 3D (1992) - The game that gave id their big break. One of the most popular PC games of all time, and credited (if unfairly) of birthing the first-person shooter genre. Would get an expansion, Spear of Destiny, a year later.
Doom (1993) - Everything Wolfenstein did, Doom did better.
Doom II (1994) - A year after Doom, hell came to Earth with Doom II, which was bigger, badder and better than the original (if also largely identical, if you know what I mean).
Quake (1996) - Wolfenstein was a technical revolution. So was Doom. Could id's third shooter series continue the tradition? You bet it could. The world's first true 3D shooter was a revelation.
Quake II (1997) - Quake got itself an upgraded sequel a year later. It remains my favourite game of the series.
Quake III (1999) - Quake III tried something different, basically eschewing singleplayer content altogether in favour of a balls-to-the-wall multiplayer focus.
Doom III (2004) - All in all, a...disappointing game. A number of serious flaws, including a ridiculous flashlight mechanic, resulted in the first id game in over ten years to be met with anything less than overwhelming praise.
Rage (2011) - id's first major game release in seven years, its first designed with consoles in mind and its first since Hovertank to feature vehicles. To say it'll be interesting to see how it all comes together is something of an understatmenet.
Quake Live is a browser based free-to-play version of the classic FPS Quake III Arena that has been out of beta for a year. In a recent interview with VG24/7 id CEO Todd Hollenshead discussed what hasn't gone right.
"The thing for us with Quake Live is that there's one specific thing that can be isolated here," said Hollenshead. "The in-game advertising model hasn't delivered as promised."
While the service has been popular, it hasn't been as financially successful as other ad based online games. Due to different gameplay styles, ads are are easier to pass over in fast paced game like Quake Live. "For Farmville and those types of games embedded into Facebook—which are pretty pervasive about advertising—there' s a different model than what we have in Quake Live. You're playing through the game, and we're dynamically delivering ads to you."
Id has had their fair share of bad luck with the service as well. The advertising companies they work with were hit hard by the financial crisis. And four years after in-game advertising company Massive Inc. was acquired by Microsoft, the company was shut down.
"So that [shutting down Massive Inc.] had ramifications for us, because we used Massive. And if that was more successful, that'd have had some significant impact on what Quake Live is."
Quake Live isn't the only new gaming platform id has explored in recent years, as their iOS games have been extremely successful. But those games play more to id's strength. "Our skillset is leveraging our ability to create unbelievable graphics on, like, iOS devices," said Hollenshead.
Does a lack of success mean id is turning away from free-to-play Quake? They've already implemented an optional subscription model, added video advertising, and put ads on the Quake Live website. But the future is still unclear, but that doesn't mean the service is close to dying.
"So I still think the jury hasn't come in and given the verdict yet. As long as I've got an opportunity to try and do something with Quake Live—because I love the game—[I'll do it]." Said Hollenshead. "The game is an entertainment success, so now we have to figure out how to make the business model work."
Starting today, Steam is celebrating id and Bethesda's Quakecon with deals on their games. Sales will change daily from now until August 8th. Today's deals include discounted games, free-to-play Brink, and in-game specials for TF2.
Quakecon 2011 Steam Sale [Steam]
OK, so with QuakeCon this week it's a Bethesda marketing stunt (having published the last two Fallout games and owning id Software, the creators of Quake and RAGE), but these are cute enough to walk right on by that.
There are five items in total: the Sniper's Anger (based on the Resistance in Brink), the Soldier's Original (based on the rocket launcher from Quake), the Engineer's Pip-Boy (based on, well, the Pip-Boy from Fallout) and Wingstick (based on a weapon from RAGE) and the Heavy's Tamrielic Relic (based on a helmet from Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim).
No word yet on how you actually get hold of the items.
For a time, years, whenever a person talked about a first-person shooter they called it a Doom Clone. Such was the power, the influence of one of the first, first-person shooters, the proto-FPS.
But in establishing an entire genre, Doom also planted itself firmly in history, becoming a game that even its savvy creators seem to struggle to make meaningful in an age when first-person shooters are ever evolving and flooding the video game market.
Consider Doom 3, a game of light and shadows, that while delivering big scares and high scores, still felt like a dated game fighting to stay true to its roots.
In writing up my review of the game for the Rocky Mountain News, I said that "I wanted to be surprised and astounded. I wanted something that wasn't just a new look at a great game but a new take on that game.
Instead of bland graphics wrapped around an original concept, Doom 3 is a vivid world of monstrous creations laboriously detailed (down to their blood-spattered chests) in a tired concept all too familiar to a new generation of gamers brought up on first-person shooters.
When you strip away the eye candy, what you're left with is more of a virtual haunted house than the immersive experiences most of today's computer and video games have become."
As we approach another Quakecon and another chance for id Software to give us our first glimpse of Doom 4, I wonder what they might deliver, can deliver that would satisfy today's gamers without moving so far from the game's nexus that it becomes Quake, or Rage or any of the other popular shooters now flooding the market.
We don't know a lot about Doom 4, but based on what we do know, this is what I hope the game could deliver.
A Compelling Story
The Doom series has never been one to dwell much on plot and character growth. Doom 3 did try to correct that, and to some extent succeeded, but it was still fairly unsurprising stuff. So why do I think Doom 4 will be any different? Graham Joyce.
Brought in by id Software to "develop the story" for Doom 4, Joyce's surreal approach to science fiction, horror and fantasy could lend itself well to a story that already blends the occult with heavily-armed marines. Joyce's writing style, and personal beliefs, approaches the supernatural from a less antagonist point of view, with characters learning to deal with, rather than fight against that which they don't understand. Some have called it as a form of Magic Realism. Imagine a Doom 4 that is more Pan's Labyrinth then Brother in Arms in Hell.
High Tech, Id Tech Atmosphere
We know that Doom 4 is going to be using id Tech 5, the same graphics engine that built the impressive, wide-ranging Rage. That means it has the potential to do a lot of different things, in a lot of different settings very well. But what I hope id does instead is to narrow the focus of Doom 4, resisting the temptation to drop in vehicles, and big, open-world maps, instead using their tech to deliver small, labyrinthine settings thick with atmosphere.
When I think of Doom, I think of corridors, maze-like levels and lots of dark settings. Doom 3 beefed up the atmosphere, but did it in such a hand-holding way that it ended up shrinking the scope of the game. I want Doom 4 to deliver that same sense of dread in a place that lets me run and run and run, and hide.
Multitudes of Monstrous Monsters
Given the choice between a few sky-scraping demons bearing down on me and a room packed with low level demons, I'd take the multitude any day. I want the game's sense of scale to be more focused on the numbers than the size. If I'm fighting against the hordes of hell I want there to be hordes.
I also would love to see that amazing graphics engine used to deliver the sort of macabre, frightening, unnerving creatures we expect from id Software. That means taking a new, id Tech 5 pass at their demons, Barons of Hell, Pain Elementals. And there had better be a grotesque Spiderdemon or two in the game.
Take Back Online
How did Doom go from being the chief online game of its era to an afterthought of online play with Doom 3? Shortly after the original Doom's release the game had become so popular on work computer networks that companies like Intel, and Microsoft had specific policies against playing the game. There was even a program, of a sort, written specifically to detect and stop the game when it was found running on networks.
But when Doom 3 hit in 2004 it brought with it support for just four-player gameplay and four modes. Sure, the always-skilled mod community went back in and built in up to 16 players, but why wasn't id on top of that? This time around I hope to see a robust, fully supported online portion to the game, one rich with modes, options and mod support.
Doom 4 doesn't need to reinvent itself, it shouldn't. Instead id should look at what they've created over the years, and with the help of id Tech 5, create the best of Doom delivered with a graphics engine that we know can blow us away.
Of course, this is all just my opinion. What do you want from Doom 4?
In celebration of this weekend's QuakeCon and the 20th anniversary of id Software, id and Bethesda sent me the most hideous cake I've ever had sitting on my coffee table, and I shop at the Publix bakery.
The Strogg make great arena fighters, but their freakish alien visage doesn't exactly scream "eat me!" That's the players' job. Still this is one fine example of gaming confectionery, direct from pastry chef Mark Brickman of Baker's Man, Inc., the same guy responsible for sending me my very first game-related cake last year.
If only the children were old enough to eat cake and be terrified.