I was addicted to Doom, as I think most of us really were. It was a lot of fun to run around as the muscle-bound hero, blasting hordes of anonymous alien monsters. I had a ball! Then I discovered the joys of multiplayer deathmatch, and my life was never to be the same.
I played multiplayer Doom via DWANGO - now unfortunately defunct - and dial-up connections to my friends. This was all radically new to me at the time, as I barely knew what PPP stood for, or what an IP address was. But I did know that I enjoyed strafing down a hallway backwards, watching the blue zig-zag from my plasma gun, and hearing my buddy’s character scream in agony! We played on hundreds of custom WADs - even dabbled with making our own - and evaluated many of the popular Total- and Partial-Conversions. My favorite was the Aliens TC (Check those corners!). It was one on one, generally. When connected to DWANGO, we enjoyed the massive bloodfest of a four-man free for all. The thrill of victory - of proving your prowess in the hunt, weapon selection, and map strategy - was fantastic. The crush of defeat was mitigated by the intense adreneline rush and pure joy of competitive gaming.
I’d spent months reading about Quake. I downloaded the QTEST, and tried desperately to get my 14.4 modem to sustain a connection on Kali. I downloaded all the various hacks to enable the monsters. My appetite was voracious. Then the shareware release hit the FTP servers. I spent hours downloading - sitting at my monitor waiting with baited breath for the status counter to hit 100%. After some intense shock at the addition of the third dimension, I raced through the single player missions. I quickly learned to master the mouse. Freelook became my friend.
My first game of Quake online, with 7 other players, was fantastic! I was in sheer awe, admiring the quality of the character graphics. I looked at the level design. I shot the rocket launcher, just to watch the explosions. I lobbed grenades everywhere, amazed at the arc of the deadly pineapple. I was addicted, all over again. I spent countless hours playing Quake with complete strangers. Racing around corners to confront enemy fire. Learning exactly how big the splash radius was from the rocket launcher. Timing grenade launches almost perfectly. Finding every tactical nuance to all (eight!) of the maps.
Now, many computer upgrades and game modifications later, I look at the upcoming crop of games. Not one of them catches my fancy. The novelty of true competitive gaming made easy, as embodied by the original Quake, has yet to be duplicated. No single game or game feature sparks any interest. I’ve grown weary of mindless deathmatch. “Why am I here, shooting these people? Is it just for frag count? Is that the only indication of skill?” Questions such as these filled my head. Ping discrepencies also affected my attitude toward online gaming. Zoid’s original Threewave Capture the Flag was a breath of fresh air into the stagnating online gaming world. This was a fresh addiction; but it, too, became bland.
During all of this, a whole online community sprang up. Blue’s Quake Rag became Blue’s News. PlanetQuake was born, and matured. My personal favorite of the time, Quake Command, provided some of my favorite modifications (the original flamethrower; oh how I loved it!). My daily ritual involved a quick skimming of the major sites, then several hours playing Quake. I found the Quake Clan Database days after its inception, and quickly aligned myself with one of the original twelve clans.
From this came some great friendships, which exist today. I’ve travelled across the country to visit the friends that I met in my Quake clan.
Enter Quake II. The much stronger single-player campaign held my interest a lot more (I’ve never completed the full Quake I single-player campaign, all the way through). The new weapons presented a whole new set of skills to master. The new levels were beautiful. My new graphics accelerator made the colored lighting look absolutely fabulous. The monsters were gloriously detailed. The sound effects were rich. The flow of adrenaline was constant. It was a good game.
But what did it add to gameplay? Very little. It took months for the official Capture the Flag modification to be released. Without it, it was the same old mindless killing of people for no particular reason. It was, frankly, boring in concept. Oh sure, the visuals were engaging. The maps were challenging. The weapons were new and fun. But the gameplay was boring. Even CTF, once released, failed to keep my interest for more then a few weeks.
Then I stumbled upon a wonderful modification: Rocket Arena 2. I’d heard about Rocket Arena for Quake I, but never investigated it. I downloaded a beta version of Rocket Arena 2, and was immediately hooked. Once again, I was eager to get home from work, and play! Hours would go by as I played round after round of RA2. What a fabulous modification.
But now, I haven’t played Quake (I or II) in several months. Starsiege:TRIBES has currently gained my favor. Because it makes sense. Here’s a game specifically geared towards cooperative online multiplayer gaming. Capture the Flag, Capture and Hold, Defend and Destroy - this isn’t mindless and mind-numbing elimination of your opponents. This is the attainment of an objective. Acquiring the enemy flag, holding a check point or structure, or destroying the enemy base - clearly defined mission objectives within the framework of a quality first-person gaming engine.
What is the point of the essay above? To express my disappointment in the maturing gaming industry. No longer are we seeing truly innovative games coming from the strongest developers. id software is churning out their third Quake title, which will sit aside nearly countless professional and user-created mission packs. No new game play is being developed. Unreal is taking much the same approach - focusing more on a solid multiplayer foundation than on providing a quality gameplay experience. Half-Life was a good addition to the FPS market, with its incredible single player missions. I was engrossed in Half-Life more than any other game I’ve played recently. I couldn’t wait to get home to play it.
Games like The Dark Eye by Inscape, or The Neverhood by Dreamworks, really catch my fancy. These games force me to think creatively. They can be funny and irreverant, or morbid and morose. I understand that they are in a completely different segment of the gaming industry, let alone differen genres, but I wish that game developers would look to these bargain bin titles as inspiration for ways to improve the content of their own games. Run, shoot, die, respawn and repeat does not a good game make. What has been introduced into the FPS market lately that truly makes a better game? Even my favorite, TRIBES, doesn’t add much that is new - TeamFortress focused on cooperative teamwork for the Quake players in much the same way.
Why is the focus today on taking a good product and driving it into the ground? Why can’t developers move away from a successful title and create some quality new products? Is it that hard to have a brainstorming sessions to work up some creative content for a new title? The recently announced Opposing Forces add-on for Half-Life, while falling prey to the above criticisms about sequel and add-on mania, sidesteps a lot of the actual meat by allowing me to play in the same world but from a different perspective. Now that is refreshing!
I would like to see original content coming from game developers. I realize that id software has been making a slow direction change towards developing solid game architecture / engines, and then allowing third parties really make it shine with good content. Is the industry as a whole so terribly afraid of making something really new? Have the suits of the corporate world so tainted the developers by insisting that people will only buy a product based on a previous success? It’s a sad day indeed, for the gamers.