QuakeWorld Launch Event Review
by Dave "Fargo" Kosak
September 19, 1996
I'm a writer at an interactive media agency here in New York, and I've been trying to drum up some support here for getting our agency involved in the online gaming arena. I thought the QuakeWorld premiere would be the perfect opportunity to get the scoop on things, so after a few quick calls to the friendly folks at Pseudo Productions, I managed to get myself invited. Pretty exciting; for a techno-geek of my generation, seeing the folks at id is like meeting the Beatles.
The building that housed Pseudo featured an elevator, clearly built during the Civil War, that hissed and wheezed its way up to the top floor where it opened up to reveal a big room full of the most advanced personal computer architecture available. Roughly 20 Pentium Pro 200 computers were arranged in a gigantic oval. Huge eerie candelabras--some adorned with skulls--dripped red wax all over the expensive computers and provided flickering illumination. In the corner a gigantic battle-mech fired away at us with a strobe-light chaingun. People milled about all over the room. Three categories: gamers, who were concentrating almost exclusively on the massacre of all the other gamers. Cameramen, who were busy shining bright lights on the monitors and taking pictures, making every effort to disrupt the gamers (who went instinctively into rocket-dodging mode every time a flash went off). And reporters, who seemed to have no idea what the importance of all this was. I don't blame the latter for their confusion. I was disappointed to discover that they had elected not to demonstrate QuakeWorld after all. I presume that it hadn't been polished in time: showing an incomplete product to the media world might have been a problem. So a handful of normal games were being run instead, eight players each. Another server ran a game open to the Internet, although folks logging in to play were easily at a ping disadvantage to those sitting around the room a couple feet from the server. The gamers in the room, on the other hand, were treated to smooth-as-silk connections to the Pentium Pro 200 servers at the end of the room. It was the server equivalent of using the thunderbolt to kill a rotweiler -- Even Carmack admitted that that was "overkill." Every machine had 17" monitors, some of which were broadcast onto projection screens around the room. Others were specially equipped: the machines enhanced with the Creative Labs 3DBlaster were particularly impressive. One was set up in the corner on single-player mode at the highest resolution I've ever seen (1024X1024? I should have checked). The wall textures were completely smooth when you stood next to them, and I found myself running up to the monsters while they blasted away at me just to see how great they looked. The speed was impressive: I've no doubt that the sophistication of the Quake engine will allow it to grow into all the new hardware we'll be seeing in the next couple of years.
The clan wars were the best part of the evening. Lined up on either side of the table, they slammed it out in gruesome four-on-four teamplay deathmatches, hollering trash talk across the table and whapping each other on the back after terrific kills. This kind of experience was new to me, having always to settle for Internet play from a solitary machine. The excitement that the mutual adrenaline generated was, to me, a clear sign that "location-based entertainment centers" (basically LANs with the latest hardware that charge people to play, much like arcades) might probably be a great idea after all. The folks of the Unholy Alliance (who wore matching T-shirts), by the way, decimated the RevCo clan. It was gruesome. But watching the Alliance's cooperative tactics ("Cover me!" "I got the door!") made me think they earned the victory.
Of course I played whenever I got the chance. Normally I do excellently, but surrounded by the best of the best in the Quaking world, I found that it was a tremendous challenge just to remain above average on the frag count! I was often jockeying with about four other players just for the 3rd or 4th ranked spot, and sometimes I was downright humiliated by the steel rain of death that the others were constantly spewing my way. While blasting away I managed to talk with a couple of reporters, trying to explain the lure of a multiplayer 3D perspective shooter. It taps into some sort of primal instinct... It draws the user into a fabricated world and forces the animal survival instincts to emerge ... to kill or be killed, to fight or flee.
The sheer magnitude of id'saccomplishment was evidenced by what I call "The Quake Dance." You could literally look down the line at all the people playing this computer game and they would twist their body or twitch and duck as on-screen projectiles hurtled at them. It was very personally gratifying to attach some faces to the names of people who made the Quake phenomenon possible. Not only the tremendous talent at Id, but also the folks around the net who helped the Quake community become so strong, such as the webmasters of Quakeholio or Blue's Rag.
The worst part of the evening for me was when somebody snuffed their match out into my Pepsi. I can only hope that at some point during my online exploits that I managed to rocket their rear all over some rafters. The best part was when I was playing the game with a small boy next to me offering advice. He couldn't have been very old--he seemed to have difficulty grasping the difference between single player and deathmatch, and declined my offer to let him play. When I showed him how I could type messages to the other gamers, he thought that was great. Then out of nowhere he says to me, "Tell them they all play like shit." At such an innocent young age he already understood the value of trash talk.