Quake trepidations 📄 posted at 20 August 2021 on new danboland

If you’re new to Quake (1996) and have stumbled across this post, congratulations! You are about to discover a thoroughly wonderful single-player FPS with a massive treasure trove of diverse and astonishing user-made maps and mods. Gamer tips: Don’t hoard your nails, rockets aren’t great against the big furry dudes, and check under the damn lifts. Please don’t let the party stop with just official releases though. The past few years have been a tremendous time for usermaps, and even just clicking “Random Map” on Quake Injector is a journey all its own.

For everyone else: I’m rather worried about the big new Quake re-release. The technical aspects aren’t what I want to talk about here – though seeing four splash intro videos, then a copyright notice, then a prompt to log into Bethesda’s online services before you get to the main menu is absolute clown shit, sorry. Really, I have little to say on the technical front apart from “it runs, it didn’t blow up my computer, but I was perfectly happy with Quakespasm-Spiked”.

My concern is where this re-release intersects with usermade maps and mods. (Note: I am not a mapper, or a modder. I’m not even a good player – vores scare me! It’s more than possible that I am not understanding this issue very well at all. Let me know.)

The new episode – which is a lot more ambitious and interesting than the one MachineGames put out in 2016, and worth playing – doesn’t run on Quakespasm-Spiked (a sourceport which is the gold standard in compatibility) and many existing works don’t work on this new release.

Copper is a gameplay mod that has become the base of many utterly wonderful projects recently – and we’re not talking about some manic content mod that adds five types of dragon and gives the axe a Picatinny rail here, Copper is more like a subtle unofficial patch than anything – this sourceport wants nothing to do with it.

Image: An error message displayed when trying to run Copper in the re-release. A good stout and stoic error message, at least.

Perhaps interoperability fixes will come – wouldn’t surprise me if this release was rushed a bit for Quakecon, but even the most ardent product defender would have to admit that this type of thing ranks just above “Ouya support” on a publisher’s priorities list. Or do we just blindly assume that the tiny group of FOSS sourceport devs will reverse-engineer whatever is needed into their work (or even be able to do so), possibly calcifying whatever design decisions were hastily made to chase a buck?

Mappers and modders may be forced to choose between developing for one or the other. Do they choose the technology they actually have some control over – FOSS sourceports – or the new “sexy” sourceport that lazy people1 are more likely to play? The one that unaccountably to God has a motion blur option?

They may not be able to make an impartial decision. Bethesda seem intent on including usermade maps and mods in their release, going forward. Will this be paying mappers to license their work – what does this mean for works that use community textures or other resources intended for a free mapping scene? Will this be commissioning full new works for their sourceport, as seems to have happened with the new episode – what happens to these works in the future? Will they just be left behind? Will they outright split an already rather tiny community? Money fundamentally changes everything – this is the point of money.

What happens once development of this release is inevitably stopped? Quake has not ever actually stopped developing in a technical sense – engines have expanded limits, added new functionality, extended formats and added entirely new systems like client-side QuakeC. It was the community that stood proudly and said no gods, no masters – it is now time for a 256MB heap size. This has been a largely cooperative process, made as a community, but the presence of a closed-source Official Sourceport calls it all into question. I’m not a mapper or a modder2, but targeting this sourceport seems a bit of a dead end.

Image: A scenic view from the Alkaline map set. Unfairly, I thought myself deathly allergic to techbase maps, but Alkaline more than makes the case. It also takes menu sound effects from Resident Evil. Two thumbs up.

Beth were pretty happy to sit on Quake’s name and do more or less nothing for over a decade. Fine by me - sell the id1/ directory needed to run a sourceport, know your role, shut your mouth. Make your hero shooter, put on your propeller hat and get to school, you little rascal. Quake belonged to the community, which controlled pretty much everything outside that directory.

But now that Quake’s single-player scene is enjoying some incredible momentum – created entirely by a pretty small community, making the game relevant again with unpaid talent, ambition and apparently sheer force of will – Bethesda are seeing some value that can be extracted. And as they do so, they will have little concern for the long-term health of what made it possible.

  1. There are consoles, I suppose – but with this comes the cosmic horror that somewhere, out there, someone is playing Quake with a gamepad for reasons beside severe disability. 

  2. It’s fun what you can do pissing about with QuakeC, though.