Quakecon 2006

Quakecon Logo

On a personal level, Quakecon was an immense joy. There was always something entertaining happening. Even when a third of the network lost power for a short while the spirit was fun. I got to meet even more interesting people this year, including several game developers I considered prominent and highly respected.

On a development level things went pretty good, considering the circumstances. I was happy to see Carcinogen again, and meet his girlfriend for the first time (who was also great). However, it turned out that Carcinogen and I were the only ones there to represent Team Reaction. Likewise, Wirehead Studios was being represented only by Dr. Jones, Kenny, and Lee'mon.

I knew a lot of people weren't going to be able to make it this year due to personal issues, and Quakecon's late announcement, but to actually get there and see that it was just us was depressing. I'd have probably remained depressed if I lingered in the BYOC (Bring Your Own Computer, a several-thousand-man network) on my own trying to crack out an asset or two over the weekend.

That wasn't the thing to do this year, and I knew it. Usually these meetings are a good chance for a significant portion of the team to crack out a lot of code and art, as well as beta test. We obviously didn't have the showing for that, so we all moved on to more productive matters; socializing.

It surprised me to find how much I had changed since my last Quakecon two years ago. Whereas before I'd be shrugged off by the celebrities in id Software's world, now I could somehow get their attention, and keep it until we both agreed the exchange had reached it's end. Every id Software employee I spoke to seemed a lot more engaging this year. And then there was Splash Damage...

I approached Fluffy_gIMp, Splash Damage's Creative Director. I had a lot of questions about Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. Just how much was their map format changing? Were they forced to make major modifications to Doom 3's net code? How did they like having the atmospheric control they were striving for since RtCW:ET?

They were happy to take any questions they had answers to, and referred me to someone else, or the panel the following day, for answers they didn't have. But my questioning started to become ever more personal. I don't remember my last query before they came up with a question of their own. Fluffy_gIMp asked me, "so just who are you?"
"Oh, I'm just some mapper for Team Reaction--"
"Team Reaction?! Really?! How are you guys doing? How's Lifer doing? What are you up to?"
For the first time in more than a year I felt the excitement of being a member of Team Reaction. These guys knew our work. Hell, they knew it well! Many people that had been on the team for a while had played almost everything released by Team Reaction since Jailbreak.

We talked a bit more after that, and then I returned to our spot at the BYOC to relay the exchange to Carcinogen. We wound up calling Lifer who also seemed surprised to hear that a Director from Splash Damage had asked about him.

Things went great after that. We held a meeting with what few we had to bust out some definitions and brainstorm over our design documents, and initiatives we could take to get people working, and recruit. That was still a good meeting, we just need to act on the action items.

I would later meet up with Fluffy_gIMp again at the smokers' "oasis." There was some small talk about the weather in Texas, versus that of England, and other trivialities. It wasn't long, though, before we got into something more engaging. Height-maps versus models for local map generation.

We didn't necessarily disagree, no one was arguing one method superior over the other in a universal sense. Our opinions didn't align perfectly however. Due to their assets they found the speed of height maps preferable. Due to my assets, I found the complexity of models preferable. I could see where they were coming from, but I needed to illustrate where I was coming from with something more than language.

In the heat of the discussion, I asked them to come to my computer in the BYOC. I pulled up a texture set I had been working on recently to demonstrate geometry difficult to replicate in a height map, but not out of place in a realistic game. We each gave a try to recreating one of my examples in photoshop. I wasn't experienced enough with height maps, and them handicapped without their own workstations (and their own version of photoshop, and probably a wacom tablet), meant none of us could do it. However they were kind enough to demonstrate other geometry and we eventually parted ways (Locki located us out smoking again and insisted they worked too much, which I had to agree with by now).

In the midst of it all, they asked me for a business card! Me! Who the fuck am I to have a business card?! It was the first time in my entire life I regretted not having a business card!

Next year, I will have business cards.


It Started with Splash Damage

Splash Damage Logo

I love Splash Damage. Having browsed a good share of mod team websites, I can tell you that Splash Damage is, by far, the best named mod team ever to come out of the Quake community.

Their emergence, talent, and drive would ultimately propel the entire team to full-fledged, professional, game-studio status. I played, and loved, their first mod. Quake 3 Fortress was a faithful recreation of the original Team Fortress for Quake. However, they didn't stop there. They made many innovations, taking advantage of better graphics, better physics, and even accommodated the deaf with a symbolic sound system. It was a great game, with a great community. I played all the time after working on Tremulous.

So one day, probably while working on a website, Carcinogen messages me. It was a pleasant surprise. Carcinogen had worked on Tremulous with me. He proceeded to tell me how he was now a member of Team Reaction, and how work was going well on Quake 3 Gloom, but they could always use an additional developer.

By this time I had gotten over my disdain for the mod team. It felt like it had been so long since that foolish bickering that lead to my over-dramatic exit from the community and alliance with Black Knight Productions. In fact, I was interested in finding out how the team was doing, not just on a development level, but personally as well.

He told me that things had been going well, and he was excited. He was gushing enthusiasm, and in the midst of it, leaked various screenshots and videos of maps, and models, and told me how the game logic was coming along. If you ever meet Carcinogen in an enthusiastic mood you'll find it's the most infectious enthusiasm one could ever experience. By the time we finished talking I knew I had to get in on this

And so he encouraged me to do what I did best, map. And so I did. And along the way I learned of Q3map2. This was a compiler for Quake III: Arena maps rewritten by RR2DO2, a programmer with Splash Damage. It had become the de facto compiler for Q3A maps, and for good reason. Its feature set was amazing. It allowed precise control over every pixel in the map. From its position, and texture coordinates, to its light level. I dove into Q3map2 and devoted myself to learning every aspect of Q3A's shader language while I was at it. I began producing objects and rooms that I didn't think were possible in Q3A. The power of these two versatile tools was exhilarating. I was being invited into Team Reaction's development channel. I really thought I had a chance to make it.

Things start to get a little fuzzy after that. I guess work and issues with my girlfriend at the time started to consume me. I later learned that Splash Damage had gone professional!

It was amazing, I didn't see it coming, but I was too busy with other matters at the time to get back to modding.

Eventually things settled down. My girlfriend and I broke up, and I started doing better at work. I soon met a new girl, a wonderful girl. So wonderful in fact that she invited me over to her house the night we met, and I simply never left!

She was (and still is) a fun-loving but responsible girl, and I wanted to avoid being any sort of burden on her. Over the previous few years, my credit had been shot, and I was suffering from other personal problems that she helped me address.

By this time Quakecon 2004 was coming. I described it to my girlfriend and she was adament that we go there. And so I did, where I met Carcinogen in person for the first time, as well as other members (current and former) and several gloomers. This was right after Doom 3's release. Thus, a big question all of Team Reaction had was if we should move Gloom to this new engine.

We learned how mod-friendly it was (the most modifiable release to date), but also learned that asset creation was difficult. Taking tips from Robert Duffy, and Brian Harris, I created some proof-of-concept assets to demonstrate to myself and others what we'd be working with. It didn't take us long to decide we were going to the Doom 3 platform. To help in the monumental task of creating a total-conversion for Doom 3, we formed an alliance with Wirehead Studios.

By the end of 2004, I committed to working for my company in Iraq. The deal was pretty sweet, as it was pitched to me. 10 hour work days, seven days a week, but no living expenses and an insane amount of money made it irresistable. I got back in contact with Team Reaction and informed them of my good fortune. A 70-hour work week with no commute, and no chores, meant 36 good working hours that I could dedicate to Gloom each and every week for a whole year! Surely I'd wind up making half the levels for the mod with that much time!

Yeah right. The money was good but you worked from the the time you awoke, til the time you went to sleep. When it comes to infrastructure, especially computer infrastructure, in Iraq, nothing goes right. I worked on Gloom whenever I had a few free hours and wasn't completely exhausted, or completely indespensed while deployed at a remote site. My contributions were dismal. So I started learning how to create a greater variety of assets, such as textures.

Over that year, I watched my fellow team-members' enthusiasm wane. One-by-one, a developer would disappear. At first for a little while, and then a bit longer, then longer still.

I got home and underwent some surgery (the ability to afford which was a big drive for going to Iraq) in early 2006. The general anaesthetic made me completely useless in any creative capacity though. I'd open D3Radiant, or Photoshop, and simply stare at it. I'd make some shapes or simple geometry, just to prove to myself that I still knew how to operate the tools. I certainly did, I was as fluent as ever, but I couldn't make anything interesting.

Then for the next few months, I started learning how to model. I decided I wanted to know how to make almost every asset one can include in Doom 3, and I learned well. During this time, Carcinogen would call everyone he could and try to get them back together. They'd get excited and be back for a while, but then their interest would wander and we'd suddenly stop hearing from them again.

The next Quakecon was drawing closer, and I was certain it would be the best way to rally the troops...

A Little History

Team Reaction Logo Wirehead Studios Logo

I'm a member of Team Reaction. They were pretty notorious amongst fans of id Software's video games.

Team Reaction created a number of mods, the ones I played are:

Each of these mods ran on Quake II (Q2). Each of them brought revolutionary gameplay to the ever-popular first person shooter genre. There were also sequels made , Q3Jailbreak and Q3pong that ran on Quake III: Arena (Q3A).

With each release Team Reaction became stronger. Gameplay became increasingly innovative. Design became ever more beautiful and complex, ultimately looking better than the game on which these mods were based (in my opinion). This isn't to say that the programmers and designers were better than id Software. Far from it. Give id Software incentive to release new content on their 3 year old engine and you'd have astonishing results. In fact, id artists did release content for Q3A more than a year after its release. The art was definately impressive, and their seniority on their own platforms is clearly established with releases such as those.

Every artist hits engine limitations eventually though. Team Reaction's artist hit them, as id Software's did (or would). If you're not convinced of my mod team's talent yet, then you probably won't be. It's hard to look back on history and declare works to be ahead of their time when you weren't involved and the work wasn't documented for posterity.

Suffice it to say, they were the premiere mod team in the id universe once Valve bought Team Fortress Software. They remained so throughout Quake II's life. In fact, people still play Quake 2 Gloom to this day. Every now and again, you hear about servers getting started with their other mods out of nostalgia. I've never heard people disappointed with the gameplay to this day. These mods really are classics.

Wirehead Studios was the runner-up in the days of Quake 2, they were working on a mod that incorporated all elements of gameplay from all of id's releases to that date. Due to legal concerns expressed by id Software, development was halted. As far as I know, Wirehead Studios retreated to discuss their next mod.

(It should be noted, at this point, that id Software did not threaten Wirehead Studios with legal action. To my knowledge, their request to halt development came after much deliberation, very regretfully. As I understand it, the communication was very respectful. Wirehead complied because they respected id, and id respected them, and neither wanted to cause trouble for the other. This was the way things were in the Quake modding community. If Kenny, Dr. Jones, or anyone else from Wirehead wants to correct me or has something to add, please do so. These are the events as I recall them being an outside observer at the time.)

When Quake 3: Arena was released, Team Reaction got to work, and so did Wirehead Studios. Ultimately both teams met with great success. Team Reaction released Q3Pong, and Q3Jailbreak, even as a recent competetor released Prisoners of War on the same engine with similiar gameplay. I feel it necessary to mention that the makers of Prisoners of War, Black Knight Productions, consisted primarily of former Quake 2 Jailbreak players that didn't agree with politics of how Team Reaction interacted with thier community at the time. It is so necessary to point out because the mods were ultimately merged into Jailbreak: Prisoners of War. It was a great mod, the ultimate realization of that type of gameplay. Once again, illustrating the nature of the Quake modding community. Rivalries can be fierce but are short-lived. Everyone wins when everyone cooperates. Developers in id Software's world know this, it's a universal.

As it turns out I was quite the rogue. Disgruntled with the constructive peace talks occuring between Black Knight Productions and Team Reaction at the time, I left to join another venture. My second chance to square off with Team Reaction was with the mod Tremulous. This mod was being pitted against the rumored Quake 3 Gloom before Team Reaction even publically announced it. This time we were going to make things very different from the original mod, a merge wouldn't be possible. However gameplay would be nestled securely in Quake 3 Gloom's realm. I wound up being removed from that team, along with almost everyone else, in a move that infuriated me at the time. I still think my removal was in err, but the animosity between Timbo (lead developer) and myself is gone these days. I congratulated them this year when I spotted them on the front page of digg. The dedication of the new team is impressive, and I wish them luck in future versions and whatever new projects they choose to undertake.

In the meantime, Wirehead Studios had released a beta version of Generations Arena. It was well recieved, and continued to attract increasing attention all the way to their 1.0 release and beyond. Quake 3: Arena's assets included all the intellectual property from all the previous games except Castle Wolfenstein. This made it possible for them to realize the unification of more than half a decade's most popular deathmatch titles into one game! This is another amazing mod, still played today, with outstanding features. Weapons, physics, and art are all faithfully recreated in this huge mod. I highly reccomend trying this out, the minor differences between the various universes represented give the game a huge and dynamic range of gameplay experiences.

Thus we have a brief description of two of the greatest mod teams in Quake history. Members of both Team Reaction and Wirehead Studios were "sniped" by professional video game development studios over these years. They've already left a legacy.

It is my hope that this isn't the end of their legacy. But before I continue with Team Reaction and Wirehead Studios, it is necessary to introduce another mod team to define the situation they're both in today...


I'm Not Emo, But I Play One On the Internet

Really I'm not. Some might call me goth (or used to [or never did (that's the way things go in the goth subculture)]).

Don't let the parentheses get to you too much. I rarely nest one parenthesis in another. This is the only time, that comes to memory, when I've nested them three deep in text I thought someone else might read.

This post also isn't about my (questionable) subculture.

I intend this to be a warning. This is my personal space. So claimed, only to secure my desired subdomain (onu). I've always kept a horrible weblog at this address, deleting it on a periodical basis, in order to keep this subdomain.

This time, I'll probably use this thing instead of letting it sit and collect whatever ethereal dust coats old and useless relics of so-called "information" scattered about the web. It's probably not going to be an appealing weblog. In fact, I intend to complain here. Yes, I intend to complain here a lot.

However, I pursue this endeavor with some hope this time. Indeed, this weblog will be part of the solution to my many (percieved and self-made, equating to nothing in a relative sense) problems.

So let's get started.