Retro Gamer - - A MOMENT WITH -

Few western de­vel­op­ers had higher pro­files dur­ing the Nineties than id Soft­ware co­founder John Romero, and fewer still had a rock­star im­age to go with their fame. But af­ter help­ing id to make the FPS main­stream with in­stant clas­sics such as Wolfen­stein 3D, Doom and Quake, John parted ways with the small firm, and its re­main­ing de­vel­op­ers made the de­ci­sion to take their next project in a new di­rec­tion, as Quake II level de­signer Tim Wil­lits re­mem­bers. “Romero was let go, and we took a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to the next Quake game,” he tells us. “Kevin Cloud stepped up to lead the project and re­fo­cus us on some­thing that was more story-based and set in a dif­fer­ent uni­verse. Kevin had this great idea where he said: ‘Guns Of Navarone.’ That was the in­spi­ra­tion for Quake II, and it made sense be­cause in the movie the Al­lies had to knock out the big guns that the Ger­mans had be­fore they could as­sault. So in Quake II, your job would be to knock out the big guns be­fore the big drop­ships could come in. That’s why you were by your­self, be­cause the hu­man forces had sent in­di­vid­ual pods out since ev­ery­thing else was too big and would get hit by the big guns.”

Of course, since id’s lat­est project was tak­ing its lead from the Guns Of Navarone it would need an army as dark as the movie’s Nazi an­tag­o­nists, which Quake II artist Kevin Cloud de­liv­ered in the form of a race of macabre aliens called the Strogg. “With the Strogg, Kevin wanted to cre­ate an en­emy force that was uni­fied but ter­ri­fy­ing,” Tim ex­plains. “So the Strogg were part-alien, part-vam­pire; they weren’t like vam­pires, but they were vam­piric. Like the Borg [in Star Trek], their plan was that they would take over plan­ets, and then use body parts – liv­ing tis­sue and or­gans – in re­con­struct­ing them­selves and keep­ing them­selves alive. Be­cause they at­tacked dif­fer­ent plan­ets with dif­fer­ent crea­tures, each Strogg was dif­fer­ent, but the Strogg were also very uni­fied be­cause they were all part of a Strogg col­lec­tive.”

But as hor­rific as Kevin’s vi­sion for the Strogg was, the night­mar­ish aliens’ sci-fi back­story was clearly at odds with the Gothic hor­ror nar­ra­tive of id’s pre­vi­ous Quake ti­tle, which as Tim points out makes sense since Quake’s fol­low-up al­most be­came a stand­alone project that would likely have kick­started an en­tirely new id fran­chise. “We wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent with the next game, and we did con­sider not call­ing it Quake II,” Tim muses. “One of the names Paul Steed came up with, which I al­ways re­ally liked, was ‘Wor,’ but it was hard com­ing up with a name that ev­ery­one liked, so we just stuck a ‘II’ on the end of Quake. But it did hold true to that Quake DNA, where it was hard­core: there were big beefy weapons, there was over-the-top ac­tion and you were the hero sav­ing the world.”

But while id strived to in­stil Quake II with the key ten­ants of Quake’s core game­play, rather than re­work­ing the se­quel as a dark fan­tasy it de­cided to re­tain the project’s de­cid­edly sci-fi-themed nar­ra­tive. “We were a bunch of sci-fi nuts!” Tim rea­sons. “And it was re­fresh­ing for us to do some­thing new but kind of fa­mil­iar. With a sci-fi uni­verse there was the op­por­tu­nity to have su­per-cool weapons and we could have new types of crea­tures, so it re­ally gave a nice pal­ette to cre­ate a won­der­ful game.”

As well as favour­ing an al­ter­nate genre, Quake II would also dif­fer from its pre­de­ces­sor by hav­ing a co­he­sive back­story, which in­structed and in­formed the de­sign of the project’s full-mo­tion video in­tro­duc­tion and the look and an­i­ma­tion of its biome­chan­i­cal alien op­po­nents. “Quake was

Fol­low­ing John Romero’s de­par­ture, id Soft­ware de­cided that the fol­low-up to its all-con­quer­ing FPS Quake should be mis­sion-based and story-led. Tim Wil­lits ex­plains how this fresh new con­cept be­came Quake II Words by Rory Milne

kind of a mess,” Tim con­cedes, “al­though it was awe­some. But the Quake II team ral­lied be­hind one art style, one art di­rec­tion and story. We had bet­ter de­sign, and we were fo­cused. Paul Steed came up with our cin­e­matic in­tro, which was re­ally cool. He had worked on the Wing Com­man­der se­ries, and so he brought ex­pe­ri­ence of story-based sci-fi ac­tion games. Adrian Car­mack did amaz­ing con­cept work on the Strogg crea­tures, and then Paul added per­son­al­ity to the an­i­ma­tions.”

The fol­low-up to Quake was fur­ther dif­fer­en­ti­ated from the orig­i­nal game thanks to en­hance­ments that id’s lead coder John Car­mack made to his Quake en­gine that al­lowed it to ren­der brighter and far more colour­ful-look­ing lev­els. “We had a su­per­com­puter that was lit­er­ally the size of a re­frig­er­a­tor to process the light­ing for the maps – it was so cool! “Tim en­thuses, “No game had had coloured light­ing be­fore Quake II. So we were like kids with new toys; we went all crazy. I know there are some lev­els that look a lit­tle oddly-coloured, but it did give it a more colour­ful look. At the time it was like: ‘This is awe­some! Green and blue lights!’ We also had light bounc­ing – sim­u­lated ra­dios­ity – so ev­ery cor­ner of the world had some light­ing.”

Be­yond aes­thet­ics, the stages in Quake II also stood out from their Quake equiv­a­lents thanks to their more wide open and less lin­ear na­ture, which Tim puts down to ac­cu­mu­lated knowl­edge, a story-led ap­proach to level de­sign and the knowl­edge that PC gamers were con­tin­u­ally up­grad­ing their PCS with the lat­est tech. “We had more ex­pe­ri­ence mak­ing lev­els, and we were try­ing to tell more of a story. Like there was the jail, there was the hanger and the pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity, so we tried to give more iden­ti­fi­able lo­ca­tions to the ar­eas. Plus com­put­ers were run­ning faster. It was just a com­bi­na­tion of all that, re­ally.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, Quake II’S lev­els would be mis­sion­based, and un­like Quake its se­quel would re­quire

play­ers to make use of in­no­va­tive ‘hub’ ar­eas to jump from one stage to another and back again. “I can’t re­mem­ber if it was some­thing that we had con­sciously planned for or if it just evolved,” Tim pon­ders, “but you had th­ese mis­sions, and you would get ra­dio alerts, be­cause we just wanted to tell a bet­ter story and give a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence, and the hubs were a byprod­uct of that. The hubs made the en­vi­ron­ments richer, so the world felt like a real place that you were in­fil­trat­ing. They gave us the free­dom to re­use ar­eas and make play­ers feel like they were in real space.”

one in­no­va­tion that proved a step too far, how­ever, was the op­tion of res­cu­ing trau­ma­tised marines be­ing loaded into meat pro­cess­ing ma­chines in one of Quake II’S more grue­some mis­sions, the pro­cess­ing plant. “We had that one mis­sion with the pro­cess­ing plant,” Tim re­calls, “and you could just turn off the ma­chines. I think it was the lim­its of the game­play script­ing, where what do you do with the marines when they’re out? We didn’t have AI, so they wouldn’t fol­low you around. Plus those poor souls, they were al­ready dam­aged be­yond re­pair from the Strogg ex­per­i­ments.”

Aside from mak­ing de­ci­sions on level de­sign me­chan­ics, new weapons were be­ing de­signed for Quake II, al­though th­ese were com­ple­mented by a se­lec­tion of ex­ist­ing de­signs made pop­u­lar by ear­lier id FPS. “There were some tried-and-true weapons – the light­ning gun and the rocket launcher were from Quake,” Tim ac­knowl­edges, “plus we had ma­chine guns and the BFG from Doom, but Quake II was sci-fi, so we also had hy­per blasters. We tried to make the new Quake II weapons ex­cit­ing and in­ter­est­ing, but yet re­mem­ber that they al­ways ful­filled a pur­pose in a sit­u­a­tion. At id, we’ve al­ways be­lieved in sit­u­a­tional weapons. So if a guy is close-up you use a shot­gun, if a guy’s far away you use your ma­chine gun. You’ve got pro­jec­tiles, ex­plo­sives to get that in­stant hit. Each of th­ese weapons ac­tu­ally fits a pur­pose of the game­play. So we would find a sit­u­a­tion that we wanted to en­gage an ad­di­tional weapon for and then come up with a weapon.”

Ar­guably the most mem­o­rable of the weapons to make its de­but in

Quake II was the now-leg­endary rail­gun, which Tim cred­its to com­pany re­search on ar­guably the most mem­o­rable big-screen ac­tion hero of the Nineties. “The rail­gun in Quake II was in­spired by Eraser – the Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger movie,” Tim re­veals. “I went to see it with the guys, and the next day I went to John Cash. I told John: ‘It’s like a rocket, but it’s an in­stant hit – it’s called a rail­gun!’”

Per­haps rea­son­ably, given the de­struc­tive power of Quake II’S rail­gun – not to men­tion its other deadly ar­ma­ments, the game’s sole an­i­ma­tor Paul Steed de­cided that the fo­cus of th­ese lethal weapons, the Strogg, should be dan­ger­ous even in their death throes. “Paul wanted to bring more per­son­al­ity to the crea­tures,” Tim rec­ol­lects, “so the marines could shoot their heads off, but they could still shoot

“The rail­gun in Quake II was in­spired by eraser – the arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger movie” Tim Wil­lits

back be­fore they died. He thought it added more meat to the game­play, so he drove that thought and in­spired us to do that. Paul was our only an­i­ma­tor, and he did model, too, so you could see his per­son­al­ity in some of the char­ac­ters in Quake II.”

But far from merely in­ject­ing their per­son­al­i­ties into Quake II, those work­ing on the ti­tle put ev­ery­thing they had into its de­vel­op­ment. Tim be­lieves that youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance ul­ti­mately got the game over the fin­ish­ing line, but he ad­mits to cut­ting things a bit fine when it came to putting to­gether the last re­main­ing stage. “We put some crazy hours in, but we were all young. We made the hanger mis­sion – which is not the great­est mis­sion in the world – in the weeks be­fore we shipped. It def­i­nitely came in hot!”

As well as a ma­jor share­holder in id Soft­ware, Ac­tivi­sion was also Quake II’S pub­lisher, and al­though the firm trusted id to de­liver on time, it did have is­sues with the fact that the game re­quired a fast PC that was prefer­ably equipped with top-end graph­ics hard­ware. “Ac­tivi­sion was con­cerned that you needed to have a graph­ics card,” Tim ac­cepts, “that it was re­quired for Quake II. But you know what? By the time Quake II came out ev­ery­one was pretty hot for the new graph­ics cards and CPUS. It was kind of the norm. Quake II was not the only game that you needed to buy the new cards for. The Epic guys were mak­ing great stuff, and there were lots of games com­pa­nies who were mak­ing cut­ting-edge games, so it wasn’t re­ally that big of a deal.”

“you know what? We did a lot of fun things, and it was a good time to be in the in­dus­try; it was a good time for id Soft­ware” Tim Wil­lits

On Quake II ’s re­lease, it be­came clear that Tim’s assess­ment of the wider gam­ing mar­ket had been cor­rect and that Ac­tivi­sion’s anx­i­eties had been un­founded. The game sold nearly a quar­ter of a mil­lion copies in its first few months on sale alone and gar­nered unan­i­mous praise from the press, praise that still en­dures to this day, al­though Tim’s mem­o­ries of the crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial re­sponse to Quake II have faded over time. “I don’t re­mem­ber. Did Quake II get good re­views?” Tim asks us. “I al­ways tried to fo­cus on the game. I re­ally loved work­ing on Quake II , and I felt per­son­ally that I had grown a lot as a de­signer. We had such fun mak­ing that game, and there was so much tal­ent. We were more fo­cused, we were more de­sign-driven and we all liked each other. So it re­ally showed in the prod­uct, you know. Quake II was a labour of love that I was very proud of.”

In the years that fol­lowed, id li­censed the en­gine that had pow­ered Quake II for use in a num­ber of pop­u­lar third-party ti­tles, each of which Tim viewed with pride. “They were all great,” Tim ex­claims. “I loved all of the Quake II en­gine games. We were blessed to work with teams like Raven, Rit­ual and Ac­tivi­sion that took the Quake II en­gine and did amaz­ing things with it. And look at

Half-life, which changed the in­dus­try, I mean, it was awe­some. They felt like id games. I al­ways brag about the ori­gins of those games and how they were based on id Soft­ware tech­nol­ogy. We were al­ways a small com­pany, so we had a small foot. But we had a gi­ant foot­print, and that was the soft­ware – that was al­ways a point of pride.”

When look­ing back at Quake II, Tim of­fers an equally en­thu­si­as­tic ap­praisal, with his one caveat be­ing his con­vic­tion that the much-loved id FPS should’ve had a dif­fer­ent name and should’ve been the first chap­ter in a new fran­chise. “Well it’s still fun,” Tim notes, “there’s still a ton of peo­ple that re­ally love it. We made the rock­ets slower than Quake, and some peo­ple are sad about that. Some peo­ple love Quake II’S speed, some peo­ple pre­fer Quake’s speed; it just de­pends on which Quake you played first. Quake II should have been called some­thing dif­fer­ent in my per­sonal opin­ion – I will say that. But you know what? We did a lot of fun things, and it was a good time to be in the in­dus­try; it was a good time for id Soft­ware. And then, of course, the great­est gun ever was the rail­gun. Quake II was the cul­mi­na­tion of the peo­ple that worked on it, be­cause ev­ery­one was pretty unique and dif­fer­ent in the team, and we re­ally tried to be pretty flat in our de­sign struc­ture. So it was fun to work on the game.”

» [PC] The open­ing scene in Quake II de­picts the crash-landed cap­sule of the game’s hero.

» [PC] Quake II ’s ini­tial weapon is fairly in­ef­fec­tive, but heav­ier duty ar­tillery is scat­tered through­out the game.

» [PC] Tank Com­man­ders are as hard as nails, and you face two at once in Quake II ’s palace.

» [PC] Ex­pect a blood bath when you reach Quake II ’s fi­nal show­down with Strogg leader Makron. » [PC] One of Quake II ’s few aerial foes, Icarus travel in packs and makes for a tricky tar­get.

» [PC] Half-man, half-ma­chine and com­pletely lethal: Quake II’S Su­per Tank is a se­ri­ously tough boss. » [PC] Al­though rel­a­tively easy to dis­patch, the bar­racuda in Quake II can rapidly de­stroy your health points.

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