Here are some of my rants, previously hosted as a column on
peej'n'frib's. 3 brilliant episodes await
the reader, on retrogaming & doom, on mapophobia and the end of quake, and on
map editing & unrealed.
| I've always dispised retrogaming. To me, retrogamers are people that are
fooling themselves. The the fact that they talk about old games as if they are
the best ever created is because they remember how they experienced them back
then, and since then their rosy memories have only become rosier. If they
would play the game now the only reason they would enjoy it is because it
revives those precious memories, if at all. They certainly wouldn't enjoy a
similar old 2d game, as it can't compete with a game like Quake today, simple as
that. I always laugh at retrogamers, trying to piss them off by statements such
as "if it doesn't have polygons, it sucks". And I know I am right.|
I? because lately, I have been victim of this very phenomenon. I have become a
retrogamer. In the days where gamers are hastily trying to decide which game is
better, Q3 or UT, I have been playing tons of Doom & Doom2 megawads. I've always
had rosy memories about Doom, but for quite a while I shoved them out the window
because I knew Quake and friends are superior, and those memories of Doom I had
is exactly the kind of thing that fools retrogamers.
But then, largely
thanks to the new wave of sourceports that let me play Doom in GL, with
mouselook and all those other tricks I have become used to because of Quake, I
got into it again. And being wary of psychological effects of retrogaming, I had
a good comparison: I had just been playing Half Life, by many heralded as the
best single player experience in ages. Directly after HL I played a Doom2
megawad (called requiem) which for some reason I had never played before... and while I was halfway
that megawad the observation struck me: wow, this is actually more fun than HL.
There I was, staring at a bunch of pizelated sprites of the monsters I just
mowed down, in a room constructed in 2d of about 10 to 15 lines, with low res
textures on the wall which didn't fit together. And it had me drawn into the
game to a degree which HL's cleverly scripted in-game sequences hadn't been able
to do. Weird. Very Weird.
So am I a retogamer? Probably. Some of those
doom maps are downright ugly by todays standards, and you can only really
appreciate them if you dig the original Doom atmosphere. But something in
me wants to deny that this is purely retrogaming. For one, I had an honest
comparison: I had just played a state of the art game which everyone will agree
is top quality. And the wad I played I hadn't played before, so there was none
of that "oh yes, I remember this room, it used to scare me shitless when this
and that monster appeared" type of effect, so you could claim that it was so
enyoyable because it is actually a great game, even by todays standards, not
just in memory. Second, there is a more important technical issue: since games
made the leap from 2d to 3d, differences between games haven't been all that
big, and Doom is the first game in a line of games that are all equally capable
of creating great gameplay. Sure, compare Q3 graphics in GL with Doom in
software mode, and it looks like a world of difference, but do these graphical
improvements really matter that much? It may be safe to say that compared to the
jump from the old 2d side scrolling or top down jump & run or shooter games to
doom2, we will never see a change as big again.
So while the polygon nuts
are debating wether a game without volumetric fog will suck or not, let us
retrogamers do a quick comparison of Doom and the more recent engines, Quake3 in
particular. Because the question still looms, if there isn't all that much
difference between Doom and Q3, then why bother with Doom? Q3 is still better in
every way? Is it? It isn't?
We are all very familiar with Doom's biggest
shortcoming: it can't have a room above another room. For the rest, it is a
fully 3d game, the fact that it didn't have mouselook is not something
fundamental about the doom engine (see the old Hexen game). Sprites were flat,
but they were represented as 3d boxes in the world. Leaving out some silly
details, Doom is pretty much a 3d engine, and its limitations, in single player
anyway, are not that grave. The most interesting bit is where it is actually
superior to the Q3 engine, and this is quite significant.
First, and most
importantly, its visibility algorithm worked in 2d, not 3d. This makes it so
much more efficient, that there are hardly any limits to level construction,
Doom levels can be extremely open, and I don't just mean a couple of outside
areas. In Doom maps you can often look through the whole map, whereas in Quake
through to Q3 we have been burdened by things called "vis blockers" (u-bends,
s-bends, t-bends in hallways) that we are all familiar with, and we are still
far from getting rid of them (have a good look at q3test1 to see what I mean).
This is why many Doom maps have these unique atmospheres, whereas in the Quake
type games we are very surprised if we can catch some air from the neverending
dungeons, and even then outside areas are merely big rooms.
feature we haven't seen since Doom, and which was the result of its own
limitations is the amount of enemies you attack at once. As most people who have
played Doom, especially on the harder levels, will remember, this adds
tremendously to the excitement, and goes well with the open nature of the game.
It is so very different from the dungeons "walk around a corner, kill one
monster, walk around the next corner" type of gameplay. Some people thought that
we would get this type of gameplay back as soon computers would improve in their
geometry processing power, but sofar all we have seen is increase in complexity
of the actual models, rather than having more of them onscreen.
feature which occurred to me recently is the ability of Doom maps to completely
reshape themselves as play progresses. I have played many a map where I started
in a certain room, and by the time I had killed all monsters and collected all
keys, that area looked different beyond recognition: sectors had dropped to open
up whole areas, and the connectivity was completely reorganized. There is no way
you can do this in Q3, because it would completely ruin the static visibility
computation Q3 relies on.
There are other things which are great about
Doom, but here we enter the area of preference rather than technical
superiority. Of course I'm referring to things like playerspeed and
So to conclude, what am I saying? To myself I say: Aard, you are
not a retrogamer. You still hate 2d games with a passion. No 3d = no fun. To
gamers I say: be a bit more openminded about games instead of dismissing them
because they don't have this or that checkmark graphical feature, whose only
effect on gameplay is making some pixels on screen look better. And to
gamemakers and enginewriters I say: there are some very important features we
have lost since Doom, and I want em back! Until major improvements are made in
visibility models and other areas, progress hasn't necessarily meant we have
been going forwards.
Now stop reading and go greet a group of imps with
the business end of your double-barelled.
Mapophobia will kill Quake
| In this update I will try to bring into perspective everything from
custom maps to the competitive quake scene to Q3/UT, but first A little
introduction. Don't worry, it gets more to the point later on.|
a mapper generally only needs his map editor to be having fun, what is the
single biggest thing that bothers him? It the phenomenon which I tend to
summarize in the word "mapophobia". The striking contrast between the insanely
high quality maps him and his buddies produce in quantity, and an arbitrary list
of (populated) quake dm servers showing 95% of maps as DM1-6, 3 years after the
game came out. To mappers, this discrepancy is maddening, and even more so if
you hear closeminded comments of dm players as to why this is so.
is a huge list I could give as reasons people give why they don't want to play
custom maps, and most of them sound utterly lame to use mappers. What we mappers
have to understand is that players, especially the more competitive ones (clan
players) play quake with a very different perspective than we do. They live
for the frag, and to prove themselves superior to their mates. This is very
basic but also very true. On which map they do this is pretty much irrelevant to
them, their only consideration is that a known map will make things easier for
them, as lot of thinking that is required for navigation and tactics is not
needed. Playing id maps relieves them from insecurity, and frees their brain to
focus on one thing: fragging and being better than the rest. Given that these
are their requirements, you can't blame them for sticking to id maps, they see
us mappers as annoying people that try to force them into something they don't
want or need.
Part of the reason why these players are extra stubborn in
even trying new maps is that the damage has been done in the past. Many of these
players that have been playing for ages remember custom maps from way back when
some very bad examples were present on ffa servers and even in teamplay leagues,
and basically resulted in lame spam/camp fests, people getting stuck etc., and
they still regard custom maps this way. Nowadays with quake said to be dying,
there is even less a reason for people to experiment.
So are these people
truely impartial to maps, and can they play dm4 & dm3 forever? Not really, and
this is where things get interesting.
We all know that the hardcore quake
community skipped Q2 because it sucked, but now Q3 and UT are on the horizon,
its a very different situation. The number of good quake players declaring that
they are bored with quake and are actively looking into which of Q3 or UT will
get their vote is staggering. Whereas quake was actually at its high point after
Q2 was released, with Q3 the damage is going to be substantial to a point that
the quake community will shrink to Doom2 proportions soon.
So even though
quake players say DM3 is all they need, unconsciously they crave for something
fresh. But what exactly do they want?
Are they screaming out for a new 3d
engine? hardly. for what they do, the old quake engine is good enough. Curves
look cute, but no big deal over simulated ones. They hardly care for 24bit
colour I would think. And quakeworld still has the best network code of any game
on the planet at this present time.
Do they want new weapons, new
physics, or gameplay? Please no! Anyone who followed the various websites will
know this is the last thing they want. They want a RL and LG just like quake.
They want quake aircontrol and speed. Gameplay wise they want...
So if you strip engine & gameplay from Q3/UT, what new stuff are
you left with? TEXTURES AND MAPS! You can argue with my reasoning all you want,
but to me this is the stunning truth: the same players that have gone to
great lengths to avoid to have to play custom maps in quake are now LEAVING
quake because they want fresh new maps! Imagine a top selection of the
latest custom maps played as the standard maps on all servers and leagues, most
of which are dressed up in textures which are utterly different from what you
find in quake.wad. This could be exactly the game they want, but at the same
time its something they won't ever consider. I've discussed this topic with some
more open minded top players in the UK and they agree this would be absolutely
brilliant, yet the chances of this happening are NULL.
I think this
observation is the climax of the sad relation between mapper and player, and it
will kill the best DM game on this planet Real Soon Now, with nothing we can do.
And it will happen again and again, especially with the enormous number of maps
Q3 will ship with.
UnrealEd, and different ways of creating game worlds
| We were talking about this topic in irc recently, and because many people
are unfamiliar with the way unrealed differs from say quake & doom, someone said
"why don't you go explain this in your column?". So
Quake editors allow you to create worlds using just one
mechanism: solids, convex 3d geometric shapes such as cubes and cylinders also
known as brushes. A quake world starts as an empty space, which you then fill
with brushes. A slight problem with this is that this would be extremely
wasteful, as unless a brush is floating in the middle of a room, it will not
have all it surfaces visable. Infact, most brushes are used to construct walls &
floors, and mostly have one or sometimes two surfaces visible. So while this way
of constructing worlds is very simple, it also has a couple of distinct
- It requires a complex translation which goes from
a set of brushes to just the polygons visible (in quake, qbsp does this).
Removing faces of brushes that are not visible introduces additional work, as
surfaces need to be cut up when they are partially visible or intersecting a
face of another brush. The need for this complex translation also removes all
hope of fast create - compile - test cycles between editor & game
- besides all solids which the mapper creates, qbsp also has to
make solid those areas that have no entities in them, because these are the
places it can safely remove brush faces from. Tracing a world for inside/outside
is again a lengthy process, and one that can fail if the mapper makes only the
smallest mistake in construction: this is know as the dreaded
- It makes a map look unnecesarily complex in the editor, and
thus more difficult to manipulate. Think of it: of all those brushes on your
screen, a large number of them are only need for 1 face, yet the editor will
draw all 6 of them. People who have made complex maps know what this looks like
in an editor.
From all this an obvious question arises: given
that the engine wants two things from a map: a description of the world in terms
of spaces (needed for collision detection, visibility, line of sight and all
those things), and a bunch of triangles precisely wrapping that space, what is
the ideal way for a mapper to specify those two?
This already hints at an
approach: in the current engines, and probably for some time to come, we are
essentially constructing spaces rather than solids, i.e. our maps look like
bunches of areas (rooms, small outside areas) connected by smaller areas that
block visibility (hallways, canyons, caves, tunnels). The ideal engine where we
can just have a huge space and place arbitrary objects is still far
So could we create worlds using only spaces instead of solids? yes we
can. Essentially this is what Doom and Descent used to do. Basic rooms are much
easier to create as they require just one cube instead of six, you would never
have leaks, and a map would be very easy to compile as the representation was
very close to what the 3d engine needs to display it and let you navigate it.
Sound ideal? it isn't. This way of editing has the opposite problem from brushes
that creating something that looks solid is a lot harder to create. In Descent
(Doom is not a good example since its spaces are allowed arbitrary shapes on the
xy plane, and it allows nesting) creating one room requires one cube, putting a
pillar in the middle requires 4 or 8. That is quite a step up. In contrast quake
requires 6 cubes to get a single room, but adding that pillar only requires one
Especially in modern games that have plenty of detailed
architecture, it is obvious that we need both: spaces to create the basic
structure of maps, and solids to easily create detail and architecture that
splits up a space. And this is exactly what unrealed offers.
the world starts out as a giant solid, much like doom & descent. To create your
map you will need to carve some spaces out of this solid. Besides creating the
world using spaces, you can also use solids. notice that these solids only make
sense once you've made a space first, as the whole world is solid to start with.
Carving (substracting) of a geometric shape is the most basic operation in
unrealed, you could make a whole map using just this operation. making things
solid again withing a space (add) however is the most convenient way to create
many types of architectural detail.
Given that the engine wants us to
create spaces because it can't handle arbitrary worlds, unrealeds way of doing
it is arguable the best way to go, as it has the advantages of both approaches
and none of the disadvantages. The only problems may be that you have to deal
with two concepts rather than one. The actual implementation and user interface
of unrealed confuses a lot of people, but that doesn't change the fact that the
concept is still good.
A last thing which is interesting to mention is
that, since we're talking about editors, how much of this is dependant on the
engine? The answer is very little. One could make an editor for unreal that
works with brushes only, it just means you'd throw away a lot of the
infrastructure unreal already has, and you'd have to come up with a qbsp for
unreal. Similarly one could make an editor that works with spaces and solids for
quake type games, it just means having a new .map format, and a greatly
simplified and faster qbsp. But again you would have to do a lot of work from