The QuakeWorld Chronicles
Part Two: The Early Days, OR, Wanna Invest In On-line Gaming?
by Mark "Bastard" Surfas
QuakeWorld: id continues to change the rules… the death of online game services?
If statistics are generated than it quickly follows that statistics must be published. A number of efforts quickly got underway to generate lists and rankings of the most efficient (and least efficient) killers roaming the net. An enterprising young man named Quebec Barf became the first to publish comprehensive statistics from all of the available masters. (As of this writing Barf is anticipating winding down his site due to the new master-less design. (drop by and say farewell.) Barf also quickly became the cause of intense QuakeWorld anguish: His statistics program was overloading servers with large user lists and crashing them! PlanetQuake experienced this first hand as the number of accounts rose over 20,000 and server began to crash unexpectedly on an almost daily basis. It didn't take long to figure out the cause.
By the beginning of December 96 the anticipation of Quake World reached a fever pitch… betas continued to leak and the IRC channels droned endlessly.."Do you have the beta? Send me the beta!" The number of accounts on the Beta master server began to climb rapidly as the client leak turned into a virtual flood. After approximately 500 accounts were created in two days time the master was shut off to any new accounts. One agonizing week later the waiting came to an end as the QuakeWorld client was released and word swept through the community via web, email and IRC.
As soon as the frenzy of modem-based quake players who had for so long waited to play Internet Quake was unleashed so were some harsh realities: QuakeWorld helped lower play latency and gave back control to the player, but in doing so normal game play suffered. The premise of QuakeWorld was this: Give control of the user back to the client and let the server deliver messages concerning the player interaction with other entities. This meant two things: You could now control your player so that "ice skating" was greatly decreased, and you could reliably interact with the level, e.g. jumping now worked. In regular quake over a slow connection you would press the jump key and not jump for several seconds… clearly a problem when retrieving that nailgun required a jump across a ledge during a fire-fight!
Ice skate no more
Internet quake via modem becomes a reality
Lack of mods
Playability suffers… look ma, I can run faster than a rocket
Statistics and Frustration The original QuakeWorld plan also provided something that had been lacking all along. Statistics! QuakeWorld used a hierarchical system where QuakeWorld servers reported results back to a Master server. This meant that every frag and suicide were tallied and users found themselves on a scoreboard blasted across the net. The implementation also meant that each user was required to login to the master before they could play on an attached server. Within a week it was clear that the Id master and Disruptor's' masters were unreliable and prone to going off line. Chaos reigned and the hotly anticipated QuakeWorld was now suffering the first of several PR and operational black eyes. It was at this time that PlanetQuake volunteered to host a master server (as did many others) and a plan was put in place to distribute masters to various locations to ensure availability. Master servers were dispatched to Europe and Australia, PlanetQuake and OneThumb at Best.com ASAP. On January 5th and 6th the situation began to improve greatly as servers and users could now find reliable masters that were available day in and day out. The number of user accounts grew rapidly, peaking at 30,000 to 40,000 accounts per server. All was bliss in Quakeland as the blood flowed freely and modem quake play was now at least tolerable.
QuakeWorld Barfs: Statistics Please!
Capture the Hook: Where are the mods?
The release of QuakeWorld proved again to be a mixed blessing as the new servers and clients were incompatible with the rapidly proliferating Quake modifications. The community took this in stride as programmers of the quake mods confidently announced that QuakeWorld versions would soon appear. The most popular Quake modification, Threewave Capture the Flag also announced that work had begun on a version for QuakeWorld. Then the new physics reared their ugly head: The grappling hook that had made CTF so exciting no longer worked! Zoid, Creator of Threewave CTF released CTF for QuakeWorld without the fabled hook and QuakeWorld began to look more and more like a forgotten child.
But then, good news. From John Cash's plan, January 1:
QuakeWorld Capture The Flag --------------------------- yep, I jumped in and squashed the grappling hook bug. Happy New Years and have fun; back to work on Quake2 for me.
Time to breathe a sigh of relief... QuakeWorld would not suffer from a lack of modifications as we had feared.
New rules on the playground:
Game Industry observers took note that the release of QuakeWorld coincided with the arrival of a number of commercial Internet based game services that promised to provide excellent gameplay via the Internet. In development for several years, these services relied on two key elements in their business model:
Getting exclusive online rights to the hottest games
Providing smooth game play through proprietary front-end software.
In one fell swoop, id software deftly removed both of these elements from Online Service business plans and changed the rules for game companies worldwide. Not only had id provided TCP/IP support in the original Quake package (which instantly made many games on the shelf and in development obsolete!) but now they were providing better gameplay, for free, than the commercial online services. The first major casualty appeared to be MPlayer, which after a free beta test of 6 months went commercial in December. By February the service had announced that hourly and monthly fees were abolished: game play would be free of charge.
Tomorrow: Okay we've got QuakeWorld and we've got our mods. Are we having fun yet? Join us for Part Three of the QuakeWorld Chronicles.