Quake Live

As a concept, Quake Live is fairly simple to describe: Quake III Arena, for free, in a web browser. As a phenomenon, it goes much deeper. Quake Live is a step into new, experimental territory.

Nine years on, a significant number of gamers still play the increasingly modded Quake III, suggesting there’s no reason why it shouldn’t pick up a new following. Much of the modding has been incorporated into the Live version, along with aesthetic improvements. “The designers have given it a spruce up,” says John Carmack. “They’ve gone through and touched up every map in there, touched up the model skins, so it’s a little bit more polished, but it’s still the same game. Just with the nine years of aggregate finessing that the community has decided was the better way of doing things.”

These changes include tweaks to game balance, air control, and anti-lag tech. As Quake III Arena is now open-source, players are able to directly change the source code, and id is able to incorporate this back into the game. “Some of the new game types are lifted directly from the mods,” says Carmack, “with the cooperation of the people who developed them.” Those new game modes have yet to hit the beta, but we do know that all of the maps from Quake III Arena and Team Arena are in there, along with some new ones developed by id. “Everything we could give, we’re giving,” says Carmack. “There’s really nothing being held back.”

A compulsory tutorial level for first-time players is really a ruse to download about 180MB to your computer while you’re distracted. It’s also used to assess your playing skill for the new matchmaking feature. The plan is that your first match against other players should be a pleasant experience, via “skill estimation.” With enough people at varying skill levels, Carmack says, “your first game will be something where you’re not either completely stonked, or in there with people who don’t know how to play if you’re really good.”

Live will be ad-supported at launch; the beta already has billboards in the familiar maps. It’s unknown whether in-game ads can support a free game of this type, but id has a bunch of other ideas. There are “vague notions” of a premium mode for paying players, but also imaginative solutions for sponsoring specific aspects. Carmack imagines “a sponsored tournament, a sponsored level, a sponsored skin, where an advertiser doesn’t just throw an advert up that you’ll run past as quickly as possible, but something where people are really psyched to get into this particular tournament, or this particular level, that was brought to you by a particular sponsor.”

id is also keen to embrace the modern love for achievements. Executive producer Marty Stratton told us the team is currently paring down a pool of 80, aiming for around 40 at launch. “It’s something we can build on,” he says. “We can even have sponsored achievements. For players who like that carrot always in front of them, we’ll have plenty of carrots.” But what about modding? “The answer is, there is no way to have people drop in and play a mod,” says Carmack. “We have to separately control a lot of things for statistic gathering and things like that.” Instead, id hopes that modders will migrate to the Open Source Arena code and continue to work there, while id pushes out official mods on Quake Live. “In the near-term, we’re more interested in things like custom maps, which are really just a drop-in. We can take maps and graphics, package them up, and add them.”

id still has much to add to the Live beta. Along with the matchmaking, there’s stat-tracking (“We have an almost unlimited ability to crunch data and throw interesting stuff out there for players,” says Stratton), and the essential leader-boards. The final site, according to Stratton, will have a “very sporting-looking feel, like ESPN.” The game itself is up and running remarkably smoothly in the closed beta. It’s Quake III Arena, running in a browser.

+ Web-based, integrated stat-tracking and leaderboards could make for a ripe competitive scene; updated textures and art assets indicate that id’s going the extra mile.
– A modless id release doesn’t suit the dev’s pedigree, meaning die-hard fans of the franchise might not have much incentive to cross over.

Aug 29, 2008