The Quake front is quiet. SMC leadership is currently happy to maintain an armed presence but not get into any trouble. The lights are still on, and there is the occasional patrol, but that’s currently it.
Naturally, Quake is not exactly a moving target, so there is nothing to report about enemy forays either. The ogres, grunts and shalraths will still be there tomorrow.
I played Quake today, though.
I haven’t touched it in months except for the purpose of testing other people’s mods and engines. For that, I usually load up E1M1 or DM3. Nothing to write home about.
Today I played E3M4, Satan’s Dark Delight, and E3M5, the Wind Tunnels. And I felt the same malcontent, the same dissatisfaction that I felt over two years ago when I was still in RMQ.
- E3M4 is not made for a shotgun start. It turns into an obstacle course until you can grab the rocket launcher, at which point it becomes laughably easy, especially as you also get a supernailgun, a megahealth, a quad and a pent. And I probably overlooked things.
- The part where you ride moving platforms (note: I do love good platformers) is kinda boring because it mainly consists of waiting for a platform. I found a Quad there but it got mostly wasted because of this. An easy fix was if those buttons would allow you to summon a platform.
- E3M5 still feels confusing to me, and the flashing lights make me pretty sick. The same issue applies: It is too easy as you get the Lightning Gun and enough ammo, as well as quads and rockets. All those Fiends are grilled in no time.
- Shamblers are laughably easy to kill and not scary at all. Zombies are no challenge if you have explosives, otherwise they’re unkillable. Overall, mid tier monsters (ogres, fiends) probably are the biggest ammo sponges, given how common they are, which just seems wrong.
- The weapon lineup is completely unbalanced – a supernailgun/rocket launcher is the “get home free” card.
- The powerups pretty much break the game, especially the pent (100% invulnerability = 0% challenge.)
- The game is too dark to play it in a sunlit room in Spring. Raising the gamma just makes it look washed out, partly due to the colour scheme (brown and slightly different brown), the lighting (not enough contrast) and the low res textures (graininess).
- There are some attempts to guide the player (items may appear, arrows may point somewhere or bars may open) but this is half-assed at best. There are cases where the main path through a level is either dark (no functional lighting) or the arrows actually contribute to confusion because they are encountered several times.
- Exits can often not be distinguished from standard gameplay elements, especially in the two maps I played. Some other maps get this right by using a special shape or texture (as in DOOM.)
- Player movement is affected by water, but weapons and projectiles aren’t. Even monsters don’t seem to be as limited underwater as the player is. I’m still of the opinion that this just feels wrong.
How can this be fixed? Because I think it deserves to be fixed. We tried in RMQ. We raised the damage output of the lower tier weapons and tried to balance the mid tier ones. We made shamblers look scarier. We used brighter lighting with better contrast. We used Gyro to make rockets etc. be affected by water resistance, which leveled the playing field somewhat. We planned to tweak the powerups to reign them in a little and make them more challenging to use. We made zombies not require explosives anymore. We added a backstab mechanic to the axe. We tried to allow playing each map on its own. We broke our backs about guiding the player, sometimes ending up with draconian measures to make sure they didn’t get lost.
Yet I don’t think we solved the problems. Perhaps it was too big a call.
I think I will have to re-evaluate those old solutions. I’m not sure if the idea to raise base weapon damage and keep monster hitpoints the same was very good. What I’m thinking now is:
- Functionally balance the weapons, instead of by damage, differentiate between what each weapon is good for. Like the axe backstab. I don’t want extreme things like “magic anti-zombie guns” though. A weapon should just come with an advantage and a disadvantage against any given enemy.
- Potentially throw in resistances; there was a half assed attempt at this in RMQ involving plate mail and all that which can be much extended.
- Remedy the fact that mid-tier monsters are the biggest ammo sponges; instead, the toughness of enemies should follow a logarithmic curve, with grunts and dogs being cannon fodder but a Shambler being exceptionally tough.
- Possibly switch to q3bsp format (and require e.g. Darkplaces) to get away with physically larger monsters instead of being limited to Quake’s default 3 collision hulls. A shambler could then be appropriately sized to look a lot more scary. Shalraths, ogres and fiends could also be bigger than they originally were (the shalrath would be bigger than a vanilla Quake shambler – more like the Vagary from Doom 3.) This brings the possibility of limiting top tier monsters to rooms that can physically accomodate them – doors would be big enough, corridors would be large enough etc and the player could flee from encounters.
- Consequently, use more high tier monsters as the game is too easy otherwise.
- Introduce a physics model that makes sense (this too would mandate Darkplaces or FTE because ODE would be needed) and apply e.g. water physics equally to everything.
- Adhere to functional lighting to guide the player and avoid confusion while still promoting exploration of side areas.
- All powerups will imply a cost; invulnerability is abolished.
- Create a nice looking particle set that takes its cue from Quake, but looks a bit nicer (I’m thinking Hellknights here.)
- q3bsp would allow for higher resolution lightmaps and things like ambient occlusion and radiosity.
Furthermore, I will have to do away with a few ideas from RMQ times:
- Keep largely to indoor areas like original Quake. This avoids all kinds of problems.
- A compromise regarding colour scheme and texture resolution. This will require some experimentation, but it might be possible to just enlarge and touch up the original textures to twice the resolution or something. Monsters could be properly UV unwrapped and touched up only where necessary.
- Do away with normal or specular maps; this because all the original textures have the lighting baked in, or rather drawn on, which makes it hard to justify normal mapping. Possibility of simplified deluxemaps and carefully handcrafted specular maps to allow for some difference between the appearance of e.g. metal and wood.
- Less coloured lighting, more coloured fullbrights/lumas to guide the player.
- Be less aggressive about additional gameplay elements; make them more palatable to players. Do not require puzzle solving, rather reward players if they choose to do it.
- Abolish extra weapons, weapon upgrades, and fancy new monsters (except ones taken from QTest such as Vomitus.) Rather make the existing ones more interesting (better AI, group AI, different attacks etc.)
- Reduce ruleset changes such as z-aware ogres or strafing grunts to the point where the enemies at least don’t look outright stupid.
- Use cameras only to lead the player.
- Do away with most of the vegetation and terrain ideas.
- Stick with original sounds, possibly touched up for a bit more clarity.
- Abolish multiplayer. It is just wasted effort – Q1 players aren’t interested.
I guess this illustrates what the current opinion is like inside the bunker.
As for levels, some locations will have to change drastically from RMQ. Others, such as the greatest part of e1m2rq, much of e1m3rq, and almost all of e1m6rq can be salvaged.