Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
There's An Arctic island just off the coast of Norway, currently being hollowed out to create a massive underground vault capable of surviving any gloljal catastrophe - be that intercontinental nuclear warfare, or just a really big rock falling from the sky. Inside of this icy tomb, a collaboration of countries from around the world will place the seeds of all known varieties of every crop on the planet, like a modern-day Noah's Ark (albeit with a botanic twist), in an effort to preserve them should everything else perish in the flames of radioactive hell.
Seeds Of Destruction
It was a project no doubt designed by a committee who just wanted to do something really, really cool with a lot of spare cash the Norwegian government had lying around - but it's a real-life project which inspired one of Enemy Territory: Quake IVors'maps, aptly entitled Ark.
I say maps, but it's unfair to call them that - from mission to mission, you'll lie doing more than just capturing control points on differing landscapes. Instead, it's all to do with asymmetry, a word which Splash Damage would fellate if such a gesture were possible.
The inevitable contender, and a comparison which the game will never shake off - Battlefield 2142 - sees two equal and opposing forces carrying out equal objectives on implicitly symmetrical battlegrounds. Quake Wars, meanwhile, has two clearly different armies, Strogg and GDF, with starkly different abilities and completely opposing objectives.
In Ark, this seed-vault has been repurposed to study Strogg technology, and after an attempt to blow it up from orbit revealed that the true research was being conducted underground, the alien invaders are forced to destroy it from the inside. The whole thing also looks a bit like Center Parcs, or perhaps the Eden Project - apart from the smouldering hole in one side. In fact, Splash Damage found it difficult to come up with scenarios in which the Strogg have to attack rather than defend, primarily because of the Strogg's orbiting death rays making it a bit of a pushover for them, story wise at least.
Ark is divided into territories, each of which are initially controlled by the GDF with the exception of the Strogg's heavily fortified base. The Strogg must capture a nearby village and plant plasma bombs on the GDF jamming tower. Then, with the skies nicely cleared of jam, the Strogg call in a giant mining laser which blows the doors off Center Parcs -then they all rush in and have a massive scrap inside. All the while, the game's dynamic mission system is in action. Medics accept missions to heal, while Constructors accept missions to build turrets, in turn gaining experience and rising in rank. Increased experience allows you to use various new techniques, such as akimbo weapons - but such bonuses disappear after the game's three-round campaign ends.
Sidling up alongside UT2007 in the list of next year's hits, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: such a clash of online titans hasn't been seen since Quake III and the original Unreal Tournament. Right now, whether or not Enemy Territory: Quake Wars comes out on top is far too close a call to make. Either way, 2007 will be a pivotal year in online shootery.
Download Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
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A Stunning Yet blindingly obvious fact strikes you when you're first playing Quake Wars, something that sets in just after the first moments of exhilaration. For me, it came a few seconds after I'd strapped myself onto a Husky quad-bike and roared over a series of ingeniously placed dips, jumps and ramps into the fray, leaping over the metal cases of slower GDF tanks trundling from right to left below me. That fact is, quite simply, that you've been here before. It's been lost in the amazing visuals, the filthy gut-sucking tactics of the Strogg, the cavalcade of beautifully chunky vehicles and the advent of the much-fabled megatexture - but the clue is in the name: Enemy Territory. The game feels just like Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory - a stronger more solid variant on it, perhaps - but the vibe's still there. If you try really hard, you can still just about smell the Nazis.
In fact the first task at hand for me and my band of GSF soldiers was the wholly Wolf-esque task of building a bridge over a small valley - with engineers busying themselves with construction, soldiers vainly attempting to fend off the Strogg and medics handing out bandages and paper towels. Tilings weren't progressing well though: we needed to shift a mobile command point over the as yet nonexistent bridge and through a tunnel to set up shop military-wise, and we were being nailed. Being nailed, specifically, by an inconvenient Strogg gun turret that had been installed by the tunnel mouth.
It was then that I, under the knowing tutelage of id designer Jerry Keehan who was standing over my right shoulder, 'chuted into my spawn point (after death by turret) as a crafty field ops specialist. I opened up my construction tool and selected an artillery turret. An RTS-style 3D blueprint appeared in front of me (red where it couldn't be placed, green where it could), and I set it down where I thought it would look the prettiest.
Prepare Thyself, Strogg!
Now, in a perfect world a fellow specialist would have climbed to higher ground, raised his binoculars and called in a strike on the troublesome turret from my proud artillery confabulation. But what actually happened was that I spent so long fiddle-arsing around with my turret that a rival GDF turret must have been constructed elsewhere, meaning that the enemy encampment was long-destroyed, the mobile command point had already stretched out Metroplex Transformer-like and the battle was far progressed. Resolutely undaunted however, I purloined a nearby Anansi Copter (a wonderful creation that sits upon the divide between being a rotor-driven hovering machine at low speeds and a jet-powered dogfighter in higher gears), and helped the battle effort by neatly crashing into the walls of the Strogg enclave. It's not even like the flying vehicles are of a 8F2-level of skill-driven difficulty -I was just having a crap day.
You see, the idea of having the mobile command point set up beyond what was formerly the Strogg Tunnel o' Death was so that missiles could be fired upon the Strogg stronghold's shield - thus leaving the heart of the alien operation open for soldier classes to rush and leave explosives in. The final battle was most definitely on, and Enemy Territory's cunning map design and spawn placement meant that I was never far from the action. Occasions in which you're stranded Battlefield-style on the wrong side of the wrong valley happen rarely, and even when they do you can call in either an airlift of a GDF vehicle from a friendly three-bladed mega-chopper, or a blast from outer-space containing a Strogg one.
Eventually, my continual dying, with my body once or twice being ransacked by Strogg medics for vital nutrients, ended in one crap mega-death - when I accidentally stood next to the ticking explosives tied to the Strogg base. My performance had been dismal, my tutor from id remained impassive and I had contributed nothing to the war effort -bar luring an ounce of gunfire away from my more talented team-mates and instead into my soft flesh.
Despite my proud Wolf: ET heritage, I proved a noob among noobs - yet my hope for Quake Wars' potential for causing an FPS revolution remains undimmed. It feels as good as it looks, and when it's running it looks bloody amazing - just don't expect to be treated with deep understanding and Strogg-sized kid-gloves once in. Unless you're playing against me, that is.
It's a Predictable way to introduce the article, I know. We've mentioned it every time we've brushed up against Enemy Terriotory: Quake Wars - but Splash Damage's studios are in Bromley, Kent, a place that wouldn't be missed if it spontaneously sank into the ground tomorrow. It literally goes: kebab shop, corner shop, tanning salon, birthplace of one of the hottest-looking shooters of 2007, then a supermarket. In fact, so hidden is the office in which Splash Damage have been hammering away at their latest multiplayer masterpiece, that I couldn't find it. Turns out it's tucked right behind the supermarket, meaning it's probably one of the most unassuming and uninspiring places I've ever been.
That what they're working on is both inspiring and assuming. After introducing himself, co-founder and creative director Paul Wedgwood submits me to a brief tour of their modest and dimly lit office space. This includes a glass vault reminiscent of Magneto's prison in which to house their massive 'Megaserv' server -which not only hosts their frequent LAN games, but also renders the gigabyte-straddling mega-textures used to make Quake Wars look so detailed - and the delightful corridor of concept art, which tlisplayed some rejected character ideas such as the mutilated female Strogg.
"Yeah, we didn't think that one was very appropriate," admits a passing coder, noticing my morbid interest. The short walk back to the meeting room then takes us past a cabinet displaying award after well-deserved award for Splash Damage's previous title, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. In all, it's really not a bad place to work.
Having sat me in front of a projector screen, Wedgwood wastes no time in getting to the interesting stuff. He tells me how the visuals have improved since their astounding E3 movie, before taking the easier route of loading up the Valley map and letting me see for myself. He really isn't lying, and while the difference might not be monumental, it's certainly noticeable.
Tlic terrain texture is far more defined, right out to the horizon. The mega-texture ensures there are no repeating tiles either - compare that to a game like Oblivion, in which detail only exists up to a certain point before turning into a distant blurry green texture. The game's maps, in terms of size, are roughly on par with Battlefield's, but in terms of scale and design, Quake Wars contains the most elaborately constructed maps of any online shooter.
Thanks to the mega-texture technology, fogging is only ever used aesthetically too - and it all runs on a machine that can run Quake 4. This is a major technical achievement for PC gaining, and as if it needs stating, one that obliterates any notions I had of the Doom engine being a useless, clunky shadow simulator.
With the basics thoroughly conveyed, and the game's limbo screen beginning to burn into my retinas, Wedgwood begins the demonstration proper. In order to show me exactly how the mechanics of the shooter operate, Valley is emptied of allies and foes alike, and Wedgwood's character stands alone in the GDF base. Currently, the CDF objective is to construct a bridge (well, repair a broken bridge) about 100-yards down the road in order to move their mobile command post forward. On the far side of this destroyed bridge is the tunnel you may remember from the E3 trailer, the one that hotshot-pilot flew through. The Strogg objective is simply to defend.
''You'll see that at the moment the mission displayed in the top-left corner of the screen is to secure the bridge," Wedgwood explains, gesturing at the HUD. "But if I go to the bridge and create something that would be a threat, say for example a Strogg antiarmour turret..." He brings up the console, turns on noclip mode and flies to the opposite side of the bridge before spawning a black, menacing-looking, semi-organic gun.
"That's a threat to my team because it will attack any vehicles that come through," explains Wedgwood as he zips back to the GDF base. "You can see that it doesn't appear on my command map because 1 don't have radar up yet. My team hasn't gathered any intelligence about the fact that it exists, so currently my task is still just to secure the bridge. But one of the things that I can do as a Covert-Ops character class (responsible for gathering intelligence) is to deploy radar. And so if I deploy radar..."
Wedgwood selects the deployable radar from his weapon list, and an RTS-stylc grid appears on the ground in front of him. The interface is instantly recognisable, glowing a healthy green when it's safe to deploy it in a given area and an angry red when you'd be blocking a path. Once placed, it can even be rotated, where it remains as a holographic blueprint until a massive skycrane airdrops the desired deployable into place. Strogg deployables, on the other hand, plummet down from orbit with a satisfying 'whumph'. In this case it's a radar dish, and it instantly picks up the Strogg anti-vehicle turret on the other side of a bridge.
"Now that the turret's been discovered on the radar, I've got some missions that I can go and do," enthuses Wedgwood, the HUD indicating that there are now mini-objectives available besides the central bridge-securing fare. "Now, because I'm still Covert-Ops, I can accept a mission to hack the turret to disable it, whereas a Soldier would receive a mission to destroy the turret instead. You see, even if I didn't know what class I was, or what I'm supposed to be doing, it tells me I can go and do this mission if I want I'm picking up missions to go and do things which help my team."
World Of Quake Wars
Genius. Splash Damage even go so far as to loosely compare Quake Wars to World Of Warcraft, in that even though you may not understand everything the game is doing and throwing at you, you'll always be able to boil it down to some simple objectives.
These mini-missions, once assigned to you, are given to nobody else. They're class-sensitive too, which means that if you're a medic you'll get minimissions to go heal team-mates, if you're an engineer you'll receive minimissions to repair vehicles. Or you could ignore the mini-missions and concentrate on the main objective.
Get In My Car
Respawning amid the battle once more, I spy Wedgwood standing next to the Anansi gyrocopter. "Get in!" he shouts, oddly, as he is sitting next to me and could've just asked politely. I comply, sprinting in terror towards the air vehicle. So much is going on around me that it really is quite overwhelming. Strogg infiltrators zip over buildings with their jetpack-style Icarus machines, gun-turrets blast round after round at approaching targets, everywhere things are just exploding. Despite the fact that it doesn't support as many players as games like Battlefield, the objective-based maps create focus points, battlefronts on which everybody can be found. There's very little reason to be anywhere else on the map, meaning it's insanely action-packed.
"Don't shoot me," orders (or pleads) Wedgwood to the other testers as wo lift off and go on a brief tour of the map, a wise move considering the carnage below.
At first, it seems to handle like a helicopter: the Anansi dips forward, diving towards the lake surface before levelling off and speeding across the water and under a bridge. The Anansi's onboard systems, which I assume are programmed to feel abject terror, beep endlessly, thoroughly unappreciative of Wedgwood's near-terrain piloting skills.
He explains that by holding the control key, you can unlock your gun reticule and fire your guns and rockets in any direction - of course, this means effectively taking your hands off the Anansi's wheel, and as such it's the reserve of the more confident pilot. The aircraft's boost feature turns it into a jet, something Wedgwood demonstrates by rocketing at full speed towards the tunnel opening at stupid-miles-per-hour, narrowly avoiding the burnt out cars and barricades inside, surprising at least two Strogg Oppressors and emerging triumphant and unscathed at the other end. He's done it at least 100 times I'm sure, but he obviously gets a kick out of bringing a co-pilot along for the show.
An errant tester who was out of the room when Wedgwood requested immunity blows us out of the sky, and the round ends. I've just experienced Quake Wars - so that's wliat all the fuss is about.
Once ejected back into the bleak Bromley evening, I grab a sandwich and head for the station. Having arrived with the pieconception that I'd be playing a game not entirely unlike BF2112, I've been well and truly proven wrong. Every map tells a story, featuring progression, changing objectives and moving frontlines. It adds several more layers of depth to an increasingly rich universe, and it's the by-product of a holy union between Splash Damage, those connoisseurs of multiplayer gaming, and the legendary id. What's more, it's stunningly beautiful to boot. Not only is Quake a huge technical achievement, but it looks set to be one of the most refined, polished and successful online shooters the PC has ever seen. Be excited.
The mod squad
With a game this huge, can it possibly be modded?
Arnout van Meer, Splash Damage's co-founder and technical director, explains: ''Technical changes to the game will remain fairly easy as the game code is very accessible. There's a lot of potential for smaller gameplay mods, though a bigger project would take a lot of effort" Richard Jolly, co-founder and art director continues. ''It's the assets which take time. To go from concept to high-poly, then low-poly model to in-game, with animations on top - as well as multiple characters and vehicles and about two weeks work per asset - it's a lot of work."
"We knew we wanted to provide really great mod-making support" adds Paul Wedgwood. ''Richard and Arnout and their teams have been updating a Wiki page that we run internally. It's like Wikipedia, but with descriptions of absolutely everything you can do technically with the game engine and the tools that we've developed. Making a mega-texture for example, even a novice with no knowledge of the art side of things could read the documentation and be told which widgets to use in Photoshop, and how to use Terragen and those sorts of things." Having been modders themselves, Splash Damage know exactly what modders want
Splash damage's strategic online shooter recently dipped a toe into the frosty pool of public testing, generating not only massive amounts of enjoyment for gamers who were quick enough to grab one of 60,000 Beta keys, but also a fair amount of publicity for the futuristic shooter. If you've not played the Enemy Territory: Quake Wars Beta, then this is what you've missed. Boo hoo.
A single map, Sewer, in which the Global Defence Force (us, thb good guys) are attempting to infiltrate some Strogg-controlled aqueducts in order to flood them. This is achieved through the GDF sequentially deploying, destroying and hacking objectives as the invading Strogg (aliens, bad guys) attempt to fend them off with alien technology until the round ends. Of course, that's all a thin nothingness draped over the real matter at hand - what did the collective internet make of Splash Damage's online shooter?
Of course, they were naturally cynical. Some might even say they were caustic and unforgiving, relentlessly emptying their hate sacks on any message board that would have them. Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is an excellent online shooter, and it takes only a modicum of exposure to the thing to realise this, but all criticisms, however exaggerated, are presumably built around some genuine problem with the game. With that in mind, let us consider some of the outrageous opinions of the internet...
Its The Most unlikely partnership in videogame history. A small-time hunch of Kent-based mod-makers have joined forces with one of the most renowned and successful developers in the world. What's more, with their power combined, they're creating what could just be the most visually impressive, intuitive, ground-breaking and imaginative teambased shooter the world has ever seen. The developers? Splash Damage and id Software. The game? Enemy Territory: Quuke Wars. A shiny future for online PC gaming? Assured.
Having been subjected loan incessant barrage of PR eulogising about how Quake Wars was going to revolutionise flic teambased shooter, boss-man Sefton dispatches me on a daring, fearsomely dangerous reconnaissance! mission to Splash Damage s Bromley offices. OK, it's not actually all that daring. Or dangerous. And we are kind of invited to the offices. But my mission is to find out if this is the real deal or the usual barrage of hype that accompanies such major announcements. Turns out it's the real deal. To say that I'm blown away would be an understatement akin to saying that an atom bomb goes off with a bit of a fizz. This standalone successor to the Return to Castle Wolfenstein spin-off Fneiny Territory is looking so luscious, it makes the current crop of multiplayer shooters look like they've been cock'd on a BBC Micro Model B. What's more, given its predominantly outdoor locations, it's somewhat, ironic to note that, when development started, Quake Wars utilised the same core technology as Doom 3, the very same core technology tlbit so many lambasted as being an indoor-only, shadow simulator that handled outdoor environments with the aplomb of an agoraphobic.
Arriving in a flustered, sweating state", Paul Wedgwood (managing director of Splash Damage) sits me down, pours me a drink and fires up a level. While we wait, Quake Wars'executive producer Kevin Cloud (from id) reveals the secret of the game's stunning visuals. "We're using brand new technology called the MegaTexture,"
"It was first devised by John Carmack at id and Even as I type these words, I still can't quite believe it Quake Wars is set to run on the same spec machine as Doom 3.1 shit you not That's what the men say. And that of course means that well all be able to enjoy its ace-ness without shelling out for a quad-processor supercomputer. But how is this possible? Well, it all comes down to a new technological breakthrough called the MegaTexture, which allows Splash Damage to create a unique texture that covers the entire landscape with no tiling or repetition, meaning that levels can be drawn all the way to the horizon with no fogging.
Even more impressive is that the developer can create a 6GB (yes, we're still shitting you not you read that correctly: 6GB) source texture that only uses 8MB in video memory, without any loss of resolution. But wait, there's still more. The MegaTextures can also derive the properties of everything on the map, be it the sound a vehicle makes on a certain surface or the amount of traction it has on pebbles or tarmac. Now that's what I call impressive. My head is still reeling, and every inch of my body is telling me that it can't be possible, but they assure me it is. And I'm inclined to believe them, for the past two years, Splash Damage has been working on the engine." As Cloud's voice trails off, the giant wall-mounted monitor before me lights up, transforming into the most radiant, realistic and aweinspiring outdoor virtual world I've ever seen. Any long-standing journalistic cynicism drains away from me in seconds. Clearly, I'm in for something special...
"Quake Wars is set around 50-60 years in the future, when the Strogg first invade Earth. It's actually a prequel to Quake II and Quake 4," explains Paul Wedgwood as I stare dumbfounded at the screen. "There's a conventional human military force called the Global Defence Force (GDF), which has machine guns and tanks, fighting against the hi-tech Strogg alien technology."
Barely hearing the Splash Damage man's words, I gaze at the monitor where the landscape spills out into the horizon with perfect clarity. Clouds make their cumbersome paths across the sky, painting shadows oil the ground below, where every blade of grass sags against the wind and every tree sways in unison.
Too Good To Be True
"Quake Wars uses the same character class-based format that worked so well in Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. We're looking at 24-32 players as an optimum number for each map" continues Wedgwood, as I continue to stare. "You have two bases - GDF and Strogg. In each map, one of these two teams is going to be attacking, the other defending. There are a series of mission objectives that each team has to achieve to be able to win the map. These maps (generally three) make up one campaign and have their own unique story. We don't have game modes like CTF, as each map has a unique objective and storyline." Still I stare. Look at those pebbles! They're actually individual pebbles. And that moss crawling up that escarpment, it looks... Amazing. I can't believe I'm gazing at moss. But it's just so real, I can almost reach out and touch it...
I snap back into the real world to find Wedgwood and Cloud looking at me in thinly veiled amusement. "We began development with the Doom 3 Engine. But after all the work that's been put into it, I don't really think you can call it the same technology. There's a whole new rendering technology and a huge amount of work has been put into restructuring the networking to support the gameplay," explains Cloud.
Easy for a veteran like Wedgwood, but how will a wet-nosed newbie cope with deciphering these objectives? Cloud's answer is simple. "A Command Map shows you the territories that you and the enemy currently own. As you complete certain objectives, the territory becomes yours. You can see where all of the main objectives are and where the fighting is happening, but also as an individual character, you're given solo missions. The Command Map tells you where you have to go and what you have to do when you get there." That clears that up, then. After a quick break to compose myself and ram a chicken sandwich down my throat - I'm not hungry but I have to kill time somehow (Who are you? And what have you done with Korda? -Ed), it's time to roll out each team's character classes and hardware line-ups.
"We want to have a selection of classes so that people can take on specific roles, be it on the frontline or holding back as support classes," adds Wedgwood. "We've tried to take the four or five combat roles from Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and expand on their abilities. The big difference from Wolf: ET is that the two teams aren't just re-skinned versions of each other. There's a lot of asymmetry between them." Each team, y'see, will have unique infiltration, offence, defence and support classes. The mainstay of the GDF team is the heavily-armed soldier, who carries a general purpose machine-gun that spits out bullets faster than a gummy bucktoothed motormouth spits out saliva. The Ranger, meanwhile, acts as an infiltrator, who marauds across the map gathering Intel, which is then relayed back to the rest of the team as the aforementioned objectives for each character class to accomplish. He also has the ability to disable enemy defence systems. The Engineer, meanwhile, is a dab-hand at repairing structures and vehicles, and the Field Ops guy can call in artillery strikes and deploy radar relays, turrets and AA guns.
The Strogg contingent is equally impressive. The Tank is a heavy weapons specialist who carries a devastating weapon called the Obliterator. The Infiltrator class soldier is fast and stealthy and can gather intelligence. What's more, by stunning a member of the GDF, he can transfer his mindset into their brain, wander about in their body and use it to jauntily infiltrate the enemy base. The Constructor class conies armed with a nail-gun, and, just like the GDF's Engineer, can repair buildings and vehicles. Finally, there's the Wleditek, who makes up for his lack of combat punch by gathering and distributing delicious, fleshy Stroyent to needy team-mates.
And, obviously, there are vehicles. Tons of them. But before the man from Splash Damage conjures up the armoured hardware on his magic screen, he explains an innovative new feature called Driver Consent. "If you're driving a vehicle, you can always use all of its weapons, but they'll be constrained by your line of sight. However, another player is able to fire it the full 360-degrees. We didn't want a situation where you're having fun controlling a vehicle, then suddenly another player jumps in and takes over one of the weapons, so we have a consent system whereby you can choose whether you want to work with another player." Inspired.
Wait, Come Back!
And then, suddenly, swiftly and brutally, it's all over. The screen goes blank and Tin left with a grin that still hasn't faded, and the phrase, Where do they get those wonderful toys?' echoing around my head. As I stumble out of the Splash Damage office, idiotically slapping Wedgwood and Cloud on the back like a drunk tumbling out at closing time and spewing out an endless stream of superlatives, I realise I'm really rather excited.
Not only is Quake Wars looking like an excellent team-based shooter, it has the potential to take the genre to the next level, one where players are genuinely encouraged to work as a team and are rewarded when they do. Add to this an engine that simply oozes quality from every pixel, and it's easy to see that this, the most unlikely of partnerships, could yet prove to be one of the most successful and inspired collaborations in game development history. The future's bright.