Quake III - the multiplayer FPS that was arguably Id Software's greatest achievement after Doom - has been reborn. It's been reincarnated as Quake Live, an online shooter from your web-browser. The game has been in a public testing phase for a while, and currently still bares its "beta" moniker. Nevertheless Id inform us that the resurrected Arena is fully launched and primed for action.
The advertising-supported project is entirely free to play, and embeds in your browser of choice (on Linux and Mac too) with a simple plug-in. More improvements are apparently planned for future iterations of what has been referred to as a "service", but it's not entirely clear what they are.
It's certainly an intriguing challenge: take an existing, ageing title and rebuild it for the net generation. It's both modern - being launched inside your browser and having a fairly sophisticated ranking and server selection system - and incredibly nostalgic, harking backing to an era when bunny hops were in and your twitch skills were dependent on whether there was any broadband around for you to use. For a returning Quaker of old, like me, it's a mixed experience.
For one thing I was never a great duellist. In those one-on-one games in a small arena - which are something like Kung Fu rocketry with power-ups - I tried ever so hard to hog the red armour, but the process was always slightly beyond me. It remains so. Leaping into a duel has led me to lose, every time, with perhaps one or two lucky frags next to my ticker.
Of course that never put me off in the past, and it wouldn't this time. Where I excelled in olden-day Quake III was in the team games: getting the timing right for the quad-damage in team deathmatching, knowing the route that particular flag-carrier would take out of Q3WCP9 in capture the flag. I was ferociously accurate with the railgun and rocket launcher, and - after prolonged bouts of flag defence - I would often enter that twitchy reptilian zone of not actually having a conscious register of my action. There's something special about that.
When I began playing Quake Live I was initially concerned about my own status as a deathmatch player. I'm older now, and weaker. Years of slower, more sensible games had, I assumed, enormously reduced my twitch. Worse, the (rather clever) automated tutorial made me think that my pinpoint reticule-plonking skills - earned the hard way in the early part of this decade - had decayed to a hopeless degree.
It was only when I was out on the floor of live matches, strafe jumping away, that my rhythm returned and my accuracy bubbled back up to 2002 levels. When I realised I could compete on the higher difficulty levels (Quake Live allows admins to suggest skill levels for servers) I found myself grinning like a fool. Still got it eh, Rossignol? Something like that...
It's a testament to how finely-tuned Quake III was that once you're into Quake Live's game it barely wavers a pixel from the original format, although it's been smartened up a great deal in terms of presentation and UI. (Because, well blimey, didn't Quake III just have a bastard ugly menu?)
All this means is there are some minor differences with the way settings are made available, and the game content is, of course, largely limited to Id's own Quake releases, with a few third party maps included for good measure. There's also a comprehensive achievements set for you to earn, because, well, that's what the kids seem to want these days.
The physics for movement and weapon use, those ever-so precise settings which made Quake III the apex of the fast-paced deathmatch genre, are intact and undisturbed. It still has the kind of pace and arcade-FPS feel that put so many people off, and that very interface seems slightly incongruous in these slower times of cover-systems and regenerating shields.
It's the minimalism of Quake III that surprised and delighted me so much when it arrived, and it remains enormously appealing. It was the reason I came down on the side of Quake III in the endless arguments concerning the Id games and Unreal Tournament. Both were beautiful, but there was something about the pared down power-up selection of Quake III that seemed just right, and somehow more honest. It was a hymn to videogame skill.
Sometimes I think the game could just be stripped down to the machinegun default, rocket, and rail, and still be absolutely perfect. I always felt comfortable with the spareness of it, and I have to admit that when I was playing original Quake III I never touched the expansion pack materials after its release. And that meant to the weapons too - the nailgun, chaingun and prox-launcher. These three weapons do show up on certain Quake Live maps, and it's a good indicator of my Quaker puritanism that I usually don't play on those particular rotations. Even these small extras seem like a bold step too far.
In fact, the more I play of Quake Live, the more begin to yearn for some of the features of the past. The array of tweaks introduced by the Orange Smoothie Productions mod, for example, which allowed for plenty of player-defined HUD tweaks and even coach spectator modes with split-screen streaming. Then there was the force-enemy model command, which was a must in the past, and doesn't seem possible now (I am hoping to be corrected). Making all my enemy appear as the TankJr model certainly aided identification when hearing someone approach, and I wish I could still benefit from that kind of audio signposting today.
Indeed, while Quake Live does seem to have concentrated and reinvigorated the game by keeping it up to date in one easily accessible place, it has drastically limited the freedom that the original game had come to allow. You can, of course, still go and experience that - the original Quake III still works, and there are numerous servers available that do still support the old mods, although their numbers are much depleted by time - but it would be great if this new web service erred on the side of the community and destined to be able to support a wider range of features and mods. I should love to see the Quake III release of Rocket Arena on here, which I poured thousands of hours into years past.
What I would hope is that Quake Live is indeed able to make a profit and expand into both more and better features, such as providing for the finest glory day mods. I'm certain Quake Live will bring back home of the best of the old deathmatch and capture the flag maps, but it could just end there: this game will need significant sponsorship if it's to survive on ads alone, and whether this will happen is unclear.
Quake Live has some stiff competition from games such as Battlefield Heroes, and since there is no micropayment model for Quake Live, the income here is going to be based purely on whatever advertising they can pipe into to site, (and potentially the game arenas too).
It is impossible not to be entranced and enthralled by this mighty relic of Id Software's heyday - indeed, I found myself taking screenshots for this article only to emerge an hour later with three games of capture the flag under my belt. Yet I do wonder if the things that made it hypnotically great - the mechanistic minimalism and spartan feature list - are the exact things that will mean it cannot truly claim its place in the future of persistent characters, upgradeable experiences, and micro-payment enjoyment extensions.
Id, meanwhile, say Quake Live is here to stay and have continued irregularly updating the site. I hope they're right, because my lunchtime deathmatch is back.