Sega have released the "Dreamcast Map Pack" for Quake 3, containing all 23 maps from the Dreamcast version of the game. Some of these were previously exclusive to the console port, while others are modified versions of maps from the original game. The idea is to allow PC and Dreamcast users to play against each other online, but thanks to id Software's policy of releasing patches that break back-compatibility every few weeks this is going to be somewhat futile in practice - a new 1.29f patch has just been released for Windows and Linux, but PC owners will have to downgrade all the way back to 1.16n or lower to play on the Dreamcast servers, at which point they will no longer be able to play on any of the PC-run servers out there. You will also have to use GameSpy or Pingtool to find the servers in the first place, because the in-game browser won't list them.
If you're experiencing a strange feeling of deja vu as you read this, it could be because we commented on exactly this problem in an editorial way back in January 2000, when the first reports surfaced that Quake 3 was going to be ported to Sega's console and that Dreamcast and PC players would be able to battle head-to-head over the internet. As we said at the time, "what happens when a multi-platform game is patched? After all, you can't easily patch a console game, and publishers are unlikely to be willing to ship new cartridges or CDs to thousands of players around the world. Will the console gamers find themselves locked out of servers that are being run for PC players? More to the point, will we find ourselves stuck in a small ghetto of servers being run on a volunteer basis for the PC owning minority, while thousands of commercial servers cater for the bigger and more lucrative console market?"
While online gaming on the Dreamcast has proven to be far less popular than Sega might have hoped, with the arrival over the next year of the online-ready Xbox and internet adapters for the PlayStation 2 and GameCube, we could be about to see a new generation of console gamers flooding on to the internet. And if companies like id Software don't plan things better in future, we could end up in exactly the same situation again, except that this time there will be significant numbers of console gamers and the split will be far more noticeable. In the meantime, it looks like Dreamcast owners will have to keep playing with themselves, as we doubt that many PC owners will want to go to the trouble of downgrading their game just to play against joypad-toting console gamers.
As we said eighteen months ago, "unless developers abandon their 'release now, patch later' mentality, they could find that console and PC gamers are being kept apart by incompatible game versions". And that would truly be a shame, as the potential of cross-platform gaming to bring multiplayer to the masses is truly staggering.
In the meantime, if you want to give the Dreamcast Quake 3 maps a try, you can download the pack (50Mb) from Sega's Quake 3 website. Of course, you will need to reinstall the entire game first if you want to play them online, but they should work offline with any version of the game, and you may even be able to play on the new maps against other PC owners with the latest version of the game. You just won't be able to play any Dreamcast owners. GG JC.