I have rewritten this article a number of times in an attempt to make it more rational and fair, but it is difficult to contain the anger I am feeling towards ZeniMax Media, Bethesda Softworks, and id Software’s latest attempt to ruin Quake Live. In what can only be described as a pathetic attempt to commercialise the game ahead of its upcoming release on Steam, numerous fundamental changes to gameplay are being introduced as a default rule set for all public servers and “classic” Quake (i.e. the current, time-honed rule set) is being locked behind a pay wall.
As if ZeniMax preventing John Carmack from delivering his traditional keynote address at QuakeCon this year (a result of the company’s ongoing lawsuit filed against Oculus VR) wasn’t bad enough, they have now decided to sully the image of the father of eSports and one of the most iconic franchises in all of gaming.
Sure, I can pay $35.99 per year to continue playing conventional Quake Live (or simply play Quake III which I already own and don’t need to subscribe to), but the way in which the brand of Quake is being treated with absolutely ridiculous modifications that fundamentally undermine the core deathmatch experience that Quake embodies is simply unacceptable. While the proposed changes have not yet come into force and remain a leaked “rumour”, they have all but been confirmed by the developers and are clearly a desperate attempt to emulate some of the success that shooters such as Call of Duty and Counter-Strike enjoy by mimicking elements of their gameplay. Yes, you read that correctly: fast-paced arena shooter Quake Live is trying to copy slower, team-based tactical shooters by introducing things like selecting loadouts before the start of games. And all of this simply to capitalise on what they believe “new” players on Steam will want. Loadouts. LOADOUTS. Wow, id Software… what has happened to you? [Is anybody else terrified of what lies beyond the jump? – Ed.]
Before I discuss the upcoming changes and why exactly they are such a slap in the face to Quake fans and players, let me at least do “sponge” and “SyncError” – the two people responsible for the maintenance and development of the Quake Live project – the justice of analysing the reasons behind their decisions.
Quake Live as a game has been notoriously “dying” for a number of years now, and with a player base that pales in comparison to rival shooters there is an obvious need to try and attract new gamers to the title. Given that the game has an incredibly steep learning curve, with a large amount of the game’s community (internationally) having been regular players for over a decade, this is quite a challenging task. Basically, newbies log onto a server, get stomped into oblivion while barely managing to even pick up a weapon or learn a map and then decide the game simply isn’t for them and never come back. In addition, it seems likely that there has also been a demand from the publishers for the game to provide a better financial return as at the moment the service appears to be more of a nuisance than a benefit to Bethesda.
Nevertheless, dumbing down the gameplay to an unbearably simple level is just not the way to achieve those goals (see the video above). All id will obtain by mimicking other titles is a massive outcry from fans (which has already happened) and a short-lived increase in player numbers as new players from the COD/CS market they’re clearly targeting try out the game on Steam before returning to their preferred games which do the slower, loadout-driven type of gameplay better. In addition, they will massively alienate the existing fan base that has kept the game alive for over a decade. The fan base that has fuelled donation-driven online leagues for 15 years, built an entire ranking system for free (because the in-game one is simply broken), and made fragmovies, streams and major LAN tournaments a success for years after the game should have been dead and buried.
With all of this in mind, let us now examine some of the critical changes that are threatening to end Quake Live as we know it:
“Classic” Quake mode is locked behind a pay wall
This is easily the most ludicrous of all the proposed changes. $35.99 is almost full retail price for a game. Paying that much for only one year’s access just does not seem fair. Admittedly, it has always cost this much to obtain a “Pro” subscription, but previously public servers were only limited in terms of map selection and a few other elements – they weren’t missing an entire gameplay rule set. Fortunately, this is one change the developers have said is still under heavy debate and if “classic” Quake remains available on public servers it may save what little life the game has left in it.
Players may now hold jump to continuously jump (bunny hop at 2x speed)
Strafing and movement are an integral part of any deathmatch game. Timing of jumps and appropriate flicks is difficult to master, but it presents a core gameplay element within Quake, and simplifying the movement to just holding down a button is an incredibly patronising move on id Software’s part. Can new players not even be trusted to try to learn a game’s movement mechanics?
When wielding the Gauntlet, ground movement speed is increased 6.25%
This is an absolutely hilarious change and is a blatant attempt to copy the Counter-Strike mechanic of running faster with a knife out. I’m not even going to discuss how unnecessary this addition is.
Introducing “loadouts”, allowing players to select one primary weapon and one secondary weapon
Wha… I don’t even… If ever there was a game that did not lend itself to the selection of a “class” or predetermined set of weapons, it is Quake. Controlling weapons is as important as controlling armour and mega health items in the game and limiting players to a selection of only two weapons is laughable. Quake is an arena shooter. It’s about having a wide arsenal at your disposal, selecting the appropriate weapon for the given scenario, managing your ammunition and using everything at your disposal to frag your opponent. It is not about 4v4 or 5v5 gameplay where each team member has a predefined role such as “sniper” or “grenadier”. What next, will hiding behind cover to regenerate health make an appearance?
Added global ammo packs in lieu of weapon specific ammo
Oh gee thanks id, I was really struggling to remember which ammo pack was for which gun.
Added in-world item timers for “major” items
This is one proposed change I actually feel might have some merit – but only in the tutorial mode for new players. One of the most difficult concepts newer players struggle to understand is the importance of timing armours and other items, making sure to position yourself to collect them and the impact that major items can have on the outcome of the game. But again, providing ever-visible timers that basically tell you when the items will appear is an oversimplification of what is an otherwise intricate gameplay mechanic that has formed the basis for some of the most renowned professional Quake players’ strategies (such as “Cooller” and “rapha”).
Items have taller pickup collision boxes, so that players will not miss items as they jump over them
Numerous weapon damage and balance changes
Finally, this proposed modification is one I find particularly puzzling. Quake III Arena was released in 1999. Since then, through the process of dozens of patches and the big move to Quake Live in 2010, the gameplay has been refined and balanced to a point of delicate perfection. Notably, rail gun damage was lowered from 100 to 80 in 2010 and lightning gun damage was slightly buffed. For close to four years now this balance has remained intact and is one of the primary reasons deathmatch fans have become so passionately loyal to the game. Changing all of this simply in the interest of more noob-friendly gameplay by nerfing the lightning gun which requires more skill to use and buffing other weapons just seems like a complete waste.
I have been playing various Quake games for over 15 years, but I have not forgotten what it was like to be new to the game and to get thrashed by more experienced players. It was difficult, going to my local OC LANs in Cape Town and getting beaten by Ph4ntom 100-0, but that was half the point. The game wasn’t designed to be easy. It was designed to be the ultimate multiplayer arena shooter experience, unforgiving and immensely difficult to master. It requires skill and intelligence to play, and if you are playing against someone way above your skill level (like I was against Ph4ntom), you will lose. You will not get some token reward like a lucky headshot spray kill [I'm tempted to Google this exact phrase. The results should be fun. – Ed.], everything you achieve in the game will be hard-earned and will be truly satisfying. Sure, if you’re playing against friends and opponents of your own skill level, there are few games that can match it in terms of pure fragging pleasure. Nothing beats a good old-fashioned CTF or TDM which goes down to the wire. However, one thing the Quake franchise will never, ever be is a Call of Duty clone. Trying to convert Quake Live into one simply to attract new players will not keep the game alive. It has a good chance of killing it though.
This article is reaching a ridiculous length now (even though I’ve almost cut it in half already), so I’d better end it off before Dane kills me [If you never hear from Graham again, don't believe anything the evidence tells you. I was never here. – Ed.], but before I go let me leave you with one last Quake Live tournament match. It is from last year’s DreamHack Winter final in which arguably the two best Quake Live duelers of all time – “rapha” and “Cypher” – compete in an insane series of matches. It is a display of eSports at its finest and embodies everything that myself, and many other fans, love about the Quake franchise. [Right. Now that that's over, should we all share a big hug? Graham could definitely use one. If you spot him in the wild, you know what to do. – Ed.]