Quake has turned 20 years old this year and the influence of Quake is still felt today. In this article, I want to talk about the impressive Arcane Dimensions mod for Quake. A culmination of hard work from the talented guys over at the Func_Msgboard community. Arcane Dimensions brings Quake back, only bigger and better. So let’s celebrate Quake’s anniversary by talking with the mod team responsible for this tour de force.
Arcane Dimensions has been in development for quite some time. The first version was released late last year and now the final version is out. How did Arcane Dimensions came to be?
Simon: Arcane Dimensions started life back in the summer of 2014 and was originally called 'Repent'. The MOD was about converting all monsters and weapons to projectiles instead of (some) using hitscan systems. Just before Christmas 2014 my HD crashed! After much wailing, cursing and screaming I realized that my latest backup was 3 months old and I had lost a large amount of work. Eventually I got a new HD and from the ashes Arcane Dimensions was born.
Initially I started with a fresh Quake C code base, a small collection of previously made models and bunch of rather crude test maps. After converting everything to projectile only combat I decided it was time to make the environments more dynamic. I spent several months trying out different ideas and eventually settled on a breakable system that could be customized by using brushwork models. The icing on the cake was to allow monsters to destroy the breakables as well!
With each passing month, more monsters showed up in the test maps, new weapon upgrades were added and gradually more people joined the team to create maps! Eventually there were so many new monsters added that there were unique looking armies of ogres, knights and soldiers! The best happy accident feature was minions, which were setup to spawn from certain monsters and create dynamic combat by allowing for fights to develop over time. After 18 months of development and a MOD team of 7 people the first version of Arcane Dimensions finally got released on 25th December 2015.
How did you guys get together?
Matthew: I met Simon when our employment at Raven briefly overlapped, and we kept in touch. But, aside from building parts of ad_necrokeep to help Sean chew what he bit off, any content in the mod that I made was stuff Simon borrowed from a languishing Q1SP of my own, and even that amounts to mostly just the Zombie Knight.
Sean: Simon originally approached me asking me to convert one of my MapJam maps to the mod. I’m not much of a fan of revisiting my maps once they are finished, so I countered with offering to make an original map for the mod. I had planned to make something pretty simple but of course it quickly grew to be much more than I could chew. Matthew suggested the idea of doing the map together. Once he started making really cool textures and secrets and traps, that inspired me to redouble my efforts and keep going! Honestly, the map would’ve been awful and terrible without him making me be a better mapper.
Maik: I have known Simon from the first Map Jam on Func and we stayed in touch. I was happy when he commented on my map because I knew he was a professional Level Designer. He gave me some helpful pointers on level design and me being me, I totally ignored him at first and then later on found his advice useful. I always wanted to create something together with him since I got to know his stuff and luckily we did.
Corey: I was kind of the outsider on this project. I had animated a bunch of models for Simon before he began the mod that were used in his earlier projects, but he had also created several models that never got used, which were in an almost finished state. So it was more like Simon called me back to finish these models up rather than me being a full member of the team.
Noel: I had a few discussions with Simon in the past about individual Quake projects and such, but after the release of my MapJam map(jam6_ionous), Simon asked if I’d be interested in upgrading and polishing my map for his upcoming mod. With the pedigree of mappers already involved, it was an honor just to receive an invite. Which I obviously accepted.
Gavin: I was talking to Simon and Maik before getting involved as I was a relatively new face to Quake Mapping. Maik mentioned he was working on something with Simon and I wanted to get in. Simon has made some amazing maps and the ‘In The Shadows’ mod is one of the most amazing Quake mods released. It was exciting for a Thief fan to play!
You guys obviously met through the Func_Msgboard community. How do you keep in touch for this mod? Is there any sort of hierarchy and planning?
Simon: The mod is completely co-ordinated via email and Google chat. I send out regular builds every couple of weeks with new features and various test maps. I try to make sure everyone is up to date with what is happening with other maps and answer any technical questions. I also update all the documentation (editor files, readme, code) and try to encourage everyone to work with the latest files. We don’t use any forums or visual/voice communications, just lots of typing, plenty of gameplay demos and tons of screenshots!
Noel: Just being a pure level-designer for this mod, things are fairly simple. I build and create when I have time, ask other team members for help if I have questions (almost the entire team is on Gmail), and occasionally ask Simon for assets (textures, modified/new monsters, models).
The final version has just released. What does it include? Will this be the last update or can we expect more?
Simon: The new version features 5 more maps (2 new, 3 remix), a couple of new monsters and some special bosses like monsters for the end of some maps. There is also a bunch of new code fixes, artwork and gameplay tweaks from the previous patches. Version 1.5 is designed to be the last official update as all the remaining assets are now in place.
I personally love the remix maps which offer a new take on the existing maps. Can we expect more?
Simon: The new version of the mod includes 3 more remix maps, The Horde of Zendar, Metal Monstrosity and a map from the func_jam2 map pack called ‘Doener mit Shambler und scharf’. These are community custom maps not original ID remix maps.
You are also using contents from other id-tech 1 based games. Aren’t you worried about any legal repercussions?
Corey: This gets brought up from time to time and while there is validity to this question, I feel the track record of these kinds of activities speaks for itself. For example, people were using Unreal textures in Quake while that game was still quite new. The same goes for Quake 3: Arena. Legally it’s not right but the things we get out of it, amazing new maps with fresh textures, models or sounds that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise, are worth it.
Simon: The use of assets from other games has been part of many online mod communities for a very long time. As long as there is no money made from the use of these assets I think it can be forgiven/ignored by the original publishers. The extra content used in the mod from other games is not a perfect copy, it’s visually different (palette differences) and the gameplay (QuakeC) has been created from scratch to suit the Quake universe.
Matthew: The fact that mappers and modders of games have borrowed textures and content liberally for decades doesn’t necessarily legalize it on paper, but the fact that such mods never cost any developer any sales (and therefore didn’t justify legal fees) certainly kept it quite unenforceable. Nobody ever decided they didn’t need to buy Alice because they’d played a few Quake maps with down res'd Alice textures in them!
Is there a design document of sorts or a specific goal you wanted to achieved with Arcane Dimensions?
Maik: Right at the start we (Simon and me) had a bunch of inspirational images cobbled together, to get a mood going, to get a glimpse of what we wanted to deliver. Although those images are obsolete now, it is always good to start with some reference pictures, agreeing on a setting from the very first moment. It shows.
Simon: I want the mod to be an open source project for the whole community to use. All of the gameplay code (QuakeC) is freely available and the mod does include many of the original assets with better visuals and more variety for different environments. I think if there is a good base of available assets for Quake projects to use, the community will hopefully see more experimentation with different ideas and themes.
Arcane Dimensions adds new enemies, effects, breakable objects and so on. Still, especially in comparison to other mods, it stays really true to the original Quake look and feel. Is that something you set out to do or did it just develop like that?
Simon: I think a game really shines when everything is working, looking and moving in the same direction. Visual consistency is important, otherwise it’s just a random collection of things.
Maik: The extended variety of monsters/funcs was never seen as a new addon, but as an somewhat augmentation to the existing bestiary. Just like the Quoth mod did, but with a bigger scope.
Some of you work or have worked in game industry and others just enjoy modding as a hobby. What keeps you working on Quake? Do you think Quake modding will eventually end?
Maik: I have been doing mods since Quake was released in 1996 (hey fransen!), my interest only slept for some years after that, but the needle still stuck when I rediscovered the Quake scene in 2008/2009. And me coming from an architectural background, I’m always happy to produce more brushes. I had several offers by now to work as a Level Designer, but my courage leaves me… And I don’t want to move just now, it’s such a nice place here (Berlin).
Noel: I have not, and will probably never work in the game industry. It’s a hobby that occasionally borders on obsession, but it’s still fun. I imagine that working in the game industry could very easily become a joyless slog without the independence that developing in my own time creates. Plus, I do imagine my chosen field pays better. Quake was the first FPS game I ever played, and it’s arcane, mysterious nature keeps calling me. It’s relatively simple nature, where one person can create an entire level on their own, and in a relatively reasonable timeframe. All things end though. However, while the amount of players may be in steep decline, the amount of creators seems to be climbing slightly. Arcane Dimensions, the Map Jams, combined with Twitch, seem to have generated a lot of interest in Quake.
Simon: I enjoy modding for Quake because it feels like what I make has more impact. When working in the AAA games industry your work can often be just a small cog in a giant machine and it is often hard to point a finger at exactly what you did. Quake modding is from a time when development teams were smaller and everyone had to wear many different hats with different skill sets. Quake modding might be useful for indie developers because it does require multiple skills and an understanding of different parts of game development.
Gavin: I have never worked in the games industry per se but I have been making custom content for as long as I can remember. I am of the belief that anyone can enter the industry, they simply require the passion and technical skill to achieve their goals. The Quake community will always remain in one form or another. Modding is also an excellent step on the road to becoming a professional game developer!
Quake has received a lot of attention this year due to its anniversary. Machine Games even made a add on episode called Dimension of the Past. What do you guys think is the secret to Quake’s longevity?
Corey: I think Quake’s inherent vagueness is what makes it last. Quake can be almost anything, if you really want to stretch it. That coupled with a very flexible engine, easily modifiable QC and simple to learn mapping methods. The barriers for modding this game are low, unlike new AAA titles out there.
Maik: What Corey says, low barriers. Everybody can grasp the concept of a brush within 20 minutes. Only a few games allow you to make the entire map yourself. Modern AAA games make it (nearly) impossible to have one person do it alone. Too much relies on that giant team around you. Quake offers total design freedom. You are the sole creator. It’s simple to those who are willing, that’s why it still alive and the game is still fun. Quake can still immerse you and sell it’s setting very well. Better than most AAA games if you ask me. Quake doesn’t need a story. The experience of playing it tells it’s own story.
Simon: The secret ingredient for Quake is that the player fills in the blanks and extends the borders with their imagination. Our mod certainly adds a lot more detail to the map environments, but essentially it is the player's mind which is the real landscape where the game exists. People love the gaps, the holes in stories, this is where they can add to the universe with their own ideas and theories.
Gavin: The game itself is still very good fun! It is also easy to develop new content for! The community loves the game too. Without the community it would not have survived for so long. Sites like Quaddicted make it easy for people wanting to play all of the fun maps. Inside 3D is the think-tank for many of the programming and model making types! And I would be remiss if I did not mention Daz’s youtube channel Custom Gamer. He provides excellent thoughts on all aspects of video game design for beloved classic games. He is responsible for introducing newcomers into the community by giving enthusiast developers a platform to display their work!
That’s a lot of great insight guys. Before we wrap this up, what tools are you using? What would you recommend to people that want to give Quake modding a go?
Noel: For level design I’m using J.A.C.K. Fantastic level editor, almost a next-generation Worldcraft, which fixes a lot of issues that very often made Quake editing a headache. I’d say my mapping speed has doubled since making the switch to J.A.C.K. Now instead of snail-slow, I’m just slow. I’d recommend trying a few different editors. Great maps have been made with plenty of other editors aside from J.A.C.K (Trenchbroom, GTKRadiant, etc). It all comes down to personal preference, and you will not know until you try each one.
Simon: I use the GTKRadiant editor for maps, Photoshop for artwork and DOS batch files for compiler tools! The hardest part about Quake modding is getting all the tools setup and working together. There are also many different ways to create content which does make modding difficult, for example different editor config files. I would recommend anyone new to Quake modding to start with something simple, a map for example. Also download and check out other mappers work, they often include source files.
Corey: For this mod, I used 3D Studio Max for modelling and animation and GIMP for photo editing. For converting to the Quake model format, I used an MD3 tool from ages ago, nPherno’s MD3 Compiler and Preach’s python scripts. If you are interested in 3D models and animation, you can get 3DS Max for free by getting the educational license. It’s an incredibly powerful tool with a lot of extensibility and its popularity means there is no shortage of tutorials to learn from.
Gavin: I am currently using Trenchbroom, developed by Kristian Duske. I occasionally use J.A.C.K. for specific tools like the arch brush generator. I would also like to point to Eric, Bengt and Rebb for working so hard on their compiler tools. Without those tools the Quake maps of today would simply not exist. Without Kristian I would not be making Quake maps myself, Trenchbroom feels revolutionary! It has better native functionality for BSP mapping than Unity or the Unreal Engine currently offers.
Maik: I use Trenchbroom and QuArK 6.64 for my maps, because it’s the best of both worlds for me. I need a tree view to find my way around a map, but I also need full 3D editing, so I switch /save/ load between those 2 editors often. I also use GTKRadiant, but only for crucial brushes and some entity jazz. Compiler wise I stuck to the Jury-Rigged-BJP tools that Rebb provided, he has a huge part in why my maps are so big and vast! The light tool (which was enhanced in every aspect by Eric) is a huge step forward too. Usual suspects: PS, TexMex, Wally.
I want to thank you all for your time. You did a great job and I hope that everyone will enjoy the mod as much as I do. For our readers, you can find Arcane Dimensions 1.5 and the readme right here. Go play a classic!