Splash Damage Blog
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars 10th Anniversary
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
September 29th 2007. The iPhone had just gone on sale, Gordon Brown had just been appointed Prime Minister, and a plucky studio in London was celebrating releasing a brand-new game.
We sat down with Arnout Van Meer and Richard Jolly, founders of Splash Damage, for a trip down memory lane.
Arnout Van Meer: “[This] was the first title we did where we really felt like a proper company, instead of some amateurs that managed to land a lucky project!”
Quake is an IP that had been established over many years, long before the opportunity arose for Splash Damage to work on it. Three small rooms, a dozen staff working on projects – this was the classic “bedroom developer".
Splash Damage was a studio built from the community. Its first major project, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, had garnered praise the world over.
AVM: “After finishing Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (Wolf:ET), id Software and Activision were happy with the reception of a multiplayer-only title and were looking to do more with their franchises. Doom 3 had already been announced but was single player only at this point. To get familiar with their technology, we helped id Software out with adding multiplayer to Doom 3. While some of the team were completing work on this, the rest of us shifted over to do a proof of concept for a large, open terrain based game with vehicles based on that technology.”
There were a number of key challenges facing Splash Damage during production; but the scope of the game wasn’t one of them."
Richard Jolly: “We were champing at the bit to work on the Quake IP! That’s actually where Arnout, Paul and I met – in the halls of Q1DM6 shooting rockets at one another – so it’d long been a dream of ours to work in the Quake universe!”
Quake 1, 2 and 3 were all very different in terms of setting and gameplay, but id Software’s focus for the IP shifted to the conflict with the Strogg as seen in Quake 2. Raven Software took this on board with their production of Quake 4, while Splash Damage’s game would become an origin story for the universe.
RJ: “We worked closely with Kevin Cloud, one of the founders of id software and an incredible mentor. Kevin had already been working on QUAKE 4 with Raven Software at the time, so there was a wealth of backstory, concept art and designs that were shared with us to build on.”
There was a new physics engine in the works at id that would go on to be known as id Tech 4. This supported physically based vehicles, and at the same time John Carmack had been toying with an alternative way of texturing worlds; a technique that would be well suited to the game ‘Quake Wars’ would become.
There were a number of key challenges facing Splash Damage during production; but the scope of the game wasn’t one of them.
AVM: “One thing we ended up being known for was doing larger maps. Some people might remember Market Garden, the level we produced for Return to Castle Wolfenstein which was well suited for the chaos of 64 player battles. We already had to figure out weapon balance, movement and gameplay – as well as level design – when shipping Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, and all of this transitioned very well into the even larger spaces of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.”
While Splash Damage had experience with escorting vehicles as an objective, one of the key difficulties was translating that into driveable vehicles in large, open spaces.
AVM: “Vehicle physics over a network, especially when players don’t always have the best connections, is tricky to get right. A simulation might work great locally, a vehicle hits a rock and the suspension absorbs the impact [for example], then the server authoritative simulation corrects based on a slightly varied input and the vehicle suddenly gets flipped over…”
“’Enemy Territory: Quake Wars’ was in all senses the spiritual successor to Wol:ET, but bigger, bolder and deeper than what we had done before.”
The days of slow internet also came with other technological hurdles; hard drives were notoriously slow and streaming id Tech’s famous MegaTextures was pushing the boundaries of what was possible on common hardware. The experience gained in this process, though, was invaluable for the virtual texturing that would appear in ‘Brink’, and that id would use for ‘Rage’ and other id Tech 5 titles.
While the DNA of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory is visible in ‘Quake Wars’, it might be a little harder for the average observer to see the legacy of 'Quake Wars' in the studio's titles since.
AVM: “’Quake Wars’ wasn’t a bigger open shooter “just because”. Some levels are intentionally split between intense, focused indoor sections as well as the open outdoor areas to vary the pacing. You see some of this in ‘Dirty Bomb’ as well; we soon as an objective is placed inside a building the importance of some of the Mercs changes. The world is always an important part of the gameplay, but is has to be complimentary to the goal you’re trying to reach.”
That marrying of world, pacing and gameplay is clear to see in both ‘Brink’ and ‘Dirty Bomb’, but ‘Quake Wars’ was born simply out of a desire to do more.
RJ: “’Enemy Territory: Quake Wars’ was in all senses the spiritual successor to Wol:ET, but bigger, bolder and deeper than what we had done before.”
AVM: “’Quake Wars’ was an evolution, though it wasn’t an entirely natural one! ET:QW focuses more on large scale battles when the vehicles and base defences get involved. The first-person combat is still very similar, as well as the objectives. A lot of learnings were taken on board with the mantra “What if everything was bigger?!” being thrown around.
In the 10 years since launch Splash Damage has gone on to work on some of the most celebrated IPs in the industry, while creating a slew of successful own IP as well. Aside from working out of a bedroom, a lot has changed, but the core values remain the same.
AVM: “The main lesson we took away from ‘Quake Wars’’ development is “game development is hard!” – you really need to take your time to find a game’s direction if you want to do a more experimental title.
RJ: “There wasn’t really anything like ‘Quake Wars’ out there in those days, so a lot of what we were doing was new. It showed us the importance of being in touch with your player base, some of the ways that we interact with the ‘Dirty Bomb’ community nowadays have their roots in the ‘Quake Wars’ community.”
AVM: “Shipping a multiplayer title is very rewarding, people love to give their feedback!”
And in an impressive South London office building housing almost 300 developers, away from the bedrooms where it all began, there's a constant reminder of the legacy of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars...