ET: QUAKE Wars and the Lost Al-Fax Mission Briefings

September 29, 2010

On this, Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars’ third birthday, it seems apposite to mention that recent researches and excavations have revealed some stuff that didn’t make the final game. You see, following on from Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory’s silly mission audio briefings (“Yanks, Banks, Tanks, Krauts, GOOOOLD” etc), we dallied with the notion of doing something similar for Quake Wars. Back for Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, we did a pretty direct pastiche of the 1940’s March Of Time newsreels, so for the near-future QUAKE Wars, the most obvious equivalent seemed to be some sort of cable news channel.

How on earth could you report an alien invasion? Doing it as a straight Cloverfieldish news-horror seemed inappropriate. The tone needed to be simultaneously vastly confident, obviously ignorant, professionally craven and inappropriately upbeat.

The mission briefings had to work whichever side you played them as, which lead to the creation of Al-Fax News: the world’s worst international news network, hedging its bets until it knew whether the Strogg or GDF would win, trying to report on events in an impartial yet jaunty manner, while sucking up to both human and Strogg forces in case they proved victorious.

This immediately made me think of that Simpsons episode [Deep Space Homer] where Homer, for reasons too brilliant to expound at length, accidentally releases ants in a space station. An ant floats near the lens of the space station’s TV camera, appearing huge, just as they go to a live news linkup. Kent Brockman, Channel 6 newsreader, rapidly evaluates the situation, and hastens to ingratiate himself with the new presence thus:

Kent Brockman: Ladies and gentlemen, er, we’ve just lost the picture, but, uh, what we’ve seen speaks for itself. The Corvair spacecraft has been taken over — “conquered”, if you will — by a master race of giant space ants. It’s difficult to tell from this vantage point whether they will consume the captive earth men or merely enslave them. One thing is for certain, there is no stopping them; the ants will soon be here. And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords. I’d like to remind them that as a trusted TV personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves.

As ever, if The Simpsons has done a joke, it’s been done for good; you never get out of its shadow. So in a respectful homage to/direct theft from The Simpsons, we created Al-Fax News’ gravitas-soaked know-nothing newsreader Ampersand McGee. He started with a more conventional first name, but changed it to what he thought sounded more international/ethnic to fit in with Al-Fax’s international reach, remit and audience.

I wasn’t sure if the (deliberately, I swear!) badly-written mission briefings would make any sense, either to the voice actor or the player. Clearly casting was going to be key. Womb Music’s excellent Margaret Tang was handling our talent casting and booking for Quake Wars: she instantly recommended the extraordinary Neil Ross. When we got him in the studio, I began to blather on and on about the context and character as Neil sat stony-faced before the mic. Then he nodded once…and then just aced them, perfectly, first time. Stunned at Neil’s ability to deliver tone-perfect first take deliveries of deliberately hyper-alliterative paragraph-length tongue-twisters, I asked him how he managed it.

“12 years as a Rip-and-Read newsreader”, he deadpanned. “The headlines were as much a surprise to me as to the audience.”

To my eternal rage and shame, we still have the scripts but not the actual audio files. Being an idiot, I didn’t think to burn off a copy, and now I fear it’s lost forever among our many server reshuffles. Should subsequent searches and excavations find anythi- oh, here they are. As a birthday treat, let’s give them some air outwith these walls.

To listen to the briefings, just right-click the links below and choose the ever-popular “Save As…” option. Enjoy:

I’m Ampersand McGee, and this is Al-Fax News, don’t you DARE change the channel!