I have to admit that I was more than just a tiny bit nervous when I went to meet Todd Hollenshead, CEO and co-founder of id Software, and Paul Wedgwood, the owner and lead designer of Splash Damage. After all, they are each gaming celebrities in their own right; Hollenshead for his involvement with Doom and Quake and Wedgwood for the rags to riches story that saw a group of amateur mod makers hit the big time and form Splash Damage.
It was lucky then that when I got a chance to preview Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and chat with the two of them about it that they turned out to easy-going and relaxed guys – one may go so far as to call them ‘dudes’, given Todd’s long hair and thick leather bracelets.
The follow-up to the still massively popular Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory multiplayer game, Quake Wars is set as a prequel to the storyline from Quake II and Quake IV and through a series of campaign driven multiplayer missions it tells the tale of the Strogg invasion on Earth.
Players get the options to play on either side of the war, though the demonstration and hands on time we had focused more on the human side of the conflict than the Strogg, and can use five classes to help achieve objectives. We admit having our doubts that five classes would be enough for some of the more advanced players, but a few minutes with the game showed us that the entire attitude of the developers has been to structure the gameplay into different tiers for the experience level of gamers.
Paul Wedgwood proved this to us straight away, booting up the ‘Sewers’ level (which is actually set in a massive mountain pass) and hopping straight into a nearby buggy.
“The vehicles are really easy to control, we have a newbie driving mode so that if you lose contact with the ground whilst trying to turn left then the wheels won’t lock up and the car will carry on trying to go the way you obviously want to go. But turn on the advanced vehicle controls and it’s like turning off digital stabilisation in a car and you can do a lot more stuff with it.”
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I quizzed him further about these features and he admitted that it’s a reoccurring aspect of the game design.
“I’m really proud of the accessibility of the game. There are people I want to play with who never play things like this and we’ve made it simple for those people to play, but complex enough for hardcore gamers at the same time.”
Paul and Todd moved on to demonstrate what I thought was one of the game's coolest features; a dynamic mission system targeted at each player. Again aimed at those unfamiliar with a level, the dynamic mission system works by constantly assessing the battlefield and deciding what each team needs to do to win their core objectives.
On the level we played, which was part of the Pacific campaign and was set in the mountains of Japan, the core objective for the Global Defence Force was to retake the sewer system at the far end of the map and to use it to flush the Strogg from the area.
The path to this objective utilised three of the human classes, requiring Soldiers to blow open the gates, Engineers to build defence measures and the Covert Ops to finally access the sewage system at the end. On the way however there were a series of minor objectives that could be completed for extra experience and to help introduce players.
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If the mission system, which is activated simply by pressing ‘M’, spots that your team needs help securing a particular pass then it will give you a fresh objective revolving around it, directing Soldiers towards the frontlines or advising Engineers to restore guard towers or deploy defence turrets nearby.
It’s a clever little system that helps introduce new players to a level and to the overall gameplay, while making sure that they are useful to the team as a whole and giving them a fresh slice of the action instead of leaving them on the sidelines looking confused. The game also uses context-sensitive controls to help speed the process along. Upon reaching a gate that needs to be demolished, a n00b Solider can just hold the use button to apply and arm the bombs, while a pro can get the bomb armed and ready before they get to the gate if they so choose.