Science Fiction Virtual Reality:  Assignments

Authoring about Quake by Ted Cooper

Games? The basis of the Internet!

Recently, complaints circulated the RPI campus concerning bandwidth usage on the network. The target was one game, on one server. It seems that this Quake server was taking up a whopping 48% of the network bandwidth! Users pounced on this as the source of their slowdowns and any difficulties with the mail servers. Their complaints were quickly proven unfounded, as the server took up so much bandwidth simply by going twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, but the argument brought out some important questions. Not the least of these is: why is the network here?

Such a question was the basis for some heated discussion between two major camps: those who thought the network was for work, and those who thought it was also for fun. It surprised me to see how many people seemed to have forgotten the joy of gaming with others, especially since games have been around for all the major steps in computing. Pong showed up before most people had word processors, Nintendo before there were too many home PCs. Games have often led the computer industry, the demand for better and better graphics and interaction spurring new developments in hardware and software. To hear dedicated computer users denouncing the very software responsible for much of the evolution of their machines was strange indeed!

Arguments were made that Quake was childish, a kid's toy. Quake is in fact a breakthrough in VR technology for the home computer, an immersive 3-D world with real physics and convincing graphics. It is a rethinking of how games work, with bright colors replaced by darker, more realistic browns and grays. The new color scheme blends corners more easily, and light-sorcing is used to generate shadows and room lighting. Levels are designed in a program that could pass for an architect's CAD package, with walls, floors and objects placed in three dimensions, doorways and windows and water and sky all laid out according to the designer's will.

All objects are three-dimensional, as well. This is a huge step above all previous games, where objects were two-dimensional bitmaps that always faced you. In Quake, a candle or a person is built in space, you can walk around and see all the different sides and angles, from above or below, at any distance. In older games, you got four different views of a person: front, back, left, and right. If they turned, you would see them facing you, then instantly facing to the side. There was no fluidity, the game did not fool the brain into believing you were there. Quake offers that opportunity, to remove yourself to a distant and alien place for a while...

But there is still a lack of reality when playing Quake, unless you utilize the multiplayer feature. You connect to a Quake server and are dropped into a running game, with maybe a dozen other players. Because of the Internet, these players can be halfway around the world, or right next door. You can't tell the difference, all you know is their nickname and their shirt and pants color, which are chosen to distinguish players during games. Then you are either friend or enemy, as you choose, and the game begins. The object is simple: kill as many others as possible. When Quake was released a few months ago, the usual cry went out that it was too violent, too bloody, would only encourage violence in the real world. So much the opposite! Quake has brought people together around this campus and around the world, by allowing them to enter a virtual world with each other at any time, to build friendships without having to leave your room. It's more real than text chat, as you see others moving around you and match wits against them. You meet friends without knowing it, find people you play well with, others you fear or despise. You build your skill and reflexes, create a reputation, cop an attitude and make others pay for your bad day. It's a release, a freedom, where you are as anonymous or as famous as you want to be.

Quake was also released with a new idea in gameplay: organized teams. id Software, the manufacturers, set up a system by which groups of five or more could register themselves as Quake clans, complete with clan name, web page, and any stats or random information a clan wanted to make public. Teams were built quickly, and soon an independent organization started ClanWars, an organized battle of hundreds of clans for the supremacy of the Quake world. Within a few months of the game's release, Quake had generated about six RPI clans. Players were invited by others to join clans, recruiting began, on-campus tournaments were run, players were ranked, reputations built and talked about. Whoever a player was, his Quake name could be known and respected by hundreds. There were no prejudices, everyone started on even ground and could prove themselves and their ability.

The clans generated more than Quake teams, too. People got together to become a clan, and became friends by accident. Clans met each other, and more friends were made. Two players would look at each other across a table, with no idea of who the other was, then exchange Quake names and immediately burst into animated conversation. "Oh, that's you?? Geez, I see you online all the time!"

I personally have made about a dozen new friends directly through Quake. And they're friends you can meet online and talk to, as Quake has built-in text chat. Friendships have turned out to be more than an accident in Quake, too, they've become indispensable. My clan meets often, and all the members have become good friends with each other. We've gained an understanding of the others in the clan, and gained the trust of others. In a team game, this proves invaluable. As friends, we can talk about play styles and strategy, then in the game we come together as a better team for the time spent with each other. In fact, I've questioned whether the team formed our friendships, or our friendships caused us to form a team...

Now, knowing that a game has done all this, who could begrudge us a little bandwidth to carry on our second world that once in a while spills over into this world?

© 1996. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. All rights reserved.
Class web site created Fall 1996 by:
Ted Cooper, Brian Mardirosian, Tony Mrazik, and Sarah Takatani.