This interview is an odd kind of reunion. I had been acquainted with Paul Wedgwood for many years, long before we met in person. Back when I was an obsessed Quake player he was one of the people organising the communities, writing columns, administrating games, and commentating for an Internet TV show for which my Quake clan played numerous exhibition matches.
Now that his life has taken quite a different path - into the highest echelons of game development - you might expect him to have left his fan community roots behind, but quite the opposite it true. It is the first-person gaming community, and its focused, implacable gamers, that have made Wedgwood and his company what they are today.
Clearly enjoying life, a smiling Wedgwood greets me in the middle of his small, open-plan office. All thirty of his employees share the same space, and the only members of the team that seem to get an office space to themselves are the huge banks of servers. Wedgwood explains that the machines are required to "compile mega-textures", a vital ultra-high-tech process which will make his game a reality. The things have their own disco-lit glass case, as if to illustrate their significance.
We walk down a corridor past a swathe of concept art: burning ruins, troubled-looking robots and alien soldiers. One of the mutant marines is annotated and carrying a set of "trinoculars." I wonder what its third eye is supposed to see.
We sit down and begin to reminisce. Wedgwood tells me about his early life. He was obsessed with computing from an early age and was eventually expelled from school for spending too much time playing truant so that he could code games on a ZX Spectrum.
"We would go into school, register and then go straight home and start writing code out of Spectrum magazines," he tells me. This is a man for whom boredom has clearly been a great motivator.
"It is one of those jobs that is incredibly stimulating while you're learning everything there is to know about it, but once you get to the point where you know most of what there is to know about operating systems and hardware it's only when new technologies come around that your interested is stimulated again. So by around '96 or '97 I was just really bored. I spent all night in soulless comms rooms getting networks up and running, and my respite was to go home and play games online."
For Wedgwood, Quake was something of a revelation. He suddenly found something that focused his competitive urges and locked him into extended sessions of a new kind of experience.
"It was a much deeper level of concentration than I had ever experienced playing Chess, or Monopoly, or even more physical games like charging about the council estate where I grew up on rollerskates. You could lose yourself [in Quake] completely without any kind of plot driving the game."
Wedgwood, like many gamers discovering online gaming during the same period, was bowled over by these fresh new videogame experiences. He was lost in them, and soon found himself playing the popular class-based combat game, Team Fortress.
"When I think back now to that blue ramp room in Team Fortress, I have physical memories of it. I have memories of the torches burning, and the water dripping. I got to know the room so well that it became a physical memory - it's not like a memory of any other game."
Wedgwood rapidly found a clan, one of the Team Fortress and Quake-playing teams, and began to play obsessively. His competitive nature shone through as the team began to win on a routine basis, with Wedgwood leading. As he played more and more he began to forge strong links with the people he played with. More importantly, he had time to sink into writing news and running games websites.
"I got a job as a contract IT guy in a bank in the city," Wedgwood explained. "Because it had trading floors I wasn't allowed to touch the network between nine and five. So my job was to sit at my desk and not touch anything. Instead of actually doing anything I spent most of '98 updating the Team Fortress newsdesk."