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Building Quake Live: Carmack Speaks
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Building Quake Live: Carmack Speaks

February 26, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next
 

[As Quake Live debuts to massive demand, Gamasutra sits down with Id's John Carmack and Marty Stratton to discuss its conception, technical specifics, and iPhone plans.]  

id Software's just-debuted browser-based FPS Quake Live is a very interesting proposition. It allows id to enter the uncharted territory (for the developer) of free-to-play, ad-supported browser gaming, and it reinvigorates a classic PC game -- Quake 3 -- that was a titan in its time.

Here, John Carmack discusses, along with Marty Stratton, executive producer of the project, exactly what the inspiration for this project is, the challenges that id faced in bringing the project from conception to reality, and its hopes to contribute to the continued success of the PC platform.

Carmack and Stratton also discuss how they expect to see the product evolve down the road -- giving a roadmap to how one of the top developers on the platform sees the market evolving over the next several months, at the very least.

It's been an interesting experience taking this game that so many people were familiar with nearly a decade ago and have it, essentially, be current again.

John Carmack: It's really heartening to see how many hours a lot of people are logging on the game now, and that shores up my confidence that it really is a good solid core gameplay mechanic that we've polished and tuned a little bit. The whole point of the project was just to make it easier to access that core mechanic.

I joined a game early on, and there were two guys in a duel who each had kill counts in the 400s -- they must have been there for hours. They were just bantering back and forth casually, while pulling off amazing stunts. It was funny to see.

JC: Yeah, it's also really interesting how broad the user base is on our beta list, and Marty is saying that he thinks we're actually going to be running more servers in Europe than domestically on our launch, or ramp-up to the public beta. Just looking at all the leaderboards seeing all the huge diversity of country flags up there is kind of cool.

You're going into an open beta now, right?

Marty Stratton: Yes. We'll have opened up to the public on Tuesday evening. We anticipate being in beta for a little while, completely open to the public, and going from there.

How much have you worked out your final "release" schedule, so to speak? Are you playing it by ear?

MS: I would consider this the full, official launch. Because it is a website and is a built-in, unified experience all on this web portal, we're taking more of an attitude of it being web development, so we're launching to the public.

We're letting everybody play. We don't expect to have to do anything like wiping stats or anything major like that. We expect that once we launch it, we're going to leave the beta tag on it until we're sure that we're not going to have major outages or different things like that.

JC: The beta tag is certainly an admission that we never launched an online web service like this before, and we've already run into lots of things that we didn't know we needed to know. And I'm sure we're going to run into a lot more as we open up to the public.

So, some of that is just: bear with us, there are probably going to be some issues here, but we are going to work through them.

MS: We have used Google's model a bit, in terms of launching new features. I think Gmail is actually still in beta, so I hope we're not in beta quite as long as that, but it's that kind of philosophy. We have a full-featured product, but we'll probably be adding some functionality, some features, and hammering out some issues as large numbers of people begin to use the service.

Can you speak to any of those factors that forced you to reconsider elements of your strategy or prolong development?

JC: The gameplay side of things went really pretty much as we expected. The plan was to take the old codebase, and modernize it a little bit. There have been so many people who have played the game for nine years or so and have tried out lots of things in the different mods. While you'll never have a complete consensus, with some improvements, it [comes close].

So we did integrate a lot of the changes that people almost universally agreed on -- some things with item placement, weapon balance, and tuning the different parts of the game. All of the levels are cleaned up visually.

We added some things with the in-game advertising, but also took the opportunity to tighten up the visual presentation on everything and improve the lighting. All that went pretty much the way we expected. That didn't go massively over time budget or anything.

What really hurt us was the initial thought of putting a web interface on it. Some things surrounding the game were certainly overly trivialized by us. That's easy to do when you say, "Oh, we're hotshot game developers. This web stuff can't be too hard because so many people do it."

There's a little bit of a humbling lesson there in how much work we did have to do with all the things on browser compatibility and backend database integration and optimization.

Things like that that really had taken a couple times longer than we expected them to. But on the other hand, the entire product package is a lot slicker than I envisioned in my mind's eye when I threw out the napkin design for this a year and a half ago.


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