Misc / 16 May 2009, 00:21
A pig in a cage on antibiotics
The Eternal Hedgepig groaned; it was heard over all the Earth.
Most of you already know me by my considerable reputation, but for those who have not yet joined my fan club, please allow me to introduce myself. I am among the last of the QuakeWorld players from the Rebel County of Ireland, Cork. Although for years I wasted my time on more colourful FPS games, I was always drawn towards QuakeWorld, dipping in and out of a small and very insular Irish Quake scene. In the beginning, there were too many barriers that prevented me from taking the plunge completely.
I yearned mightily to enter this fascinating yet repellent city, and besought the bearded man to land me at the stone pier by the huge carven gate Akariel; but he gently denied my wish, saying: "Into Thalarion, the City of a Thousand Wonders, many have passed but none returned. Therein walk only daemons and mad things that are no longer men, and the streets are white with the unburied bones of those who have looked upon the eidolon Lathi, that reigns over the city."
So I hovered around the periphery for a number of years, and it was not until 2006 that the bearded man gave me a key to the city. He also offered me some sweets and asked me to step into his white van, but that is another story. The bearded man taught me how to bunny hop properly, the important jumps, 4 on 4 tactics, and triggered my metamorphosis from rookie/outsider to mid-skill ”mad thing”. Since then I have played TDM for asdf, Fian-A, Fusion, and now Quinas.
I should mention suffer from a physical disability that forces me to write in circles until my keyboard catches fire. The purpose of this column was to talk about my meeting with my clan mates and other Quakers from Portugal… but my attention span is short, so please forgive me if I ramble.
The last QuakeWorld meeting I attended was QHLAN in Sweden last January. It is funny how the two events could not have been more different. The austere sobriety of QHLAN contrasts so starkly with the festivities of Portugal. In Marsta we were 60 hooded monks silently staring ahead for three days. The most potent drink in the room was 60% sugar. We ate microwave pizzas that tasted like cardboard. The town was from a Stephen King movie, dark and bleak, but that made no difference because I could not go outside anyway lest the -16 degree wind turn my doleful tears to ice.
In Coimbra, I was greeted by enough tender little piglets to feed an army, and enough wine to drown them. Temperature in the mid 20’s, and one of the most lively festivals I have ever been to. Huge thanks to Meugnin for organising everything. It was all done extremely well.
I knew Meug, Mushi, Hectic, Mushi, and wuShu beforehand, but it was my first time meeting Nosfer4tu, dudark, and the old |B| guys (dib showed up later that night, enraged, with his dog, Boris). But when we launched straight into the Quake talk I felt like I’d known them all my life. In Irish Quake gatherings, we must always dance a haka in the beginning, feeling each other out with talk about football, current affairs, and other topics that are approved by the “normal people”. But there was no pussyfooting around on this occasion, the bittersweet nostalgia had taken hold before we had even sat down.
I spoke with Dudark and Nosf a bit about Quake history in Portugal, very similar to that of Ireland - a lot of clans in the early days, a bunch of really good players, but effectively blacked out by poor connections to the rest of Europe. A quick timeline mapped every Portuguese player into some “generation” based on when they started to play. It was extremely close parallel to the Irish scene.
Once upon a time, there was an Irish guy called Speccy, after his favourite console. He was a sys admin or a telecoms guy, a bit of a Dilbert by all accounts. He knew about strafing and +mlook and actually understood CONFIG.SYS and HIMEM.SYS. For the first few years of Quake, he formed a pillar of maturity (albeit slightly authoritarian) for the Irish scene. He helped to organise LANs, squealing gleefully with pride over his efficiency at crimping network cables. He set up forums and servers, continually plagued by the new generation of punk hacker kids who popped up in the late 90’s. He dealt with these tests as best he could, always with the interests the Quake community at heart.
But Speccy’s final battle came when he walked down the aisle with a broody hatchet-faced 30-something year old. She put her cold, bony fingers around his fragile nerdy heart and squeezed until every last drop of passion dripped like tears from his ravaged soul. He is a hollow man now. The memory of QuakeWorld still gnaws at him. Sometimes he reaches out for it subconsciously, like a war veteran to an amputated limb. Sometimes he reads Romero's blog. Sometimes he looks back at that mod he always meant to finish. Sometimes he thinks about simpler times and wonders if he could ever again taste that rush, if he could ever again feel the unique warmth of that community; be part of that secret society of early Quake nerds who were linked together by their shared interests. Bald guys with glasses who enjoyed science fiction, tactical dm2 duels, and crimping network cables. Their legacy still remains in a hundred web pages with animated gifs of flames and demons and shamblers dotted around cyberspace.
I never saw eye to eye with those bald guys, self-confessed “benevolent dictators”. I resented their attempts at controlling a community that did not belong to them. What authority did they have to exile some young kid just for being overzealous and a bit of a punk? But as time went by, I saw what happened in other games where Speccy’s supporting influence was not felt. A plague of angry teenagers brought anarchy to our shores, and communities many times as big as ours imploded in chaos. The newer generations had no pride in their clans or communities or national team, guys who could not play in a nations cup match for Ireland because “pizza was almost ready”.
16 years from now, when we are all living in bunkers to protect against nuclear fallout, with fibre internet connections and nothing to do but hang out on the computer, then Speccy’s generation will return. Enveloped by the self-doubt of midlife crisis, his kids fully grown, he will seek out the sensation that gripped him so tightly all those years ago. All we need to do is keep the scene alive until he returns.
But until then, although many of you might be inclined to disagree with me, there will still be new generations appearing. Like the frog who jumps to the centre of a circle, and with each successive jump he halves his distance, so each new influx will get smaller but never disappear. Rookies will still spawn in the spring time because inquisitive new gamers will always work their way back to the roots and find Quake. The most refined game play, the steepest learning curve; the biggest challenge and the greatest reward. The spawn rape on dm4, the aggression of aerowalk, the infinite dimensions of a 4v4 on dm3, the precision of the lightning gun aim, the depth of the movement.
Even now, every country in Europe has a new generation knocking on the door. The tragedy is that so many of these guys are doomed to circle Thalarion to the point of frustration. We must raise our nets to catch these stray birdies before they fly away again, direct them to the bearded man with the key.
The death of the local/national Quake communities is a big loss. While I support the QuakeWorld.nu umbrella community, I saw first hand how valuable a local site like Quake.ie was in gathering new players, a little bit of grit in an oyster. I would love to see the national communities spring up again, even if it’s just one server and some guy blogging about Quake.
The Quinas meeting made me think if some day we could have an Ireland vs Portugal 4v4 on LAN. Back in Speccy’s day, people were so proud of the national team. Team Ireland had sponsors, websites, went on tour to Northern Ireland to play vs Team NI, to UK to play in the Four Nations tournament, to France to play vs Team France. I acknowledge the good effort that the Czech guys made with the nations cup, but these internet leagues do not have the same appeal.
In Ireland, with friendly rivalries over the years, it was common for a guy from one clan to invite another clan to LAN 4v4 in his sitting room or garage. After a few solid hours on LAN, the rusty guys start getting warmed up, the teamplay starts to kick in, and every game has the intensity of a cup final. Infinitely better than playing a fairly meaningless match online. Now there are no longer two active clans in Ireland, no NI team or Team France or Four Nations. But with all the low fares air travel nowadays there have got to be options elsewhere. In Ireland and Portugal, the national teams have faded a little bit too much, it would be a stretch to organise something. In the future maybe I could drag john_rambo and Hotel and some others into something. But in other countries, where the top players are still within reach, would it be so difficult to organise a mini-LAN for Finland vs Sweden, Norway vs Poland, Netherlands vs UK?
I always got the sense that in places like Sweden and the Netherlands, the national identity is a little bit more blurred, and it is common for people to think of themselves as “European”. But I really don’t understand, is it that you have no real desire to play as a country? I know that LANs don’t carry the same significance for you as they do for Irish and Portuguese guys who have traditionally suffered a hefty ping disadvantage, but do you see what I mean about the appeal of international games? I like the Champions League because of the high standard, but it is the World Cup that really excites me because there are so many other factors at play.
The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw said “patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.” GB Shaw was from Dublin, hence the cynicism, it is different for Cork people because we really are superior. In my head I believe that national pride is illogical but I can’t deny that there are times when my blood boils with anger or my heart wells up with pride for Cork / Ireland. Why should I care about Orangemen marching in Northern Ireland down streets that I have never even seen? And yet “for a second, my blood is still with atavism”.
To a lesser degree, I don’t know why I feel a shade of Ghanaian pride when Essien dominates for the national team, or why I cheer with such enthusiasm for Portugal when they beat England on penalties. And so I would love to see Arnette and those AXE guys under a Norwegian flag in a serious LAN showdown vs Poland on dm2. And it would be great for Skillah kit out in his orange shirt along side Reppie and take down the Swedes with everyone on 12ms, all warmed up, and in the same room.
My battery is low, flight is landing soon, so I will pick up this train of thought later maybe.
* Now I am back in Cork, banging my head off the wall. 8 degrees. Overcast. Scattered outbreaks of rain and drizzle will gradually become more widespread during this afternoon and evening. Small Craft Warning in effect. Blight Warning in effect. How I wish I could be sipping Superbock in the sun right now. Thanks again to the Quinas guys for the hospitality; I hope that ye can get some sunshine if ye ever make it over to Ireland.