Commentary / 19 Jun 2011, 21:25
QuakeWorld does not change?
QuakeWorld is one of the most conservative games ever. Its gameplay does not change over years at all.
Really, no changes?
At first look this might sound true. Every single change in the past required lots of discussion. Even change such as changing rocket direct hit damage from random 100-120 to constant 110 had lots of opponents, and lengthy discussions were needed before it got somewhat accepted. But it would be possible to name other important changes: allowance of fullbright skins, custom textures, game clock, fake-shaft, weapon scripts, and others. So then it might sound as the gameplay does actually change over time.
But after some thinking the actual impact of these changes or features actually might not seem so significant. For example fullbright skins only give a bit better visibility of players than what is possible to achieve with extremely unbalanced screen contrast and brightness settings. Custom textures change the actual gameplay in almost insignificant way - there does not seem be any "best" set of custom textures - players use very large variety of custom textures, from high-definition ones, to blurred or single-colored ones. Fakeshaft is perceived as just "better crosshair" by many players, and lots of great shafters play without it, it does not give them any advantage. Weapon scripts were possible since the beginning, clients only made their scripting easier and perhaps removed some small delay in their execution. Gameclock is just an alternative to a large clock being placed next to player's monitor.
So is it really true? Is the gameplay in QuakeWorld almost exactly the same as it was in 1996, when the game was released, except for the minor changes mentioned above?
"Natural evolution changes"
I think the answer is: certainly not. The game has become much faster, the damage (per second) players deal nowadays in average is greater than in the beginning of QuakeWorld. They are able to achieve much higher speeds, perform trick jumps with much higher precision and reliability. Players can react to actions of other players with much less delay.
Such shift of gameplay was caused by a couple of factors. First it were hardware improvements. It became possible to achieve much higher frame rates, monitors allowed to run on high refresh frequencies. Computer mice evolved dramatically, from ball-driven COM1 mouse to laser mouse with high DPI and refresh rates (USB overclocking). Internet routes also improved, giving smaller ping and also transfer rates rose up, so the communication between the client and server now does not need to be limited anyhow.
Second to that it were software changes. The greatest improvement were independent physics - ability to unlimit the rendering frame rate. Feature called cl_earlypackets removed some artificial lag from the incoming network traffic.
This all is a gameplay change or "shift" that happened somehow "on the background". There were no actual discussions about whether new graphics cards or new mice should be allowed. It would be ridiculous to suggest that some new better mouse should not be allowed because it allows to aim better. Independent physics were perhaps also perceived as just a logical evolution of the software, to catch up with new hardware performance and allow greater frame rates.
Such "changes" are actually perceived as some "natural evolution" and get much less, almost no attention at all compared to the minor changes like for example fakeshaft got back then. While new graphics card and mouse gives measurable improvement to everybody, using fakeshaft does only help some players.
But if there were so many discussions about such nearly insignificant changes as fakeshaft or direct rocket hit damage, why there were no discussions about changes caused by the hardware and software improvements?
Maybe because these affect the game slowly. New graphics cards rise the maximum frame rates by only a couple of percent every month. Computer mice also evolve gradually, their precision does improve smoothly with every new mouse.
Also, as mentioned, everybody would get laughed at when suggesting to not allow certain new type of hardware because it is too good, almost the same applies for similar software improvements.
But it is like this also because the scene is very conservative. Pointing out that these changes are not "OK" would mean something should be done about them - probably lessening them artificially by for example lowering some of the weapon damage.
It is often pointed out that originally the creators of QuakeWorld couldn't have any idea what the game would play like in 2011. They certainly couldn't expect how the game would play with as precise mice and high performance GFX cards as we have now - simply because they didn't have such hardware to test the gameplay on it. Also, weapon damage and other factors were probably mainly designed by how well they work in single player.
Game has changed
I think players should realize that they are playing a bit different game then they used to play in the 90's. I think everybody should realize that for example lightning gun damage has been actually changed - not by changing the code of the game, the actual number in the game rules, but by better hardware and software. Certain things that were quite difficult to do back then are now much easier.
If it was easy to start playing the game back then, because everybody's reaction times were quite constrained by the hardware and software, nowadays those limits are greatly lessened and new players have to deal with players who play the game for long time and can fully exploit their fast reactions to the game.
QuakeWorld is a conservative game. Intentional changes get accepted very carefully. However, the gameplay still does change gradually. And it is actually caused also by the fact that the game and the scene is so conservative, that it does not want to do anything intentional to counter this slow "natural" shift.