"Arrogant Erratum" | mariteaux
Here at home
Last modified: 12/12/2020
The day is June 12, 2020. Quake hadn't been on my mind for well over a year at that point. Hell, I hadn't played the game in just as long. I hadn't found my place in that scene, partially thanks to my own teenage hubris—and I certainly wasn't about to try again. Too many bad memories. Not to say I didn't want anything to ever do with the game ever again, far from it, but it wasn't the right time, and I wasn't sure there'd ever be a right time. My focus was on my group and my stories at that point.
I did keep one contact from that time, though, and these little rabbit holes always start with one, don't they?
[5:10 PM] NewHouse: Do you still like quake mapping? [5:10 PM] NewHouse: Sorry for asking [5:10 PM] mariteaux: nah all good man [5:10 PM] mariteaux: i've thought about it for sure [5:11 PM] mariteaux: the game's still fun but just a lot of bad memories with that scene, i still can't look at like quaddicted or func or places without getting a little anxious [5:11 PM] NewHouse: Would you.. like to do a secret map for blue ep in 2 weeks? [5:12 PM] NewHouse: ^~^ [5:12 PM] mariteaux: hm [5:12 PM] mariteaux: sounds fun [5:12 PM] NewHouse: low gravity one [5:12 PM] NewHouse: or something else [5:13 PM] mariteaux: i've never mapped for lowgrav [5:13 PM] mariteaux: so probably not that [5:13 PM] mariteaux: but yeah i am interested [5:13 PM] NewHouse: I would give you bunch of blue textures [5:13 PM] NewHouse: I can list unused ones* [5:14 PM] NewHouse: azure agony it maybe the easiest reference point [5:14 PM] NewHouse: but also my smej w1m2 blue runic one [5:14 PM] mariteaux: you know, yeah, i wanna do one [5:14 PM] NewHouse: Things can be simple yet abstract [5:14 PM] mariteaux: satisfy my curiosity of how i've improved since then [5:14 PM] NewHouse: As long as fun and scary*
And so came NewHouse, asking me if I wanted to be a guest mapper on his longtime Blue episode. He'd been working on it long before I even took my shot at building levels, and having played in-progress builds of it throughout the years, I can safely say it's one of the best custom episodes I've ever played. It retains Quake's flavor, but builds on it. It feels otherworldly, magical, strange, but most importantly, it's fun. And given that NewHouse was the one guy that stuck by me, enough to come back and poke me about it two years later, I pretty quickly took his offer as a thank you.
[5:16 PM] Cammy: think i'm gonna take it [5:17 PM] Caby: hell yeah man [5:17 PM] Cammy: you guys gotta understand, i last mapped about two months before i met caby i was such a different person at the time all stuff i've rambled about but yeah gosh [5:17 PM] dotcomboom: >>:3c [5:17 PM] Cammy: just jump in, do something simple and fun, get to show you guys a lot of screenshots of dramatic lighting and things <w< [5:17 PM] dotcomboom: aw yeah [5:18 PM] Caby: good shit >:3c [5:24 PM] Cammy: i'm giggling gosh just letting loose on this one more time don't have the scene to please, just make something fuckin neat
I hadn't yet realized what fresh hells I'd gotten myself into.
The idea for the level came the same day he asked. I wanted to present the player with, essentially, a carrot they couldn't yet eat. The ending would be accessible from the very beginning...except that the ending was an impossibly difficult arena of enemies that the player was set up to fail at. This is the "arrogant erratum"—the cocky mistake the player can make right then and there. However, should they be patient, they would be rewarded greatly, getting the whole carrot and much more.
Things didn't happen quickly on this level. Although I was taking swipes with the (naturally blue) textures he handed me, nothing sparked for gameplay or for interesting layouts, not yet. I wasn't exactly into what I was building. NewHouse had originally given me a two week deadline, and I certainly wasn't about to make that. I had just built a few random rooms, not a beginning nor an end. I didn't know where I could fit anything I was coming up with.
With a deadline extension at the end of that two weeks, NewHouse suggested simply playing with shapes and doing something abstract. And that's when it came to me, the beginning, the thing I could hook my concept into: a puzzle box, floating in a void. That's the spawn. This would lead into the hub area where you'd be given your choice.
But then I thought one better. A big theme of Blue is dreams—and I've certainly had my fair share of dreams that take place somewhere I know well, even if it's weird and distended and uncomfortable. Thus, the hub became Quake's original start level, a little visually altered, but plenty familiar. This would set the tone for the rest of what I built, not to be wholly unoriginal, but to rearrange, revisiting as many older levels as I can and gluing them together in something that could only make sense sleepwalking through a dream.
One thing I relearned as I was working on "Arrogant" is that sometimes, levels take an entirely different shape than you intended over the course of building them. Sometimes, you completely, radically change the layout and flow just by changing your intentions.
Something NewHouse and I have talked multiple times is multilayered secrets, the idea being that secrets can contain other secrets or setups for secrets that come later. I had initially wanted the level to be a series of smaller, "locked door, find key" sorta challenges—your usual id1 flow, really, and each one would get more and more abstract and featureless before returning to the bricks you started with past the hub area. Concealed in each of these would be a secret area containing more gameplay, and yes, more secrets.
So as far as that first area with the knights goes, I initially built it so you could hop the gap using a plinth that would rise up out of the floor, and the sewers, where you get the Double-Barrelled Shotgun, were a secret accessed through a strange, pitch black shooting gallery at the top of the stairs. The problem was, I had gotten really busy with these sewers to the point where a good 65% of the level's content thusfar was in them, and it made no sense to let people skip them.
So instead, the sewers became mandatory as the way you accessed the other side of the knight room and the shooting gallery activated another secret. If that's why the way you get into them seems a little strange, that's why.
WELCOME TO [[[ANOXIA]]]
Getting back to my bit about revisiting older levels, I decided to have the sewers be stacked on different levels (another one of my favorite gameplay features, vertical progression) and feature teleporters that just went all over the damn place. The initial intent was a teleporter maze, and the player would have to figure out which ones lead to the right places, with the wrong ones instead taking the player into some of the worst memories Quaddicted has to offer.
The maze bit was scrapped, but I had way too much fun with the older map homages to let those be optional.
I even managed to throw in one of my old map scraps as an area you can visit! At one point, I was working on a Rubicon first level to a potential bite-sized episode ("Shrink", I think I was calling it), and I'd hidden a terminal featuring mari in as a secret. Naturally, I carried it over into one of this level's secrets, as a way to get to an area that hints at the second level.
By this point, since this was already starting to be kind of a big level, and I started to realize that this was likely to be the last level I ever built for the game (or at the very least, a good "I could die happy" place to stop), I decided to go all out. Any last weird idea I had, I'd throw in there in whatever way it fit. This is really where I think the more trippy gameplay bits start showing up, so buckle in.
The "plunge" section
Underwater combat in Quake is underappreciated. Movement in combat is often based around not getting boxed into corners, but underwater, moving up and down is also an option. As I said before, I love vertical progression; too often do players and level designers simply not think to look up or look down. An underwater section seemed absolutely perfect for pure vertical progression action, and indeed, the "plunge" section was originally meant to be an homage to "vertical" maps (768x768 horizontally, unlimited height), but underwater.
Given that this section is also totally underwater, it gave rise to another mechanic of vanilla Quake that I wanted to explore, namely, utilizing the Thunderbolt's "discharge" offensively in a map. Naturally, given that discharging the Thunderbolt kills everything nearby including the player, most avoid doing so, but that's precisely why it was on the table for me. How many Quake players outside of the deathmatch lads have done it more than once or twice?
So, of course, I threw in a Pent to keep the player alive.
Originally, I only required the Thunderbolt to kill a few zombies the player otherwise couldn't (barring players who survived the mari secret and thus had a Grenade Launcher handy), but after a playtester pointed out that it'd be way cooler to use it as a weapon all throughout that section, I rearranged it and made ammo for it and Pents a constant. This also helped to alleviate the lack of ammo in early builds. Indeed, it made the "plunge" section way cooler.
At this point, I was on a roll with these ideas, and something hit me hard as for what I'd do at the end of the "plunge" section. The player would resurface in a watery canyon that not only called back to my own previously-scrapped map attempts, but my past creative efforts in general.
The Kuras Stronghold
The "Kuras", as they were known, were a tribe of ancient aardwolf people known for building the first great settlements where Elinar now stands. Or stood, I should say; this all came about in a partnership with a girl I knew for quite some time and now don't. At the time I was in the Quake scene, though, I did, and Calelira (the overarching world all of that fantasy worldbuilding nonsense was contained in) was still a going concern. Naturally, I tried to merge the two.
Although I could never pull off an entire episode's worth of maps, I did have plans for another episode project about the time DM4Jam happened, which would've been called Episode A. Frankly, it was kind of the forerunner to what "Arrogant" would become: a id1-like set of maps that explore gameplay concepts id developed and then never did much with. In a sort of celebration of Quake's vibrant modder support and also because of my own curiosity, I wanted to build every single map in Episode A with a different editor. The Kuras Stronghold was meant to be Episode A's secret level, built with Worldcraft 1.6.
Seeing as the player had to surface somewhere from the "plunge" section, and seeing as I was already revisiting older level concepts, it was just the perfect opportunity. In the Episode A version, the stronghold used purely Elder World textures, but this time around, I used a mix of ikblue and ikwhite (the latter for more "safe" areas). I was really going for size here, and certainly, while it's nothing groundbreaking for the scene at large, in a world of Shibboleths and Sepulchers, it was groundbreaking for me personally.
This all came at a cost: I was really starting to bump up against engine limits at this point, and my rather desperate desire to stick within vanilla limits was becoming infeasible. Multiple times, I ran into a glitch I've dubbed the "Outer Limits" glitch, where a level doesn't fit within the hard limit of 8,192 units on any axis and thus wraps the players viewpoint back to the world origin.
In the end, my ballooning intentions for this level caused it to be split into two separate ones (which still don't run in the vanilla game, bah). I think I handled the split in a rather novel way, at least for Quake: the "plunge" section of "Arrogant" ends with the player swimming towards the pipe that leads into the side building in the "Kuras" cavern Half-Life style, and then in "Kuras", you can still see the end of the "plunge" section through the bars. Quake's engine doesn't support landmarks in level transitioning like GoldSrc does, but this is a fun enough facsimile.
While "Arrogant" was pretty vanilla in terms of its gameplay, I wanted to do something more alien for "Kuras". I wanted things to be eerie, isolated. In Calelira, the Kuras had to abandon their strongholds and underground stockpiles because of toxic mine gases, and while monsters had moved in, I didn't want to bombard the player with them right away. I wanted things to feel much larger than the player, more magical, more oblique. I wanted the environment to become the enemy.
Continuing on with the voids I was playing with in "Arrogant", I made a large, open, very dark hub area containing passageways to three gauntlets, each containing their own key. One gauntlet was built around nail traps. Another, based on crusher traps (my little tribute to NewHouse, I suppose). And finally, one built around floating magical debris. These could be undertaken in any order the player desires, which I think adds a sense of open world to otherwise a very linear experience (which I do prefer, yes).
These gauntlets, I think, are the best part of either map. The "hidden areas" thing from earlier finally got used here (as well as the first half of the level's sole encounters with monsters, all of which I wanted killable with the various traps), and there's just plain something neat to say about all three of them.
Finally, after you grab all three keys, you encounter your first enemies and the release I promised isn't far. You still have to make your way up there, however.
What goes up must come down
I was starting to get pretty tired of building by the time I got to this point (I just wanna write, for God's sake), but I was locked in for the long haul at this point. I knew my work wasn't done when I finally got the thing fully built, but it was good enough to take a break for a few months.
Once again, I had the player fighting upwards up a staircase as the long buildup to the release, with lots of teleporting monsters I had to build cozy little closets for when I ported these levels back to id1, but overall, it's pretty meat and potatoes Quake, and quite difficult Quake at that, but I think the ending more than makes up for it. You clear out the Shamblers and all those Knights come hopping out onto the arena floor at you, and you shoot a quad rocket at the lot and it's gibs for days.
Of course, the ending came with its own problems—namely my utter lack of energy at that point. I winged it in the initial build, not really sure how to end it other than "something something void teleporter", and yeah, I was never too enthused with it. When I came back in November to do my bugfixes, NewHouse had suggested trapping the player in a space they had to fight their way out of for an ending instead, which I happily implemented.
And, since I just can't help myself, there's two more map callbacks in the revised "Kuras" ending. One involves a pit of spawns and one involves a mixtex nightmare. See if you can guess. The rest of the ending, and the sudden switch to gold textures, is more sort of hinting at Dark Saga's second episode than anything else, but I'll leave that one up to NewHouse to describe...
That was a pretty exhaustive look at everything, but I had a lot to talk about. Home stretch, promise.
One thing I learned as I was building this level is just how little grasp I really have on ammo balancing. Surprisingly so! In early builds, I was finishing with still hundreds of nails left in reserve, so you can imagine my surprise when players, including NewHouse, came to me with complaints of having to face Shamblers with rockets! Again, I think the revised "plunge" section helped immensely, as did me simply highballing my ammo placement. I figured if I had so much ammo, I'd never run out, players would be at a decent enough level throughout. Hasn't failed me yet, I suppose.
I think these levels are generally just a lesson in tempering your intentions. You'll never be able to implement 100% of everything you want into any kind of project, and trying often leads to scope creep. I only avoided scope creep by wanting the damn thing done, and I didn't even implement everything I wanted to! Believe me, I had plans for a semi-accessible deathmatch arena in "Kuras" (which is now where the "blood offering" secret sits), as well as fake reflective floors using a mirrored copy of the level geometry, a la Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3:
But in all honesty? Maybe my outlook on these levels will change in time, but as it sits, days after having finally finished bugfixes and releasing it into the world? I can't think of a single gripe I have with what I built. This is the single most experimental, expansive, absurd pack I'll ever put under my own name, and it works exactly as I want it to. I've been playing it once a day as part of my doctor-mandated rehabilitation program (quitting Quake cold turkey could leave me having fits, don't you know), looking for something to go "ah fuck, I should've fixed that" at, and I haven't found anything, not in the gameplay nor the build.
I think the biggest lesson I've taken from all this is that I found what makes Quake so enjoyable to me again. When I showed up in the scene, I was looking for validation from internet strangers, basically. I had something to prove. I wanted people's approval, I wanted to do something people would remember, and in some form or fashion, I figured being a gadfly was the best way to do it. It doesn't work, and what happened left me soured for a long time on this game, which sucks—because I really do think Quake is my favorite FPS game of all time. I've just never played one that feels anywhere as good as it.
I dunno. Maybe it's not that serious. Maybe I'm weird for having to overcome internet drama in my own head. In any case though, I'm pleased with what I built, NewHouse is pleased with what I built, and I sure hope you enjoy playing it.