Q&A: Paul Wedgwood on Quake Wars

Splash Damage's creative director talks about his forthcoming game, its longevity, and its recently announced 360 and PS3 ports.

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Even before it was named as the Best Shooter of E3 2006 by GameSpot, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars had a high profile on PC gamers' radars. When it didn't come out last year, it became--by default--one of the most hotly anticipated PC titles of 2007. That changed recently, when Activision announced it was being ported to the PlayStation 3 and 360.

Quake Wars is a dedicated online, multiplayer tactical shooter in which teams can play as either the alien Strogg or the humans who are defending their planet. As outlined in GameSpot's previous coverage, it promises unusually rich depth for a first-person shooter, with a selection of different character classes for each race. Those include such skills as medic or engineer, each of which are needed to undertake unique tasks such as reviving fallen comrades or building bridges, respectively.

Paul "Locki" Wedgwood is the owner and creative director of London-based developer Splash Damage, which is developing Quake Wars for the PC. (The 360 and PS3 versions are being developed by Nerve Software and Z-Axis, respectively.) The shop was founded in 2001, when Wedgwood teamed up with Texas-based id Software and Activision for Return to Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. Originally conceived as a full-on expansion to id's shooter Return to Wolfenstein, the project was canceled in 2003. However, the multiplayer portion of the game was complete, and it was released as a free download.

GameSpot sat down with Wedgwood to discuss the new game.

GameSpot UK: The game's been a long time coming. What was the reason for the delay?

Paul "Loki" Wedgwood: We started on this project in the summer of 2003. [T]he concept...went back and forth between myself and Kevin Cloud, who's the co-owner of id Software. He was [also] the executive producer of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory with us, and he's the executive producer on this project as well.

We started with a fairly small team, about six people working on the game for the first year or so, really just, you know, in the research and development phase, so we went through a lot of different technology revisions while we fleshed out the game design. After about nine months we'd been working on different aspects of technology but they'd been fairly unsuccessful. Essentially what we were doing is we were taking the Doom 3 engine, which is a linear, first-person, single-player, indoor shooter and creating an outdoor-terrain-rendering multiplayer game with vehicle physics. As a team we were very familiar with id technology but what we really needed to do was something completely new. So after about nine months we went back to id Software and said, "You know, these are the challenges we're facing, what do you suggest?"

And it took John Carmack about nine seconds to say, "Well, what I think you should do is have a huge texture that covers the entire landscape, that's untiled and unbroken right to the horizon. This can be as big as you like. And then just render absolutely everything to the horizon." I thought, "Well that's easy, why didn't we think of that?" But obviously this took some technology to do, so it started off with John sending us some pseudo-code to deal with loading the megatexture, and then eventually he wrote the basis of the megatexture technology that's now implemented in the game. We spent about another year then developing tools, and the pipeline so that it would be perfect. And then [we] went into full production about a year and a half ago, two years ago on the actual game. Now the game itself has 12 maps, but each of those maps, in terms of construction, takes about four times as much manpower as a single Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory map did on our previous map. So the effort to produce those 12 maps is really more like 48 maps, which for a multiplayer combat game is quite a challenge.

Traditionally with multiplayer combat games they're all in a forest, or in a jungle, or in a desert, and all the maps that come with the game, they're in one location. We're using distinctly unique locations for each of the maps that exist. They also have a unique plot which drives the objectives. The terrain differs because we have some maps featuring large water bodies like lakes or rivers or coastlines; others will be kind of flat, smooth desert. Another might be a mountainous area in a temperate region, and so the complexities of that as a kind of an added layer on top of having unique gameplay around each of the objectives just makes them very difficult to balance and very difficult to get right.

Ken and I have talked about this quite a lot. I think if we wanted to we could have put the game out in 2006 and had every map be quite similar. But the problem was it wouldn't have given you that unique gameplay experience at the level of the objective, not just the map itself, but every objective feeling like it's a really different, interesting take on the way that you play. And that was something that we really wanted to achieve.

GSUK: How did the development process work between id Software and Splash Damage when you're based in London and they're in Texas?

PW: We work with id Software as our executive producer and Activision as our publisher. And it was exactly the same team that worked together on Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory for just over a year prior to taking on Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. We also helped out id Software with some multiplayer maps for Return to Castle Wolfenstein Game of the Year Edition, and for Doom 3 multiplayer, so we had quite a lot of experience working with id right back as far as our mod-making days. It's a really close relationship; more than just getting additional direction, they dedicate their own resources to the project as well.

GSUK: How did you find them, being in the US and you being in the UK?

PW: Well, it involves a lot of travel! In 2005, on my last flight in December, I realised I'd flown 29 times. In 2006 alone I think I'd been to Los Angeles six times and Dallas four times. Id Software visit us really regularly as well; generally every couple of months they come over for a week and then they play-test with us. And of course there are play-tests every day between id Software, Splash Damage, and Activision because we play the game across the Internet, and that helps us all kind of gel and get everything done. I think, you know, as a company, we're fairly inexperienced, and so where there have been kind of missteps or problems, they've probably been of our doing. But in almost every case where that's happened--id Software have been able to step in and kind of mentor us on making the right decisions and going in the right direction afterward.

GSUK: Through the development process, were there things that you really wanted to include that you found in the end just didn't work?

PW: I think that the game we have now is really close to the original vision that we had. How you would have described the game is exactly how it plays and how it is now. Obviously because of the way that we work with id, and the way we worked with them on Wolfensteain: Enemy Territory as well, there's always been a "preparedness" on our side to cut things that just aren't any fun. And so, there are probably a dozen other maps that have been in production over the years that we may have invested at times six months of effort into, but if we know that they're not going to be fun, then we'll just cut them.

Id Software really aren't concerned with just putting out a game because it has 50 maps, for example, and with Wolfensteain: Enemy Territory it was exactly the same--we had four maps, including one complete-scale replica of Colditz, and you know, we did all of the art and everything for that, and in the end we just cut it completely because it wasn't much fun, it just wasn't as good as we thought it would be. And it's been the same way with this, so there have been vehicles, and maps, and weapons, and tools and items that we tried out that weren't fun and so we got rid of them. But the fundamental gameplay, what we started out wanting to achieve, is exactly what we have at this point in time.

GSUK: You say that you've added many features that will make the game interesting long-term to players who are playing it for more than 6 to 12 months. Can you tell me a bit about that?

PW: There's a general philosophy that Kevin and I have that you don't "nerf" a game's gameplay to make it more accessible to players. You improve the user interface to make it more accessible to new players, and once you make the decision on how you're going to approach the game's design, you're less concerned about putting in lots of depth and complexity, because you're going to find an interface solution that makes the game more accessible.

And if you don't do it that way then the game won't have any longevity--it just becomes a sandbox, you run around and blow stuff up, you kind of get out your tank and play with it, and you end up playing and playing with it, and then your truck, and then when you've played with everything, you're kind of bored.

By having this layer of specific character class skills and abilities, and the deployables that they can use in the field and character advancement that gives them rewards for playing specialist combat roles, you add longevity to the game without making it particularly complex for the new player jumping in. So the new player jumping in still finds the game accessible, because the user interface has solved many of those problems, but then when they've been playing for a month they start to discover the classes that they really enjoy playing, and the things that they enjoy doing. And they'll find automatically that they start to make use of things like the player awards that they get as a result of their advancement, or tricks that they can pull off in vehicles, or ways to approach an objective tactically as an individual or strategically as a member of their team.

GSUK: Would you say that you've tried to give the game more depth than other same-genre games?

PW: Yes. I think in this genre that there isn't anything that offers the same kind of depth of gameplay as Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. Actually, I don't think, I know that to be the case because of what Activision let us get away with! When we started out it was kind of like being a 15-year-old saying, "Wouldn't it be cool if we could do this? And wouldn't it be cool if we could do that? And wouldn't it be cool if we could do this?" And nobody stopped us because Kevin and I are both respective owners of our own companies. And then once we'd got all of that together, initially I guess, Activision would have reviewed it and would have been like, "What?" But Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory won six "game of the year" awards at the end of 2003, and it got nominated for a BAFTA, and Battlefield: 1942 had been successful as a retail release.

And so, as a new developer, we were in this unique situation working with id on what the scope was going to be and determining the schedule, and then telling Activision what we were going to do, which isn't the way that you work ordinarily with a publisher--it normally works the other way round! But because id Software put out such strong titles, and Activision have had a really long working relationship with them, they know that they aren't going to let us do something really stupid...

GSUK: You say you make no apologies for the game being solely multiplayer. Can you tell us the reasoning behind this?

PW: If you look at games like World of Warcraft, you don't expect when you buy World of Warcraft to play an offline single-player game and then go online and play. With Enemy Territory: Quake Wars it's exactly the same.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is a pure multiplayer combat game, and all of our effort has been put into making that the best experience that we can do. Now if we'd diverted some of our resources to create a single-player mode for the game, the game wouldn't be as good a multiplayer combat game as it is now.

GSUK: A while back you said you were still deciding if one side would be able to control the other's vehicles. Are you able to do that in the final version?

PW: No. It ended up being too confusing to be attacked by your own team's vehicle, and it didn't really add anything to the game, so we cut out the vehicle jacking.

GSUK: How about cheating online? How are you going to deal with that?

PW: Well, I think there are three aspects to cheating that are troublesome. First, you have general exploits, which are players who manipulate things to farm experience points and get ahead in the game faster. They exploit the XP system to constantly perform actions and therefore get XP faster than you do normally, for example, meeting up with a medic, damaging yourself, and letting them heal you over and over and over would allow you to gain XP faster, so we have an antiexploit system that is going to go into the game that solves that aspect of it.

The second aspect is griefing. Griefing is where a player joins the team, and purposely just tries to disrupt the game for everybody else, by blocking objectives, stealing vehicles, and driving them away from the base, shooting his own teammates, enough so that they're damaged but not enough so they die and it's seen as team killing. We have an antigriefing system that's being developed and it's based on an exploit list that our production testers here maintain. So, because we've got these eight really hardcore production testers in our office, they purposely try to exploit and grief each other continuously, and it's through those arguments that we're able to identify the areas that we need to lock down and fix for the main game.

The third thing is people using third-party applications like WallHacks, AimBox, or DLL wrappers that allow them to see more of the game than they should. And we use Punkbuster for that, which is the third-party anticheat system.

It's an anticheating system that's a bit like a virus checker. It actually scans the game to make sure that it's pure. And I mean, you can make the choice about whether or not you want to use that system; you can play on servers that aren't Punkbuster protected. But if you subscribe to the notion that you want to play on a level playing field where nobody's using third-party applications, then you just have to enable Punkbuster and you can have that experience.

GSUK: Some people have been moaning that 12 maps just isn't enough. What would you say to them?

PW: They're wrong. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory had six maps; rather than putting out 12, we cut six of them that weren't much fun, and the six that we kept were really, really good fun. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory is still the third most popular multiplayer online combat game in the world three and a half years after its release, and we've only ever patched it once or twice, and never released any additional content for it at all. Enemy Territory: Quake Wars has 12 maps, each of which is about four times as deep and complex as a single Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory map. In Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory you would be going for one bridge, or you would be going for one outpost and that would be the basis for the gameplay. In Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, you'll play for perhaps 30 minutes, and then in taking the bridge and escorting the MCP through the tunnel and then securing the outpost, hacking the shield generator, shooting the strategic strike missile at the shield generator, then infiltrating the final building and destroying the final objective, that whole sequence of gameplay and the tactical and strategic possibilities are considerably more deep and complicated then Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. So the amount of fun that people have and the longevity of the maps would be considerably greater even than in Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.

GSUK: What's your personal opinion on the game now being announced as coming to the Xbox 360 and the PS3?

PW: I'm excited about it. The reason is because at Splash Damage we started playing with a 360 wired controller several months ago, and I noticed an increased level of control over the vehicles, because of the analog control scheme, which meant that I could accelerate or drive at the speed that I wanted to, I could turn at the exact angle I wanted to, I could just have a better, more fluid level of control over vehicles than is possible [with] a keyboard and a mouse. But the missing part of the equation for console players who play first-person shooters is--and I've been to a couple of tournaments where Halo 2 pro players play--is that even the very best professional players probably wouldn't do too well against even an average player on the keyboard and mouse when it came to first-person combat. But, there is some research going on to improve the control schematics so that some of those gaps are removed.

I think given that lots of people play shooters on consoles anyway, and they're quite happy with the control schemes, if we're able to improve that further, that's an added benefit...[because] it would just be a shame for all of those console players to not get a chance to play because they don't have a PC.

GSUK: Is there going to be interplay between the systems?

PW: Not as far as I'm aware, but that's really a question for id Software.

GSUK: Downloadable content?

PW: Again, ask id Software. I think at the moment everyone's just focused on whether the game's going to run really well on all three platforms and [if] it's going to be as fun as it can be.

If your question is, is there anything new for the 360, well, the entire game is new to the 360, and everything about the game is new to the 360! A game like this has never, ever, ever existed on a console before. So there isn't this feeling like we have to put in two extra maps because it's a console game.

GSUK: Thanks for your time.

PW: Thanks for the awards!

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