Meet The Community Still Playing Action Quake 2

In 1998, mod team Akimbo Team Productions released Action Quake 2, a Quake II multiplayer mod created in their spare time. The landscape of first-person shooters has changed vastly since then, but one group of dedicated fans have never moved on.

Seventeen years later, the game’s Finnish community are still dedicated to the lightning-paced, bullet-showering, Hong Kong movie-style spectacle. I spoke to some of the most dedicated players about why they still play, meet and reminisce regularly about a game where you’re as likely to perish courtesy of an airborne throwing dagger as you are to be tossed from a rooftop, plunging three stories to your doom.

AQ2 was purposefully tongue-in-cheek and overblown in its design and its leanings towards teamwork, which was unusual at the time, saw a community blossom almost overnight. The mod enjoyed pockets of booming popularity in North and South America until the mid-2000s, and a distinguished scene in Sweden. In 2015 however, all that remains of these groups is broken URLs and forgotten, skeuomorphic web pages. Worldwide, it’s done – with the exception of Finland, that is.

“I’ve been playing since 1999,” Mika Mustakari tells me. “Too long, according to my parents. It was sold by our local games magazine as ‘the best action movie without the cost of a movie ticket’, if I remember rightly.”

In Finland, the AQ2 community still thrives, albeit somewhat diminished in comparison to its formative years. This is remarkable considering that, besides its inclusion in the Quake II Netpack Extremities – an add-on that gathered Quake II custom mods – Action Quake 2 didn’t receive official support. It was brought on by its dedicated community developers who implemented new modes and fixes for a number of years post-release, tinkering with the features that worked well, and developing those that didn’t.

After a few email exchanges with Annti King, a 15-year Action Quake 2 veteran, I’m introduced to some of the old guard still flying the Finnish flag on the sacred digital soils of AQ2’s well-trodden battlegrounds. Accompanying King and the aforementioned Mustakari in this figurative sit down is Jon Forsman, who has been playing since 1999, and Jean Preisfreund, who’s been there since day one in 1998.

In the early days, two main sites championed Action Quake 2 fandom either side of the Atlantic: Finland’s AQ2Suomi (suomi meaning “Finland” in Finnish) founded by user Hebereque; and America’s AQ2World, founded by user Darksaint. Only the former has remained live since – its US counterpart having been eventually shut down in 2009, been relaunched in 2012 and, at the time of writing, appearing to have closed again.

By the mid-2000s, AQ2 had reached peak following, whereby Finland alone boasted around 100 active clans, each comprised of anything between five and 20 players. In 2004, the inaugural Official Finnish Championship saw scores of teams compete in offline bouts, before packing the forums and IRCs thereafter to discuss wins, losses, tactics and strategies.

‘Apprime’ were announced overall winners in the competition’s debut year. Born from the hype and excitement of that win were a new clan, Shadow Crusaders – a team who’d eventually record a staggering 63-game unbeaten run. These guys discuss the accolade with me as if it were legend. In many respects it is. These were the glory days.

“It was really amazing to be at the centre of the Action Quake 2 community back then,” says King. “At my peak I was putting in about 40 hours per week. To some folk who play MMORPGs this might not seem like a lot, but it was most, if not all, of my spare time. It was like a job. Being part of different clans was so exciting and in the moments where we defeated more established teams I’d get butterflies in my stomach. I still do now, thinking back.”

“Yeah, no other game has come close to it in terms of delivering the full package,” says Preisfreund. “For me, its best feature is its unique gameplay. That sounds a bit cliched, but in Action Quake 2 there’s enough realism not to ruin things but to keep it interesting, mixed with really good fun. Some aspects that make it work so well are still missing from today’s first-person shooter games – such as bleeding damage and leg damage that causes you to limp unless you heal.”

“Absolutely this!” adds Forsman enthusiastically. “When I first started playing it felt like there were endless options to move around the map – something so rare in those days. The localised damage, the fact that you could render an opponent motionless with a single leg shot, was and is one of the best features in any online videogame to this day.”

Developing a dedicated interest around a niche mod such as Action Quake 2 served to galvanise the community’s sense of togetherness. Had AQ2 been exposed to a much larger audience, it might have weakened the strong bonds they share today.

AQ2Suomi.com itself, King reckons, is what’s kept the Action Quake 2 community afloat in Finland for so long – even if most conversation nowadays takes place via the IRCs on QuakeNet. Compared to other European setups, the website made it far easier to communicate with others, to share maps, to share thoughts, to form ties and to meet friends.

As undeniably trite as this sounds, community seems to be as big a part of the movement as the game itself. King tells of how in 2002, one exceptionally active and well-liked community developer fell on harder times and was forced out of the game after his laptop died. Unbeknownst to him, a private “charity” chat thread, as King calls it, was established whereby each willing participant chipped in €5 towards getting him back into action. “Someone offered a second hand CPU,” says King. “About a month later his new computer arrived and he posted photos and gave his eternal gratitude.”

Nowadays, two Finnish public servers run at full 12-person capacity every day which, although a far cry from the numbers clocked some ten-odd years ago, is still impressive for a game almost old enough to drink. When US site AQ2World relaunched in 2012, it organised a worldwide tournament – the Reunion Cup – which welcomed 18 clans with matches of 4 vs 4. It marked the last significant attempt to kickstart wider interest in Action Quake 2, but Mustakari hopes a similar event will come along again in the not so distant future.

In the meantime, these veterans still manage to squeeze in around seven hours of play each week when life’s not getting in the way, and strive to meet up at least a few evenings a week to chat, play the odd game or two, or place bets on the latest esports game of interest.

Today, there’s around 50 dedicated players who play most weeks, says King. There’s about the same on top of that again who are less frequent, who stop by “perhaps once every few months”. And there’s about 300 recognisable names that might pop in once a year or thereabouts. Some of the guys are life-long friends and although spread out across the country, they endeavour to catch up in real life whenever possible. King tells me that he ditched his co-workers on a recent overnight cross-country business trip to catch up with some old clan buddies.

“I never thought that a single game could have such a big impact on my life,” says Preisfreund. “It really warms my heart to have met so many awesome guys I call friends today. Without the game, this never would’ve happened.”

“Yeah, Action Quake 2 has been a life changer for me as well,” adds Forsman. “I consider it a privilege to have played in a clan with people that I’m able to go visit at any time. I’m treated like a normal, real life friend, even though I haven’t met them more than once or twice. I don’t think there will ever be a game that will ever come close to how awesome this is, period.”

“I grew up with Action Quake 2,” says King. “I’ve met a bunch of lifetime friends who I’ve spent literally thousands of hours with, hours of my life, playing the game with. It was huge part of my youth, and still is. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t be playing PC games at all anymore, if it weren’t for these guys. For me, it’s as much about the social aspects of playing as it is about the games.”

Which is likely why the spiritual successors, games like Double Action Boogaloo and The Specialists, have failed to capture the attention of the AQ2 loyal. It’s probably why most of them only dabble in other multiplayer shooters, and why even when they do it’s almost exclusively with each other. For these people, Action Quake 2 is a hobby that transcends videogames. For these people, the concept of Action Quake 2 and all that entails is a hobby in and of itself.

“I think Action Quake had a lot of features that made it appealing to its players,” says Minh ‘Gooseman’ Le when I ask about the mod. Le contributed weapon models to Action Quake 2 after its initial release, before departing the community to create his own well-known mod: Counter-Strike. “It had a very distinct niche – it targeted the people who were into Hong Kong-style, over-the-top type movies,” says Le. “That niche was fairly strong back then. I’m not too surprised that people still play it but I’d be surprised if there is younger people playing, because expectations have changed.”

Le’s right, expectations have changed. Games have changed. Yet if you manage to beat the queues and join one of Finland’s Action Quake 2 public servers today, you’ll be met with the same pre-battle announcement that’s pre-empted each and every single campaign for the last 17 years.

“Lights…

“Camera…

“Action!”

From this site

27 Comments

  1. Strangineer says:

    Lovely read! I moved on from AQ2 and played the even smaller follow up mod called Reaction Quake 3 for a number of years, which was fairly healthy and active up until the late 2000x’s. I played in a fairly successful Swedish clan called Serske, many good times were had, with a few lans, and to this day, among them, I count some very good friends of mine. Swedes and Finns in particular seemed to have something special in their hearts for AQ2 and RQ3, especially the Finns. I actually feel like playing a bit now :D Kippis!

  2. Muzman says:

    Nicely done. I never thought the mod got enough credit for kicking off the immediacy of the semi-realist FPS.
    I maintain the success of things like Counter Strike begins with the weakest weapon being just a lethal as any other in the right circumstances. It’s always worth playing again, whatever your skill level, if you can always chance a headshot or a knifing. AQ2 really had that.

    On successors; Nothing may have quite captured the magic but I thought Action Half-Life did quite well for itself. (not with these guys obviously)

  3. Immobile Piper says:

    I’m not much for twitch shooters, but I find articles like these interesting. Thanks for writing.

  4. shagen454 says:

    Just got the Quake pack on the Steam sale to boot up Quake again, probably give Quake II a spin at some point but I always adored Quake the most. You need to install the Ultimate Quake patch first but man, it’s still great! I still love the graphics, the textures, the map design, the atmosphere, the awesome soundtrack. I’m going to be logging a lot of hours of Quake Team Fortress with the badass grappling hook again. More people need to get on there!

    • melnificent says:

      Grab darkengine and install rygels HD textures for a more upto date looking version of quake. Rygels can be a little hard to find, but I have a copy if you need it.

  5. neoncat says:

    Nice read! I always like to hear how communities grow around games, particularly the smaller ones.

    @Joe, some presumptuous editorial feedback – the last two segments (dividing by images) devolve into feel-good generic descriptions that would fit just about any niche gaming community. (so many friends! we meet in real life! — NB: not mocking, I’ve been there many times…)

    Particular happenings and characters are the juicy bits and you can never include too much, even if it begins sounding like a soap opera. :)

  6. frenz0rz says:

    As someone who has also made lifelong real-world friends through a multiplayer gaming clan (mine being Left 4 Dead and Battlefield), this article really struck a chord with me. There’s something very special about playing games over Teamspeak with the same small group of people night after night, year after year.

  7. Radiant says:

    All FPS games owe a huge debt to the action quake 2 team.

  8. jeeger says:

    Another community that was kind of fun and is still somewhat alive in Scandinavia (I think) is Liero. That’d make an interesting followup. Maybe dig out someone from a Liero clan?

    • Twisted says:

      Liero! That brings back only good memories, of dueling it out in uni with only a bazooka/shotgun combo.

      I believe one of the Liero developers was associated with Brainchild Design, makers of Jump ‘n Bump and a site with a forum that took over my life for several years.

      AQ2 was great, such an interesting combination of moving stealthily and then diving through a glass window with a double-barreled shotgun at the ready. Wasn’t there another game covered on here fairly recently which encouraged the same sort of gameplay?

      • Al Bobo says:

        I’m 32 -years old and me and my friend still have Liero in our computers so that we can take a few matches every now and then. We have played it since we were zit-faced teenagers and we’re still pretty damn good at it. It’s the original version of Liero with only local play -option so we never knew the Liero -community.
        By the way, since you guys remember Liero, what about Molez? There was also a bit similar game that I think was called Sotakurret, where two squirrels fought against each other with all kinds of guns, but the almighty google can’t find a single mention of it.

        • Al Bobo says:

          …and as a reply to myself, I have to say that Yes, I am from Finland…

        • Premium User Badge

          Skabooga says:

          Liero! My two brothers and I played this game to death. Likewise, because we only ever played the original version, we played exclusively local multiplayer, and never became connected to the online community. We still play it every now and then when we get together, thanks to a modern system-compatible version someone made.

          Around the years of 2004-2010, it became increasingly more difficult to run the game on modern computer systems. We looked to see if the creator, Joosa Riekkinen, was working to update the game, but it seemed like he had abandoned the game and disappeared from public view. We created a romanticized view of him in our minds: an eccentric Finnish bedroom coder who created a nigh-perfect game, released it for free to everyone, but then grew bitter for some reason and distanced himself as much as possible from it and games in general. Of course, this narrative was fabricated entirely in our minds. Like most people, I’m sure Riekkinen just moved on from his initial project, while we failed to.

        • jeeger says:

          The best Liero clone was Gusanos, an implementation where the aim was to make a quake-like Liero engine, with moddability and all. Used Lua for plugins, and supported some insane weapons (really nice WH40K mod, for example). It’s dead now, unfortunately, but the code should still work. Do try it out if you can manage it!

  9. Freud says:

    I can dive deep into games, spending over a thousand hours on the games I really fall for but I can’t see myself playing a game for that long. One day I feel I am done with a game and walk away, no matter what I have invested in it.

  10. Paxeh says:

    This reminds me of the countless hours playing Action Half-life and the Half-life mod The Opera. All gone now, like tears in the rain.

  11. caff says:

    Wonderful to read. It reminds me of my love for UT2004. Despite it being a decade old, servers still tick over and there is still the same buzz of gameplay, only not as strong as when I played back in the day.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Qazinsky says:

    AQ2 was pretty much a class of its own when I was in school, along with the likes of Starcraft and just plain Quake 2. We might not have gotten much work done, but at least we had fun!

    I still remember a bunch of us sitting there, playing Urban2, everyone else being dead, apart from a sniper up on the rooftops, scanning for the last enemy standing, little old me. If he had only turned around, he would have realized why the whole room had gone quiet, but he didn’t, so I kept creeping closer to his back, handcannon in hand, only to send him flying across the map to the choir of erupting laughter from the rest of the players.

    Uh, what I am trying to say is, stay in school, kids!

  13. SomeDuder says:

    I like how certain games, or even mods, can be limited or especially enjoyed by a single country alone. The Suomi (the more you know…) with AQ2, Germans and their sims, Koreans and anything with the words “Star” and “Craft”. Oh, and manshooters for the 12-25-year old crowd, especially those about tacticool operators operating their operations in airsoft-like equipment.

  14. Jaffo says:

    Great article. Took me back to the days of playing AQ2 on Wireplay. One of those games that is permanently on my HD, if only to run around a map once in a blue moon for nostalgia. Just fired it up for the first time in ages and went on a DM practice server full of bots and had a blast!

  15. mollemannen says:

    still have the old action unlimited 2 frag movie by masa sitting on my computer.

  16. roris says:

    Nice article. Especially when I knew nothing about this community and mod.

  17. Hw2k says:

    I’d just like to point out that what you call the American Aq2World was initially built by a team of three; two Dutch and one Swedish, but expanded gradually to include various people, mostly from Europe.

    Other than that, nice article :)

  18. WizardExt says:

    Action Quake 2 is the most important game for me.

    It helped me through dark times, let me escape into a space where I could let go, breathe and have fun. I got to travel and compete playing the game, that made me feel special and somewhat fulfilled. It introduced me to many new friends, one of them being my best friend today. :)

    It also introduced me to level creation and I became an appreciated and well-known mapmaker. I have released more than 20 maps to the community and I keep supporting it today, both for the fun of creating but also due to gratefulness. I am a professional level designer today because of Action Quake 2.

    Action Quake 2 is still a very good game. It needs to be more accessible in order to bring back the old players, but also to introduce it to new players. The gameplay is fun and the core mechanics are brilliant. It’s simple, but still very rich. I wish games today had the same simplicity.

    Thanks for the article, it’s a good read. Brings back good memories. I just got back playing the game.. I will probably never completely let go. See you on the servers! :)

    • McCree says:

      My God Mr. Lundvall,

      nice to hear from you! And I’m really happy that you have been able to turn that passion into something that supports you even today :)

  19. mo0trix says:

    Still the finest online FPS I’ve ever played in my life. Spent a good 5-6 years playing this game religiously every day for hours with some great people (and a few not so great people… cheaters were far too frequent towards the latter part of my period playing the game). Still, can’t say to this day there’s a game I’ve enjoyed playing with other people as much as this one and I always hold out hope that a game will come out that tries to recapture the magic it has.

    Stafe Jumping
    Turn Jumping
    INSANE trick jumps
    Bleeding
    Legs Crippling
    Sniper head shots that exploded your enemy into a thousand gibs (ok, maybe more like 30 gibs, it’s an old game).

    Absolute magic… I miss it every day.