Arcane Dimensions Is Quake Rethought For 2016

Not that I’m saying Quake is not suitable for 21st century play – quite the opposite. It’s just that enormous and beautiful mod campaign Arcane Dimensions applies some of the design values we are accustomed to from later, flashier games to the ancient Quake structure. From flow to geometry to sheer size, it’s taking Quake to places id possibly could not have imagined when they first made it, and wrestling the engine into brand new shapes without actually losing its essential Quakeiness.

Because that’s the thing: playing Arcane Dimensions makes Quake once again feel like it felt when I first played it.

By which I mean, my teenage eyes saw scale, adrenaline and grandeur where now there is relative smallness, slowness and limited architecture. Quake still holds up well, but the technical restrictions of the time are apparent. Arcane Dimensions’ key move is to raise the ceilings of what’s possible with Carmack’s ancient wizardry. Literally as well as figuratively. Cop a load of this:

AD isn’t just visually raising the roof. Each of its interlinked maps features layers upon layers, efficiency of vertical as well as horizontal space. It reminds me of esteemed Half-Life 2 mod Minerva in that regard – ducking the limits of the engine by maximising the use of space.

Where Quake’s original medieval-themed maps were more like slices of castles, one part of Arcane Dimensions is set within a towering, multi-tier cathedral section that feels like a complete place.

You go back and forth across it, up and down and over and under and around, new pathways and shortcuts opening up as you do: a map to last an hour or more. And ‘more’ is most likely, given that AD is completely unafraid to give you a hard time.

High-end enemies, some of them brand new and impressively non-intrusive, pop up and spawn in all over the place, often in large numbers and rarely at times or in ways you will entirely expect. Backtracking, of which there is some, is not characterised by a dry retread across familiar terrain, but by ambushes and collapsing floors and surprise underwater sections. This is important, however: Arcane Dimensions is not casually fucking around with what makes Quake Quake. Its clear and pure intention is to be maxi-Quake, Quake writ larger and more fearsome.

It also understands the strange beauty that Quake has come to possess in its old age. In its middle years, to my eyes at least it seemed like a casualty of early 3D, brown and boxy and everything that games were racing to leave behind.

Now that we have no shortage of glossy and colourful, near-photoreal games, I can see it for what it is. Quake is defined not by its compromises but by stylised, even artful, oddness. High resolutions and widescreen mean a once-muted song now chimes clearly: this is a true Other Place, not an ancient, muddy relic.

Arcane Dimensions understands that the harsh angles and eerie echoes create a sense of place, so it pushes them further still. This is a game of architecture as well as action – melding believable structures with abstract shapes and layouts. Earthly and alien all at once, but never a random jumble.

That tall, spiralling cathedral (for instance – there are several other, similarly large but very different sections, which you can visit in an order of your choosing) has geometry Quake itself never could have done, but it is amplifying rather than replacing. The atmospheric sounds, creakings and clankings and moanings, build upon the haunted menace of Quake, without going all the way to horror movie excess.

Arcane Dimensions doesn’t feel like ‘Quake mod’ probably makes it sound. It looks and plays like the work of someone intimately familiar with the workings of Quake, what makes it tick from a design perspective rather than a bestiary and aesthetic one.

It doesn’t ever spam, its layouts are not mazes of madness or cruel death-arenas. It is a thoughtful, enlarged take on Quake with a clear idea of how people play shooters now: the flow they expect, the speed they can move and shoot at, their comfort with heights and jumps, their expectation of scripts and tricks in enemy behaviour, and of course their desire for beauty. This is smart, subtle expansion upon what makes Quake Quake, and a pursuit of moodiness and dramatic prettiness in the process.

If I had a complaint, it would be that there’s a slight over-reliance on locked-door gating, as Arcane Dimensions tries to shuttle the play back and forth across its dramatic worlds by opening and unlocking new areas within older ones, and this can create some frustration – trying door after door to find the way onwards.

Fortunately it never devolves into complete confusion about where to go, as by and large stumbling upwards or elsewhere will incite some new skirmish and sometimes a button or key that unlocks an elsewhere; it’s just that it handicaps the sensation of freedom of movement that the mod otherwise works hard for.

Arcane Dimensions 1.42 is out now. You will need a free third-party client such as Quakespasm to run it. Version 1.5, with new places and new threats, is due soon.

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13 Comments

  1. Manburger says:

    I had not played Quake until some weeks ago (and after I’d played Doom 2016) and it did actually surprise me how well it held up and how much I thought it rocked. If Doom is perhaps speed metal, then Quake is a really grimy sort of industrial metal that slowly but surely melts your face. Also dug the new episode by MachineGames, in celebration of Quake’s 20th. They grow up so fast!
    So I’ll definitively jump on this opportunity for some fresh Quakin’, thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Premium User Badge

    Herzog says:

    Sounds great. How long does it take to complete the whole campaign? Maybe I can make some time up for good old Quake and put Mission: Clearing Backlog on hold.

    • jtucker says:

      What I done.
      As the readme says, the zip you download of this needs to be extracted into a folder titled “ad”.
      This ad folder goes inside my quakespasm folder. The readme actually says your Quake folder, same difference. I don’t have a Quake folder. I have separate folders for quakespasm and dark places. In these quakespasm and dark places folders I have the folders – id1, rogue and hipnotic. The first, id1, being data files for the original Quake and the other 2 folders for the 2 mission packs. The ad folder you need to make should go on the same level (folder/director wise) as the id1 etc folders.
      I don’t know if the original Quake id1 data folder is needed for this AD mod. Anybody?

      There’s a patch 2 zip for this mod at the same RPS link. Do the same as with the first zip. Unzip into ad folder, this time overwriting any file with the same name.

      Then, like it says in the readme, I made a shortcut to the quakespasm exe. Then go to the properties of the shortcut and add the command, found in the readme, to the shortcut properties’ Target.

      Executing the shortcut gave me a Quake console and an error about autoexec.cfg. I just hit escape which gave me the menu, New Game etc, for this mod. I started a new game which worked but that’s as far as I looked. I’ll play when I have more free time, or when 1.50 is released. Apparently this one, 1.42, is from Dec. 2015.

      • causticnl says:

        thankies for your explanation! I managed to get it working, by also doing a fresh install of quake. I previously had a dark places install, and I think that one messed up the install for quakespasm.

  3. causticnl says:

    looks great, sadly I keep getting errors. installed a fresh install of quakespasm and this addon. anyone know how to install this properly?

    • jmtd says:

      Sure. You need QuakeSpasm (which you mentioned) and AD, which goes into an “ad” folder inside the unpacked QuakeSpasm ZIP; but you also need the Quake game data, which goes into an “id1” folder within the QuakeSpasm (or “Quake”) folder, adjacent to the “ad” folder.

      The Quake game data you need is really two files, pak0.pak (corresponding to the content in the shareware game) and pak1.pak (the rest of the game).

      If you don’t own Quake, it’s available on Gog DRM-free and Steam (cheaper at the moment, and I’m fairly sure it’s DRM-free there too. Or at least the pak files you need from it are unfettered).

      For bonus points, you need the soundtrack, which is not sold via Gog or Steam (or anywhere anymore, I don’t think). That goes into “id1/music” as ogg files named track02.ogg onwards.

  4. Eight Rooks says:

    I don’t currently own Quake, so won’t be playing this, unfortunately, but it’s an interesting writeup nonetheless. This in particular:

    In its middle years, to my eyes at least it seemed like a casualty of early 3D, brown and boxy and everything that games were racing to leave behind

    …there’s a reason why, in all seriousness, I consider Vagrant Story one of the most beautiful games ever made, and thought so pretty much from the first time I played it. “Brown” became (and still is) this catch-all nonsense word used to dismiss anything and everything as visually inadequate – when all it really meant, most of the time, was “Monochromatic colour palettes confuse and alarm me”, or “I want blue skies, damn it, like them vidyagaems with the hedgehog I played when I were a nipper, oh, God, I’m old”.

    • Faults says:

      Hmm, I’m not so sure regarding your assertions surrounding colour palettes. Quake, for what it’s worth, was never particularly visually boring, and its (and Vagrant Story’s) palletised textures were a product of a time when RAM was scarce and limited colour depth was a necessity.

      Most of the criticism I’ve noticed surrounding ‘brown’ games seems to be aimed at games roughly a decade later, most notably games like Gears Of War’s tendency to portray ‘gritty realism’ with excessive use of colour-grading. This seemed to be used a lot in the Xbox 360 era to mask a lack of cohesion in art direction, and poor use of material shaders and lighting. In other words IMHO the criticism of excessive use of dull brown in last decade’s AAA games was wholly warranted.

      I do agree that Vagrant Story was hella pretty,though again it helps that the art direction in that game was shit-hot.

      • Razumen says:

        Hmm, I distinctly remember the limited pallete of Quake being rather criticised, even though the design of the game itself was rather good. Some games using the engine like Hexen 2 tried to get around this by changing the palette somewhat, but it still resulted in a rather limited colour scheme, even if there was slightly more variety.

      • April March says:

        Even Gears of War wasn’t that bad. It didn’t look drably monochromatic, it looked just… washed out, like the post-apocalyptic world it was meant to be. The problem, I think, is that for consoles it was the first big game of its generation, and it came out months before any competitors, so it kind of burned into the brains of console devs that monochrome = good grafiks.

  5. Johnny Law says:

    Great read, this echoes a lot of what I loved about AD and about custom Quake mapping in general these days. The Quake and Doom mapping communities are really killing it in terms of refining what’s great about the core game, and Quake mapping in particular has had an unusual surge over the past few years.

  6. brym says:

    I’ve been playing Quake custom maps in VR lately (which is awesome if you have the stomach for it). Most recently finished a campaign called Honey which I loved. Arcane Dimensions was already on my list, but I think I’m going to move it to the top now.

  7. Eclipse says:

    hell yeah, I’m going to play the shit out of this with QuakespamsVR and my Oculus Rift