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Archived Architectures

In an idle couple of hours earlier today I found myself reading the peerless architecture and urban speculation blog, BldgBlog. It's the kind of writing project that makes me sick with envy, and I can't wait to see Manaugh turn his ideas into book form in 2008. Anyway, one of Manaugh's recent posts was headed up by an image of the Chartres cathedral map from Quake 3. It's a map that's as old as the (virtual) hills, and not even that interesting a build, given what many others did with Quake 3 mapping. Nevertheless it sparked a recollection of the hours I used to spend downloading and playing around in Quake III maps, when I should have been editing the online section of PC Gamer.

Digging out my old Quake III installation (which I found buried in a spare hard disc filled with old games that I don't want to part with just yet), I decided to have a root around in the virtual architectures of yesterday and see what I could unearth.

Initially I was looking for a particular map. It was one of a pair of ludicrously ornate designs, neither of them suitable for play due their complex geometries, huge size, and bizarre structure. They were a pair of wide-open palaces, filled with sculptures, and dominated by ostentatious architecture. One of these structures was a vast eyeball that fired rockets from its pupil, under a skybox that contained a giant eyeball looking down on the arena... You can see why I was trying dig them up. Just as I was about to give up I found them online.

That's the one: Omnipresent Eye. Boy, they don't make 'em like that. Ever.

That map was by a chap called Lloyd Morris, and he also made a spectacular map called Ancient Archipelago. I believe the work got him a job in the games industry at some point, so he's probably out there bolting together Hitman levels or something. Good work Morris, by the way. I had dreams about your maps.

In the course of my search for Morris' stuff I booted up a bunch of old maps, including 'Coriolis Storm' , which was the first map I can remember that made genuine atmospheric use of fogging, with the bottom player being dust-bound in orange fog, while the upper deck was clear. I seem to remember even playing a few serious games on this one.

Then I dug up this old relic: the NowTV map. I believe this was made by the team that went on to make up the core of Splash Damage, developers of Enemy territory and Quake Wars. I played competitively on these maps with my team and I think I won a Boomslang Razer, or something.

Then there was just a whole bunch of obscurities, the Googling of which tends to bring up dead or long-ago abandoned websites; like Nunuk's Platypus. This weird, hard geometry was a map made for a kind of "geometry competition" intended to show off mapper's skills at creating weird, high density, high-concept arena environments. Those boys did pretty well at that, too.

Finally, as if to demonstrate the stupendous range that a game as old as Quake 3 remains capable of, I ended up bouncing around this cell-shaded anime-styled map. A beautiful piece of clean, electronic architecture. This is how videogames should look.

And, damn, Quake 3 really is still the best arena FPS. It's just so solid. Utter minimalism, hard edges. Brilliant. If Id had done nothing else they would still be one of the greatest design teams of all time. Shame about what followed, eh?

I can't help feeling a little melancholy rooting around in this game. Sadness for the incredible time I had running a Quake 3 clan, and loss for the hundreds of hours of creativity that people sunk into countless maps: thousands of arches, walkways, uplit cathedrals and industrial complexes, all disappearing into the recesses of the internet, to be gradually deleted and lost from memory. I boot up the map that one of my own team made as we tried to work out the best way to create a capture the flag arena. I ponder for a bit, strafe jump. And then, out.

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