Playing Quake Live is a troubling experience. It feels like a kind of monetised nostalgia. A browser-based themepark, or a visit to a mummified stately home. It's wonderful to find servers heaving with people again after all this time - even though finding a game was seldom a problem - at least for a quick and dirty free-for-all. I still adore Quake 3, and my install has not left my hard-drive in a decade. But playing it like this made me realise what a mutant creature I actually fell in love with in the earliest years of this decade. What's missing, particularly for an obsessed capture-the-flagite like me, is one particular map: Spider Crossings, or Q3WCP9. Without it, Quake Live cannot earn my love.
I suspect it's the same for loads of other Quakers: the vanilla game never quite delivered. Quake 3 - clearly Id Software's finest hour - was released in an unfinished state, and was patched by the Texan FPS kings for years to follow. But, once we'd digested the vanilla game, it wasn't their efforts that really seemed to count. Instead, it was the incredible creativity of teams such as those that made Challenge ProMode Arena, Q3 Fortress, Rocket Arena 3, or Urban Terror. Their work evolved and completed the game that Id had created. For me, and for the tiny European posse I played through the nights with, the finishing move was made by the Threewave team. Their maps completed our experience. Our Quake 3 game, which evolved and focused over a period of three years, came down to just a few key maps and mods. From my personal experience, the OSP mod finished off the GUI that Id Software had started, and padded out the statistics and configuration fiddliness within the game that become so compulsive. Then came those vital maps.
There's something supernatural about learning the function and architecture of a couple of FPS maps so intimately that you can visualise their every flat surface without even seeing them. That's what it was like for a bunch of the Threewave maps. I played at least half a dozen CTF maps every day, and at least half of them would be one from this map-pack. By the end, half would be a single map: Spider Crossings, Q3WCP9. I regularly played defence in the 5v5 CTF matches the Euros seemed to enjoy so much. I began to hit attackers with my rail before I'd properly perceived them. Lizard reflexes. Rocket battles like kung fu.
There was something about the perfect symmetry of that map, and its layered entrances to the flag room, that made it CTF perfection. It was wide and clear enough for mad rocket jumps and acute railgun savantism, but it also closed up fast, for brutal shotgun-to-the-face point blank fights. It remains the one piece of gaming architecture that springs to mind whenever the slightest Quake 3 tangent is prompted in my mind.
When Team Fortress 2 hit I remember a blogger saying something like "it's only got six maps, that doesn't sound like enough", and naturally enough, a thousand people responded: it could only have two maps, and if they were good enough, it wouldn't matter. That's how I feel about Quake Live - it's got loads of maps, but I only want one.
Anyway, here she is in action. This isn't my capture, but I wish it was.