Metamorphism Quake - Part 1

By Kevin, February 7th, 2021

In 1996, id Software released a game that forever changed the gaming landscape of both the single player experience and multiplayer experience that still influences games to this very day. With a soundtrack by Nine Inch Nails founder Trent Reznor, a gritty setting and lightning fast playstyle, gamers around the world would come together to frag until the morning hours and make it a rite of passage for anyone looking to play PC games.

That game, was Quake.

In the years since, Quake has seen many sequels, expansions, modifications (mods); it started the seeds of tournament gaming and inspired thousands of future game developers. id Software no longer makes Quake (games). There really hasn't been anything like it since, and this year, Quake turns 25.

Quake 1 was, and still is, very special to me.

School Days

The year was 1998. I was entering 11th grade and had rejoined my original elementary/middle school classmates after bouncing around schools for a few years. My PC gaming habit was in high gear at this point. I was playing Quake/Quake 2 pretty regularly via GameSpy (an old GUI tool to locate game servers).

This was still a point in my life when I thought I would become a game developer. I studied games as I simultaneously played them. What works, what doesn't work. What is fun and what isn't. I had hopes that maybe someday I could be as half a good of a programmer as John Carmack (I think we all did) and even work at id. Anything was possible.

Quake would command a lot of my time. So much so that I was trying to get everyone I knew at school into the game so we had more people to play online with. The more people playing, the better Quake seemed to get. I even installed the shareware version of the game on a lot of computers in the computer lab (sorry) so we had something to engage in during class, since we were not given a lot to do otherwise. Hey man, I'm studying what makes games great, right?

Despite getting chewed out by district IT on more than one occasion, Quake LAN play during class was a regular thing. It eventually became accepted, since us kids were blowing through our regular classwork anyway.

Now, I had played a lot of games in my time from a toddler up to that point from Nintendo to Super Nintendo and Sega - but Quake was that game that really made me want to be a programmer.

One fateful day, a senior found me after class and handed me an IP address with the word "META" written next to it. "If you're serious about Quake, join this server." Everything changed for me after that point as far as Quake was concerned.

Metamorphism

For some context, you have to understand a very key point about Quake and a lot of id Softwares early titles. id Software allowed anyone to change the game by adding their own code or "modifications" (mods). These mods could add new game rules like capture the flag or battle royale. They could add new maps or skins, maybe new weapons and new enemies. Some of them even became their own entire game (also known as total conversions).

These mods added a lot of variety and spice to Quake and differentiated it from many other games of its time. This practice was virtually taboo until id Software led the way. Programmers and designers were able to change and add to a game they loved right from their own home, then share that with others so they could add the mod to their game.

This was huge.

The night that I entered the IP the senior gave me was the first night I was introduced to a new mod, called "Metamorphism" or "Meta" for short.

The premise of the game was pretty simple and borrowed some elements from other mods. There was your standard deathmatch mode, as well as a capture the flag mode (my favorite). But there were two standout features that made this mod amazing. 

One, the game had a new item for players to use, a grappling hook. With a right mouse click, you could send a grappling hook through the air and latch on to any surface and pull yourself toward it. Not only did this give you another movement mechanic, it also opened up a million places on every map that was previously inaccessible. New hiding places, new shortcuts, new choke points. This was genius.

Two, the game featured numerous classes for you to pick from. Instead of everyone being the same sort of regular "guy with lots of ammo" - players could select from any of the following to play as:

  • Soldier
  • Sniper
  • Demolition
  • Scout
  • Heavy Weapons
  • Mage
  • Cleric
  • Druid
  • Shock Trooper
  • Fire Elemental
  • Ninja
  • Lich
  • Assault Sniper
  • Berserker

Different classes had different play styles and abilities. The sniper for example will go invisible after standing still for a few seconds (except for their eyes) - and sniper rifle damage will increase 200%. If they move, they are visible again - and their damage drops to below 100% (no run and gun instakills). They have light armor and generally don't survive long when spotted.

Heavy weapons, as the name, are loaded for bear. They start with a ton of ammo, health and armor. Walking tanks. Every players bane, especially if they obtain a quad damage powerup (4x damage output). Its counter class is the scout - who moves quickly and can evade their fire, receiving a bonus damage against heavy weapons.

Mage, Lich, Fire Elemental and Cleric rely more on spells than weapons with an array of devastating damage spells or area of effect spells.

This was it. There was no going back to regular Quake for me.

Hundreds of Hours

Nothing else out there was like this in terms of what it offered in gameplay, speed, or depth. The variation in classes added new dimensions to playing that just made regular Quake seeming very boring by comparison.

Meta made me think faster than I could input movement, I learned with every death and grinned with every point gained. 

The server only had about 20-30 players total, maybe a little more. I would later find out that Meta was the creation of a student at the University of Delaware, who made it during his time there. I was a high schooler playing against college kids. This made it even more cool.

Yes, Meta is a Delaware creation. This made the mod even more special to me. Sort of an "our thing". I was initially hazed and unwelcome as an outsider joining their server. I would endure many kicks (instant ejection from the games) before the server admins got tired of typing and just let me play the game (I am stubbornly persistent). They made me a far better player as a result, and I became accepted by all after being annoyingly good at playing. 

I always felt that Meta was an excellent mod and deserved more attention from the world at large. Sadly, development more or less slowed down once the creator left and pursued careers (he is now a software engineer at Red Hat). The player base started to leave one by one. At some point in the early 2000s, the server did not have any players anymore - other than me, occasionally logging on to see if anyone was playing. It seemed like it was over.

Despite playing for hundreds of hours, it wasn't enough.

Resurrection

In early 2021 I got thinking about this game again. I wasn't the only one having thoughts about revisiting this game. Even Trent Reznor, who provided the soundtrack to Quake 1, remastered and rereleased his work on vinyl in 2020. Yes, Quake is 25 years old this year - but that seems coincidental to the buzz. People are really jonesing to play this classic masterpiece.

Questions arose in my mind. What if the code was still out there? What if the code existed? What if I could get a copy? What if it actually ran? What if I could get a server running, would anyone play? 

I began the search. Finding anything on Quake 1 anymore is really not that simple. Despite having all the search engine tech currently available, most of the sites or materials are simply gone or dead. Even id softwares long running FTP that hosted a lot of code and files is seemingly gone. 

I came across scores of old links and posts as if I had traveled through time. Names of players and websites that were once giants of their day now reduced to broken links and references. Sites like PlanetQuake, GameSpy, terms and names and mentions of mods and tournaments from another era.

Then, there it was. I found an old repository on SourceForge that was holding the last known release of the game - from 2011. The download still worked. Better still - the SVN repository was also intact! At the very least, I could do two things. I could get the code and try to host a game, and I could shift it to GitHub so it can be preserved/archived for decades to come.

The first thing I needed to do was convert the SVN repo to Git so I could put it on GitHub. There are a lot of SVN-to-Git conversion articles out there. Fun fact - the article that is sourced or copied from the most comes from a long time Drupal developer.

This took a handful of attempts (hey I hadn't had to do this in over ten years!) because the SourceForge repo apparently was not in a layout SVN understood in the conversion process. Having not used SVN since 2010, I was not aware of that.

Once I got it converted and preserved the 34 commits that were there, I created a repository on GitHub and uploaded it. Thus, the journey began.

Check back for part 2, bugfixing!