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Vol. 2, Issue 8
January 11, 2000

Pixel Obscura:

Endless War

by Josh Vasquez


Quaking in their boots...

uake III Arena, the latest edition in the popular “shoot’em up” series, strips the Quake universe down to its barest essentials, a blackened skeleton of pure combat. Instead of various slobbering computer leashed ghouls, one player battles other players in a match to the death, making every kill far more intimate. The speed of the game can be staggering, momentum building as contestants give over to the rhythms of spinning across a never changing landscape...barreling down the same corridors, turning the same corners, moving through the same doors, becoming hypnotized by an endless war.

The opening to this bloody ouroborus is a brief one, as perhaps is appropriate, indeed maybe necessary, considering the nature of the game itself. A rapidly flashing white light fades into the image of a soldier firing a machine gun, bullets spreading out in arcs. His shrieking and the whirling of the steaming barrel resound like twin banshees, feeding off of one another’s rage. Pulled out of his euphoria by the beeping of the gun registering a distinct lack of ammunition, the soldier looks up at the approaching mob. Our “hero” takes cover behind the shattered pillar of some ancient ruin and, realizing the he’s in what the kids like to call “a bad fucking spot,” charges at the enemy, determined to take a few with him.

This is not to be, however, as time stops and ol’blood and guts is sucked out of existence by a blue light.

The simplicity is wonderful. What are the Quake games if not a one-two-three give it to ‘em good, a language of grunts, squeals and zipping rockets. The games always had a kind of last stand quality about them, a dime store apocalypse where the dead are resurrected to fight again and again. The cinematics for Arena are writ small but manage to imply an entire universe of chaos.

Of special note is the beautiful design of the piece. The animation is first rate, giving a gritty sheen to an otherwise bubbly art form. The soldier glistens, squints and chomps on his cigar with an impressively rendered determination. The ruined temple on which the battle takes place, while most likely just a thrown away bit of atmosphere, is still a nice touch (end of civilization and all that). Shattered pillars and cracked, weedy steps, give off a sense of epic despair. Dark and oppressive, the scene has a claustrophobic desperation. One of the creepiest things for me about the Quake series came from watching these twisted characters delivering the world into the arms of Armageddon while standing in the corridors of empty space stations and the streets of some wounded metropolis, as if everything fell apart, and this is all that’s left...savages playing among the bones of the future.

One moment in the piece illustrates this perfectly. As the soldier realizes that his gun has run out of ammo, he looks up at the advancing army. With a dazzlingly fast pull back of the “camera,” the creators let us share the full weight of our hero’s revelation. The view expands backwards, leaving the soldier receding into the distance with a comically shocked look on his face, so that we can see the shambling wreck of humanity approaching the temple. Again, we can see another of Quake’s creepy qualities touched on, the overwhelming odds lurching into focus like the ravenous cast of a zombie nightmare. What is most impressive, however, is that in the end the creators let the game speak for itself.

Spirited away by a crackling electric blue charge, we find the soldier in the game, pawn-like. We slowly pull back and find that his world fills the outline of letters spelling out the title of the game. It’s a lovely gimmick, both surprisingly “gentle” a device considering Quake’s gore obsession and an almost certainly unintentional, but no less welcome, symbolic representation of the game. The gaming universe of Quake is both the soldiers playground and prison.

One certainly wouldn’t think of Quake III Arena as a place for polysyllabic consideration of anything, but watching these tiny dramas unfold in all their earnest seriousness you find meaning slipped between the cracks of intention and chance. On the one hand, Quake III Arena’s cinematics are just nice to watch, charmingly brief and cute in only the way a blood soaked horror show could be. On the other, there is a real sense that the opening is being put to good use as an encapsulation of the dark heart that pumps at the core of the Quake world. In the end it really doesn’t matter what was deliberate and what wasn’t; we take what we will from these pieces, finding insight in the strangest places.

- Joshua Vasquez is the resident film critic here at loonygames. He also writes for the Internet film site Matinee Magazine.

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Credits: Illustration © 2000 Dan Zalkus. Pixel Obscura is © 2000 Josh Vasequez. All other content is © 2000 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, you cartoonish villian, you.