Summary: QuakeCon was definitely the place to be last week, as id Software was showing off DOOM 3 multiplayer for the first time to the public. Brandon got the chance to check it out and offers his thoughts on the weapons, gameplay, and performance. But that's not all, as there was lots of upcoming hardware also on display. Read all about it in this article!
For the past several years, every summer gamers have made the trek to Dallas Texas for QuakeCon, a celebration of id Softwareís first true 3D shooter, Quake. Originally organized, promoted, and run entirely by fans, QuakeCon has grown tremendously in more recent years due to the success of each previous event as well as the direct sponsorship and participation of id Software and Activision. What was once an event dedicated to one game has grown into something much larger, with a tournament and other contests taking place, as well as demonstrations of upcoming games built using id Softwareís game engines.
Of course, with so many games on display, itís only natural that thereís a good selection of PC hardware being demonstrated as well. AMD and VIA have sponsored multiple QuakeCon events, while ATI (2002) and NVIDIA (2001 and 2003) have also participated as the primary graphics sponsor. This yearís QuakeCon was no exception, so we dropped by ABIT, MSI, and VIAís booths, as well as checking out the highlight of QuakeCon 2003: Doom 3.
The biggest surprise at the ABIT booth was their new small form-factor (barebones) PC, DigiDice. One of the biggest complaints enthusiasts have with small form-factor setups like the Shuttle XPC is their limited expansion potential. Typically youíre limited to one 5.25Ē drive bay and two 3.5Ē bays (one external, one internal) for storage duties, while one PCI slot and one AGP slot (on some models) round out your expansion options. With most gaming rigs outfitted with multiple drives for optical storage, hard disks, and the latest AGP and PCI cards for graphics and audio, this leaves no room for anything else.
ABIT plans to change all this with DigiDice. Based on Intelís 865GE ďSpringdaleĒ chipset, DigiDice is built for expansion; with two 5.25Ē and two 3.5Ē drive bays, two PCI slots, and an AGP slot. For storage connectivity, two Serial ATA ports and a pair of ATA/100 connectors are provided. The IS-50 motherboard DigiDice utilizes is also equipped with two DIMM sockets, supporting up to 2GB of memory.
The system ABIT had on display was decked out with two optical drives, a pair of Serial ATA hard drives, and a 3.0C GHz Pentium 4 processor (Intelís integrated graphics was unfortunately used). Regrettably, we couldnít get a good look at the power supply so weíre still crossing our fingers in that department, but there appears to be enough space for larger CPU coolers to be used without running into any installation hassles. We did notice that the DigiDice system was quite a bit heavier than other small form-factor systems weíve tested, but keep in mind that ABIT loaded the system with goodies. This was a bit of a concern to us though because the prototype chassis ABIT had on display didnít feature an integrated handle (like the FIC Ice Cube); with the extra size and weight DigiDice sports, some type of handle or carrying bag will be a necessity to DigiDice owners that attend LAN parties regularly.
Overall DigiDice is shaping up to be a pretty slick setup. The prototype chassis has an integrated LED display that provides hardware monitoring information as well as a front cover to hide those ugly beige CD and DVD drives. DigiDice will enter production at the end of this month, so you wonít have to wait much longer if this product interests you.
Think of DigiDice as the small form-factor system for enthusiasts. Considering ABITís roots, this seems like a natural fit to us.
SIDEBAR: ABIT recently unveiled FlashMenu Ė bringing automatic BIOS updates to Windows. As of this writing, it supports nearly 30 motherboards.
NV35 gets OTES: The Siluro FX5900 OTES
Besides DigiDice, ABIT had their GeForce FX 5900 powered OTES card on display, the Siluro FX5900 OTES. Like the Siluro GF4 Ti 4200 OTES we reviewed last year, the Siluro FX5900 OTES utilizes heat pipe technology for cooling. This time around ABIT sticks to NVIDIAís specifications, with the core clock frequency at 400MHz while its 128MB of memory is clocked at 850MHz. ABIT outfits the card with a blue LED but unfortunately chose to omit video input support, a decision we have seen other manufacturers take with their GeForce FX 5900 products.
Like ABIT, the highlight at MSIís booth was small form-factor. In MSIís case, the MEGA 651 was the product being showcased, with fully functional MEGA 651 systems up and running in MSIís booth. Based on the SiS 651 chipset, the MEGA 651 supports Intelís 400MHz and 533MHz front-side bus Pentium 4 processors up to 2.8GHz. Like other small form-factor systems, the MEGA 651 offers PCI and AGP slots for expansion, as well as a 200-watt power supply.
MSIís answer to MEGA 651 critics is coming in the form of MSIís upcoming nForce2-based MEGA PC. This small form-factor system will be based on NVIDIAís IGP variant of the nForce2, so AMDís 400MHz FSB Athlon XP 3200+ will not be supported. In addition to the new chipset, this system sports a stylish new chassis. The system MSI had on display at QuakeCon had a black mirror finish, with maroon trim. Other than the new chassis and chipset, other details on this system are limited; we donít even have a final name for the product. We definitely like the new look MSI is headed in though.
SIDEBAR: Look for reviews of ABITís MAX3 and Siluro FX 5900 OTES in the coming weeks.
At the back of MSIís booth was an NBOX N5900 Ultra card. This is the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra card with MSIís custom Twin Flow cooling, an 800dpi optical USB mouse, and the game bundle consisting of Battlefield 1942, Command and Conquer: Generals, and Unreal 2: The Awakening.
Not to be outdone, VIA was showcasing a few new and upcoming products of its own. For starters was its PT800 chipset for the Pentium 4 platform. Like SiS 648FX and 865P, PT800 supports Intelís latest 800MHz FSB Pentium 4 processors and utilizes a single-channel memory architecture. PT800 is aimed squarely at the aforementioned chipsets as well as Intelís 865PE ďSpringdaleĒ chipset in the mainstream segment. VIA plans to use price and feature set to win over consumers, with the PT800 offering support of more USB ports than SiS 648FX as well as native Serial ATA.
The following are Brandonís impressions of DOOM 3, which was the showcase of QuakeCon 2003.
The most striking aspect of the DOOM 3 multiplayer level that was being demonstrated at QuakeCon was lighting. Actually, I should say, the lack of lighting: the map was dark. Shadows were used extensively in the multiplayer level, in one encounter we ran upon an opponent that was shooting at his own shadow! id has stated that they intend to scare gamers with DOOM 3; one critical way to accomplish this is via the environment and atmosphere in general. The multiplayer level definitely scored highly in this regard, with dead bodies strewn throughout as well as booby traps and other obstacles that would literally kill you if you werenít careful. If id gets the monsters right (and screenshots suggest they will) DOOM 3 will be the scariest shooter to hit the PC since the original DOOM.
Aiming: Critical to success in DOOM 3
The second trait that really stood out was the per-poly hit detection for objects and models within the game. Traditional shooters rely on hit-box detection, meaning that player models are broken up into boxes. The playerís legs could be one box, while the torso and arms could be another (or broken into multiple boxes), the head would be the final box. Hit-box detection trades accuracy and realism for ease of use, oftentimes shots are registered as hits even though the shot technically missed. With per-poly hit detection, the polygons on the player models themselves must be hit in order to register damage on your opponent.
Speaking of weapons, the multiplayer level featured the pistol (your default weapon), shotgun, machine gun, rocket launcher, and plasma gun. Your fists and flashlight could also be used as melee weapons, and a power-up (the berserker) was also present in the level. The pistol was weak; think Quake II blaster and youíve got a good idea of how powerful this weapon is. The shotgun is devastatingly effective at close range; you could practically rip your opponent to shreds if the weapon was employed accurately. I borrowed an old Counter Strike tactic used with the Benelli auto shotgun and rushed my opponent whenever I had this weapon, dodging and evading until I was up close and personal before opening up on him. This tactic worked beautifully thanks to the low lighting level of the map, and was ultimately used on me a couple of times. The shotgun reminded me most of the Quake/Quake III super shotgun.
Machine gun and rocket launcher
The machine gun was best used for general-purpose work. It didnít have the punch of the shotgun at close range, but it still could dish out a good amount of damage. Medium range is where it really shined, although you had to fire in bursts to ensure accuracy. I never got a chance to use the plasma gun, although its telltale blue signature stood out easily in the dark level.
Berserker: Play-balancing or just too much?
The berserker power-up is an interesting throwback to DOOM. With it youíll run twice as fast and inflict more damage, you can literally kill your opponent with one swing from your fist! This makes it incredibly powerful, as you can use the dark environment and the fairly small size of the map to your advantage. This addition could give less experienced players a fighting chance against battle-hardened veterans, or it could allow a skilled player to dominate his opponent(s) even more. Itís still way too early to tell as weíve only seen one map and we donít know the details of how it will be implemented in the final game. For instance, there may be another power-up or item to pick up that can be used as a counter, or it may only spawn a limited number of times in a match. One thing is certain though, berserker will scare the hell out of your opponents. And your first instinct (to run) only plays to its advantage.
Player movement speed was somewhere between Quake III and Quake II. Obviously, since the focus of DOOM 3 is single player, id didnít want the game to move along at hyperspeeds like the original DOOM games and Quake; immersion is key. But at the same time, the snailís pace of Quake II (idís previous shooter with an emphasis on single player) wasnít very well received either. This is an important aspect of gameplay, so getting it right will be important to id and Splash Damage.
Overall I walked away from the multiplayer demonstration with positive thoughts on the gameplay. The game felt like a traditional id shooter in all regards but one: damage feedback. Unlike previous id shooters, I just couldnít get a good feel for how much damage I was doing with each shot. Perhaps it was the low level of lighting or maybe just the newness of it all, but for one reason or another I just couldnít tell how hurt my opponent was. Iíd hate to give Senator Joseph Lieberman more ammunition in his fight against violent video games, but DOOM 3 needs more blood to show exactly how effective your attacks are. This is one area where id shooters have had an advantage, so I doubt DOOM 3 will be any different in its final form.
Dealing with campers
Another aspect that canít be forgotten is camping. With shadows being employed throughout the game, DOOM 3 could be ripe for abuse by campers. Screenshots just donít do the shadows and lighting in DOOM 3 justice, there are countless areas for a player to camp in. Fortunately campers tend to be less skilled players, so the per-poly hit detection will make it more difficult, but could you imagine if a player like Thresh were to camp the RL? You could kill a player in one spot and move to another shadow for your next kill in seconds. Running routes is a perfectly acceptable way to control a map, but camping in one area is not. Level designers will have to ensure that they donít overdo it with the shadows or else this could become a problem. Hoping that the camperís shadow will give him or her away really isnít enough.
Shadows impose another interesting problem: performance. With shadows everywhere, ragdoll physics, and weapons such as the plasma gun draining frame rate, many complained over the performance of the multiplayer demonstration. This again is something that the level designer will have to take into account when creating maps.
Since I played the multiplayer level on Thursday, Iíve now had nearly a week to reflect on things. In hindsight you really get the feeling for how early DOOM 3 multiplayer still is. The game is nowhere near the state of Q3Test, and we all know the numerous changes that were implemented between 1.05, 1.07, and ultimately, the final product. The look is certainly there, and shadows will definitely add a whole new dimension to deathmatch. The new physics engine will also turn heads: whereas killing an adversary with the rocket launcher in Quake would send him flying in an almost comical nature, in DOOM 3 the realism is cranked up several notches. Youíll always remember that first time you shot your opponent through a window.
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|