Interview with Zoid

From out of the Canadian mist, Quake enthusiast Dave 'Zoid" Kirsch, created one of the most popular Quake mods ever, Threewave Capture the Flag. Zoid was one of the first to create a completely new and original gameplay in Quake; one that hundreds of people the world over play day and night. Threewave CTF has spawned many variations from its source code, by those who are taking his awesome mod in new and sometimes odd directions.
He gave us a few moments of his time to answer our in depth (and somewhat pesky) questions.

First things first; Personal goodies (but not too personal). Where are you from? How old? How long have you been using computers? Are you, or have you ever been, a llama?

I'm a 27 year old British Columbian and Canadian native. I've been using computers since I was about 9, professionally since I was 17. I've never been a llama, I've always been building the things other people have been llamas about.

When did you first learn programming, and what language? Were you doing it for fun, or for work?

First? Oh my. I guess I really started programming when my parents bought me a TI-99/4A when I was 12. I learned to code in TI BASIC (quite a restrictive language). It was all in fun. I wrote easily a half a dozen games for the TI in those early years. From there I moved to the Apple II, and finally the PC. My language history is BASIC, Pascal then C and various derivitives (C++ and the like). Programming has always been for fun, even when it's for work.

What was your first id Software game?

Well, the first one I played was Commander Keen. It wasn't something that jumped at me until Wolf3D came out. That was just amazing my 16MHz 386SX. I didn't start actually modifying id games until Quake, though I played a lot of Wolf and DooM patches and levels.

What was it about Quake that made you say "Wow!"?

The multiplayer. I've always been a huge gamer and multiplayer has always been my focus both in playing and developing. Quake was finally the high speed, multiplayer action over the Internet I've always been looking for. I actually started working in the Internet industry as far back as 1989 with a focus on multiplayer games. Just ended up I mostly worked on the Internet applications itself (ftp, web, accounting modules for user accounts) than games. I did write a few simple multiplayer games that aren't widely known.

What is your favorite level, from id's originals to Hipnotic, Rogue, etc?

From the original set of levels with Quake, Tim's e1m2 and American's dm2 by far. That's mostly from deathmatch. My favorite single play level was Sandy's e4m3. As for the packs, I don't really have a real favorite. I don't play them as much as the regular levels, which is quite a shame. Both Mission Packs are fantasic single player experiences, tho.
And my favorite CTF level is ctf2m1, McKinley Station, but I built that, so I'm biased. Probably my favorite CTF level that I didn't build is DaBug's ctf5.

You have edited levels. Which editor did you use, and why did you pick that one over the others? Was this more interesting (or appealing) than editing QuakeC?

I used WorldCraft simply because I could run it and immediately start drawing brushes. Most of the other editors were incomplete, or had whacked out user interfaces that I didn't want to spend learning. WC just made sense to me the moment I loaded it up. Though, I did wish it had the features of edge and vertex manipuation it has now.

What was the original inspiration behind making a capture the flag modification to Quake?

Teamplay. I had a Quake server running and started modifying it. One of the things I did was try to get teamplay going, but it turned into "don't shoot people the same color as you." Teamplay works in clan matches and stuff, but it doesn't in a "pick up game" (my name for random internet servers where people join). A goal was needed. I bounced a few ideas off a friend of mine and came up with a CTF sorta idea. The basic design was simple and easy to implement. You can read some of the CTF history on my page at Threewave.

When creating levels for CTF, what do you feel are the most important things to keep in mind?

Other than basic good level design (lighting, layout, look, etc.) the other issues are balance, defense and offensibility. For example, my original level, ctf1, McKinley Base is an extremely defensive level due to the long hallway at the base entrance and the sound from the water entrance. It's really tough to get into a well protected base. But levels such as ctf2m8, Capturephobolis are extremely open and defense becomes a much larger protection area. Balance is usually taken care of by building a symetrical level (people complain about symetrical levels, but they are the only way to make an fair game). The designer should keep the balance in mind when building a CTF level and ask questions like, "How hard would it to defend this area, or attack it?"

When Threewave CTF really took off last year, did you expect it to be the sensation that it is? Also, did you ever imagine that you'd be hired by id to work on Quake2?

Yes and no. I knew something I had a good product based on the initial response on my servers that I set up with CTF. From there, I turned into a marketting manager and tried to get the product out there in a very visible way. A lot of patch authors don't realize that it's not just writing a good design and game/patch, it's also in selling that patch to the public and getting it recognized.

Do you prefer CTF (and its variants) or DM?

It depends. For one on one play, standard Deathmatch 1 is what I prefer (sans Quad). I enjoy FFAs from time to time. But for teamplay, CTF for sure. Teamplay deathmatch is ok, but a bit boring. I love the goal orientation of CTF teamplay. There is nothing as exciting like running back to base with the enemy flag on your back with three enemy players chasing you. Then your teammates come out and cover you, while you run like hell into the base and capture that flag.

For Quake2, you are adding CTF into the commercial release; how much different will CTF be in Quake2 from Threewave CTF? Is there anything in Quake2's CTF that you wanted in Threewave CTF, but it never made it?

CTF won't be in the initial commercial release. It will come out a little later as an upgrade/addon. Time constraints of development. The CTF will not be significantly different--the essential gameplay elements will remain intact. I don't want to change something that works. Lots of small issues, such as grapple redesign, the runes (or possible lack thereof), etc. actually still need to be worked out. I'm hoping it will be an evolution of CTF into a more refined game. Many people know my dislike for adding stuff for the sake of just having new gadgets to play with. ThreeWave CTF has always been basic, simple and complete.

Will there be separate CTF maps in Q2, or will all the single player maps have the CTF enities in them, with a teamplay cvar for CTF?

The current plan is for seperate maps. These provides a better game and gets rid of base balance issues.

Is it camping, or guarding? :)

I never believed in camping to begin with. If you have an RL and want to plant your ass there, go ahead. I'll still kill you eventually.

How does it feel to be working at one of the worlds best game development companies?

Well, I'm not actually at id, I'm still in Vancouver. I'm working as an external contractor completing various projects for me.

Now, for all those QuakeC fans out there (including myself ), will Quake2 be more difficult to write modifications for than Quake?

It will be more difficult. But it will be a lot more powerful.

Do you forsee anyone ever making another hit like Threewave CTF, wether it be for Quake or Quake2? i.e. "Rocket Arena" took off quite well, but nothing can touch the popularity of CTF.

If someone else creates a good product and promotes it, then by all means. CTF's popularity is something that was pretty amazing.

I read in a gaming magazine a short article accusing id Software of "...creating half a game [Quake], and leaving the rest up to the users to come up with the fun stuff..." Do you ever consider the wide open ability to modify Quake as something to be critical of, or do the nearly infinite possibilities outweigh any downside?

Quake was a decent game. Certainly, there were a lot of holes in it, but overall, it's a good solid game. The modification ability gives it some longetivity and takes it in new directions. Modifability is not a critical application. It's just there because id believes it's cool to let people take their product in new directions that were never considered.

For everyone out there with aspirations of "gettin in the biz," what is the best suggestion you could give to them?

Build something really cool. Work really hard at it, then get it noticed. If you do a good job, they'll come looking for you.

Are you driving a Ferrari yet? 2 perhaps?

No. I'm not a sports car fan. A hummer would be nice, though.

Have you played many of the other CTF variations, such as Thunderwalker, Rogue, Expert, Urbana (insert shameless plug here), Capture the Head, etc? What did you think of their modifications?

I think there are some good ideas there. I envied Thunderwalker because they took CTF in directions I could never go--as the official ThreeWave CTF, I couldn't go nuts and add all kinds of weapons, sounds, etc. It wouldn't be ThreeWave CTF anymore as far as I was concernced. But they are all working from the same gameplay and aren't really changing it. They are adding bells and whistles. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's just a different flavour, it's not something new.

Has your time working with id changed your perspective any on mods to major games?

Not really. My biggest disappointment is how many poor games, mods, etc are done out there. My belief is you must always do something 110% or never release it. I see so much of people getting tired or lazy on a project and putting out something of poor quality. It's the ones that are well designed, built and had people putting 110% into the project that succeed.

What are your work plans after Quake2 ("when its done")? Perhaps stay with id?

After Quake2 is released, my contract is to maintain the Quake2 code. This includes fixing bugs, adding minor new features in release versions, keeping contact with the community and assisting them in making Quake2 the best experience and platform for them. After that, who knows. We'll see how it goes.
/// Zoid.

Thanks a lot, Dave.

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