I used to feel sorry for Raven. They started out in the promising old Amiga days, and they had to move over to PC development and 3D games in the wake of DOOM. They got chummy with id and got some help on their first PC game, Heretic. Heretic was cool – certainly much better than the majority of DOOM clones out there. It was also somewhat refreshing – too often I would download a game demo and within minutes of playing I would form an unfavorable opinion. Heretic‘s demo, however, showed promise (you could glance down for starters). Still, it wasn’t quite DOOM, so ultimately I was disappointed. Then came Hexen. This was a better game than Heretic, to be sure. It was something of a sequel. What of a sequel, I don’t know (more later). So Hexen was decent and all, but by this point I was getting tired of DOOM and its brethren and was looking forward to something called Quake.

Quake came and went and got its engine licensed out to dozens of developers, and Raven unveiled Hexen II – more or less the only game using the original Quake engine’s source code and while Raven no doubt made some modifications, they used little to no Quake II code – most developers postponed their titles to graft Quake II code into their game once that game was released. Hexen II fell victim to “good demo” syndrome. I played the demo and thought it was cool. I bought the game and was disappointed once I got past the demo’s levels. Hexen II never really took off, despite efforts like Hexenworld – a port of Hexen II to the Quakeworld codebase.

Then Raven used the Quake II engine and belted out Heretic II. Odd, since I always thought Hexen II was like Heretic III, so Heretic II should have been Heretic IV. This got them a .plan lambasting from John “foot in mouth” Romero. Heretic II was good, but no Tomb Raider (it was a 3rd person game).

Oh, and somewhere along the line there was a game called Mageslayer which tried to be Gauntlet in 3-D. Did it better than Gauntlet Legends did, too.

So after Heretic II failed to light things up, I hear Raven was going to do a Star Trek game. Remember, there hasn’t been a good Star Trek game in years. To make things worse, the game is for Star Trek: Voyager, which is the least popular Trek to date. Uh-oh. Also, they decided to do a game for mercenary for hire magazine Soldier of Fortune. Bigger uh-oh.

But then I attended Jake Simpson’s talk at QuakeCon ’99. One of the first things he told us in his British accent was that he was miffed that no one on the QC floor was playing a Raven game. Then he told us about Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force. Cool shit indeed – listening to a developer talk about his game. Then he showed us the Quake III engine game in action. I was floored. Not only did this look to break the Star Trek game curse, but it might be a Raven game that would sell! Also at QC I saw one of the most violent games ever. I found out it was Soldier of Fortune, running on the Quake II engine. Damn, two winners from Raven.

Both games were released to acclaim and high sales. I don’t feel sorry for Raven anymore

To make a long story short (too late!), my wife bought me Elite Force for my birthday. Not only is it all that and a bag of chips, but it’s one of the few games she is interested in playing. Now if only her system could hack it – holomatch!

Elite Force is interesting – it’s kind of a “niche” game. Whereas a game like Q3A is trying to be the “be-all, end-all” Deathmatch game, Elite Force is more of a console type game – single player with some multiplayer thrown in. The source code and a level editor is available, just like for Q3A. However, while the Quake series of games have always inspired conversions (Star Wars Quake, Aliens Quake, even some Trek ones), trying to convert a “specific” game like Elite Force seems kinda silly. Converting a “generic” game like Q3A makes more sense. Consequently, the only kind of modification that makes sense would be a Trek inspired one. I’ve barely scraped the surface of the Elite Force community, but I’ve already seen some levels that are pretty good representations of starships (irony: Q3A was built to house more “open” levels, rather than the cramped confines of a spaceship).

This all leads me to an interesting question/proposition. Jake Simpson at QC said that, while a lot of the U.S.S. Voyager is mapped out, there is no blueprint for the vessel on file at Paramount. Reason? They don’t want to paint themselves into a corner on the show. If they need a new room, they can just place one instead of being limited to a blueprint (those Trek blueprint books are put together after the ship is not used in the shows anymore and is usually done by studying old episodes). What I want to know is this: how complete is the Voyager ship in the game? I found this mod, which aims to make the ship into a free-wanderable vessel. My question/proposition is: how feasible is it that new missions can be made for this game? I would think it would be more feasible, at least from Raven’s standpoint. I mean, this is a TV show that has been on for seven years – it should lead itself to mission packs, and more than a couple of them. You could reuse the maps that are on the ship – only new characters and planets would have to be created. I know that this sort of thing is possible, I just wonder if the end user can do it.

It would be the revival of a dead art – the single player modification. For that matter, the “map packs” so popular in the Quake and DOOM days could be taken to the next level. Whereas we were satisfied with the “Space Marine runs into more shit” premise of those level arrangements, Elite Force missions would conform themselves to a plot (“The Voyager ship and crew runs into more shit”). Repetitive, sure, but these same notions have fueled this universe for over 30 years. The only hitch I could forsee is the Voyager notion dying away once the show finishes its seven year run soon.

I’m going to grapple with this idea and tinker around with the concept in the coming days (damn, this is gonna crimp my ongoing Q3A plans) but in the meantime I’m gonna keep looking out for an old army Star Trek (original series) mod.