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Quake Live is a clever idea: Take a good game, stick it in a browser based application, let people play it. I used to enjoy playing first person shooters online. Frankly, I used to be pretty good, too. So I thought "Hey, this Quake Live thing sounds neat, I'll have a go".

It's a tweaked version of Quake III Arena - a game with no plot other than "kill other players online", so there's little learning involved. It installed fast - You play through a training match to work out your skill level while it downloads and installs the rest of the game. When you're playing, it offers you matches based on your skill level, and then you get to kill people. So far, so deathmatch. There really isn't anything else to it.

Quake III still looks pretty good today. So far as I can see the main cosmetic difference from the ages-old commercial release is that if you splatter a player there is no spray of blood and bits of corpse everywhere, just a sparky teleport effect. I'm guessing this is to get around the ridiculous fear that small children will play Quake and become bloodthirsty murderers if they see dismembered body parts flying around. I didn't notice the difference for a while, but I'm not complaining - the blood spray is essentially a smoke effect, and my computer grinds on those so badly I had to turn them all off.

So you play, killing thousands upon thousands of people, and then you get meaningless awards which are attached to your profile. These don't even show up in the game, so nobody is going to see this collection of idiotic and pointless "trophies" which reward gameplay flukes more than well-honed skills. Apparently there's a friends list, but I don't see the point. Less useful is a list of people who were in games you joined (who cares?). There are forums. Forums full of idiots, if the thread titles are anything to go by. Clearly modern online gaming, with it's social aspects, is not a place for me.

The real problem with this is that Quake III is simply not that great. It's so polished, it's bland. There are no clever tricks to learn with the weapons, there are few ways to turn around a losing situation, and the game is trying so hard to be grim and gothic it's just boring instead. A typical loading screen has me thinking, "Ho hum, another map called Temple of Death/Chapel of Agony/Pony Club of Suffering/Cathedral of Pain" - the setting is essentially all style with no context behind it. What makes other games fun in multiplayer is that the single player game provides some kind of background. There is no single player game in Quake Live! It's just "Here's some guns! Kill!" and no background - not even providing the brain dead reason for Quake III Arena (immensely powerful alien beings from another dimension and their portals... no surprises there).

The question you're probably wondering about is how they pay for all this. The answer is advertising revenue. There are screens in-game which are supposed to display advertising, but there seems to be none in the servers I play on. This is possibly because I'm living in the Southern Hemisphere, and playing on Australian servers. Lucky me.

Special mention must go to their irritating anti-cheating measure called "PunkBuster", which runs when you start up the computer for no clear reason at all. It is very good... at disconnecting people for no clear reason at all. If I had to guess at how it works, I'd say the criteria is that it either picks someone at random to kick off the server, or picks a player who is winning to kick off the server.

Not that I'm bitter.

What I like about Quake Live is the content delivery - a relatively free game, which runs in a web browser, and downloads fast. I'm not so sure this would work for anything more current - or with larger maps. One of the things the original game was designed for was speedy load times, after all. What I don't like is that it's a game that feels a bit soulless, and has no clever tricks for a thinking gamer. Hopefully something better will be offered using the same model.

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