Getting Nerdy about Music

Ghosts I-IV for Quake: A different kind of soundtrack.

Featured Post Image - Ghosts I-IV for Quake: A different kind of soundtrack.

If there’s one thing I need to improve on in my life, it’s to write something in the moment. I’ve bought plenty of games, played a bevy of mods, grabbed other assorted things for potential blog fodder…

Then I do nothing with it. This has happened more often than not, but only because I get the problem of being an ideas person and rarely act upon them. I’ve been slowly improving on this front, at least more than I was years ago.

Which brings me to this post about a game mod. I played this on a whim back in 2018, and thought it was pretty neat. While I’m currently wrapped in a few other things right now, I thought I’d write something quick for this month.

A few years back, I wrote an article praising the wonders of Red Book CD audio. CD audio tracks that would play in certain games, from PC classics like Half-Life, to even Sega CD games like Sonic CD. Unfortunately, modern technology is not too kind to the concept, as it often struggles to work properly on modern devices. In some cases, digital re-releases of games like Starsiege: Tribes didn’t even come with the CD music, removing part of the ambience.

There have been solutions thanks to source ports and game updates. For instance, playing Half-Life on Steam has all its music files as MP3s, so if the game (or a related mod) calls for that CD track, it’ll play it without needing the CD.

Looks just as good as it did in ’96.

Which brings me to a classic in Red Book audio: Quake. One of the earliest PC games to use it, popping in the CD would fill your ears with weird ambient music by Trent Reznor and his band Nine Inch Nails. Modern source ports such as Quakespasm actually support playable CD tracks in MP3/OGG formats, which means one can rip the soundtrack from their copy of Quake – or just find it on the internet, I doubt id and Zenimax care these days – and play it easily, proper looping and all.

There’s a handful of Quake map packs that come with custom soundtracks tailor-made for the level pack, such as Travail. Others outright replace the Nine Inch Nails soundtrack with different ambient tracks, like EpiQuake or Quake Epsilon. But what if I told you someone replaced Nine Inch Nails music with Nine Inch Nails music?

Ha! Now I won’t be burned by hot slag. Take that!
(Oh wait, now I can’t get out…)

“Ghosts I-IV for Quake” is an interesting mod. Replacing the original 1996 soundtrack with the entirety of Ghosts I-IV, an album by Nine Inch Nails with nothing but ambient instrumentals seems like a good fit. In a sense, Ghosts I-IV is a spiritual successor to the original Quake soundtrack, even if there’s little similarities in style.

The album itself is interesting: Frustrated by their record label, Trent Reznor severs his contract with Interscope Records and decides to go independent – for a while anyway – and released this under a Creative Commons license. This license is how the mod exists without lawyers getting involved, as it’s a free mod for a commercial video game.

Shooting switches with the power of magic pellets!

There is one other feature of this mod: There’s no monsters or weapons. Now there’s mostly empty levels with switches, lifts and other assorted things, but nothing to shoot. With god mode turned on. In a sense, this changes the perspective of the game entirely. No longer a straight explosive romp, it’s strictly an exploration-based affair.

It’s really hard to show pictures in a mod that’s strictly audio-driven, but I assure you this is with the “tourism” mode turned off.

This can be turned off, though, if you prefer carnage. I originally played it without the monsters, which actually gave me a stronger appreciation for Quake’s level design. Not many games really give you the privilege to really explore the world in a non-combat sort of way, and it really works.

The only other unique thing is the restoration of the start of the Dismal Oubliette, found by John Romero many many years ago.

It reminds me of exploration-driven first-person games like Dear Esther, Gone Home, and to a lesser extent, the Amnesia series of games. For years, games like these got a fair share of flak among certain people, being disparaged with the term “walking simulator,” frustrated there wasn’t really any danger involved. In the case of Gone Home, there was the added fact for some people it didn’t resonate with them on a personal level, and thus felt like “a waste of time.”

Gone Home might not have resonated with *me* that much, but I appreciated what it tried to do. (Official screenshot from the Steam store page of Gone Home.)

So why would I bring those kind of games up? Because “Ghosts I-IV for Quake” is playing the game in a different way than it was originally. It brings a different perspective, and that makes it charming. Honestly, more games need to give that kind of “spectator mode” as an option for games. Doom had it with -nomonsters back then, and some other games have official and mod-specific ways to explore the environment.

Coincidentally the maker of the Ghosts mod, JP LeBreton, advocates for this kind of mode and gives examples on his personal website, even giving a proper term for it: “Game tourism.” It makes sense: It’s like a vacation in video game form.

You can check out the Ghosts I-IV mod here. You’ll need the Quakespasm source port (and a copy of registered Quake, natch) to play. There’s also instructions to change some features, such as turning monsters back on for a more traditional Quake experience.

E2M4 was one of those maps that I really liked. Probably because of the abstract castle look of it.

I’m glad more games embracing the concept of exploration/tourism modes. We’re getting to a time in video games where boundaries need to be pushed. Trying things that seem unconventional. Explaining a story in ways that hadn’t been seen before.

I’m not saying we can’t have action-based shooty romps – hell, I’m enjoying Call of Juarez: Gunslinger as I write this post. But for the medium to grow, we have to at least think of games differently. A mod like this for one of the best games of all time, a game of which I’ve written about various mods before, is one good way to think of it differently.

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