Tagged: Quake II

Zaero for Quake II: Back to the land of unofficial expansion packs.

When I wrote about the previous Mods and Maps article about Soldier of Fortune, Inc., I honestly wasn’t expecting it to go beyond Quake. When I found it that there were new tie-in levels made for Quake II, it made me replay through Quake II and its expansions, something I hadn’t done in years. I was originally not so hot on it, and I thought maybe a replay would give me a fresh perspective on the game. Sadly, it didn’t.

Wouldn’t be an id software game without some classic monster infighting.

Quake II is… fine as a game, I guess. A solid shooter with lots of colored lighting, a derivative story, and a killer soundtrack by Sonic Mayhem – with contributions by Bill Brown, Jeremiah Sypult and Rob freakin’ Zombie of all people – that just lacked the sort of bizarre mish-mash that Quake did the year prior that I enjoyed thoroughly. It just felt rather derivative as a game. Considering how id software was in turmoil at the time, I’m not surprised it feels kinda boilerplate, because they knew anything with an id logo on it would sell gangbusters.

While playing those Quake II themed levels for that Soldier of Fortune, Inc article, it dawned on me that despite having written about all kinds of retro FPS stuff for Doom, Quake and Half-Life, I hadn’t written about anything related to Quake II. That changes today, as I look into one of the more deeper cuts of Quake II, released during that wild west period of the early-to-late ‘90s: unofficial expansion packs to games.

Good to know it’s not supported by id Software, I guess. Cover courtesy of Mobygames.

Zaero for Quake II is one of the aforementioned unofficial expansion packs. Developed by a group named Team Evolve, this expansion added new levels and weapons to the main Quake II arsenal. But how did this expansion come about? For those who weren’t really around when this was big – and admittedly, I was only tangentially aware of it back then – let’s give a quick refresher course on the shovelware compilation boom.

I get to use this cover again! It’s just as ridiculous as it was the first time.

For a period of time, a fair share of shovelware budget publishers such as Softkey, WizardWorks and others found a new way to make some easy cash: capitalizing on some of the biggest game franchises by releasing compilations of levels for these game, often downloaded off the still fresh-to-the-world internet, for $20-30 a pop. It was interesting to go to a store and find a compilation of new levels for Doom, which was becoming one of the biggest video game cultural touchstones of the 1990s.

Unfortunately this practice raised the ire of some developers, feeling that those publishers were profiting off the backs of independent hobbyists and budding game designers. At one point id Software themselves decided to respond with The Master Levels for Doom II, a small set of levels made by a handful of the notable members of the Doom community, which came with its own compilation of Doom levels compiled from the web called Maximum Doom.

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Mods and Maps: Soldier of Fortune, Inc. for Quake — Not *that* Soldier of Fortune.

A few months back, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Bethesda re-released the id Software classic Quake on modern systems and the PC. Ported to the versatile KEX Engine by Nightdive Studios, it added the base game, the two official Mission Packs, the MachineGames developed Dimension of the Past made for the 20th anniversary in 2016, and a newly made expansion, Dimension of the Machine, also by MachineGames.

Going back through Quake was a nice nostalgia trip, and while I had already played through the game countless times in the past – most recently in June to test out the fan-made Copper rebalance mod – It felt good going through the tech bases and castles with nailguns and the Thunderbolt once again.

The official port has licensed mod support, similar to the Unity-powered Doom remasters on these same platforms from a year or two back, with Midway’s port of Quake to the Nintendo 64 being the first supported mod. Though it does also support some older Quake mods if they were just simple levels and not involving complex scripting from recent source ports, which means stuff like the oft-praised Arcane Dimensions don’t work in the remaster yet.

Colored lighting on Quake 64, at the cost of more boxier level geometry. A fair trade, honestly.

It made me think of many old custom levels from the early days of modding, and one that I thought of was during that wild west period, when map makers would offer to make stuff based on licensed properties as free promotion. One of which was based on a TV show that most of you probably don’t remember.

Kinda hard to watch this show nowadays, but okay.

Soldier of Fortune, Inc. for Quake is not what you think it is. It has nothing to do with the later 2000 game by Raven Software. Rather, this three-level pack existed as a promotion for a television show, back in those days when people could just make custom levels and have them officially sponsored by those companies, akin to stuff like Chronic for Quake III Arena made to promote The Marshall Mathers LP.

But what is Soldier of Fortune, Inc.? SOF was a TV series created by Dan Gordon, an ex-Israel Defense Force soldier turned screenwriter, produced by Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Productions and Rysher Entertainment. Named after the magazine of the same name, SOF was an action series involving a rag-tag group of soldiers trying to stop various people doing the bad things. In essence, it was a modern-day Mission: Impossible. It often aired in late-evening time slots alongside shows like Baywatch, which meant it was made to be one of those shows that tried to capture some of the Baywatch audience by also being an action-packed romp.

The show did get renamed for the second season, losing the Soldier of Fortune branding. Now called SOF: Special Ops Force, the show had a few notable cast changes, including basketball player Dennis Rodman playing a supporting character and Peter Graves doing an introductory narration, further leaning into the Mission: Impossible trappings. The show ended in 1999 after that second season, being mostly forgotten by the general populace.

I was reminded of this show’s existence thanks to a podcast. It Was a Thing on TV – a TV obscurities podcast hosted by a few of my game show colleagues – had recently done an episode on Thunder in Paradise, another short-lived action show starring Hulk Hogan and Chris Lemmon stopping evil villains on beachfronts. Much like Soldier of Fortune, Inc., Thunder in Paradise was trying to capture the Baywatch crowd, but wasn’t successful at it either, only having one sole 22-episode season.

Thunder in Paradise would get a video game adaptation for the Philips CD-i and DOS that was during the peak of full motion video, using an episode from the TV series but with more footage shot for the game. It made me think of similar action shows from the ’90s that got video game adaptations, and suddenly I started thinking about how a similar action show somehow got a custom level pack for Quake, back when that was a thing that could happen. Nowadays those same entertainment companies just cut a check to Activision to put John Rambo in Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War for $25, complete with low-quality sound bites from the movies.

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