Willits Responds to Quake Map Controversy, Fails to Address Lineage of Multiplayer-Only Maps

During QuakeCon 2017, Quake Champions director Tim Willits gave an interview to PCGamesN in which he claimed to invent the concept of multiplayer-only maps by creating deathmatch levels for Quake. Fellow id Software alumnus John Romero replied with a lengthy blog post that included a timeline showing commercial FPS titles that shipped before Quake and packed in multiplayer-specific maps and game modes.   

I wrote the story covering Willits' interview and Romero's response, and invited Tim Willits to share his side. Willits responded indirectly via an Instagram post, showing a fragment from one of his Quake maps running in a NeXTSTEP Virtual Machine—the game's editor, QuakeEd, was written for the NeXTSTEP operating system—and tagging Shacknews and messaging us on Facebook to bring it to our attention.

I usually ignore silly controversies, but this one I will respond to. Here is a video of a map call tim14.bsp from 1996 (running on a NextStep VM, thanks to the programmers here at id Software). This is a map “fragment” (I have a directory full of them), if you know Quake 1 DM maps, you will be able to recognize things in it, this is not just a sketch. I stand by what I said and I'm not wasting my time on this anymore. Now I am getting back to working on the newest Quake game. @shacknews

A post shared by Tim Willits (@timwillits) on

Willits' video does little to clarify his position or firm up his assertions. In his interview with PCGamesN, Willits said, "Multiplayer maps - that was my idea. This is a funny story. I had finished all my work on the shareware episode [of Quake] and because we had no design direction, we had all these fragments of maps. I came into the office one day and talked to John Romero and John Carmack. I said 'I've got this idea. I can take these map fragments and I can turn them into multiplayer-only maps, maps you only play in multiplayer.' They both said that was the stupidest idea they'd ever heard. Why would you make a map you only play multiplayer when you can play multiplayer in single-player maps? So I said 'No, no, no, let me see what I can do.' And that's how multiplayer maps were started. True story."

Romero wrote a blog post taking umbrage with several of Willits' claims. "We did not have 'all these fragments of maps' that were used to make the multiplayer maps in Quake," Romero wrote. "All multiplayer-only maps that shipped with Quake were original maps made specifically for deathmatch."

Although the video posted by Willits does show a map in a partially finished state, he doesn't mention what map or map fragment he's working with, nor the date it was created or last modified. He says the map was called "tim14.bsp," the file extension used by Quake maps, but does not show a working or finished title for the map, instead making the cryptic remark that "[...] if you know Quake 1 DM maps, you will be able to recognize things in it, this is not just a sketch." The sketch comment appears to be a direct retort to Romero including a dated sketch of a layout for a deathmatch map in his blog.

Following Willits' logic, the level theme in the video is "Base," modeled after futuristic military bases. Of the six maps that make up Quake's Deathmatch Arena multiplayer episode, Willits is credited with three: DM1: Place of Two Deaths, DM5: The Cistern, and DM6: The Dark Zone. All three maps credited to Willits employ medieval textures and themes. Only the map credited to Romero, DM3: The Abandoned Base, uses the "Base" theme. The remaining maps, DM2: Claustrophobopolis and DM4: The Bad Place, are credited to American McGee, who favored the "Runic" theme's lava and metallic textures in both his single-player and multiplayer maps.

The only other Base-themed map credited to Willits is E4M1: The Sewage System, a single-player map rather than a level created expressly for multiplayer.

Setting aside analysis of Willits' video, id Software's studio director failed to address his statement that he came up with the idea to create multiplayer-only levels in first-person shooters—a statement he has made in other interviews over the years, but one that doesn't line up with the publishing history of FPS titles. Assuming that Willits meant he coined the idea for commercially distributed multiplayer-only maps, Apogee Software's Rise of the Triad and Bungie, Inc.'s Marathon both shipped on December 21, 1994, approximately 18 months before Quake, and included maps and modes designed for deathmatch.

Outside of commercial games, Doom's burgeoning community of level authors was building and trading deathmatch maps. DWANGO (short for Dial Up Wide Area Network Games Operation) was a multiplayer server written by Bob Huntley and Kee Kimbrell for Doom, Doom 2, and Raven Software's Heretic fantasy-themed shooter. Early in his career at id, American McGee released a deathmatch-only map for Doom 2 in November 1994. "We do not play single player here [at the studio] much," McGee explained in his notes for the level, "so most of my DOOM ][ maps were DeathMatch orientated... but again could not be total deathmatch levels. Well, here is my attempt at a DeathMatch only level." While his map was not distributed commercially, it was a map made for the purpose of multiplayer.

Shacknews would like to once again extend the opportunity for Tim Willits to contact us directly to discuss his statements.

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