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C:\QUAKE - Part 8: Beyond Belief and Mattias Worch

C:\QUAKE - Part 8: Beyond Belief and Mattias Worch

I found a backup of my C:\Quake folder from 20 years ago when I was a Quake-obsessed teenager. In this series I will explore the hidden gems and curiosities from that time-capsule, and give context for their importance or irrelevance in the modern gaming canon. Part 8: A pro-quality complete episode from a future star of FPS gaming development - Beyond Belief by Mattias Worch.

Enkidu

Map Packs and Episodes

Among the Quake mapping community in the late 90s, there was a certain reverance towards the official four episodes included in Id Software's seminal game. Each episode was seven or eight maps long, and normally started off with a military base that the player invades to take a slipgate to the themed episode area. By modern standards, each level in Quake was small- or medium-sized and hewed closely to a theme determined in part by texture limitations. So you tended to battle through military bases, solid castles, ancient ruins, metallic dungeons, and abstract Lovecraftian mazes. In the Quake modding scene, when a mapper would build a series of these maps and release them as a level pack, the community would consider it a new unofficial episode for Quake.

The idBase texture set for Quake
The minimal idBase texture set for Quake

 

A well-known Doom modder in Germany named Matthias Worch took direct inspiration from the id episodes of Quake and decided to create his own episode in a similar style - an unofficial Episode 5 that he titled Beyond Belief. The early days of Quake mapping were challenging - the tools either didn't exist or were arcane to use. Documentation on the Quake engine was limited. Computers were incredibly slow by todays standards, so constant frame-rate compromises compromised visual aesthetics. For some, the transition from 2D or 2.5D game engines into true 3D befuddled the brains of creators.

As he began work on Beyond Belief, Worch was forced to settle on the Quest map software for Linux becuase it was the only map editor released to the public at that time. One of the chief limitations of Quest was that it could could not brushclip, meaning that...

"Literally every single brush in Beyond Belief is a rectangle - it's a cube, pretty much, which was then squashed and stretched. If I wanted a 6-sided, supposedly "round" bar, for example, that would actually be three [cubical] brushes."

- photo and quote source: Matthias Worch's own Beyond Belief video retrospective
Notice all the wireframe polygons are stretched squares.
Photo and quote source: Matthias Worch's own Beyond Belief video retrospective, link below

 

Despite these headaches, Worch clearly had the skills to pull off an id-quality map pack. After eight months of work on Beyond Belief, Worch released his episode in May of 1997, less than a year after Quake's release. The highly anticipated Beyond Belief was met with universal acclaim, and the large 7.1 megabyte download size was considered worth the additional multi-hour wait. It was an instant smash hit, downloaded over 10,000 times in the first two days. Contemporary reviews of Beyond Belief were equally effusive in their acclaim: 

  • Matt Sefton of Matt's SPQ Level Heaven said that Worch "...breathes new life into the genre". 
  • Crash's Quake Page praised the gamplay, highlighting that "monster placement and flow are exceptionally well done; though it's hard, it's survivable".
  • The Quake Map Hotel encouraged HPBs worldwide to "Fire up that tired modem, go fix a sandwich, and come back to a marathon of quality Quaking!"

A Career Launched

Another group paying close attention to Beyond Belief was Ritual Software (then known as Hipnotic Software), who'd just released the first offical Quake expansion pack Scourge of Armagon. Two months after the release of Beyond Belief, Ritual flew Worch from his home in Germany to Dallas, Texas for an interview and hired him soon after. He'd go on to work on Sin, Unreal 2, lead level design for Dead Space 2, lead design for the legendary-but-cancelled Star Wars 1313, the forgotten gem Mafia III, and now works for Epic Games as a design lead of the Special Projects group. The pre-vis tech used on The Mandalorian? That's some of Matthias Worch's work. Dude's a legend.

Worch and Levelord at Quakecon '97
Worch (left, in white shirt) at QuakeCon '97, trying to catch the eye of Ritual's Levelord (right, with moustache).
Source: Wendigo

 

Retro Review

So how does Beyond Belief play in 2021? Just like everyone says, it's a nine-level episode for Quake that meets and often exceeds id Software's work. As an entire episode it is cohesive, ramps up in difficulty smoothly, manages weapons and enemies well, and climaxes with a breathless yet satisfying boss fight. Of all the reviewed mods and levels in the C:\QUAKE series, it stands head and shoulders above all others.

 

Rather than throwing repetive combat at the player, Beyond Belief instead builds challenges out of environmental encounters with Quake's more dynamic enemies. For example, you're tasked with taking out grenade-launching Ogres in narrow staircases or dodging Zombies without the ability to gib them to pieces.

Fights in tight places
Can you take out the Ogre with your popgun
while it rains grenades down the staircase at you?

 

From an artisitic standpoint, Beyond Belief has realistic texture transitions from natural to artifical. For example, in a mine-themed level, the mouth of a cave will be shored up with brick and wood beams, giving the entrance clean, artificial lines. Meanwhile, the mine interior itself is composed of angular slabs of natural rock. It's a great contrast. 

Graphical details make environments feel real
Graphical details, like these shored-up cave entrances make environments feel real

 

Despite overall excellent aesthetics, some maps have a lack of verticality, especially in combat. Most levels feel like a collection of 2-D rooms that are connected by staircases and elevators, but rarely will this result in interesting vertical gameplay.

I would consider a Worch trademark to be interesting grand ceilings - with lots of cool beams and light sources. The architectual impact of a Worch ceiling is to enhance the mood and make the locations feel much more real. I would often pause in my playthrough to stop and examine the beautiful and intricate ceilings. 

A wonderful Worch ceiling
A wonderful Worch ceiling,
and also a challenging fight against hitscan enemies with explosive hazards

 

Due to the era in which they were released, all the maps in Beyond Belief are small. Hallways are narrow and doorways are sized small. Outside of the aforementioned Worch Ceilings, most rooflines are low and claustrophobic. There are very few outdoor areas, which fits in well with the Puzzlebox Castle aesthetic of the back half of the levels.

Fights in tight spaces amp up the challenge without being unfair.
Fights in tight spaces amp up the challenge without being unfair.
Oh, and another neat Worch ceiling!

I recommend every Quake enthusiast download and play through Beyond Belief. It's a great romp with reasonable challenge. It should take veteran players between 60 and 90 minutes to complete, and every minute is a joy in terms of aesthetics and gameplay.

 

Mod Details:

Special Bonus: Speedrun in the Quake Done Quick Style!

If you're a regular reader of the C:\QUAKE series, you'll remember when I covered speedruns and the QdQ team in a previous article. Back in the heyday of Quake Done Quick, popular 3rd-party level packs were also targets for speedruns. Due to the fame of Beyond Belief, the QdQ team did a Nightmare difficulty speedrun of this episode in their typical high-effort, re-cammed style - titled Speed Beyond Belief. It is available in its original demo format at: http://quake.speeddemosarchive.com/quake/qdq/movies/sbb.html 

Unfortunately there does not exist a good video capture of Speed Beyond Belief, so I recorded one myself. I cannot stress how fun and enjoyable this speedrun is to watch. Please enjoy the glory days of self-explanatory speedruns:

 

From The Chatty
  • reply
    May 31, 2021 2:30 PM

    Eighth in a sometime-weekly series of articles about the cool Quake mods and maps I collected in the late 90's. This time: a map pack so good it got the author hired by Ritual from a continent away.

    Read more: C:\QUAKE - Part 8: Beyond Belief and Mattias Worch

    • reply
      May 31, 2021 2:35 PM

      The bonus speedrun at the bottom of the article is not to be missed - it's delightful to watch and only takes six minutes.

      I bit off more than I could chew with this article and lost some steam on my weekly posts. The next C:\QUAKE article will be on something small but interesting.

      Attn: ThomW, shotgun1, roushimsx, someWayne, mn3m0n1c, JohnnyDanger, skankcore, u sir name, gracelessdragon, cap n KRUNCH, someWayne, knytehawkk, ughhhhhhh, quazar, paravis, cokefiend, CrustaR, Waverider, redfive, Maddog_Delphi97, Audhuml4, skizl, dmode101, reelbk, lacker, MikkleThePickle, Distortion462, Ziz, razlebol, MacemannInTW, zehh, frib, ventro, ahlee, sasoi, enyakk, Conan, hobosapien, Veegeezee

      • reply
        May 31, 2021 2:36 PM

        Feek yeah! I will devour this!

      • reply
        May 31, 2021 2:57 PM

        heck yesss

      • reply
        May 31, 2021 3:23 PM

        Awesome, I was watching DF Retros new quake vid and thinking about you this morning. I want to build a period PC again and go back in time.

        • reply
          May 31, 2021 4:56 PM

          Yeah, that video gave me the encouragement to get the article ready to publish. Such nostalgia...!

    • reply
      May 31, 2021 3:46 PM

      Oh man, Beyond Belief was an instant classic. Ah, memories... 😊

    • reply
      May 31, 2021 4:20 PM

      Cool map, cool series

    • reply
      May 31, 2021 6:33 PM

      Nice! I was waiting for this one!

    • reply
      May 31, 2021 7:39 PM

      I don't even remember taking that picture at QuakeCon '97

      • reply
        May 31, 2021 7:44 PM

        Someone who called themselves wendigo (lower case) and hung out with sCary took all those photos.

    • reply
      May 31, 2021 7:53 PM

      Grenade jumps are TIGHT!

    • reply
      May 31, 2021 7:59 PM

      I'm gonna have to do a run of that. Its literally been more than 20 years.

    • reply
      June 1, 2021 6:27 AM

      Played through half of bbelief this morning. Fun!

      Thanks for the write-up . :)

    • reply
      June 1, 2021 7:00 AM

      wow, never heard of this map pack. I will check it out, thanks!

    • reply
      June 1, 2021 8:12 AM

      Thanks again for putting these up. Total nostalgia overload

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