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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Name: Beyond Belief Part I - The Unholy Alliance
- (There never was a Part 2!)
- Author: Matthias Worch | Author homepage, archived: https://web.archive.org/web/20190328035608/http://kqp.horoy.com/
- Release Date: 15 May 1997
- Download: https://www.quaddicted.com/reviews/bbelief.html
- Stream: https://youtu.be/msA0-HnhZ24 ← This is my low-skill run through Beyond Belief for your viewing pleasure. I die multiple times and occasionally Quicksave scum because that's how I've always played single-player Quake. The video is also embedded above.
- Trivia: The episode start map, where you choose difficulty and the jump into the slipgate to begin the adventure, was created last. Since it was made after all the mapping experience of the other 8 levels, the Start map is simply beautiful. It has excellent lighting and detail work in the cielings and surroundings. As the player's first introduction to the level pack, building that map last was a stroke of genius.
- Bonus: In 2015 the author of Beyond Belief, Matthias Worch, published a two-part retrospective of his Quake masterpiece, including a commentated Let's Play. It's a fantastic deep dive into the mind of a true professional level designer.
- Double Bonus: Some crazed maniac named Negke stitched all 9 maps into one megamap which allows you to play through Beyond Belief in a single level. Dig this: https://www.quaddicted.com/reviews/bbin1.html
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: