(Pocket-lint) - Without Quake, it's debatable whether the eSports scene as we know it would ever have existed. The seminal 1996 first-person shooter introduced multiplayer action - over a LAN in those days - to the genre, and the rest is history. It was Quake that introduced the concept of professional gamers to the world.
Now, in the thoroughly modern form of Quake Champions for Windows PCs only, it is poised to make a comeback in a world in which eSports have become a global phenomenon. But can a reinvention of the originator reclaim its throne in a world littered with hugely popular modern upstarts like Overwatch?
We caught up with id Software's creative director Tim Willits, who worked on the original Quake and every Quake game since. He was only too happy to reveal what will make Quake Champions tick.
Quake Champions: What is it about?
When invited to describe the basics of Quake Champions, Willitt revealed all: "We like to present Quake Champions as a new, multiplayer-only arena-based Quake game, with the addition of champions," he said.
"We feel that having champions with unique abilities and different attributes adds a layer of design to the game that makes it more strategic. In team-play, it definitely makes it more strategic, and it allows players to find the champions that they feel most comfortable with. Then the champion and the player can progress together."
Being able to play as characters with different attributes is definitely a first for a Quake game, but also sounds suspiciously reminiscent of Overwatch.
Willits acknowledges that, but was keen to point out that it's still very much Quake: "When you think of Champions, you immediately say, 'There are a lot of hero-based games out there - why is this one different?' But each of our champions is fundamentally different: they really play differently.
"A lot of it comes down to how you play with that particular champion. Quake Champions is still at its heart a skill-based game, where the champions really don't change the way you play the game - they enhance it and add to that experience."
Who are the Quake Champions?
Willits wouldn't be drawn on exactly how many playable characters will be in Quake Champions at launch: "We want around about a dozen or so, but we want to continually update the game. So even when we launch and bring everybody into the game, we're going to continue to release champions, we're going to continue to release new game modes and we're going to continue to release new weapons if we come up with them. It is a living game."
Currently, on the Quake Champions website you can find eight champions: Nyx, Scalebearer, Anarki, Clutch, Galena, Ranger, Visor and Sorlag.
Willits was happy to flesh out his favourite champions with a bit more detail: "Let's start with Ranger: it's the character we feel people will be most comfortable with coming from Quake Live or Quake III Arena. His movement-speed and air-control are very similar [to those of the character you play in those games] and his active ability is the Dire Orb, which he can throw so it teleports you. At the end of Quake, in which you play Ranger, you kill the final boss Shub-Niggurath with the Dire Orb.
"Today, we put Nyx up on the website, and her active ability is the Ghostwalk, which helps her to basically phase out of existence for a few moments and then phase back. She's also light-footed and fast, and her passive ability is a kind of wall-run, so you can jump up on a wall and then jump down as well. She does not come with a weapon - you still have to pick up all the weapons, but that's her particular character.
"The character I like to play the most is Galena. Galena is an unholy paladin and she can actually throw down totems, which is very new for a Quake game. Those can heal team-mates or yourself, or they can act as landmines. So those are the types of abilities that we're integrating into our champions."
Quake Champions: Weapons
As far as the weapons in Quake Champions are concerned, Willits had a clear message: "The holy trinity of Quake is of course rocket, rail and lightning gun, so we did not mess with the holy trinity, okay? We would be roasted if we messed with them.
"We've kept a lot of the weapons pretty familiar - but we have a few surprises that I don't want to announce quite yet. Remember, the Quake weapons have been refined, debated and tweaked for 21 years. So we know the speed of a rocket, and we know the damage-over-time of a lightning gun. I want our players to understand that they are going to feel right at home with the weapons. That was really important for us: not to mess that up."
Quake Champions: Game modes, 1v1 and team PvP
Multiplayer online games like Quake Champions live or die on the back of their game modes, which must include the means of both capturing the imagination of the eSports community and satisfying the less hardcore general gaming public.
Willits pointed out that, as with the champions, game modes will be added to Quake Champions post-launch. He offered an insight into how some are still being tweaked and highlights the presence of one-versus-one modes alongside the more familiar team-based modes.
He said: "There are a lot of popular first-person shooters in the eSports world right now, but they don't have one-versus-one. Our Duel mode allows you to pick your group of champions and then compete one-versus-one, so there's more strategy.
"Depending on what you and the other player picks, you can really have a lot of thinking to do and analysis in the matches, and it becomes another layer on top of just the raw skill that I think people will really be encouraged with. It fills a nice little missing 1v1 hole that we currently have in the competitive games industry.
"Our current Duel mode allows you to bring three champions into the match, so you need to figure out which ones will work best. Like, for instance, Galena is better in team game modes, I believe, than 1v1. But then I had an argument with one of our programmers who said: 'No, no, no: you can use her offensively in 1v1, and if you play her like this, you'll have an advantage.'
"We're waiting to hear back from our fans after our closed beta test about what people think of Duel. We may tweak it some, but our current plan is to start with three champions."
The team gameplay modes should be pretty familiar to aficionados of Quake Live and Quake III: Arena: "Out of the gate we will of course have Team Deathmatch, Free-For-All, Duel mode, and then we have a new team mode called Sacrifice, for which we've already changed the game rules once." said Willits.
"[Originally] you held your Sacrifice Point and then you got more points for your frags, but now we're switching it to an act, so that you have to activate the points. So that game mode is still being developed."
Tantalisingly, he added that id Software is working on another team-based mode, but declined to add any detail.
Quake Champions: Mass-market appeal
One aspect that went a long way towards the massive success of Overwatch was the clever way in which, while accommodating those with pro-gamer aspirations, it also managed to appeal to those with less ninja-like fast-twitch skills. So far, Quake Champions sounds pretty damn hardcore - so what is in it for mere gaming mortals?
"We're trying to introduce some champions who might appeal to people who are new to the game: Sorlag is one. Then there are our Rune Challenges, individual challenges that you are rewarded for.
"You can focus on, say, doing nothing but getting 10 kills with the rocket-launcher. For that, I'd play a team game and match-make into people that are around my skill-level. It builds a reward loop that people can get hooked on.
"In the process of completing those rewards, you will eventually become better and better. Some of the most enjoyable game experiences I've had have been playing with a group of people that are roughly my skill-level. I'm a big team-play fan: I like helping my team out."
Quake Champions: Free-to-play
It won't matter if your limited skills mean you can't hack it at the top level in Quake Champions since, in its base state, it will be free-to-play.
However, as Willits explained, you will be able to pay to unlock all the champions: "The game is free-to-play, with an option to buy the Champion Pack. For the people who just want to buy a Quake game and not deal with any free-to-play stuff, it's super-easy: they just buy the Champion Pack, get all the Champions and off they go. Then, if you're a free-to-play player, you can take the free-to-play route. You're going to play with the same pool of people - there's no separation between maps, characters and stuff.
"We believe we can get the largest critical mass that we need to be a competitive game - especially in North America and Western Europe, where most people may prefer to pay some money and get the champions. But there are large groups of people who do prefer, especially for a multiplayer PC game, to take the free-to-pay path."
Those taking the free-to-play route will have to grind to unlock the champions, and Willits explained that system: "You earn Favour from the Gods - the Elder Gods, as in the lore from Quake I - so as you play, you earn Favour, and you use your Favour to play with the other champions."
On paper at least, Quake Champions sounds perfectly equipped to take on the likes of Overwatch and win over the modern eSports community which its 1996 predecessor originally spawned. Having that unique Quake ambience can only help, as will id Software's stated willingness to consult pro-players and tweak the game post-launch.
Whether it will appeal to a more casual audience remains to be seen, but watching it slug things out with Overwatch will at the very least be a fascinating spectacle.