Book Review: Rocket Jump


Rocket Jump book cover

Title: Rocket Jump: Quake and the Golden Age of First-Person Shooters

Author(s): David L. Craddock

I read Masters of Doom in 2010 but the book was written in 2004. Still, it stopped its tale after the first Quake, and we could say that it is a mostly positive story. Rocket Jump spends a brief time talking about Wolfenstein 3D, more about Doom I and II, but the majority of time goes from 1995 onwards, through the Quake series but also including Doom 3 and mentioning most modern entries (like Rage, Doom 2016 and Quake 4), up until 2018. As such, it is a great complement to get a broader picture of id Software, and of course their games and the id Tech engine evolution.

Some of the content is narrated, but mostly consists of interviews, with author notes and remarks where deemed fit. While the chapters are in chronological order, during the interviews content goes back and forth a lot, so for example we'll learn a dozen times how hyped id were about the NiN band, or we'll read a triple interview about (theoretically) one topic switching interviewee each sentence, even if they are not talking about that topic, making it weird to read, at least to me. But despite the occasional offtopic drifts all of the interviews add value.

At first I thought I was going to read mostly generic and high-level technical details of the Quake games, but I'm happy to inform that some interviews go into specifics and narrow but great detail. Quake not only brought one of the first true 3D engines, but also spawned a new era of modding, so we learn about QuakeC, mapping, the creation of quake movies (so called machinima, using the game engine), and a few highlights of memorable and amazing mods, like Quake Rally, CTF, Team Fortress and the first Quake bots.

The second half of the book (approximately) contains interviews with people from closely related companies to either Quake or in general First Person Shooters: 3D Realms, Valve (the folks behind Team Fortress mods and games), Rare (because of Goldeneye), LucasArts (creators of Dark Forces), a member of Nine-Inch Nails band (Quake's soundtrack and many effects were done by them)...

I used to think about id Software as a hard working but cool videogame studio. After reading the book, I am still glad they made the games the built, even if they have been repeating the same genre for more than 25 years, but I now know that the company culture degraded while building Quake, and never recovered, slowly getting worse and worse until almost nobody from the original team remains anymore. The book summarizes at the end: "Id Software has rocket-jumped time and again over more than 20 years. [...]. Every single time, they paid a price.". A fitting sentence for a company where backstabbings and unexpected employee firings were way too common.

A great reading, especially if you lived through that era of the FPS shooters and adventures.

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