Big Box Extinction


Game boxes used to be really cool. They had different dimensions, they took chances with very expensive designs like SUSPENDED, and before they turned into folded cardboard with a paper sleeve over it, quality of the package was really important. Witness LucasArts and Origin Systems' boxes from the 80's as exemplars of the game box.

But over time, game packaging evolved and changed. But how did the beloved PC Big Box disappear? Well, this is the short story of how it went down.

Just Moved

We live in Galway, Ireland and situated Romero Games Ltd. in city centre. We were at our first location for two years and, because our team size grew, we needed a bigger place. We looked at several places we could get in addition to the office we were already in because we really loved our first office – it was nice and cozy.

Luckily, while we were looking at extra space, a new building appeared on the market and the first day it was available we checked it out and immediately locked it in. So, several months later after much lawyering around, we got our lease, we packed up the entire old office, and moved everything to the new place. Even though we loved our first office, this new building was much bigger. We used to have half of a floor in a building, and now we have all three floors of a new one – much nicer for our growing team.

With all this moving I have found even more games and collectibles that I can put up on eBay for sale. Yesterday I put five items up and tweeted about them. One is a copy of DOOM 2 with 3.5" disks.

I'm currently playing Thimbleweed Park and, by 90's point-and-click-verb/noun standards, it's the best there ever was. The Secret of Monkey Island is a very tough contender because of the pirate theme, but with the character switching, playing through flashbacks, and the quality level overall, I'd say TWP is the best. Full Throttle and Grim Fandango are incredbile games that innovated beyond the verb/noun clicking and are in a class of their own. I wouldn't compare TWP to those games just like I wouldn't compare TWP to King's Quest – they're too different, even in the Adventure genre.

Now that The Witness is on iOS I'm playing that game as well. I love the navigation style – it really makes traversing a 3D environment easy for touch-screens. It's a simple premise with really fun puzzles.

Multiplayer-Only Maps

As a game historian, I know it's very important to get the facts right. Figuring out the origin of significant aspects of games is important, and to document them is imperative. So, when I read a story that said Tim Willits invented the idea of multiplayer-only maps, I felt compelled to correct it.

The story told about how he came into the office and talked to me and Carmack about his idea, and we responded with how it was the stupidest idea we'd ever heard – this never happened (Carmack verified this to ShackNews). In fact, we had been playing multiplayer-only maps in DOOM for years already. There had been hundreds of maps that the DOOM mapping community had made only for deathmatch by that time. DWANGO was a multiplayer-only service that had many multiplayer-only maps that are legendary today. American McGee even released a multiplayer-only map in November 1994 named IDMAP01. The incredible DOOM community invented the idea of designing maps only for multiplayer mode, and they deserve the credit. The game owes so much to them.

Commercially, the first FPS's published with multiplayer-only maps at launch were Tom Hall's Rise of the Triad (ROTT) and Bungie's Marathon, both published on December 21, 1994 – 18 months before Quake's release. Marathon included 10 multiplayer-only maps. Each successive release of ROTT added more multiplayer-only maps. In fact, ROTT had several multiplayer modes beyond co-op and team deathmatch. Tom was very inventive when it came to ROTT's multiplayer modes and maps, long before Quake was released. As Tom remembers, "Yes, it had a TON of multiplayer maps. Many with unique rules, ridiculous heights, etc."

Tim cannot claim this idea as his in any way.

In November 1995, we had decided on a brand-new direction for Quake, so I was determining which of the maps that had been made up to that point that could be included into the new game design. The game design went through three iterations, each one simplifying the design. When Tim joined the team, his first task was to begin working on single-player maps. He then moved on to finishing some in-progress map designs of American's.

We did not have "all these fragments of maps" that were used to make the multiplayer maps in Quake. All multiplayer-only maps that shipped with Quake were original maps made specifically for deathmatch.

This sketch of DM3 (originally named JRBASE3) shows you it was designed only for deathmatch, and this multiplayer-only map was created by me a few weeks after Tim was hired at id Software in December 1995. I started work on DM3 on January 9, 1996, and I finished it on January 17, 1996. This means the first multiplayer-only map for Quake was created by me, and American's followed soon after. By this point, multiplayer-only maps were standard in the mod community, released in ROTT, and were beginning to feature in other FPS's (such as Outlaws) in development.

It is also important to address the issue of the map credits in the shareware version of Quake. In the article, Willits claims, "I designed the shareware episode of Quake." As one can find by looking at, the levels included in the shareware version of Quake are:

  • Start (beginning map; available in deathmatch, too) – John Romero
  • E1M1 (The Slipgate Complex) – John Romero
  • E1M2 (Castle of the Damned ) – Tim Willits
  • E1M3 (The Necropolis) – Tim Willits
  • E1M4 (The Grisly Grotto) – Tim Willits
  • E1M5 (Gloom Keep) – Tim Willits
  • E1M6 (The Door to Chthon) – American McGee
  • E1M7 (The House of Chthon) – American McGee
  • E1M8 (Ziggurat Vertigo) – American McGee

There are 9 levels in the shareware release and 4 were made by Tim. Less than half.

As a final note, I remain incredibly proud of our work at id Software and on Quake. It was a challenging project with challenging technology and this resulted in design changes, not uncommon in bleeding-edge game development. At no time was there “no design direction.” In discussing this article last night with Adrian, American, Shawn and others, and reviewing my own complete archive and design notes, Quake didn’t happen by accident. It happened by design. And that design was powered by Carmack and Abrash's ground-breaking tech with which the industry is well familiar.