GameTales: HomeCourt

Prototype Box

I recently tweeted about the fact that there was actually a sequel, mostly finished, for Origin Systems' game, 2400 A.D. titled 2500 A.D. MobyGames and Wikipedia were updated with the information which prompted someone on my TwitterFeed to ask about an unreleased Origin game titled HomeCourt.

Luckily, I'm one of the few people to know about this project. HomeCourt was a basketball game designed by two brothers, Don and John Walker. They were stronger on the design side than the coding side, so they had help from classic game programmer, Steve Meuse. I believe the game idea was brought to Origin in 1987 to make a full court basketball game (One on One was a half-court game).

Steve Meuse worked with the brothers, mostly with Don, to get a graphical prototype working. The prototype had players on a projected 2D court running around and passing the ball on an Apple II. I saw this prototype working once when Don Walker was visiting, and it looked pretty nice. It was black and white graphics at the time, and the running and ball-passing worked great. Unfortunately, Steve left Origin in 1988 shortly after I left to co-found my studio, Inside Out Software.

The New Hampshire office of Origin Systems closed, and the company was consolidated in Austin, TX at the start of 1989. That effectively put an end to HomeCourt. Says Steve Meuse, "The game design aspect was getting more complex, and by the time I left Origin in 1988, it seemed to me to be only getting moreso. With the company move and all, the Walkers probably could have used more help and guidance than they got, but that's just the way things turned out."

GameTales: id Answering Machine

It was June 1992. We had already shipped Wolfenstein 3D, the shareware episode only at that point, and were working on finishing the rest of the 6 episodes. Bobby Prince was in the house busy making the music for those last 5 episodes. Bobby brought his entire audio rig with him which consisted of a huge sampling keyboard, speakers, and a rack with lots of effects units.

id Software was working out of a one-bedroom loft apartment at La Prada Club in Mesquite, Texas. The six of us lived at La Prada or at adjacent complexes, so getting to work was only a couple minutes. We didn't think that was strange; we were on a mission.

Whenever Bobby left for the night, Tom and I would start playing around with his sampling keyboard. We came up with some crazy songs, and somehow we decided to come up with some answering machine messages. There were a bunch of samples already in the keyboard, and we came up with these right on the spot with no practice.

I used samples from some Judas Priest and W.A.S.P. songs as intros, and also a Vince Guaraldi song for one. Most of the answering machine "stories" are about a huge, red demon that is looking for id Software and showed up just after id escaped the building. Tom is the guy interviewing the demon, who then tires of Tom when he has no information about id's whereabouts and instantly destroys him. Or throws him down the stairs. This happens again and again.

The recordings are a little high-pitched and missing some bass to them. We only used a couple of these on the answering machine, and then Jay took them off and recorded a more corporate message, thus ending the fun.

Until now, only a few people knew about, and heard, these messages. I shall release the Kraken!

Message #2 was made after the Sesame Street counting segments like this one. Watch the baker at the end.

GameTales: Cray 6400

At id, we were always looking for a better way to develop our games. In the beginning we developed games for DOS machines on DOS machines. In 1991, John Carmack investigated the NeXTSTEP operating system, and decided that cross-development on a superior platform would result in a better game and a better development experience. We all converted over to NeXTSTEP at the end of 1992, after Spear of Destiny.

Because we were developing on such powerful machines in an amazing operating system, development of Doom went faster than normal. The level editor that I wrote, DoomEd, was far beyond anything that ever appeared on DOS, even in the years after Doom's release. We could run Doom in a window and debug its code right alongside it in SuperDebugger. It was bliss.

While developing Quake, we continued to use NeXTSTEP and we upgraded our machines to faster ones with Intel processors and a couple with PowerPC's in them. NeXTSTEP could run on about 4 chip architectures back then and compile code for all of them so we could run QuakeEd, for example, on an Intel-chipped NeXTSTEP machine even if it was developed on a 68000 chip machine.

Simply put, NeXTSTEP was awesome for many years and nothing could touch it. That remains true today after NeXTSTEP's transformation into macOS.

During Quake's development, John Carmack started thinking about what might be better than NeXTSTEP. The idea of the entire development team working inside the same machine seemed pretty interesting. The machine would be insanely fast, so it would have to be a supercomputer for all of us to work on it at once. That means it would be able to crunch whatever crazy data we needed to create our upcoming worlds.

John decided that a Cray 6400 series supercomputer would be pretty cool to check out and see if we could all move over to it. Each person would have a hardware interface board that had keyboard and mouse inputs with video output on it. We would route all the cables to our desks and all be working together inside a Cray supercomputer.

We started getting pretty excited about the idea, so Jay Wilbur contacted Cray to see about getting a deal on a 6400. Jay got them to agree to sell us one for $500k if we put Cray supercomputers inside Quake, somewhere in the environment, possibly all over the place if it made sense.

John and I were all for this idea, so we said, "Let's do this." and I started experimenting with how a C-shaped Cray would look inside Quake. How it needed to be lit. How big it should be. What kind of textures we should use. Where it would go, and why it would be there.

I thought that powering the slipgates would probably require a supercomputer. So I should probably have a Cray connected to every slipgate, since the military-themed areas are supposed to be modern day settings.

After getting settled on the idea, and thinking the Crays would only be in select areas, disaster struck.

Cray was bought by SGI, Silicon Graphics, Inc., in February 1996.

All pending deals were canceled; our supercomputer dream crushed.

I changed the Quake slipgates to be smaller and simpler than the Cray-powered versions. As an homage to the Cray Dream we had, I put a roomful of computers in my only deathmatch map, The Abandoned Base, DM3.

Shortly after I released Quake on June 22, 1996, John decided that developing on Windows NT 3.1 was the way to go. His first project was porting QuakeEd over to Win32. I left id on August 6, 1996.

GameTales: Axe Attack!

Heeeeeeere's Johnny!

It was dark in my office in 1995, warm, and I was busy programming QuakeEd. I had my stereo playing Great White, Ratt, George Lynch and all other manner of hair metal. I was in my element - in the zone.

At some point, I needed to go to the bathroom. I went to my door, turned the knob, and nothing. The door wouldn't open, the knob turning and turning. I was thinking, "Seriously?" The building materials were not grade-A, apparently, at our building in Mesquite, Texas.

I needed to get out, the pressure now mounting. I called John Carmack on his phone extension, 13.

"Dude, I'm stuck in my office. My doorknob doesn't work anymore. I think you should chop down this shitty door."

"I'll be right over."

I heard a noise on the wall, which had to be John getting his $5,000 custom axe off its mount. He walked in front of my door and tried the knob. Sure enough, the knob doomed the door to a swift death. John was telling the others in the office nearby that he was about to rescue me from my new prison.

Good thing I decided to stand with my back against the same wall as the door.

BAM! The first swing came through the center of the door, just a little, and sprayed wood fragments across the room, bouncing off the opposite wall.

BAM! More wood, splintering and flying. I would have been injured if I were standing in the middle of my room.

After about twelve good swings, the center of the door was completely obliterated, and I could climb through easily. I ran to the bathroom as everyone was laughing about the violence that just took place.

When I got back, I got the doorknob off and swung the door fully open. Later on, we tapped the hinges out and put the door in the storage room. A new door appeared the next day.

The story about the axe attack got around. Magazine journos that came by for interviews wanted to see the door that Carmack destroyed. We showed them. We took pictures with the door, some of which were published. The ruined door became an iconic item almost as venerable as the DOOM chainsaw.

Alas, no one at id thought the door that important, and it was taken to the scrapheap during our office remodel of 1996.