Nods to Mods Interview: Rubicon 2 for Quake
Welcome back to another Quake edition of Nods to Mods, where we sit down with community creators to get a closer look at their process! We’re so excited to be featuring Rubicon 2, an amazing free mod and Add-on combo, now available for the re-release of Quake! Originally released on community hubs in 2011, Rubicon 2 contains three large single-player levels (plus a start map,) new enemies, sounds, textures, models, hazards and more!
Let’s give a warm Nods to Mods welcome to newcomer and Rubicon 2 co-creator, John Fitzgibbons! This mod was co-created with someone who’s no stranger ‘round the Quake scene: Rubicon 2 co-creator, Nods 2 Mods veteran and Senior Level Designer at MachineGames: Christian Grawert.
Since we’ve been fortunate enough to feature Christian’s incredible creations on previous Nods to Mods, (ICYMI, check out our interviews for Honey and Terra,) we’ll be focusing on John for the Shambler’s share of answers today!
SLAYERS CLUB: Thanks for joining us! Share some background info on yourself for our readers.
JOHN FITZGIBBONS: I'm John Fitzgibbons, known as metlslime in various online communities. I've been in the games industry for about two decades working as a level designer on a lot of different games - mostly first- and third-person shooters but I also worked on an MMORPG and a couple of mobile casual games. In the Quake community, I have made levels, textures, and tools for Quake and Quake 2, created the level design forum Func_Msgboard and created the quake engine port Fitzquake.
SC: How long have you been making Quake mods/levels?
JF: I'm not active in the hobby scene anymore but I had done it for about 15 years, starting in 1997 and ending with the release of Rubicon 2 in 2011. I had received Quake as a Christmas gift in 1996 and within a month, found that there were levels you could download online and that you could get a level editor and make your own levels.
My first efforts were using the ancient "Thred" editor which had a few major drawbacks, such as no ability to align textures. My first released level was The Crawling Chaos and you might notice it uses almost entirely textures that don't need specific alignment. For the few that did, such as button textures, I had to manually align them in a text editor before each compile.
SC: You’ve been given the title, “Deadliest Mapper Alive” by the Quake community - how did you earn such a savage title?
JF: This was purely a self-awarded (and semi-ironic) title. When it came to making an online portfolio to try to get jobs, it seemed like a good idea to hype myself up a bit. The name is a riff on the old ads you'd see in the 1980s in the back of comic books or ninja magazines, advertising "The Deadliest Man Alive" who could teach you his deadly martial arts techniques if you sent away for his mail-order booklet.
SC: How did you and Christian form this dream team duo to start collaborating? What’s the history there?
JF: We were both members of the old quake messageboard QMap and Christian had already released some acclaimed levels at the time, including Insomnia (as czg07.) I wanted to make a larger mod compared to my previous releases and I thought it would go faster with another level designer. I asked czg and he said yes, for some reason.
SC: What was your main inspiration for this incredible three-level Add-on and mod?
JF: I don't think there was any one main inspiration. Obviously, I wanted to make something in the same sci-fi/industrial theme as the original Rubicon. Some influences from pop culture include movies like Alien, Blade Runner and Akira, and games like Super Metroid, Final Fantasy 7 and Super R-Type. Quake 2 is an obvious influence. I also snuck a few references in there to games like Planetfall and Zork.
SC: How does Rubicon 2 relate to the original Rubicon (originally released in ’98) in story, scope or scale? And what’s it like making a sequel to your previous work?
JF: The links are art style and gameplay focus. The art style is sci-fi/industrial with a bit of a retro flavor. It's science fiction, but thoroughly Quake-y in terms of how rough, dirty and dark everything is.
The gameplay of the original Rubicon was limited only to the military enemies. Rubicon 2 adds some new enemies but they are all still firmly in that military/sci-fi faction. A lot of the elements that appeared in Rubicon in rough form are polished in the sequel. Textures are similar but are repainted with better quality, the hacky ladders of the original replaced with custom ladder code, etc. I always felt the original Rubicon textures were a bit sloppy, so it felt good to have another go at creating the same style.
SC: What tools did you use to create this ambitious mod and Add-on combo?
JF: To make any Quake mod, it feels like it takes dozens of different tools and utilities. I can't remember all of them but: QERadiant, Texmex, qME, milkshape, Pak Explorer, FrikQCC, SleepwalkR's map converter, aguirRe's map compilers, SFXR, SoundForge, Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop, to name just some.
SC: How long did it take you two to complete this mod + Add-on combo?
JF: Rubicon 2 took about 10 years from inception to release, but there were a lot of interruptions along the way where I took time to work on other hobby projects such as Fitzquake, other Quake levels and even maps for other games such as Cube and Sauerbraten. Meanwhile, Christian was also working on other levels/projects at various times.
SC: Tell us about the new enemies that make appearances throughout the Add-on…
JF: The original Rubicon was limited to only the military enemies - grunts, enforcers and dogs. There was a lack of variety and the challenge ramp of enemies was very shallow since these are three of the weakest enemies in the game. I created these new enemies to increase variety and challenge without breaking the theme.
Dreadnaughts are flamethrower enforcers. They have high DPS but no ranged attack. I patterned the gameplay after Berzerkers from Quake 2 -- harmless at a distance but very dangerous if they can corner you.
Centurions are Nailgun enforcers on flying platforms. A lot of flying enemies in games seem to have tiny hitboxes. I wanted something at least as big as an enforcer or Scragg, since it's no fun sniping at tiny flying robots. These were inspired by the "Air Centurions" from the Masters of the Universe movie.
Automatons are oversized security robots. They have been given the nickname "Floyd" as a reference to Planetfall. The design of them was inspired by the robots from Super Metroid. Bigger and slower than the other enemies and they explode on death to keep players on their toes.
SC: You two came up with some wild new gameplay objects in this mod, from deadly elements like armored turrets and steam vents spewing deadly vapors, to some cool traversal options like ladders granting players access to new areas or color-coded Lasers that shut-off access to key areas. Tell us a little a bit about these came to be…
JF: It's been so long that it's hard to remember where all the ideas came from. Ladders were already present in the original Rubicon, but in a hacky way (the super steep staircase trick.) For the sequel, I just wanted to make them feel good to climb.
The lasers were inspired by Quake 2. I think before adding them, I was using something more like the particle forcefields from the mission packs but wasn't satisfied with it. I thought that color-coded lasers are a nice mechanic because you can have one button turn off multiple barriers in different parts of the level and the player understands it. The turrets evolved through multiple iterations, but I believe they originally started out more like the laser shooter traps from the original Quake and then slowly developed into something that was actively tracking the player and had a special trick to deactivate it.
SC: Who’s your favorite modder or team of modders in the Quake community and what’s your favorite thing they’ve done?
JF: There's no way to narrow it down. The Quake community is overflowing with talented people who have come and gone over its long history. Some of my favorites include Kell and the rest of the Quoth team. Quoth was one of those early mods that had a coherent vision that fit into Quake really well and had subtle hints of lore scattered throughout that hinted at a bigger universe. Sock and the Arcane Dimensions team for similar reasons - the whole mod has so many high quality replacement assets and an expanded enemy roster that is very well made and also well thought-out and consistent. Hrimfaxi, ijed, and mfx for Rubicon Rumble Pack - the mod that took Rubicon 2's theme and gameplay and cranked it to 11.
SC: Wanna give any other shoutouts? No time like the present…
JF: The level designers and modders are often the stars of the community but I'm really grateful to all the people that made and maintained the "infrastructure" of the community: the websites, forums, tools and engines that make the community possible and keep it evolving.
Spirit for Quaddicted. SleepwalkR for hosting Func_Msgboard and also for creating the SDL ports of Fitzquake, which eventually became the basis for Quakespasm, (he also created the TrenchBroom editor.) The whole Quakespasm team for keeping that project going all these years. AguirRe for his work on engines and compile tools. Shambler for his Quake level review site way back in the day.