Quake 3 Arena Dreamcast and its eight prototypes: when a Western FPS was almost released in Japan
SEGA thought that the online was the future of video games, and with hindsight, the company's leaders were not wrong. After the transition from 2D to 3D games, a real innovation with the Nintendo 64, the blue hedgehog company wanted to bring a fourth dimension with online gaming. For them, it was an opening to the outside world, with a notion for the consumer to share something and not only be confronted with his machine but to compete with players from all over the world.
ChuChu Rocket was the first Dreamcast online game available to players. It was quite simple, but at the same time it was intended to be easy to get used to this new way of playing. It was with the release of Quake 3 Arena and then Phantasy Star Online that things started to get serious. Q3A was the trigger that really propelled the Dreamcast into the world of Internet-connected consoles.
«Although technically, ChuChu Rocket was the second game in North America to support play over the SEGA Dreamcast modem (after SEGA Swirl that supported play over email on Dreamcast).»
Scott Hawkins (who is quoted in italics in this article) was Senior Producer on Quake 3 Arena Dreamcast. As he already did for Sega Smash Pack Vol.1 and Sega Swirl, he fondly recounts his experience with the DC port of one of the most famous FPS on the planet.
«It was the premier shooting game franchise at the time, although Unreal Tournament and other shooting games were also ported to the SEGA Dreamcast as third-party titles.»
The photo of the console present in all the Press Kit (prototype)
The modem, a last minute addition to the Dreamcast
After the success of John Carmack's last game on PC, SEGA wanted to hit hard by offering a Dreamcast port of Quake 3 Arena. The intent was to create a game that would be an online showcase for the Dreamcast, and this Doom-like game was identified as perfect to achieve this. It was supposed to be the first online game for the console.
«SEGA contacted Activision and id Software to obtain the rights to publish Quake III Arena for the SEGA Dreamcast. They had recommended a development studio (Raster Productions) that we worked with to make the Dreamcast port. We worked with id Software and Activision to get the approvals. »
Quake 3 also kickstarted Internet connectivity through through the Ethernet adapter for the DC, a modem (BBA) that would never be released on the European continent. The purchase of a mouse and keyboard was finally justified for an optimal gaming experience, Q3A supported them as a new character control scheme. They had been relegated to the background until now, to browse the Internet.
«Before launching the game on Dreamcast, we spent time researching with online sessions of Q3A for PC accompanied by the Developer Technical Support (DTS) engineering team that supported engineering efforts for ambitious projects.»
The broadband adapter network code created for Q3A DC was reused and became the standard in all other Dreamcast titles that accepted it. The transition to mobile broadband connections was complex. Trying to test this in a home environment was challenging because the development team had to find people with different online service providers and different types of broadband internet connections. They had limited access to people with broadband connections at home, so it was very difficult to ensure that the game could work with different types of broadband connections. They had to make sure that every connection was supported. Yes, at that time it was the infancy of the Internet...
«If I hadn't asked the marketing team to put the broadband adapter icon on the back of the box, we might not have felt compelled to support it, but it was an important element for an Internet-centric game.»
What to say...
The id Software logo in game
The copyright of Quake 3 DC
During Quake 3 Arena Dreamcast’s presentation at E3 2000 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo), nothing happened as planned. The team had encountered connectivity problems with the planned prototype just before the Los Angeles show. The developers had to scramble to get a new version of the game at the last minute, a few hours before the start of the show. Their efforts were rewarded because Q3A was awarded the prize for the best online game that year, although slight connectivity issues happened during the demo. Luckily things went better than expected!
«I was very involved in the development of this demo. We ran into some difficulties with the build and had to make a last minute switch the morning of the show. It was stressful, but everything went well and we even won the Best Online Game award from one of the major magazines. It was a great year at E3.»
One of the E3 prototypes of Quake 3 Arena Dreamcast ( to download)
Don't forget Raster Productions
The title from Raster Productions, already in charge of the Nintendo 64 port of Quake 2, supported cross-play (mixed server) between PC and Dreamcast players, which was very uncommon at the time. Even if FPS fans could play with the mouse, keyboard and Ethernet adapter of the White Lady, most Dreamcast players played with a controller and a 56K modem connection.
«This, combined with the fact that PC gamers had been playing the game for several months when the title was released on Dreamcast, meant that DC gamers were at a significant disadvantage compared to PC gamers who had high-speed Internet connections and mouse and keyboard controls.»
It is better not to cross them
After the game was released on Dreamcast, Scott Hawkins' job was to help DC gamers have a better online experience. One of those missions was to dominate and scare, properly equipped, low ping PC gamers to stop tormenting newcomers who were playing on Dreamcast with a controller and high ping times because of their 56k baud modems.
«SEGA Swirl and Quake III Arena were way ahead of their time when it came to cross-play between PC and consoles in 1999 and 2000.»
He proudly prowled the servers under the pseudonym of Swirl, a link to his puzzle-game no doubt. His avatar was synonymous with death for those who met him during a game session. Quake 3 Arena Dreamcast’s credits show the names that the developers used when they connected online.
«I was REALLY good at Quake, and one of the people in the DTS department told me a funny anecdote about how she would hear people say that Swirl eliminated everyone in online games - and they would say "Swirl got me again" or "Ahhhh Swirl!!".»
The French technical team of No Cliché, between the release of Toy Commander and the cancellation of Agartha, was in charge of porting the European localisation of Quake 3’s code (the technical and online side).
«I had some contact with No Cliché, but mostly I worked with SOE - because I think they were the ones who were connected with No Cliché. I remember that we had to create a separate version of the game for the different regions. It's not like today with global versions...»
A Japanese version was even planned but will never be released. I'll come back to it in detail below.
At that time, online gaming was in its infancy and was not as popular as it is today. Developers had to learn on the job how to design a network game.
Quake 3 Arena PC and Dreamcast
Quake is what we call a Doom-like. In other words, a game where you move in first person view and whose principle is to shoot everything that moves. To survive the hordes of enemies that roam the twisted corridors of the levels, you have to collect weapons, ammunition, protection, etc.
Japanese Quake 3 Arena cover by Dreamcast Me That
I know someone who will have a hard time
«I still enjoy playing shooting games, even though my skills are nowhere near the level they were back in Q3A DC. I play Fortnite a lot these days - and my son is the one who "carries us to victory" instead of me dominating the competition. Fortunately, we play as a duo, so we're on the same team.»
Quake 3 Arena was going to innovate by offering only networked game modes, local or Internet. The idea could seem risky but finally it turned out to be a stroke of genius, there was no scenario. The software was part of this new generation of games entirely designed around multiplayer gaming.
«The only thing I would have liked to have been able to support on the Dreamcast version, but which we couldn't do at the time, was to increase the maximum number of players in an online match. Our limit was 4, and if that could have been increased to 6 or 8 players, even for just some maps, that would have been really cool.»
Solo mode (Japanese version)
The game's story, if there really is one, takes place in the Arena Eternal, a chaotic dimension created by mysterious "Arena Masters" known as the elusive Vadrigar race. Some characters from id Software's franchise games (including the protagonists of Doom, Quake and Quake II) are also included as playable combatants. The game's original soundtrack is composed by both Sonic Mayhem and Bill Leeb, and is heavy enough to wake the dead!
The principle was simple: you had to survive by annihilating the other participants in an arena with a twisted architecture filled with very violent weapons. The massacre could begin. The recipe was and still is infallible, it's been around for years and is called Deathmatch.
A few variants to this gritty game mode were offered by Quake 3:
First of all, the Team Deathmatch which gives a bit of strategy to the game since you had to organize yourself and place your teammates in the most efficient way possible.
Then comes the Tourney mode which is simply one vs one in maps specially designed to cause quick and numerous deaths.
Who will survive the arena?
Finally, the CTF mode, the most original, is played in teams. You have to go and get a flag in the opponent's base and bring it back home to score a point.
Quake 3 Arena still offered a basic single player campaign (Arena Gauntlet). The player had to face non-player characters (Bots) in a series of different arenas before being able to duel the local boss. The difficulty increased as you progressed through the game before the encounter with the ultimate villain Xaero in the sixth level.
The characters were divided into several classes: light, normal and heavy. They were each assigned a different level of resistance and a different speed of movement.
Quake 3 Arena will remain without doubt the symbol of a victory against all odds. Many gamers claimed that it would be difficult to beat Quake 2. ID Software's title was successful because of its impressive 3D engine (id Tech 3) and its cutting edge concept. It was one of the best on the market when the title was released on PC at Christmas 1999.
The Japanese Unreleased version of Quake 3 Arena Dreamcast
If you look on the Internet, there is no trace of a Japanese localization. Its release in the land of the rising sun was probably not to be made official.
Connecting to Online mode
After a content analysis of the prototype, the build was created on February 11th 2001 at 15:08:15. This Japanese prototype of Quake 3 Arena would have been burned about 2 months after the release of the game in the West (late October/early December 2000). The translation seems to be complete without being able to check if it is 100% correct. The in-game information is however in English, for example at the beginning of a game when the following message "XXXX entered the game" appears at the top of the screen. Was this intentional or was this part of the translation not yet effective?
ぽめ «The meaning is understood, but some parts are translated directly, and expressions around the user interface are translated in places that don't need to be translated into Japanese, so there's a certain annoyance.»
Video of the prototype
Once you are connected Online
It is possible to connect, with this Japanese Unreleased version, online to compete with other players.
When you know japanese gamers’ taste in games, it's surprising to think that SEGA was planning to release a typically American game in Japan. Could Quake 3 Arena have found fans in Japan?
You can download this Japanese build from Quake 3 Arena Dreamcast below:
The other Quake 3 Dreamcast prototypes
The three oldest prototypes in the list above are different builds of the playable version of Quake 3 Arena designed specifically for E3. When attempting to save or load a game, the warning message "Disabled for E3" is revealed.
Only the prototype of May 11, 2000 has the logo of the Electronic Entertainment Expo in game, it appears a first time in the title screen and a second time in the main menu with the additional mention "Alpha".
The build dated June 5th 2000 must be a demo version because some modes are locked. It is also impossible to load or save a game.
For the more adventurous among you, a Katana Dreamcast development kit used by No Cliché was discovered in 2021. It contains sources and more than 3000 textures of Quake 3 Arena, without forgetting a build of the game Agartha and a strange network tool "Flash Edit". You can download it among 9 other dev kits on the page: Dev Kit Katana Dreamcast Release
I would like to thank Scott Hawkins: for his availability, his kindness and for taking the time to answer my questions. His testimony brings new information about the challenges of developing online games for Dreamcast, including Quake 3 Arena.
I also thank all the people involved in the project Quake 3 Arena Dreamcast (Link MobyGames)
Special thanks to:
Similar prototypes (unreleased): Agartha (DC) - Emulateur officiel Megadrive (DC) - Castlevania Resurrection (DC) - Half Life (DC) - Dalforce XOP (DC) - Flinstone (DC) - 4 x 4 Evolution PAL (DC) - Ring : L'Anneau des Nibelungen (DC) - Ecco 2 (DC) - Kyskrew (DC) - Propeller Arena (DC) - Geist Force (DC) -Scud Race Tech Demo Dreamcast - Shenmue 2 US (DC) - The Red Star (XBOX) - Heaven's Drive ( version japonaise de Burnout 1) pour PS2 - Jekyll and Hyde (DC) - The Grinch Jap (DC) - Worms Pinball (DC) - Quake 3 Arena japanese version (DC)
More than 200 prototypes, documents and presskits have been dumped or scanned, and are available for free download in the "Releases prototypes and documents" section.