I have a deep and abiding love for Rocket Arena 3. I believe that after all these years, it remains the pinnacle of pure, unadulterated deathmatch play, stripping away everything extraneous to get to the equisite, zen-like, blood-soaked core. The perfect meld of simplicity and depth, strategy and reflex, skill and ballistics. And, my love for Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead 2 in recent times notwithstanding, RA3 remains the sweet stratospheric Everest of my long, long computer gaming career.
These days, war simulation games like the Call of Duty series or Battlefield: Whatever feature online play that, at least from my aged perspective, is chaotic to a fault, packed over-full of sound and fury, of graphical glories that manage to distract from as much as extend the depth of the actual gameplay, which hasn’t changed a whole lot in its basic character over the years. That is: run, aim, shoot, die, respawn, repeat, possibly with a ‘flag’ of some kind to recover. They exhaust me in seconds, and the welter of activity leaves me both bewildered and annoyed. Maybe if I could get me some of them prescription amphetamines they’re giving all the kids these days….
In the beginning, id created the Engine and the Game. And the Game was without form, and void; and vanilla deathmatch was upon the face of the net. But Rocket Arena appeared in the lists of the servers. For David Wright said, Let there be frags: and there were frags. And players saw the frags, that they were pure: and RA3 divided the l33t from the llamas.
Even Unreal Tournament 3, the latest in that grand-but-not-my-cup-of-tea tradition, has, thanks to the latest iteration of the Unreal Engine, so much going on in its admittedly gorgeous environments that it’s a little hard (well, a lot hard, for me a least) to pick out the players from their surroundings. Not sure what they were thinking there. Too much pretty, too much glossy, too much dizzying depth-of-field distraction from the matter at hand — shooting the crap out of the other guy. Or gal, or both.
Yes, I know, go back to Robotron, grandpa.
Don’t get me wrong, because the UT/Qx debate is not a nerd-fight I want to start. The Unreal Tournament series were fine deathmatchy experiences in their own rights. I acknowledge this readily. Fork, Spoon, Kirk, Picard, Robots, Zombies, PC, Mac, and so on and on we rage on into our dotage over nothing.
For me, the UT games just didn’t scratch my itch in just the right way. A matter of taste more than anything else, and if you preferred them over Quake engine games, I’m OK with that. But there was just too much going on for me, even back in the day, with Mutators and oddball game types and I don’t know what all else. And my usual deathmatch accompaniment — cold cold beer — didn’t help me focus much.
But Rocket Arena, in its third incarnation on the Quake 3 engine stripped everything away. It took the relative simplicity of old-school deathmatch in the Quake and Unreal Tournament traditions and trimmed what little fat there was even from them. Compared to the face-melting maelstrom of most modern deathmatch- or CTF-derived online play, hopping in to a game of RA3 is like gamboling through a rolling field of sunlit snow. With a few tiny scattered droplets of your enemies’ blood.
There has literally nothing in all my years of gaming as breathtaking and gratifying as evading a pack of opponents in Clan Arena mode, rocket jumping onto a ledge, again off a wall, then whirling in a 180 as time seems to slow (probably the beer) in mid-air to pick off my last pursuer with a snapshot railgun. And hearing (if we were on Ventrilo) or at least reading the cheers of my team-mates who were watching it all happen.
I loved the versions of Rocket Arena for Quake 1 and 2, too — especially Q2, when I played RA2 in my glory days of clan play in Australia, on dialup, at 400ms ping most of the time — but it is in the Quake 3 engine, the ‘feel’ of the engine, of the physics, of the felicitous interaction of rock-solid netcode, mouse response, speed, sound design and all the rest that, in my considered belief, came together to create a visceral feeling of presence that hadn’t been matched until then, and hasn’t still.
It makes me all quivery just thinking about it.
Better still, the beauty of a ten-year-old engine is that even an ancient or weak-sauce computer can run it at 125 frames per second at maximum settings without breaking a sweat. Buttery smooth yum.
So: Now I’m going to tell you what it is, exactly, why it’s The Best Deathmatch Experience Ever Created, and how to get it, install it, tweak it, and play it for free (well, provided you have an old copy of Quake 3 lying around) on our very own server. If you don’t care to read all of my worshipful jibber jabber, just skip to the download and installation directions. You can play it on our server (or anyone else’s) regardless of whether you are running Windows, Mac, Linux or even Solaris!
First, watch this video to get your fingers tingling, and then we’ll begin.
Rocket Arena was originally a mod created for Quake 1 by David ‘crt’ Wright. It saw a new and much-improved version after Quake 2 was released, and reached near-perfection with the version released for Quake 3 Arena. The final version released by David Wright was 1.76, and later development was carried on by Patrik ‘ElQueffo’ Persson. (A version for Quake 4 was begun by crt, but abandoned early in the development process.) Downloads of all the versions are still available in various places around the net, but the canonical versions for all Quake engines can be found here. Servers still exist, but they are pretty few and far between.
Rocket Arena was created to address some weaknesses of conventional, vanilla deathmatch. In traditional Quake deathmatch, when you die, you respawn at a disadvantage, as the other player or players have been collecting health, armor or weapons, and you are pretty much screwed. Watching vanilla deathmatch games between professional players makes it clear how the experts exploited this mechanic, using item respawn timing to control and dominate their opponents in one on one matches.
There was nothing intrinsically wrong with this, but it could kill fun dead awfully quickly, particularly for new or lower-skilled players, particularly if they did not know the current map intimately. The mechanic conferred debatably disproportional advantage to players who had memorized item timings and map layouts, necessary in competitive play, but crushingly effective in for-fun matches. This led to a common situation where a few players could utterly dominate a game, hitting item respawns with perfect timing, wiping out their perpetually disadvantaged, respawning opponents without ever dying themselves. That domination wasn’t always a measure of the winner’s fighting skills, but tended to reward their ability to memorize maps and run timers for item respawns in their heads.
Rocket Arena’s objective was to level the playing field by giving reincarnated players full health, weapons, and armour right away. No further pickups were available, and (with default settings, which can be changed through the voting interface) no self-damage is inflicted through actions like rocket jumping, so each player’s condition decreases through the round based only on damage dealt by opponents, until they are fragged. Multi-arena maps are designed — surprise! — with multiple arenas, so 1 versus 1, 2 versus 2 or team games can be happening simultaneously in separate areas of the same map, and players can choose which area to fight in (going into a queue or playing right away depending on the number of players and slots), or just spectate various matches in progress.
Each Rocket Arena game consists of one or more rounds in an arena (one of, generally, 4 to 8 different arenas in a given multi-arena map). Each round begins by spawning players randomly throughout the arena. Once a player is fragged, he or she is removed from play, and allowed to spectate. When one team has no more players in the arena, the other team wins the round and the next round begins. The team (or individual, in the case of 1 vs 1 arenas) that wins the most rounds wins the game. Games are played continuously until map change (set at 30 minutes, by default).
Rocket Arena 3 includes more than 100 arenas in 20+ multi-arena maps.
Play The Game
There are a couple of ways to do this, using your original Quake 3 installation media (or Steam, of course), or using the much newer, still-being-developed IOQuake3 source port. The latter is recommended, and all you’ll need from your Quake 3 install is the /baseq3 folder, which contains textures and models used by the original game.
Method 1: Install Rocket Arena 3 for an existing Quake 3 install
Unzip ra3180.zip into your Quake 3 folder. You’ll have a folder setup that looks like
Quake III Arena\arena
and possibly other folders, if you have other mods installed. It’ll be in [your path to steam]\steamapps\common\ you’re using a Steam-based install of Quake 3.
Run ra3.exe, configure graphics and such. Join the server 188.8.131.52:27960
Show your steam friends you’re playing RA3 and simplify launching by adding it to Steam. Go to “My Games” in Steam and use the “add a non-steam game” button at the bottom. Locate the ra3.exe file and add it. Right click on that game, pull up properties and change the name to Rocket Arena 3./li>
If you want to join our public server automatically every time, append +connect 184.108.40.206:27960 after “C:\Games\Rocket Arena 3\ra3.exe” in the properties of the shortcut so it looks like “C:\Games\Rocket Arena 3\ra3.exe” +connect 220.127.116.11:27960/li>
If you like, you can also run the game by making a shortcut to quake3.exe and changing the properties so that the target is “”C:\Games\Quake III Arena\quake3.exe” +set fs_game arena”. This was the traditional way of running the game.
Method 2: Install Rocket Arena 3 using IOQuake Source Port
IOquake is a version of the Quake 3 engine that has been continuously upgraded and improved to this day, and offers some new features and some improvements to the general experience. And — and this is the cool bit — it runs on Windows, Macs, Linux, Solaris and hell, even Android.
Instructions are the same, pretty much, with one caveat. You’ll need a copy of the \baseq3 folder from a Quake3 install (which contains the pak files with all the textures and sounds and stuff), and you’ll need to copy it into your IOQuake install folder along with the \arena folder along with the RA3 install.
If you’re on one of those other operating systems, I don’t know what sort of voodoo magic is necessary to get it running, but hell, if you are, you are almost certainly smart enough to figure it out for yourself.
If you’re running either ra3.exe from the Rocket Arena install or running IOQuake with the +set fs_game arena command line switch, there’s no need for an actual Quake 3 retail key.
That’s probably all about as clear as mud — I would be a terrible tech support guy, not least because I have… limited patience with stupid shouty people — so please don’t hesitate if you’re actually interested in playing and have questions to ask away in the comments. I’ll be happy-ish to try and help!
Makin’ It Look Purty and Run Good
Because the engine and netcode were written for PCs of the turn of the millenium, it doesn’t look so great out of the box. But, like I said before, 10 years on, you can crank everything up until it looks very nice indeed, and still hit that optimal-for-the-engine 125 frames per second without breaking a sweat.
How? Well, a single application of Grandpa Wonderchicken’s Patented Autoexec Magic™ will set you straight.
Create a file called autoexec.cfg in your \arena folder. Open it up in your favorite text editor, and paste all this stuff in there. Trust me; it’ll make everything pretty, make the netcode sing, make rockets smell like bacon, whiten your teeth and permanently cure that embarrassing skin problem!
So, that’s it. I love this game and I want other people to love it too. If you see me (and hopefully others) playing, come and join us! But be warned, if you do: none of us will be much good (myself included — even if I were any good, I’ll be fighting with a 200ms ping if I’m lucky (OK, I might still pwn you a bit)), and most of us play whatever we do play for fun above all.
If that sounds good to you, then come on in!
stavros thewonderchicken has written 125 FGEC articles.