There are two network parties at the Hilton Anatole this weekend. The first is for KPMG, the giant accountancy firm. They are suited and booted, ready to talk. You can spot them a mile off, smart little white badges, free (expensive) coffee and a rare confidence. This is their summer event, and they are here to work.
On the other side of the lobby is the early arrivals for the other party. It’s a Quake team. They only get together at QuakeCon. But they play together every night. They hug, smile, laugh and joke. They trail PCs and monitors and network cables in little carts. They are so happy to be here.
The KPMG lot spot the gamers. You can see them trying to mask their curiosity. Unfailing politeness, but with eyebrows raised.
“Some gaming convention.”
QuakeCon is weird. It’s a LAN party really, to which Id, and their owners Bethesda have gradually bolted on promotional events, lectures and panels. For a relatively small fee, you can bring a PC and play on their LAN all weekend. For free, you can turn up and watch FPS tournaments, see the panels, or just wander among a few high-end PC resellers.
It’s weird because it’s such an institution, in such an incongruous setting. It’s called the Hilton Anatole, on the outskirts of Dallas its home since 2006 and nothing about that makes sense. The Hilton is vast, and corporate and clad almost entirely in marble. The lobby, the in-room brochure is keen to point out, “hosts the largest collection of Asian Art of any American hotel.”
And downstairs, in the darkened belly of the conference rooms, 9000 gamers will queue up to kill demons.
The night before the show opens, I wake up at 3am. Jetlag’s a bitch. I can hear voices. Quiet at first, then uproarious cheering, before someone hushes the noise.
Someone’s having a party.
I creep outside to see what’s going on. There’s a trail of CAT5 cable running between rooms. They couldn’t wait to get a LAN going. It’s too funny, almost too sweet to get upset about. I go back to sleep.
Later, I realise one of the KPMG lot called hotel security. Security just asked them to keep the noise down.
What makes QuakeCon different is the sense of community. This is an event that has a reputation: part built on id’s support, part built on a (now sadly absent) keynote by id founder Jon Carmack, but mostly built on friendliness. It’s impossible to overstate just how welcoming QuakeCon is. It’s staffed mostly by volunteers, and these volunteers are QuakeCon attendees. One guards one of the emergency exits – making sure that the PCs and laptops in the hall are safe.
So taken is he with this role that he’s dressed as Kick Ass for the occasion. He’s pretty proud of his cosplay – he’s walking up and down the huge rolling doors, tapping his sticks together, posing for photos. It transpires that he was so excited about his costume that he entirely forgot to bring his PC.
“I’ve got to go back home tomorrow to pick it up.”
“It’s an eight hour drive.”
There’s another thing happening this year at QuakeCon. Part show of strength, part morale booster: id are going to show off their work on Doom. Not Doom 4, not Doom Redux. Doom. They’re rebooting the company’s most important game.
I’ve been a games journalist for over 10 years, and there is no greater thrill than being with a games fans during an important announcement. My favourite, absolute favourite memory is sitting in the audience as Blizzard announced The Burning Crusade. The noise was like nothing else. Nothing except ten minutes afterwards, when Blizzard announced that they would link WoW’s auction houses.
Gamers understand what’s important. A demon invasion is exciting. Buying stacks of cloth from Stormwind is a revelation.
There’s more hanging on this Doom announcement than normal. Id have been relatively silent since Rage, their last game. But in the meantime, Id co-founder and the company’s most public face, John Carmack, has left to join VR startup Oculus. Now, Id, their parent Bethesda, and Oculus have begun legal proceedings.
The only sign of Carmack is his face stretched across a row of 32” monitors near the entrance to the LAN. A quiet memorial. But with compression artefacts.