For the Week 2 topic of analysing a forgotten game, I’ve chosen to examine a game that has almost been completely lost to time since its debut in 2005. This game is ‘OpenArena’. It is a Desktop & PC game produced by a community of players who wanted to clone and modify the popular FPS game Quake III. However, despite changes to its character models or upgraded AI CPU’s, the game fails to stand out exceptionally far from its source. So why then was OpenArena one of the most successful open-source First Person Shooters of its time and why was it made?
The analytical framework to explore this game and its conception seeks to connect the growing online gaming community of the 2000’s and the new technological concept of open sources, to an enormous influx of new games with community-driven backgrounds.
What is ‘Open-Source’ anyway?
Open-Source or Open Source Software refers to a source code that is publicly available to be modified and redistributed as desired. In the context of OpenArena, it like many other OS games derives its source code from FPS game ‘Quake’.
With online forum communities becoming prevalent in the early 2000’s, so too did forums dedicated to gaming. Uniting players in their interests and discussing topics such as rules around how community-organised competitive play should be conducted, exploits or flaws in the game or general advice and guidance. A prime example is testyourmight.com, a forum dedicated to fighting game franchise Mortal Kombat. It is these forum communities that took to open-source game development to enforce many of the changes or rulesets their online community has hoped for. In many ways, OpenArena remains faithful to Quake 3, but with its community-based origin comes small changes reflective of what these players wanted at the time.
Why was the game made? I believe the simplest explanation for OpenArena’s creation, like so many other source games, was to reinvigorate the playerbase. The source for OpenArena, Quake 3, was released many years prior. I believe this draws the link of OpenArena’s connection to emerging online gaming communities. Some of its success can also be owed to its portability and how accessible it is with its availability on older hardware and its priceless price tag.
Though, as popular as it was in these communities, the game stayed a secret enshrouded within the world of open-source gaming. Many games like OpenArena are centralised to the communities they’re created in. Being independently produced and generally not funded or marketed in any way, it required a substantial amount of cultural capital in the online PC gaming world to engage with games like OpenArena and their success is entirely attributable to online forum communities.
OpenArena has become a small, flickering ember of its old fire. It has not been updated in a long time. However, if you pick up the game now you may still find servers with players on them. I believe OS games like OpenArena paved the way for the mod-makers of today.