Sniper, soldier, medic, engineer: the characters in Splash Damage games are specialists who know one thing, and know it well. For almost 20 years, that was true for the studio too – a team of former modders who became trusted by players and publishers alike for their singular dedication to the art of class-based multiplayer shooting. But lately, that narrow focus hasn’t served Splash Damage as well as it once did. The company has instead survived by doing something that was never possible in the first-person shooters of old: multi-classing.
It wouldn’t be accurate to say that the nascent Splash Damage developed the first-ever class-based FPS – Robin Walker and his future Valve colleagues had invented the Pyro and Spy by 1999 for Quake’s Team Fortress mod. But Splash Damage came from the same milieu, using a souped-up version of id Software’s engine to create the popular Quake 3 Fortress. If you played the Recon class, you got to be quick on your feet, carry a nailgun, and throw stun grenades. Or you could pick the Flametrooper, who was slower but sturdier and packing napalm. Only by compensating for each others’ weaknesses and working together to capture objectives could teams triumph.
It was an ambitious departure from the vanilla Quake games, which had offered only the symmetrical challenge of the FPS arena. This new idea suggested something more tactical and varied lay just beyond the horizon – if only the games industry could catch up with the modders.
ON THE BRINK
Like so many significant shooter developers of the past two decades, Splash Damage found itself slingshotted into the big leagues by id Software’s orbit. After making fan favourite maps for Return to Castle Wolfenstein, the studio was commissioned to build Enemy Territory, a standalone spin-off that brought its trademark teamplay to BJ Blazkowicz’s backyard. Unusually for the time, Enemy Territory was free – becoming a fixture of magazine cover discs and a quintessential PC gaming experience of the period.
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