“You can get lost in Texas,” the woman explained from behind the Dollar Rent A Car counter in Dallas. I don’t know if she was a Dollar Jedi, or if she recognized me as directionally impaired, but she was right. In more ways than one, I got lost in Texas.

After missing numerous exits and onramps, I finally found myself drifting in a sea of Quake talent unlike anything I’d ever seen. This is coming from a man who used to organize state tournaments in Wisconsin. I’ve attended the PGL tournament and been to E3. I’ve seen Thresh play. Nothing — nothing compares to QuakeCon.

Welcome to Texas
Most people in attendance already knew this of course. The annual event, first held in 1996 and organized entirely by Quake fans, has grown from 150 attendees to nearly 2,000. This year there was a bring-your-own-computer LAN capable of serving 1,250, and almost all ports were filled. The network was powered by two AMD server racks, each containing seven 1Ghz machines, and the room itself was a beautiful, carcinogenic sight. Lit entirely by monitor glow, the room was an aural and visual mosaic of Diablo, Counterstrike, Quake, Unreal Tournament and screensavers. The network could have solved SETI At Home’s problems single-handedly.

The other room, slightly smaller, was a little less intimidating. This is where the 512-player tournament took place. Again, AMD supplied the hardware, which consisted of another server rack and 48 swanky tournament machines. With each computer, a 1Ghz box with a GeForce2 card, framerates simply were not a concern. The top three winners each happily lugged one of these cases of magic home after the event, along with an assortment of trophies and a small amount of fame.

Who’s lagging the server?
Famous Quake players? You might be surprised. These people play online, every day, where word spreads as fast as an I Love You virus. While you can’t read about Matador, Rix or VenoM in the pages of People magazine (yet), they are heroes and rivals to a growing online community. Less successful competitors conversed with me while observing master railgun shots in the semi-finals, pausing periodically to express deeply felt amazement. The words “holy” and “sh*t” were used often.

Aptly so. These players, ranging in age from early teens to over 30, are in touch with the Zen of Quake. Most shots aren’t fired at players, but to spots on the map where opponents are likely to appear next. They listen as carefully as they scope for movement. Mouse and keyboard are extensions of their bodies. Check out the final match between ZeRo4 and HKA|Matador and watch in awe.

Ah, the glow of a million monitors
Surrounding the tournament LAN were the people footing the bill: corporate sponsors. Perhaps not surprisingly, both Sega Dreamcast and Apple had large booths showing off Quake-empowered systems. Activision ported its E3 booth to the event to give people a taste of Elite Force, Wolfenstein and Quake III: Team Arena. If it sounds like an FPS Disneyland, that’s not far off. In a side hallway, a number of seminars and lectures took place throughout each day. The most popular of these was John Carmack’s talk on Saturday afternoon, where he addressed the console versus PC debate and spoke briefly about id’s next Doom title.

Fraggin some Fools
Basically, Carmack dispelled the notion that consoles are becoming more powerful than PCs. “The Xbox figures look great now,” he explained, but they will be inferior to PCs by the time they hit shelves. He also contests the trend consoles are taking toward becoming miniature PCs, specifically with the addition of a hard drive in the Xbox. He prefers a thicker line between PCs and “stateless” console devices, asserting that the world doesn’t need another platform next to Windows, Linux and Apple.

Regarding the unnamed new Doom title, Carmack hinted at its design. There is an absolute focus on the single-player game, which may leave deathmatch fans a little uneasy. In fact, Carmack confessed the next title would not likely be the multiplayer “game of choice.” On the up side, id Software has hired several new programmers to bring a finer coat of polish to this title than ever before. Specifically, one of these coders will focus on sound, so we can expect substantial improvements there. Of course, the rendering engine is being completely rewritten and will support new technologies like environmental bump mapping.

Programmer or Necromancer?
A PS2 release of “Doom” looks unlikely at this point. However, since the Xbox is nearly equivalent in power to the PC id is targeting (though it has less RAM), a port to Microsoft’s console should be trivial.

It’s always inspiring to see fans of any hobby going to long lengths to organize massive nonexclusive events. QuakeCon 2000 took eight months to sort out, an enormous undertaking — but one that delivered equal gratification. Word is the organizers are already working on QuakeCon 2001. Next year will be especially interesting, given the news of id Software’s single-player focus and the projected number of attendees. If you can make it, we highly recommend it.