IntroductionIt's kinda hard to pin down the first Machinima: things like the Doom speedruns, the Stunt Island stuff and the Demo Scene all compete for the title. However, it's a lot easier to pin down the first piece of film made in a 3D game engine: Diary Of A Camper, made in October 1996, just after the original Quake was released, by a team (a "Clan") of Quake players known as the Rangers.
The Rangers grew to become arguably the most famous Quake Clan of all time, boasting Zoid (now working at iD Software) and Blue (of Blue's News fame) amongst their ranks. They were also the pioneers of Quake Movies: later films from United Ranger Films, their "production" offshoot, like Torn Apart and Ranger Gone Bad 2, inspired many of the film-makers who followed them to try making films in Quake for the first time.
And, lastly, they're the Clan responsible for perhaps the most famous Quake Movie never to have been released (yet), featuring work from half-a-dozen people now working at the top of the gaming industry and hyped, touted and eagerly awaited for almost four years: Ranger Gone Bad 3.
And this is what happened.
"Check out the Ranger's Page for news on their upcoming movie, Ranger Gone Bad 3, with skins and stuff to be used in the production. Movie isn't the word, epic applies better, as they plan on "filming" from January 10 through February 15 (yep, over a month), and the finished product will run between 20 and 30 minutes in length. I can't wait to see this (though any movie with so many sequels should star Sylvester Stallone...)."
- Blue's News, January 3, 1997
In actual fact, work on the film had started a couple of months before, in the winter of 1996, and the schedule that ColdSun posted to Blue was to prove more than usually optimistic... Ranger Gone Bad 3 was, from the very start, an epic production, and one which the Rangers' perfectionism put fom the very start ahead of its time.
By the time work on RGB3 was started, the Rangers were already by far the best-known Clan in Quake, and one of the oldest, dating back to the Quake I Test in early 1996. Heath "ColdSun" Brown, original founder of the Rangers, explains their genesis:
"I wrote a sci-fi story based on quake and Rangers... it was widely read - when the Qtest first came out. after getting numerous mail about the story I decided to form a clan based on the Rangers and the unit in my story. Since I am ex-82nd airborne - I thought actual military would be a solid foundation for a clan. Most clans at that time were "death this" "devil that." Sadly - I had a hard drive crash and the story is lost to me. :( The clan generated a lot of interest from the beginning. I worked for weeks on the web pages."
With 25 members, a code of conduct (the "Ranger Creed") and virtually half the Clan talented mod makers, map creators or Web designers who would find work in the game industry in the future (Zoid, creator of the original Capture The Flag mod for Quake I, Steve "Wedge" Bond and John "Choryoth" Guthrie, Quake Command mod gurus now working at Valve Software and briefly Steve "Blue" Heaslip, maintainer of "Blue's News"), the Rangers made their mark on the Quake scene early on. However, it was the series of "Quake Movies", beginning with "Diary of A Camper" and going on through the "Ranger Gone Bad" and "Torn Apart" series, that really stamped the Rangers' image onto the Quake landscape.
When work began on RGB3, ColdSun and Unknown Soldier, the driving team behind the Ranger film projects, intended to use the map Slavery, by map author Checkas (author of several Classic Quake maps, including Rocket Arena maps like "Alien Arena"). However, as Unknown Soldier says
"Somewhere into the project [we] decided it wasn't working. We were making too many concessions to map 'limitations' at the cost of plot elements we wanted to include. In other words, we were writing the story around the map, instead of making the map to fit the story. "
So, Unknown Soldier himself took the plunge into map editing, armed with the original source file for "Slavery" (which eventually emerged as the courtyard area of the Rangers' base, as seen in the preview) and a popular editing package. From that moment on, the tone was set for RGB3: it was to be a perfectionist epic: not just a recording of a game of Quake with a loose story, but the first true film made in Quake, what we would nowadays call "Machinima". New skins were created for the models by Matt Sheridan and Brian "Whaleboy" Cozzens (at the time working at Ion Storm). Two "sprawling" maps were created for the movie: the evil Set's headquarters, patrolled by the renegade Ranger Judas (a recurring villain from the earlier Ranger films), made by Unknown Soldier, and the Rangers' HQ, based loosely on "Slavery" and touched up by none other than American "Tokay" McGee, at the time working at iD Software.
Tailed eagerly by news sites such as "Blue's News" (and occasionally interrupted by happy events like the birth of ColdSun's daughter on March 21st, 1997), the mammoth production set sail. By March 23, 1997, the Rangers were hoping to release RGB3 within a month. By May 1st, filming was well underway, with Blue mentioning that
"I've been rehearsing with my Ranger buds for filming of RGB3, and it's gonna be very cool. "
By May 17th, in-game filming was complete. Hundreds of hours of footage had been shot, and using the early demo editor Demented (produced for the Rangers by Pharcyde, over six months before Keygrip was originally made available), Ranger editor ArchV began compositing the footage into a polished form.
The Myth Of Post-Production
In nearly any traditionally filmed "Quake Movie", the danger point for the production comes just after the raw footage has been filmed. At this point it's easy to assume that the hard work is over, and all that remains is tidying up. In fact, as productions from Eschaton: Darkening Twilight to Hardly Workin' to RGB3 prove, it's more likely that the production is less than a third of the way there.
In Ranger Gone Bad 3's case, this was especially true. Whilst the recording (including the various special mod-based effects coded into the RangerCam mod by Wedge and Choryoth) had been completed, the voice recording, editing (a huge task, particularly from that quantity of footage with the primitive Quake I demo editing tools) and even animation had yet to be finished. In addition to that, with QuakeCon (one of the first of the huge "LAN Parties" for games like Quake) coming up, the leaders of the Rangers had decided to show a preview of the film. Coldsun and Unknown Soldier recall:
"For some reason, the Ranger film crew leaders got the bright idea of promising a showing of RGB3 at QuakeCon 97, since quite a few of the Ranger Clan were going to be present. As QuakeCon drew closer, it became apparent to ArchV and UnknownSoldier that it wasn't going to happen. There was just too much work left to do. We scrambled to throw something together to please the fans. The first two days of QuakeCon were spent holed up in ArchV's apartment near the convention site. Hours before the RGB3 Preview was to be shown, a zip disk was handed over to an Ion Storm employee (we forget his name) to transfer the demo to videotape. It was an unauthorized copy of this zip disk that provided the material which was leaked by CRT on the Keygrip site last week.
The Rangers went out to dinner to celebrate and kick back for a couple hours. While the entire Ranger Clan was at dinner, someone decided it was time to show the video at QuakeCon, without even giving the Rangers a chance to preview and approve it. "
Reactions to the demo, which Unknown Soldier describes as "missing major parts of the sound and exhibiting a very strange walk animation" were mixed. Unknown Soldier and ColdSun say that
"The reaction to the quirky demo was, needless to say, not very positive. It was a very disheartening experience for all the Rangers involved in the movie making."
However, most of the reports from the time were very positive: Blue says that
"the segment of Ranger Gone Bad 3 that was shown [had] everybody spooging",
whilst iD Software were so impressed that they invited the Rangers back to iD HQ to show the entire staff the demo. ColdSun says
"It was a really great time for all. When Quake 2 came out it we noticed the salute animations and radio squelch voices -coincidental? I don't know. But I would like to think they got some ideas from us.. Who knows. =)"
But it was Unknown Soldier and ArchV's feelings about the preview that counted. Disheartened by the (as they saw it) botched preview, and burned out from the frantic rush to get it together, they decided to take a break from the film. Weeks turned into months, and as they tried to get back to work on RGB3, it became apparent that neither of them felt they had the motivation to continue with the film. Whilst the rest of the Rangers carried on as normal, playing Clan matches and releasing maps like the famous "Rangergate" (widely regarded as one of the best Quake maps ever), progress, or what little there was, on RGB3, became slower and slower, until, finally, as Unknown Soldier puts it, "RGB3 "died" for the first time".
From the jaws of disaster...
It was a few months later. The hysteria over the release of Quake II was ramping up. Unknown Soldier had resigned from the Rangers in September, and RGB3 was, as reported on "Blue's News", on hold for "Confidental Reasons" (mainly the key movers' disillusionment with the project). Indeed, the Rangers were reported on "Blue's News", at the end of October, as saying
"we cannot consider [RGB3] a “Ranger” movie".
How could things get worse?
With a case of catastrophic data loss, that's how.
CS and Unknown Soldier recall:
"Months passed, and the source materials languished on Unk's hard drives. After a while interest in the project returned, and work was progressing well until disaster struck.
As a precaution to data loss, and since he didn't own a tape drive, Unk kept a mirror of all the source files on a second hard drive. One day his primary hard drive died without warning and seemingly without cause. We were glad UnknownSoldier had backed up all the source to the other hard drive just in case. Of course, Murphy's Law had to intervene, and ten days later the second hard drive failed. The ultimate cause – a faulty power supply. UnknownSoldier tried desperately to revive the second hard drive, but without another computer to try it on, or the funds to purchase a new one, he gave up in frustration and delivered the bad news. With both repositories of source material wiped out, RGB3 died its second and seemingly final death."
More time passed. Most of the original members of the Rangers, including ColdSun, left, and it looked like RGB3 was gone forever. Then, Blue posted this:
""What are you waiting for Scud, RGB3?", surely one of the funniest Dank & Scud in-jokes ever, was a reference to the seemingly permanent delay in releasing the long promised sequel to Ranger Gone Bad 1 & 2. Now Unknown Soldier, the main man behind the film's production, tells me that he's recovered what was thought to be lost footage from an old hard drive and is fired up to complete the film with the editing assistance of Drastic Man (of Keygrip fame). "
Unknown Soldier had upgraded his computer, and with that had decided to try out his old, now defunct, Quake drive. It worked first time. Amazed by his good fortune, and merely seconds after backing his files up to every storage device within 400 yards, he enlisted the help of Chris "Drastic_Man" Sykes, the co-author of the original Keygrip graphical demo editor for Quake I, to re-start work on the project. Drastic_Man worked on the project with Unknown Soldier for a few months, cutting the raw files down into 3 or 4 major parts, but ultimately, the project proved too big, once again, and again it died.
The Ranger Movies as a whole kicked briefly again around the Spring of 1998, surrounded by acrimony involving the "re-grouping" of the Ranger Clan. With most of the original members gone, and virtually all of the members of the Rangers who were involved in film-making departed, the "New" Rangers decided to announce their intention to make "Torn Apart 3", a sequel to another of the Rangers' original movies, this time in Quake II. Eventually the split was sorted (with the "New" Rangers hosting the original Ranger movies on their page, but RGB3 no longer being a Ranger project, as had been announced before), but not before hard feelings had been established on both sides.
The last work on RGB3 to date was done by Unknown Soldier and David "Alpha_Male" Mertz, in the late August of 1998. Alpha_Male tracked down bugs, and Zoid, now working as a contractor for iD Software, assisted the production in killing GL Quake problems. Unfortunately, once again Real Life struck: Alpha_Male returned to college to study for his Masters' Degree in Biomedical Engineering, at the same time as Unknown Soldier ran out of time also. The project was shelved again, and when Alpha_Male was hired by Gearbox Software to work on "Opposing Force", Unknown Soldier burned a CD-R with the source files for the project, and put it on his shelf, expecting to never touch it again.
From then, to now.
Well, the chances are you know the rest of the story. About the time Unknown Soldier shelved his CD-R, Machinima as an artform was beginning to expand. I'd quit my university course to found Strange Company, and over the next year Machinima continued to grow. And, occasionally, someone would wonder what had happened to the Rangers, and to RGB3.
Those someones included Blue, who made his wondering public with his regular "Out Of the Blue" column on the 23rd of January:
"Also, for you real old-schoolers, it's now been over two years since last mention of Ranger Gone Bad 3 (and that mention was a joke about its non-existence at that), the ill-fated Quake movie sequel that would now be as over-budget as Heaven's Gate were it to still be in production (I think it's pretty safe to give up on this one). "
Well, that just shows that it's never safe to give up on any Machinima production (and let's face it, from Eschaton: Nightfall to RGB3, they do have a history of suddenly resurfacing). Blue certainly wasn't expecting the flurry of activity which followed, as I inaugurated the "Ask Blue's News" feature, stating my intention to write this article, David "CRT" Wright posted an unauthorised version of the RGB3 preview from three years before, and shortly afterwards Unknown Soldier and Coldsun themselves resurfaced with a polished-up version of the preview, and every intention of, this time, finishing the damn film once and for all!
Possibly the most amazing thing about RGB3 is the fact that despite its four-year inception, the work on RGB3 still doesn't look dated.. Alpha_Male recalls:
"When I saw the post on Blue's, I pulled out the RGB3 content, and played the lastest work that had been done to it: it still gave me goosebumps and brought a smile to my face. When I was given the RGB3 content and watched the raw footage and the combined major junks, I was absolutely amazed. It did not look as dated as I thought it might. The amount of work that went into it and the amount of talented people that were involved with it is astonishing. The creativity for the time (and even now) is still amazing. (The bloopers alone are enough to bring a smile to an old school Quake player)."
It may be that in the combination of its "old school Quake" roots, its action-based plotline and the astonishing amount of work put into its production (to give just one example, the unique model animations within RGB3 were all edited vertex by vertex, point by point, on the original models) RGB3 will be the first plotted "Quake Movie" that is uniquely suited to the strengths of the engine and its original textures and lighting.
And it'll finally get done. "Scap", one of the new Clan, Silent Assault, tells me that filming sessions have re-started, using Quake Command's unique RangerCam mod. The first scene was re-shot last week, and we're expecting to see a new United Ranger Films website here on Machinima.com any day now.
If Scud's still waiting for RGB3, I can't imagine it'll be long now.