My name is Alex. If you had asked me at the end of the 90s, which is my favorite game, I probably would have answered „Quake“. This is now well over 20 years ago, but if you ask me today, the legendary first-person shooter is still one of my all-time favorites.
I especially liked the fact that people lived the games much more back then. The game collection was smaller and you spent more time with one title. That’s why Quake developed a lively community, which provided itself with new content. These ranged from maps, to mods, to entire conversions.
Quake Nehahra Project
One of the most ambitious mods at that time was the Quake Nehahra Project, which was released in 2000. It was created by Mindcrime Productions, a group of community members under the creative direction of Mindcrime / J. Thaddeus Skubis. Looking back, the pioneering spirit of the team is extremely admirable. Quake Nehahra is a great example of what the community is capable of with enough ambition.
Are you J. Thaddeus Skubis?
Just recently we published a review of the Quake Nehahra Project, an ambitious campaign that went hand in hand with the machinima „The Seal of Nehahra“. During the research, I wondered who was actually behind the project. Who is J. Thaddeus Skubis, what is his real name and what happened to him?
Even though we’ve all gotten a little older, the video game industry is so young that you can still find many of the old veterans in the industry. But what about the lesser known indie developers of yesteryear? Things look a bit different there. We don’t want to give away all the tricks, but it can be said: It’s not easy.
After I recorded a track, an e-mail followed: „Are you J. Thaddeus Skubis?“ From this came an exciting interview about the creation of Quake Nahahra, the creators behind the project, and the spirit of the community at the time. By the way, behind the name J. Thaddeus Skubis hides Jack Kincaid, who was so kind to answer all of our questions. Of course, we don’t want to withhold the result from you. Enjoy reading!
The interview is also available in an German version – Quake Nehahra Interview (German version)
Quake Nehahra Interview
Alex: Hello Jack, today is the year 2021, and while the major game series are busy celebrating anniversaries, we’d like to reminisce about some of the biggest community successes. About 21 years ago you released a legendary mod for Quake 1 under the name Nehahra.
Besides some exciting campaign, there was also a machinima movie apart from the mod called The Seal of Nehahra. In a few sentences, what was Nehahra about and how did the movie come about? Was the film just a byproduct, what was the idea first?
Jack: Nehahra was envisioned as a Quake addon that would introduce new episodes, which would not only extend and enhance the Quake single-player experience but endeavor to flesh out and bring more sense to the story to Quake. My headspace revolved around fantasy at the time so the dark fantasy direction was a natural gravitation for me creatively. The cutscene sequences of Zerstörer – Testament of the Destroyer inspired me to want to do more with that. I didn’t intend to make a sprawling epic of it. It started small and then it grew. When my mind seizes upon something, its processes develop rapidly.
Alex: You released the project at the time as J. Thaddeus Skubis under Mindcrime Productions. Mindcrime was probably your gamertag. At that time the internet was still much more anonymous and mystical, is that where the decision to choose a stage name comes from?
Jack: Doing work under aliases – for creative work or otherwise – was already part of my protocol by then. „Mindcrime“ was one of many internet handles that I went by. Mindcrime was reserved for gaming-related coding and other things. The names that I had gone by over the years are numerous. Part of the reason for this was a compulsion to compartmentalize my many different aspects as a person in some perhaps misguided effort to keep them all coherent, categorized, and tidy. All things neatly in their respective places.
For a long time, I was an idealist who wanted to believe that it was the quality of the art, the work, or the value of the deed that was most important. I hated the idea that a brand or a name was what governed whether the associated work was successful. I hated the notion of it so much, in fact, that I wanted to disprove it. There was also a perception that success was the purview of the specialist, not a polymath who divides their attention across disciplines. It was a means of presenting myself and doing work in different arenas, being taken more seriously. It seems silly now. Lots of things do. Time does that.
Alex: Speaking of names. Where does the name Nehahra come from and how does it fit to Quake?
Jack: In addition to being on a fantasy and Lovecraft kick at the time, I had an interest in Egyptian legends. The name Nehahra was the name of a serpent. For whatever reason, the name remained stuck in my head. Ancient Egypt is of course a favorite go-to when storytellers consider such things as times in our history when otherworldly things, be it aliens or entire dimensions, made contact with humans. There were probably a few particles of Stargate in my head at the time.
Alex: When you released Quake Nehahra, there were already Quake 2 and Quake 3, successors to the first part released in 1996. Why did you decide to choose the Quake 1 engine?
Jack: The honest answer is I had developed a relationship with Quake as a single-player game. It became a friend to me during a fairly isolated time. Quake 2 seemed to leave it behind in favor of a generic, baddie-sci-fi-alien scenario. It wasn’t recognizable to me or as stimulating. Quake 3, of course, then left single-player behind to concentrate on deathmatch and being a presentation of the game engine for other game companies to license. Q2 felt like an entirely different FPS to me at the time to the extent that it could have (and maybe should have, I would have told you back then) been given a different name. Without the fusion of the tech and medieval fantasy elements of the original, not to mention the classic baddies, I didn’t think of it as a proper continuation. It was a stranger that took the shine of the Quake name and left behind much of what I felt Quake to be.
Alex: With Quake Nehahra you wrote video game history. For a long time The Seal of Nehahra was the longest machinima movie. How old were you when you started the project and where it all started? Tell me a little bit about that time and your connection to gaming and the modding scene.
Jack: I was in my 20s and Nehahra began in a bleary time, a space in between times, in which I felt existentially evicted from purpose and identity. It was perhaps the first (of many times that would come later in life) when I was trying to escape from own inherent and rather merciless drive to produce, create, to do. I was attempting to relax. Ha-ha.
Even back then, whenever I did anything recreational, I would be hounded by the voices in my head that scold me for not being productive and wasting time. Playing Quake was my first escape attempt. I told myself that it was okay to just play a game, just to play it. Enjoy. Relax. Yeah, right.
It was not long before that drive led me to decompile it, to start changing things, to create new things out of it, to rev up the combat AI, etc. Leave me alone with anything for long and I will start taking it apart. I can’t help myself.
Alex: I once read that it took about 1.5 years to release Quake Nehara. Surely such an ambitious project ate up a lot of work and private life. How did your environment react to it?
Jack: As I remember it, anyway, that 1.5 years factors in the dabbling stage, but it did indeed eat up a lot of time. Objects of my obsessions always do. It’s a fundamental backbone of my nature so it wasn’t that great of a departure from my norm. That nature has sent my private life south many times over the years, so I can’t really blame a project for when it happens. If it had not been Nehahra, at that time, it would have been something else. There’s always something. That’s how it works. That’s the reality of it. I’ve learned since not to cultivate anything that I cannot maintain. I’m a workhound to the core.
Alex: You didn’t work on the project alone at that time. Together with you there were some other developers. How did the collaboration come about, did you know your „colleagues“ personally or via the Internet. How did the exchange work?
Jack: I wanted to learn more from others who were also modifying Quake and building maps for it, so I created Mindcrime for that purpose, a new compartment of myself, and began to veer from my usual IRC neighborhoods and frequented planetquake servers, eventually finding the everlasting #terrafusion. Relationships naturally gravitated with other game coders and level designers from there. I tend to think big. Go big or go home. Just as in any other creative community, you will find others who have ambitious dreams, but few are driven enough to follow through. To put it simply, I think it became clear to others in the community that I was a maniac and even though the scope of my ideas were huge, ambitious, I would follow through. I would get the job done. Complete the mission. Come hell or high water. That’s who I am.
Once I had a few gifted mappers onboard, it drew others. I remember the team assembly happening rather quickly, as most projects I spearhead do. I create the whirlwind, invite people in with their own magicks, and then we rock and roll. That hasn’t changed about me.
Alex: Some of the team members actually entered the industry later as level designers, for example, and worked on well-known projects. Are you still in contact with individual members of the original Nehahra team?
Jack: I’m still in contact with a number of them, though we’re all busy people. A few have since returned to the Quake lands in their spare time. Honestly, that tempts me and I have the sense that there will come a time when „Mindcrime“ is awakened anew. If I weren’t so busy with other things, it probably would have happened already, because I feel the same pull back to those days. When things were fun. More pure.
Alex: How did things progress with you? Did you choose to go into the video game industry as well, or did you focus more on the cinematic realm? What happened in the meantime? What are you doing nowadays?
Jack: It was not out of a lack of interest that I didn’t go into the video game industry, but my multitude of interests and that pesky beforementioned idea that I should try to concentrate on one thing, something to wrap my identity around. I felt at the time that I was a storyteller more than anything else so I focused on only writing after Nehahra. I took on the airs of what I perceived a writer to be and became much too serious about it. That decision I would change if I could go back in time. It was a cluster of bad moves, the worst being to limit myself and go back to compartmentalizing things.
With Nehahra, even if under the alter umbrella of Mindcrime, I had not limited myself to one discipline. Many came into play from programming, to sound design, to employing musical sensibilities, to storytelling, to acting, to visual principles and framing, to animation. I often looked back on those times and mourned the unbridled spirit of them. I had no aspirations to work in video games, even though the idea of it was cool as were many other ideas. Configured as I was, that I had no professional investment in the activity was what facillitated the environment to be so free. The only goal that I had was to create something amazing. To do it … to do it. I knew who I was during that time: the guy who throws creative lightning bolts and makes cool shit. Bang. That was enough.
A decade later, though I did not return to gaming, I returned to the spirit of those days with my audio production endeavor that I gave the name: Slipgate Nine Entertainment. Slipgate is a Quake reference, of course, but for me, it was more a reference to the headspace of the Quake production days. In choosing that name, as when I choose any name, it was also a promise. In this case, it was also a reminder to myself, one written in a place that would always be in plain sight, to never again lose sight of what that spirit is all about: to do something amazing, just to do it. That’s where the magic is.
The cyberpunk audio drama series for which I am perhaps best known for now has a title that is also a sneaky Quake reference, Edict Zero. I’ve been producing the series for a decade when I have time and do so for free. To do it. It’s a heavily-layered modern audio drama that employs spatial sound, designed for headphones if you want the full, intended effect. I employ multiple disciplines in creating the show. It’s perhaps the perfect fusion of all my disciplines, knowledge, interests, tastes, life experience rolled into one. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a blast.
As for the cinematic realm, my post-production work in the sonic realm takes much more influence from visual principles and film theory than from the classic audio dramas or radio dramas. In a sense, I feel as though I am doing cinematics, except with soundscapes and music.
Since the Nehahra days, I did acquire a film degree. I am presently a Media Production MFA graduate student at The University at Buffalo. After that, the future lay open, but I expect to continue my studies and research beyond.
Alex: Were you actually in contact with id Software at the time? How was the recognition for the project. Was there feedback from the press and/or scene?
Jack: I was not in contact with id software at the time. The recognition, at the time, was extensive. It was a big deal. It was larger than I thought it would be and I never would have suspected back then that it would continue to endure.
Alex: With Nehahra you „told the story that Id wouldn’t“. This is what the production notes said at the time. How did you make up the story back then. Was it well received by other fans, after all this also means a kind of intervention in the microcosm.
Jack: The story organically developed. I never intended The Seal of Nehahra to be so long. The enhanced engine, after the source code was released, as well as the „pausedemo“ feature created by Ender – the first engine coder – activated my neophilia and led to an overindulgence. The storyteller as well as the cinematographer in me ran wild with this new toy. It should be noted that the methods of creating machinima, particularly on the Quake engine, were crude at the time, as were many of the utilities for other things. There was no post-production process for those demo mini-movies on the enhanced engine that we were working with.
Looking back, it seemed at first that the movie demo files were more for the entertainment of myself and other mappers during development. After it was more created for the Quake community and associated gaming subcultures. I wasn’t thinking of any possible larger picture.
Youtube did not exist at the time. Now, two decades later, anyone can watch it. Some even enjoy it, though its age certainly shows. For its time and for whom it was meant, it was pretty cool. Reading reviews of it through the lens of the 2020s is interesting, as I find myself able to take both sides of arguments. My upward curve is steep and the Seal of Nehahra was a long, long time ago.
As for being well-received, it’s like anything else. Some people loved it. Some hated it. That’s how it goes. That’s also why it’s important for artists to make things for themselves first and foremost, because outside of yourself, it will never be for everyone. Those who dig it are a bonus. Those who don’t aren’t being held at gunpoint and can move along to other things in the internet abyss more to their liking. That’s my attitude on it anyway.
Alex: In the past, the gamer scene was much more closed and probably a bit more elitist. Today it’s different and more mainstream. There are now a number of private schools where you can officially train to become a game developer. Has some of the original spirit been lost? You were probably pioneers back then.
Jack: I can’t say much for the social state of the community now. Social is among the last words that people would use to describe me, I think, unless it’s specifically work-oriented or goal-oriented. As for back then, I don’t remember it being particularly closed or elitist. It had better social dynamics than other communities that I would later be exposed to, but then again, my point-of-view was from the belly of the beast. Before that, as a newcomer, I don’t remember ever feeling alienated, but I came on the scene with some flashy rabbits in my wizard hat. It’s hard for me to confidently answer that question.
Alex: How do you rate the development of the computer game industry in general? What do you think about the evolution of first-person shooters in particular?
Jack: For a time after, I saw most of my predictions come true about the disproportionate emphasis on how pretty and graphically dazzling a game is while other elements received less love. Now I couldn’t say as I don’t play games often. Apparently, the only time that I do play games is when I’m developing something, debugging, and playtesting it. That be-productive demon in my head from the old days is alive and well. That probably sounds horrible to you as a gamer, but that aspect of my personality extends to about all things.
Alex: Just recently a Quake Remaster was released. It brought the classic game to modern platforms and added some new features, now modern gamers can experience the old game again. It certainly won’t be long before there is also a Quake 2 Remaster. And yet, while Doom and Wolfenstein have been properly pushed in recent years, Quake has been somewhat neglected. Do you think it’s time for a Quake reboot a la Doom (2016). And what would you like to see happen?
Jack: As for a reboot, I think that it could be cool if done right and that is to be loyal to the original feel, mood, themes, and baddies. The original was a child that came out of production chaos, as I understand it, and though it wasn’t the game that id envisioned, it worked. From that chaos came an amazing pearl that should have been more appreciated, studied, considered more closely, when they continued the series. I hope that whoever may take up the task will do so in that spirit.
Alex: Thank you for this interview and for sharing your experience and career with us. The pioneering spirit of such a project should still be an example today of how to realize your dreams and what you can achieve with enough ambition.
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