Weird Retro Mumblings: Quake -game Reaper

It’s off the back of my recent outings into the various worlds of Strafe that my mind turned back to the title that it (arguably) draws much of inspiration from; the first title in ID’s third major FPS franchise ‘Quake’. I knew from the moment that I first installed this masterpiece of a game that I would be hooked for weeks, nay, years, basking in every aspect of it’s well-crafted…

…. no, wait… this isn’t how it happened at all…  

Quake is unquestionably an important title in the history of FPS games, and one that I experienced around the time that it was relevant; but being honest, it’s a title that I was more ‘interested in‘ rather than ‘enjoyed playing‘. Unleashed on the world in ’96, Quake caught me towards the end of my 16-bit love affair, but before the joys of the PlayStation opened my mind to 32-bit consoles. PC gaming was always something that I had enjoyed alongside consoles (as I mentioned in the pilot of “Please Insert Disk 2“*) and I guess my interest in the platform was heightened by the lull between generations. I remember clutching an issue of ‘PC Gamer’, cover CD proudly proclaiming to have the Shareware version of Quake, on my way home from the shops, eager to see what this hyped game was all about. I installed it, played for about two minutes, and then closed it, baffled as to why this drab mess of brown had warranted such hype.

It really is very brown

The problem at the time was my interest in ‘Duke Nukem 3D’ which, before the franchise became widely mocked and setting aside how cringe worthy the adult content now is, was a worthy adversary to ID’s new masterpiece. Duke3D was vibrant, colourful, and interesting; it pushed the 2.5D sector based engine to its limits. Behind the scenes, it used tricks and workarounds to achieve things that were seemingly impossible with this type of game engine: silent teleporters allowed for much more vertical movement, clever use of sprites could create bridges, and tilting floors and ceilings made deforming terrain possible. By comparison Quake was drab, generic, and failed to hook me in.

Convinced by a friend to give it another look, I did circle back to stroll once more through that infamous hub level. The critical point that I hadn’t picked up on the first time around was that unlike Duke3D, here was a gameworld that was actually 3D; ingame items were made of polygons and rendered, the virtual space could be navigated in X, Y, & Z, rooms could be legitimately above other rooms…. the architecture of these Gothic dungeons was real architecture. Quake also introduced players to aspects of physics that previously hadn’t been a part of FPS gaming; the player was subject to the forces of gravity and the blasts of explosions leading to the invention of rocket jumping. Grenades and body parts would bounce around the level in accordance with these ingame laws rather than to pre-programmed animations which formed a precursor to the more common ‘ragdolling’ that we see in games now. As if to hammer the point home, Quake included a secret level called ‘Ziggurat Vertigo’ in which the gravity value had been dropped causing players, gibs, and grenades to sail in vast arcs across the level.

I like this bit where the stairs go down under the lava

In defence of my initial dismissal, Quake remained a drab and grimy experience, but my second pass had revealed that it was technically interesting. I marvelled at how the ingame structures were constructed, such as the ‘latticework’ bridge over lava in the entrance to the third episode. Pocket-money was invested on an ungraded graphics card in order to move from the lowest resolution to one that was a little higher (from a 1Mb Cirrus Logic to a 2Mb Matrox Mystique); following the upgrade I spent half an hour jumping around an empty level throwing grenades just to see the  explosion throw bright pixels in all directions. The same friend who had persuaded me to go back to Quake also introduced me to deathmatch, a concept that I’d only briefly experienced in Doom a handful of times, and to the world of patches and mods. My favourite of these was the Reaper bot; a patch allowing primitive AI players to be spawned so that on my own PC (lacking an internet connection) I was able to play ‘deathmatch’, an idea which ultimately engulfed the entire single-player campaign in ‘Quake III Arena’.

… I really like this bridge… 

Despite all my experimenting with mods, maps, bots & patches, most of which were obtained from the obscure folders on magazine demo CD’s, it wasn’t until some years later that I played the vanilla single player campaign from start to finish. Whilst this murky outing began as an effort to scratch a long-held itch, it quickly descended into self-imposed punishment, presumably for having ignored the title initially. The years had been unkind to Quake, even with a healthy resolution, the dull greens and browns were no more appealing and compared to their contemporary sprite based counterparts, advances in technology are so much more apparent in those early polygon-based games. Armed with the ability to mouse-look I was taken aback by how much easier the game was than I remember; enemies were generic, and even the almighty shambler wasn’t the death sentence that it had been on my rare encounters with them as a youngster. The visual spectacle of the fight against the first episode boss, Chthon, only served to highlight the lack of bosses in episodes two and three, and the non-boss, Shub, at the end of episode four.

Chthon: Not exactly difficult to defeat, but visually impressive

In a decade where the FPS genre was developed, matured, and refined rapidly, it’s impossible to deny that Quake was a technical milestone. It brought full 3D to the genre, introduced ingame physics in a way not attempted before, and through patches and mods indoctrinated me into deathmatch. The downside was that it felt like a technical demo, it didn’t have the charm of the build engine offerings of the time, gameplay was sound but forgettable, and there was little sense of an overall game arc in plot or structure. I had certainly been fascinated with it, but rather than play it through, I hopped between levels using cheats just to take-a-look. It will always be an important game in the genre, but an undisputed classic?… I’m not so sure…

*Shameless Plug

4 thoughts on “Weird Retro Mumblings: Quake -game Reaper

  1. Like you said, it’s unquestionably an important installment for all of PC gaming, definitely in the top 3 as far as FPSes go. I got started with Quake 2 and didn’t play OG Quake until some years later. It was my first jump into FPSes PC gaming, and also online multiplayer (hellooo 28.8 dialup and 3 second ping times!), I don’t know where I’d be without Quake 2 and MPlayer!

    Liked by 1 person

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