The Original Quake Changed Everything

The Original Quake Changed Everything
Image: NeoGAF

Gaming has a lot of inflection points. Sometimes it’s new technology, like the advent of the CD-ROM or ultra-fast SSDs. Sometimes it’s because a studio or a team finds a solution to a problem so ingenious that it becomes standard. And sometimes it’s just because a small team manages to capture lightning in a bottle, the way Quake did.

The Quake franchise has never really gone away, like so many games celebrating their 25th anniversary do. There’s still Quake Champions, which retains a small but loyal fanbase alongside Quake Live. But unlike the cultural phenomenon that was DOOM, which would later find itself on Myki card readers and Maccas registersQuake never entered the zeitgeist in the same way.

Quake was a huge technological leap, after all, and several studios ran into trouble trying to make it work on other consoles. The list of cancelled Quake ports includes one for the original PlayStation, a Panasonic M2 version that was cut because the system never released, a failed port for the Atari Jaguar, and a Sega Saturn port that did ship, but only because its developers used a completely different engine.

There was an official N64 version of Quake, and later, two homebrew ports for the Nintendo DS. The N64 version had to cut some of the original levels, and the maps that remained were also pared down in complexity to support the N64’s reduced memory and slower internals. It was a better version than the Sega Saturn, though, as covered in this neat video by Kotaku Australia reader White_Pointer.

What really made Quake stick, apart from the banging Trent Reznor soundtrack and design, was a medieval era enemies, environments and design that id would never return to. It copped some criticism for an excess of muddy brown, although it’s worth remembering the limitations of 3D engines and hardware at the time — and the fact that it was still very early days rendering everything with polygons, instead of sprites.

While a lot of the brown, gritty aesthetic made its way over to Quake 2, id moved the series forward into more of a sci-fi setting. John Romero was a huge defender of Quake‘s original setting and plot, but after he departed the company (in part due to Quake‘s changed direction), medieval fans within the company were few and far between.

It’s a royal shame. All of the Quake games have been quality: even Quake 4‘s singleplayer campaign had its moments, and the Quake 2 campaign is still an excellent showcase in level design. But none of the future titles captured the same sense of style or vibe as the original Quake.

Quake 1’s E4M6, titled Pain Maze, is still one of the best levels ever created by id, provided you’re a masochist. Image: Reddit

The technical wizardry that Quake represented can’t be understated, either. When Quake dropped in 1996, the industry collectively turned on a dime. Developers had been chasing the success of DOOM and DOOM 2 with their own ports. Many of those games were excellent in their own right — the original Dark Forces, Heretic and later titles like STRIFE come to mind — but as soon as Quake showed that full 3D polygonal environments were possible, everyone started working out how to be the next Quake. Id would revolutionise the multiplayer element further with Quakeworld, incorporating (for the time) next-gen networking approaches that made online multiplayer genuinely playable and serviceable over dial-up connections.

Quakeworld also spawned the birth of what would later become the GameSpy multiplayer network, as Quakeworld shipped with the QuakeSpy program that helped in finding online multiplayer matches. In-built server browsers weren’t a thing in the mid ’90s, and the obvious utility of such a program naturally saw publishers adopt the same technology en masse. Its adoption in more games brought on more investors, and the creators of the program would eventually spin up a string of websites dedicated to various communities, including Planet Unreal, Planet Tribes, Planet Half-Life and the download repository FilePlanet. The sites would later be consolidated into GameSpy, which itself would be acquired by the IGN network in 2004.

A shot of the old GameSpy Arcade program, featuring servers for various playable games and a link to the Planet Tribes community website in the top right, chat functionality in the bottom and links to patches, game demos and more. Image: Reddit

As DOOM has enjoyed success over the last half decade with its successful reboot, I’ve wondered about the internal conversations id, and their parent company Bethesda, must have had about QuakeQuake Champions made a valiant attempt at reviving arena-based multiplayer, but the industry has moved on from that brand of gameplay at least a decade ago.

But as games like AMID EVIL, DUSK, Ion Fury and even DOOM itself have shown, the love for that classic, solo shooter experience with sprawling maps, hidden rooms and instant ambushes has never died. And out of all of those environments and campaigns, the original Quake was always the best. It had the strongest sense of identity, the best soundtrack, the best expansions and the most heart. It’s a game that would benefit the most from a HDR or a ray-tracing remaster. It’s a game that formed the true foundation of esports, well before StarCraft: Brood War or Counter-Strike found their footing.

When Quake Champions was announced, what id should have announced was a remaster for Quake. But as the game enjoys its 25th anniversary, and the industry reflects on its influence and legacy, perhaps it’s a game that id’s new parent owners Microsoft — a corporation with no shortage of nostalgia — can revive once more.

Quake deserves it, but then, Quake always did.

This post has been republished to coincide with today’s remastered re-release of Quake on PC and consoles.


  • I never loved quake the way I did Doom. My first time playing it was on the Saturn, which probably soured it for me from the start.

  • I think it was less about being the next Quake, and more about being the next I’d software.

    3 innovative genre and technology breaking games released in 4 years was monumental in that age.

    • I’d go a bit longer and start at Wolf 3D and end with Quake 3 as one of the most incredible run of releases over what was only a 7 year period. What they did not only for game engines but also online play was pretty incredible.

      It was probably only with that final game and Epic releasing Unreal Tournament and Valves Half Life where it felt like another dev had caught up with what id we’re doing as a total package of technology and gameplay in the FPS genre.

      I’d love to see an alternative reality where John Romero had stayed at id and what that may have produced. Not so much from a game perspective, but due to the fact it was Romero who was more interested in having ids tech packaged and licensed to third parties as an industry tool. Supposedly Carmack was less interested in the licensing of engines which might explain in part why Epic was able to run away with that market in later years, with id’s engines being far less common. I’d have loved to see id and Epic really competing in that technology front through the 2000’s.

      • True they had a good run… but I think it was Quake that got a lot of studios to realise they can’t catch play catch up.

        Trying to clone an ID game was a futile effort, by the time they cloned a game, ID already made the next game breaking release.

  • Ahhh, the good ol days of playing Quake on dial-up with an internal rotary (unlimited usage!) against the same 6-10 peeps on my ISP! 😀

  • Id’s misstep was Doom 3 and they lost their greatness when they returned to Doom.

    I wish Id would give Quake a proper shot again. Instead Quake 4 was outsourced and was the fall from grace for Raven. Id said they wouldn’t outsource like that again, but then they did with Quake Champions, which wasn’t even built using an Id tech engine.

    Quake Champions was poorly developed which resulted in Id booting out the contracted company, but the damage was done.

    Would Quake Champions have had a better run if Id didn’t short-change it? I think so. The memory leak problem when the game opened up was pretty bad and detracted from performance. With that style of game, it needs to run well as it is particularly unforgiving to a struggling computer.

    Arguably, Quake Champions also overcomplicated itself by jumping on the hero bandwagon. Games don’t do well when it’s designed for monetisation, which seems to be at the forefront of Quake Champions’ design.

  • I must be one of the few but I did not like Quake. I loved Doom, Doom 2 and Quake 2, but not Quake.
    Quake felt like a tech demo. It struggled to run on all systems and because so, it made up for this by limiting the number of enemies on screen and increased the number of shots to kill an enemy to raise the difficulty. A cheap tactic that this game validated for all to come unfortunately.
    The storytelling in Quake is so minimal that it had less storytelling than any of the Doom games, which is a feat unto itself.
    Other games like Rise of the Triad, Duke Nukem and Dark Forces had already introduced vertical aim. Dark Forces even had multi level maps if I recall correctly. None of them had 3d sprites, but until you could have more than 5, there was no point, you may as well play Duck Hunt.
    What Quake did was create an engine that could be used to make better games. Which is the way I see the game. A tech demo.

  • Notable for being the first FPS to use mouselook in a way that didn’t make me barf. Build Engine was the closest runner up, but it was still nauseating.

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