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 registers, Quake 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.
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.
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 Quake. Quake 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.