Quake, the first-person shooter from id Software, turns 20 years old on June 22nd, 2016. It’s widely regarded as one of the most influential video games of all time, having pioneered a number of conventions that we now take for granted. A successor to the studio’s hit series Doom, it built upon both the technology and gameplay of its predecessor, and in doing so set the template for how games would both be made and played for the following two decades.
Tim Willits, who’s still with id and now serves as the studio’s creative director, was a designer on the original game, and while admitting his obvious bias is certain of its significance to the broader culture. “I really believe that Quake was more influential for video games than Doom,” he says.
Need proof? Here are eight ways that Quake influenced the way we think about games, and Willits’ take on each.
It put you in a fully realized 3D world
The entire environment in Quake was modeled in 3D, something that hadn’t been done in action games before, in part because the processing power required to do so just wasn’t ready yet. The same technique had been used in a more rudimentary fashion in things like flight simulators, but previous first person action games like Doom and Duke Nukem used tech that didn’t allow for a full 360-degree view of the experience. You couldn’t look up at the ceiling or down at the ground in these older games, and that limited the action so that monsters couldn’t really attack you from above or below. The ramifications of this technology shift are still being felt today. Quake paved the way for Call of Duty, Battlefield, Overwatch, Skyrim, and even virtual reality by plunging the player into a fully realized 3D world, and simply allowing them to look around freely.
Esports began with Quake
Quake is largely responsible for the esports scene we enjoy today. The game pioneered competitive gaming events with the Red Annihilation Quake multiplayer event which was held in May 1997. This is widely considered to be the first national-level gaming event in North America. Qualifying rounds for the contest were held online, and nearly 2,000 competitors played in one-on-one matches until 16 finalists were selected to play at the World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia, during the E3 gaming expo. Ultimately Dennis “Thresh” Fong beat Tom “Entropy” Kimzey on the map Castle of the Damned, and was rewarded with id cofounder John Carmack’s 1987 Ferrari 328 GTS convertible as the grand prize. It was later discovered that Fong was unable to fully enjoy his winnings, as he wasn’t insured to drive a Ferrari. Carmack agreed to underwrite Fong’s insurance for a year so he could enjoy his prize.
It was the first game with multiplayer-specific maps
These days we take the notion of additional downloadable multiplayer map packs for granted. But before Quake, the whole idea of maps being designed specifically for online multiplayer was unheard of.
The original concept for Quake was that you’d play multiplayer matches on the same maps as the single player story. This was how id had done things with Doom and its sequel. Willits recalls that during Quake’s development, the team had started work on a number of different maps that never made it into the story. “We were done with the single-player campaign and we had all of these fragments of ideas that we’d been kicking around,” says Willits. “I came in one morning and said to John [Romero, the game’s director] that we could take all of these little pieces and turn them into unique multiplayer maps. Well, he told me that he thought that was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard,” Willits laughs. “He said, ‘Why would we do that when people can play on the single player maps?'”
Fortunately, the team decided to proceed with Willits’ idea, and the notion of multiplayer-specific game maps was born.
“If you’ve ever wondered why Quake multiplayer had some of the restrictions that it does, that was to do with the way our office was set up back then,” Willits explains. “We were remodeling the id offices, so the Quake team was all packed in a room together and we were sitting at folding tables in a big ‘U’ shape. My desk was next to Romero’s and then John Carmack [id co-founder and lead programmer] was over in the corner. Romero used to play multiplayer with another one of the designers, Shawn Green, a lot. I mean… they played it so much that it just drove everyone else nuts. To try and get them to play less, Carmack set the frag limit to 10 so their games wouldn’t go on forever.”
It opened the door for online multiplayer services
Although Quake itself didn’t necessarily pioneer multiplayer matchmaking, it served as the catalyst for a vitally important part of the way online services like Steam, Xbox Live and PlayStation Network bring players together. It triggered the recognition of a need from gamers that is now felt in just about every game from Star Wars: Battlefront to Rock Band to Candy Crush.
“We were the first multiplayer action game that had a client and server architecture,” Willits explains, referring to the way that Quake allowed multiple players to log into a single gameplay server for a shared experience, rather than connecting to each other directly. “It wasn’t particularly easy to deal with as a player though. We never had any kind of way for players to browse servers and choose who they wanted to play with like you can today. Back then, Carmack believed that if you didn’t have the IP address of the people you wanted to play with, then you really shouldn’t be playing with them. Ultimately, this paved the way for support services to pop up around Quake to make life easier for people. We saw websites emerge that were dedicated to helping people find others to play with, so sites like Aftershock and then QuakeSpy, which ultimately became GameSpy, rose to the challenge of giving people what they needed.”
It defined social play and the concept of clans
“We never planned the whole Quake clans thing, at all,” Willits admits, referring to the way that players would rally together as an organized team for multiplayer matches in Quake. The concept has gone on to inspire the way that online multiplayer services are organized, and the impact has been felt far from the first-person shooter genre in the past 20 years. If you’ve played Clash of Clans or Game of War on your phone, you have Quake to thank for its underlying organizational social structure. “At no point did we ever sit around and say, ‘Hey, we should have clan support,’ the whole thing just emerged from the game and the community that loved it,” Willits says.
It made rocket jumps cool
Quake helped popularize the gameplay mechanic now known as “rocket jumping,” a method that employs explosive weaponry to propel the player further than what’s possible by simply running and jumping. To execute a basic rocket jump, the player must jump and fire their rocket launcher towards the ground simultaneously, and the resulting shockwave pushes them away from the source of the explosion.
Though both Bungie’s Marathon and 3D Realms’ Rise of the Triad allowed you to boost vertical jumps with explosives two years prior, Quake is responsible for making it a part of gaming culture by acknowledging and integrating the concept into the overall design. It was not originally an intended game feature, however. According to Willits, it was “a happy accident” that became apparent when he was playing with designer American McGee and programmer John Cash.
“We were playing deathmatch on the start map, and American and I had backed John into a corner just after he’d picked up the armor,” he said. “He figured that if we were going to take him out, he was going to take us with him. Turns out that when he fired the rocket launcher he also jumped at the same time, and he flew right past us and survived because of the armor. We were blown away!”
Rocket jumping has since become a popular feature in id Software titles, and has been an important part of numerous other games too, notably the Halo series and Team Fortress 2, as well as making an appearance in some films. For example in the live-action Transformers movie, the character Ironhide performs a rocket jump over a screaming woman after transforming from his truck mode. In League of Legends, the character Tristana uses an ability of the same name.
Thank Quake for camping. Well, sorta
The term “camping,” prevalent in competitive gaming, is widely thought to have originated in Quake multiplayer sessions, although the behavior itself was commonplace in Doom. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, “camping” is the act of hiding in a well-trafficked spot on a multiplayer map in order to ambush enemy players. The tactic has caused a great deal of ill-will and trash talk in gaming communities over the past 20 years. Some feel it’s valid while others think it cowardly. During playtesting of Quake, one of the developers would often hide and make everyone look for him rather than running around the map, and the rest of the team would make fun of him for “camping.” This was later immortalized in both Quake 3 and Quake Live by naming the multiplayer map previously known as Q3DM6 as “Campgrounds” in his honor.
It was Trent Reznor’s first soundtrack
Long before Reznor’s Academy Award-winning soundtrack work, he provided the music for Quake. “Trent Reznor was a big fan of Doom,” Willits says. “Plus, Carmack was a big Nine Inch Nails fan. Somehow, Trent heard that the Doom team were based in Dallas and had his people reach out. He and Carmack started talking and the result was him really getting involved in the soundtrack for the game.” Reznor ultimately provided 11 ambient tracks for the Quake soundtrack, none of which were ever given official titles. He also recorded sound effects. “Whenever you hear any of the Ranger’s pain or death sounds, that’s Trent,” Willits says. Beyond the audio connection, ammo boxes for the nail gun weapon found in the game all bear the distinctive Nine Inch Nails logo.