Now that I’ve written about Sauerbraten, it’s time to discuss the originator of the rocket jumping genre, Quake. Quake 3 might be the gold standard of arena shooters, but the original Quake does still prove why it became so phenomenal in the first place. Hundreds of thousands of hours have been spent in its brown corridors, brown caricatures of space marines blasting each other to brownish red giblets with brown implements of death. So, how does this granddaddy of 3D-rendered slaughter hold up in the modern times?
Coming from modern FPS sensibilities, Quake is quite arcane. Best way to interact with the game’s settings is to delve into the quake console, which admittedly works surprisingly well, even without autocomplete features. The original winquake binaries obviously do not function properly in modern 64-bit era, but thankfully replacements are available. Our engine of choice was Proquake 4, a faithful port of the original game with no frills or extraneous features. WASD+mouselook is available as well as modern resolutions… but no gamemodes beyond free-for-all deathmatch. Not that Quake really needs anything except deathmatch anyway.
The map design of the game is quite interesting. Like so many other features of the game, the map layout is dictated and defined by the engine. In order to keep the memory footprint of the game down, the engine is optimized for tight enclosed spaces, which in turn makes the maps quite claustrophobic affairs. The effect of setting loose 8 players in this maze, zooming about at breakneck speed, trying to murder each other, is quite unique. There is never an easy way out from an encounter with an another player. Most fights end up being exercises in bunnyhopping as you try to franticly draw bead on each other.
Also, relics from olden days, the very existence of health and armor pickups is quite disorienting from a modern point of view, and the dynamics they introduce are actually quite compelling. The trick of it is that after getting half of your hitpoints blown away in a shotgun-fight, you cannot just duck behind a corner and wait for the red glow to disappear from the edges of your screen. Instead, you need to be proactive and make your way to the health pickups if you wish to survive. The beauty of the mechanic is that everyone else is trying to do the same thing, which leads to even more encounters. Hiding and running away, it seems, isn’t a winning tactic in Quake.
The weapons, then. Quake set down the template for the arena shooter mainstays, most notably engineering the ultimate tool of the trade, the rocket launcher. Even after nearly 20 years, Quake’s venerable rocket launcher is still the best ever implemented. The rockets are fast, the damage is beefy and the signature knockback effect creates surprising tactical depth. Rocketjumping aside, Quake’s levels are filled with environmental hazards, ranging from crushing platforms to pools of acid. No virtual humiliation stings quite as much as getting thrown into a lava pit by a precise rocket blast. Of course this is nothing new, but it’s interesting to see how the concepts were pioneered back in the mid-90’s, and how well the implementation holds up even today.
Respawning players start with an another signature weapon, the double-barred hitscan shotgun. Since the venerable rocket launcher is always in scarce supply, the humble shotgun provides its services for those “I-Just-Spawned-Get-Away-From-That-Ammo-Box-Its-Mine” firefights that occur frequently. The funkiness of the physics simulation is apparent when two players are circlestrafing around to the steady tune of “BOOSH!-BOOSH!-BOOSH!” of shotgun blasts, each picking up more speed until one inevitably gets stuck in the geometry and gets both barrels right in the face. Bunnyhopping is one arcane art I’ve never quite mastered in the Quake engine, but watching an experienced player abuse the poor old engine way beyond its established limits is quite impressive.
Quake definitely lives up to its legacy, even after almost two decades. The engine itself is a brilliant feat of software engineering by any standards, and its influence in the field of 3D rendering cannot be overstated. The gameplay is brutal and simple, yet surprisingly smooth and extremely responsive. So, next time you are having a LAN-party and want to take a break from watching other people play Hearthstone online, fire up Quake and give it a spin. You’ll be surprised at how proficiently the old horse still kicks your ass.