This one is quite late for Quake’s 20th anniversary, but some things happened, and here we are. I tried to pitch a “first-time Quake player” anniversary article and couldn’t really sell an angle on it, so I guess I’m just gonna put down some of my general thoughts on the game here.
I’ve been trying to do my classic first-person-shooter odyssey more or less in release order to get a good sense of the technological progress that occurred. I had to skip a few planned games (to which I plan to return) when the Quake anniversary came up. Nonetheless I was still interested in seeing why this game seemed to be revered as one of the top FPSs ever made.
My theory going in was that Quake was pretty much the first “really 3D” shooter, like a Super Mario 64 moment for the genre. 1996 seems to have produced three of the games most influential to 3D movement and world design: The original Tomb Raider, Super Mario 64, and Quake. From what I can tell my assumption here was more or less correct.
Ultima Underworld, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and other games of that era let you move in three-dimensional spaces sure, but they did so through progressively more sophisticated trickery, never actually rendering 3D worlds or polygons if I’m not mistaken. Wolfenstein just had flat levels you viewed in first person, Doom added differences in elevation, but nothing could be above or below anything else. That difference is apparent when you look at classic Doom maps in 2016 DOOM. One of the first things I noticed upon starting up Quake was the ability to look up and down by default, just a greater use of vertical space overall.
Otherwise though it’s kind of… Doom. Maybe there’s a well-known reason from back in the day why Quake wasn’t just called “Doom III,” but it’s the same basic principles: killing monsters in fast-paced action with well-balanced weapons, well-balanced enemies, and good level design to explore. I imagine at the time Quake was seen as the logical evolution of Doom. 2016 DOOM is probably just as much a Quake campaign as it is a Doom campaign. I do want to bring up what I thought were some interesting design decisions in Quake though.
The game’s opening moments struck me with how organic and considerate the tutorial was. I feel like a lot of early 3D games from the late 90’s did things with tutorials games don’t commonly do today. Mario 64 let you run around a field in front of the castle to acquaint yourself with the controls and Mario’s abilities without being forcefully pushed through a plodding tutorial. The first real level offered more tips as players came across them. Quake isn’t too dissimilar. It has difficulty modes represented as physical paths in the world, the first level is specifically designed to demonstrate how everything works in a very non-intrusive way. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were many articles throughout the years analyzing the first level of Quake and how it subtly teaches players.
The other major thing I’d like to point out is Quake’s weapon selection. It doesn’t even bother with a pistol. You have an axe if you’re completely out of bullets, but the game immediately accepts that your shotgun is the default. Even new DOOM makes you putz around with a pistol for a bit. There’s a neat kind of efficiency in how Quake slices down the weapon selection even compared to the earlier Doom games. There is a small enough number of weapons that it doesn’t take much to figure out what each one’s job is. Though, I’m still a bit confused about this game’s obsession with nails over bullets.
The only thing Quake isn’t that great at is boss fights. The last level was pretty confusing. Afterwards though, I’ve kept the game installed. I played through that extra chapter MachineGames released for the anniversary, and I have some interest in fan maps like Arcane Dimensions. Quake just seems like a really great foundation of building blocks for fun shooters.