The Importance and Future of Quake

written by JMatula on July 31, 2012 in Special Feature

The annual QuakeCon, a celebration of deathmatches, serious FPS gaming and all things Quake happens this week. What better time than now to reflect on the series, it’s beginnings and what our hopes for the future of the series are? Find out why the original Quake is the most important game in the series and should be relieved of its orphan status.

While the human race’s fight against the insidious cyber-alien race of Stroggs in Quake 2, Quake 4 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is the most recognizable struggle of the series, this is a dimension apart from where the Quake concept started back in the mid 90s. Coming off the heels of the future militaristic mix with hellspawn that was Doom, id Software co-founder and programmer John Carmack wanted to design a game that was much darker and fantasy based. He looked to the writings of horror greats like H.P. Lovecraft and his gallery of foul creatures for inspiration.  While not ending up in the game, he even envisioned RPG elements mixed into the traditional shoot ‘em up FPS gameplay. In short, it was to be something much more steeped in survival horror and otherworldly in nature.

Other id heavyweights like American McGee wanted another futuristic shooter in the vein of Doom and in the end they had to compromise. What emerged was a strange mish-mash of dark stone castles filled with grotesque creatures like the Dimensional Shambler and dilapidated yet highly advanced military bases, populated with solider grunts. The disparity was written off as consequences of each mission being different dimensions and travel through dimensional portals. The final boss was called Shub-Niggurath, a tentacle mass of horror based on a Lovecraft elder god of the same name. It was a strange and terrifying experience for anyone the first time.

The game was a runaway success, jumpstarting the FPS as the premier genre and a gaming sensation. Here are just a few of the ways the original Quake is important and every FPS after it is in its debt:

  • It was the first truly 3D FPS, with polygonal models instead of sprites and real 3D level design instead of the industry standard of 2.5D maps.
  • Quake basically invented game modding. The game’s community was rabid and loving, creating tons of new maps, skins and even total conversions that included X-Men! That community even exists today. Even Team Fortress started off as a Quake conversion.
  • Deathmatch standards come from Quake. It was the first to feature deathmatches with in-game joining and AI-controlled bots. According to some, it was even one of the first games to considered an “electronic sport.”
  • Proved “expansions” as profitable, worthwhile. Referred to as DLC or Add-On content in modern times, this was the first game to turn hefty profits on something that was basically using pre-existing assets and just making more of it. Scourge of Armagon and Dissolution of Eternity were all-out events for the FPS community. Imagine, without this it would have taken a lot longer for your zombie mode in Call of Duty or Gods and Kings for Civilization V.
  • Unparalleled sound design. Sure having bands do a song or score for a game may be unsurprising and the norm now, but having Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor  (at the height of his popularity) do the soundtrack and sound design for a computer game was a mind-blowing first. The audio was even included on the game disc and playable on most CD players. The soundtrack still holds up today as stunningly dark and atmospheric soundscapes of dread (it’s even on my iPod as we speak). He was even honored for his work by the design of the nail gun ammo.
  • Rocket jumping. This is where the bizarre and insanely awesome game mechanic was gained popularity (yes it was in an obscure, brief part of Doom 2). It featured prominently in Quake III Arena and Quake Live. I’ll let a video speak for itself:

And yet, the world of this revolutionary game has been abandoned by id Software over the years, making it the orphan of the series in a Strogg-filled line of games. Despite this, the community for this game is still passionate about this unique title from so many years ago. There was even a glimmer of hope when creator John Carmack made a comment in an interview that id was considering a return to the first game, saying, “We are at least tossing around the possibilities of going back to the bizarre, mixed up Cthulhu-ish Quake 1 world and rebooting that direction.”

Here’s a few reasons why this is the best thing id could do for the series:

  • The “futuristic FPS” market is saturated. Since Quake 2’s Strogg, too many future shooters have been born to even count: Dead Space, Halo, Half-Life and plenty of others. It’s time to move away from that and towards something that not even the survival horror genre is doing right these days.
  • Technology and the FPS genre have come a long way. Games like Bioshock have proved that adding RPG elements to a FPS makes for a successful game. There’s now a precedent for what Carmack wanted to do all along. Plus, imagine the level of depth that could now happen in this world: use slipgates to create more advanced, hub-based gameplay or search for items in far flung corners that when combined are able to sway enemies to your side or create dimensional rifts to swallow up beasties. On top of that, imagine the original game and all of the above in stunning HD graphics.
  • The game still has a devoted following. Don’t believe people are clamoring for a new version of this game? Take a look at all the mods STILL being made out there, trying to add new textures, skins and maps to remake or spruce up the original’s dated graphics. Skimming the surface, there’s this one, Quake Reforged and a whole section of this forum dedicated to Quake Mods and updates that are currently up and running with an active community of developers and fans. Bonus: Did anybody catch the Quake 1 Easter Egg in Rage?

Let’s just hope bringing it back wouldn’t turn out like this:

To experience the game on a PC it ’s only $10 and a short trip to Steam. For Mac users, it’s a little harder. You might have to rely on eBay to find a copy of the game or obtain it by some other less savory means. And no worries about the OS 9 designed game, there are devoted fans out there that have created programs like GLQuake and Quake X to run the game in OS X. Whatever you have to do, do it now so you can experience a historic game of the FPS genre and what is still one of the most enjoyable FPS games to date.

Do you think Quake 1 should be remade or its world explored in future Quake games? Just want to show some love for an underappreciated gem? Let ‘s hear it in the comments!