Gaming Made Me: Quake

Come on in, children. You'll make friends.

This week, in our Gaming Made Me series, Lewis Denby explains to us how it was that Quake came to make him. In a very personal account, find out how violent videogaming took away a child’s loneliness, and even got him to go to school.

Somewhere in the dusty attic of my parents’ house, there will be a box. My parents rarely throw anything away: if there’s excess clutter, the situation is analysed, and the least useful items get taken up into the loft, where they might sit for years, if not decades. Inside the box, there’ll be all manner of child’s drawings. Drawings of cars and of planes, of rollercoasters and wild animals. There’ll be the first three pages of a book called ‘The Mystery of the Lost Pin’, scrawled in a young child’s handwriting and discarded by his attention span. And there’ll be an exercise book, filled from cover to cover with level designs, monster sketches and weapon ideas. They’ll have been there since 1996, when I was eight, and they’ll all have been influenced by a single game: id Software’s seminal 3D shooter, Quake.

Quake wasn’t the first game I ever played, nor is it anywhere close to being my favourite any more. But it was the first game to capture my imagination so absolutely. I was far, far too young to be playing it, probably. I remember my mum being somewhat displeased with my dad’s decision to introduce me to it. He did, though, and the results were – I’m sure – not what either of them had expected.

I feel I should put the whole situation into a bit of context. I was an eight-year-old nerd with glasses on my face and a brace on my teeth. I was having a hard time at school. I had a few acquaintances, who were nice enough to me. I also had a group of “closer friends”, who were not. And I had a teacher so monumentally horrible, so abusive of her power over these tiny tots, that I considered her to be the biggest bully of the lot.

The result was that every morning, at around half past eight, I’d suddenly begin to feel spectacularly ill and inform my parents that I absolutely must stay at home that day. This began to happen so frequently that they were forced, on more than one occasion, to pretty much literally drag me to the door of my classroom. Things were not happy.

At that time, we’d just got our first family computer – no internet connection yet – and with it my dad had been given a copy of Quake. It had a big, fat 15 certificate on the front of the box. To begin with it was a forbidden pleasure, reserved only for the grown-ups. My dad would sneak away for an hour or so every now and then, and we’d hear muffled cursing, or the sound of a grown man jumping a foot into the air at the shock of – say – the walls dropping in Episode 1, Mission 5, revealing a Shambler, all white flesh and lightning, ready to rip his digital nose off.

I began to show an interest. And my dad began to hatch a plan.

A deal was struck. Every morning, I would get up at half past seven, as was normal. But instead of watching television, I would be allowed half an hour on Quake. This was on the agreement that, when it was time to go to school, I would do so with no fuss. I would not pretend to be ill, and I would not throw a tantrum. If there were problems at school, I would calmly tell a member of staff, and tell my parents when I got home, and they would sort it out for me.

And so, with my dad monitoring, presumably at the request of my mum, I began to play Quake. By the end of the first of four episodes, I was absolutely captivated. I had discovered 3D action gaming, and it was wonderful.

Quake is underrated. Doom gets all the plaudits for being the innovator, even though it wasn’t really, and Quake III is the title that most would point to as the pinnacle of the series, even though the first three Quake games were so different from one another that they defy reasonable comparison. When Quake gets mentioned, most people recall one of two things: that it was brown, or that it had decent multiplayer.

I wasn’t aware at the time of just how important Quake’s multiplayer was. Introducing mouselook, which very few games had implemented before, it allowed deathmatch battles to be fought at a frightening pace and with perfected accuracy. Quake also introduced the concept of the rocket jump, for which it must be commended until the end of time.

But, like I said, we didn’t have the internet. We didn’t have more than one computer to network, either. Multiplayer was a secret thing, an extra option on the menu that could never be touched. My experience of Quake at the time was single-player only. And while criticisms of the solo campaign’s dreary colour palette are kind of understandable, they tend to gloss over one absolutely crucial aspect of Quake’s design: it might have been dominated by one colour, but the variety was simply tremendous.

From gloomy, gothic castles to high-tech teleportation complexes, as you battled countless different foes with increasingly ludicrous weapons, Quake absolutely revelled in its refusal to stay still. Its creativity, even within the limited technical resources of the time, is extraordinary. Do you remember Wind Tunnels? The level that was split into several different areas, only accessible by allowing yourself to be sucked up by enormous vaccuum tubes? Or how about Ziggurat Vertigo, the secret level accessible from one of the game’s early areas? In that, gravity was markedly lowered, meaning you could leap around the map at will, carefully looping rockets over to the Ogre on the distant ledge.

It was this level of imagination that astounded me, and got my own creative juices flowing. Before then, my experience of games had been rubbish movie tie-in platformers on whatever the console de jour was at the time. But Quake was the real deal. You could do this stuff in computer games? Until then, I’d had no idea.

It took me several months of those half-hour sessions to complete Quake. During that time, the vague acquaintances became friends as we bonded over a new shared interest. I always assumed my dad had asked their parents’ permission before letting them play a violent videogame with me, but maybe not. Hopefully we didn’t ruin any children’s minds.

I’m reasonably sure we didn’t, though, and somewhere in that dusty attic is the evidence: sketches, idea sheets and design documents for entirely new games based on Quake’s ideas, scrawled down by a group of new-found friends, with a new-found creative hobby, in awe of the new-found imagination of computer games.

124 Comments

  1. idenby says:

    Hilarious.

    I feel both proud and guilty !

  2. Mr_Hands says:

    Excellent article.

    Similar boat, actually. Jerks and bullies in middle school and somehow speedrunning through Quake Episode 1 every morning before school kept me on an even keel. I still feel a shiver of nostalgiphilia when I hear that “Hurk” sound the marine makes when he jumps. I’m pretty sure I have scenes from Ziggurat Vertigo tattooed inside my brain.

    • Mr_Hands says:

      Oh christ. The fucking mods. The grappling hook. More games need grappling hooks! Cujo! That Downward Spiral map PC Gamer had on one of their discs. (Y’know the one with the waterfall and whirlpool)

      Bloof. I miss Quake.

  3. MrThingy says:

    I remember when id Software released the multiplayer test for Quake, someone found the original Ogre models in the code and in next to no time there was a hack that added them in.

    The sound effect for the Ogres was this wierd kind of “hwooaaaaa”.

    Slightly OT: About the same time (or a bit before) there was another game that looked a bit like Quake but never made it to release. By the FastTracker II guys, it was called “Into the Shadows”, I think.

    • MrThingy says:

      This was it (Into the Shadows):
      link to youtube.com

      Possibly interesting as a “might’ve been” in the history of 3D fps gaming…

    • po says:

      Also OT, Unreal Tournament (99) used the FastTracker II .xm file format for it’s music files.

      I grew up being deeply into the demoscene/tracker scene, which influenced my taste in music, and contributed significantly to my taking up VJing (it’s an excellent excuse to spend a fortune on gaming hardware, although I do still have a PC running DOS so I can mix in 486 and Pentium era PC demos).

      On top of that, most of the games I played I’d also have a go at modding, even if it was just throwing together some basic maps, or making the nailgun fire rockets and making health and armor a lot stronger.

      It’s really saddening to know that the kids today aren’t going to see the same kind of thing in a world of CoDs and consoles, because they’re shut out of so much of what used to make computers great.

  4. Nimic says:

    My first thought when I saw he was 8 in 1996 was “wow, he’s young!”.

    He’s a year younger than me.

    • Shagittarius says:

      In 1996 I had been living on my own after moving to California for less than a year and had just hit that magical age of 21. I was working for a Video game company working on a Robotech game but that company was doomed and didn’t survive. However I went on in the industry for many years after that before finally deciding I could make money and play games in my spare time.

  5. Grey_Ghost says:

    I believe Quake was the first game that really cemented my exodus from DOS to Windows95. Bought my First 3D accelerated card to play Quake. Some crazy brand that no longer exists (wasn’t 3dfx). Quake looked absolutely fantastic on that card, the glide version looked like crap compared to it.

    I really miss those 2-ish Quake years of my life.

  6. SRSavior says:

    I remember having to play Quake, when I first got it, on my 66 mhz computer (it normally ran at 33, you pressed a “turbo” button to run at 66), in the smallest window size, with those ugly brown borders around the screen, just to be able to play it smoothly.

    I loved that game. I totally relate to your memories of being inspired by games like Quake.

  7. Om says:

    Well struck Lewis. You should write more for RPS

    As for Quake, I missed this iteration. I was an early fan of Wolfenstein (which I started to play around a similar age) and Doom but my PC couldn’t keep up with the technology. My dad bought a computer approximately two hours before the graphics card revolution kicked off and so I was condemned to a few barren years of increasingly archaic looking games. By the time I tuned in again it was Q2 v Half-Life and Q3 v UT. On the plus side, a forced dependence on 2D graphics did instil a lifelong, to date, love of strategy games

  8. Azazel says:

    BSP. Beyond Belief. DM4 1on1. DM2 4on4. CTF on the old global.net netquake server back in 1998. Waiting every evening for 6pm to come and still running up ludicrous phone bills.

    Most important game for me personally.

  9. Shagittarius says:

    At age 8 I believe I had a TRS-80 CoCo.

    My parents had Pong since I was born and I remember my Dad holding me up while I played Space Invaders for the first time in a convenience store sometime around 1978.

    I’ve been a gamer my whole life and like to think thats why I showed up on this earth when I did. I’m 36 now, all you newbies need to play some classics and get some perspective.

  10. 22tma says:

    I just wanted to correct a couple of things in this article. Quake did not introduce mouselook or rocket jumping to gaming. Rocket jumping (vertically) was introduced by Bungie in Marathon, 2 years earlier than Quake. Mouselook was available in Marathon II: Durandal (at least) and maybe Marathon itself too.

    • Anyxxi says:

      I was thinking Descent for the mouse-look and I checked wiki out of curiosity. Descent came out in early ’95 (March 17, 1995) and Marathon II was late ’95 (November 24, 1995) .. but that’s splitting hairs mighty fine.

      :D

      I think the first Marathon was like DOOM — even if you used the mouse to aim, there was no need to aim up or down, if a bad guy was above or below you, you automatically shot at the target if the horizontal aiming was correct.

  11. Anyxxi says:

    It’s moderately interesting to read how something like this can have such a massive effect upon one person and for me, I was 20 and I couldn’t even really tell you what I was playing. I know I played Quake, but it was just another title mixed in with the rest of them.

  12. bill says:

    The level design in Quake was some of the best ever. And though i’m a gamer who loves stories, i think the singleplayer is hugely under-rated. It’s variation, complexity of levels, atmosphere, etc.. were all amazing.

    It was a game where the levels weren’t PLACES, they were game levels – and almost everyone was thought out in great detail to provide a great game. Of course, level design back then was a lot better than now – as it was level design rather than story design.

    The mods for quake were also amazing – quake football , quake rally, quake airplanes, Magic vs Tech(?), submarines, hoverboards, parachutes, it was unprecedented – you could spend all your free time just trying new mods and levels.

    The multiplayer was probably the most historically significant bit – but the singleplayer was the best bit by far..

  13. Premium User Badge

    Phasma Felis says:

    Quake’s unrelenting brownness at least had the excuse of technical limitations, unlike modern games that do it on purpose. It turns out that if you want to make a game with fine-grade dynamic lighting that can still run in 256-color mode, you have to settle for a pretty limited palette.

    Doom (only a few different light levels) was pretty colorful, and Quake II (high color depth) was shiny like a candy store, so clearly id doesn’t mind color.

  14. Azazel says:

    Oh yeah – speed runs and trick maps. Hours and hours spent bouncing insanely round speed maps…

  15. AdamT says:

    WTF!? There are people who don’t know that Quake is the freaking core of modern gaming? Do you remember the advertisements that came with Commander Keen for the game Quake? I understood it to be some sort of RPG where you are a ‘quake’, some sort of super-powered ass kicker… but it never came out…

    I remember playing quake and thinking “it doesn’t need to get any better than this. new stuff will come out, but it will all be window dressing after this.” Hero-Quake was a favorite of mine.