Old News: Strafe-Jumping’s Near Death In Quake 3

No, run then jump and hol- no, look, you're just standing there.

I learned to strafe-jump the hard way back when games were games, my keyboard made of broken glass, and my mouse an actual mouse biting my fingers as I clicked. I still welcome Quake Live adding an automated slower substitute. Everyone should get the experience the joys of zipping around like a rubber ball. Though exploiting wacky movement physics bugs is central to Quake in my heart, some have been less keen on it.

Even John Carmack, the chap who inadvertently created all those glitches, once tried removing strafe-jumping from Quake 3. “I hate having players bouncing around all the time,” he said.

Strafe-jumping, if you don’t remember the minutiae of id Software engines from the mid-to-late ’90s for one of many acceptable reasons, is a movement physics exploit which lets players bounce around maps at superspeed by carefully jumping while strafing (watch a tutorial, or read the mathematical explanation). It looks daft and sounds it too, with all that grunting. It also helps add a whole extra dimension of skill for players to master. Combine it with other tricks and quirks and you could move around like this:

Carmack was not a fan. On June 3, 1999, working on Quake 3 before release, he announced in his .plan file (a dev blog sorta thing) that he’d blocked strafe-jumping by forcing a quarter-second delay between jumps. Thankfully, his ‘fix’ turned out to have knock-on effects he disliked so he undid the change a few hours later. He added that the Internet “convinced me that a single immediate jump after landing may be important to gameplay”, but still didn’t like it:

Strafe jumping is an exploitable bug. Just because people have practiced hard to allow themselves to take advantage of it does not justify its existence. When I tried fixing the code so that it just didn’t work, I thought it changed the normal running movement in an unfortunate way.

In the absence of powerups or level features (wind tunnels, jump pads, etc), the game characters are supposed to be badasses with big guns. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sigourney Weaver don’t get down a hallway by hopping like a bunny rabbit.

This is personal preference, but when I play online, I enjoy it more when people are running around dodging, rather than hopping.

My personal preference just counts a lot. :-)

I’m always fascinated when developers note people are ‘playing their game wrong’ then try to fix it, and interested in the grey area between ‘exploit’ and ‘feature’. Who decides–devs, players, the system, or some silent negotiation between them all? These weird movement bugs were a big part of what made Quake games Quake to many, especially in the burgeoning digital sports scene.

(Aside: if you want to get technical, each Quake has different movement, though with similar and often-related speedy physics exploits. Quake 2 had my favourite wonky physics; slope-sliding, ladder-jumping, double-jumping, and the rest are seared into my muscle memory.)

Valve have tried to stop similar ‘bunnyhopping’ across the Counter-Strike series, which of course traces its lineage to Quake 1. (CS’s stunning ‘surfing’ uses physics wonkiness beautifully, though it relies on tweaked server settings.) The Tribes series, in contrast, embraced its ‘skiing’. This physics exploit lets players boost their speed by gliding down terrain (see in this random old match), and became an official documented and supported feature from Tribes 2 onwards. Free arena FPS Warsow, which is based on the Quake 2 engine, also has an autojump like Quake Live’s.

What Quake Live has added isn’t automated strafe-jumping, to be clear. It’s a far simpler thing. Holding forward and jump will let players bounce forward in a line faster than running but slower than strafe-jumping. They’ll still need to learn that if they want to dance delicately around levels.

I don’t know whether Quake Live’s newbie-friendly overhaul and Steam launch will bring the new players it wants, but if it does we’ll certainly see them “bouncing around all the time.”

24 Comments

  1. Spacewalk says:

    Not any more daft than humping walls in Wolfenstein to trawl for secrets and sliding along walls in Doom to get a turbo boost.

  2. satan says:

    Bhop changed everything in TFC, it also sort of made the skill ceiling so high that the game struggled to attract/retain new players. Still, nothing beat that feeling of flying.

    • kwyjibo says:

      It was the skill floor that bunny hopping raised. Yeah, it completely ruined the game, entire classes were rendered useless.

      link to gamesetwatch.com

    • derbefrier says:

      yup I used to play TFC competitively and as soon as bunny hopping started and was embraced by the community I quit. To me it was a glitch that should have been fixed plain and simple then they went and added teleporters and just fucked the whole thing up.

    • Tekrunner says:

      I’m sad that TFC isn’t mentioned in the main article, because BH played a much bigger role in it than it did in Counterstrike. BH was killed pretty quickly in CS, which made sense as the game was one of the first realistic multiplayer military sims, and BH really didn’t fit into that. It did fit into TFC’s arcade style, but while sort of fun the insane speeds you could reach when combined with rocket / grenade / conc jumps were just too much. They didn’t affect casual play that much, because people didn’t really care that much about actually doing objectives on public servers, and you couldn’t really aim with any sort of accuracy at that speed. Competitive matches were a different story however: defending a flag is a very difficult task when attackers can cross the entire map in about 10 seconds…

      Valve didn’t kill BH entirely in TFC though. They merely limited it by making it so that if your movement speed exceeded 170% of the class’s base speed, you’d be slowed back down quite severely the next time you touched the ground. In effect they rebalanced the game while trying not to kill emergent gameplay. Competitive players adapted by using mods that added a speedometer on their HUD, so that they would always try to stay as close to the limit as possible, without going over it. It also increased the importance of sliding, another movement technique that could be used in some situations to keep your momentum when you should normally have lost it.

      For a while it was also still possible for servers to run a version of TFC from before the BH nerf (I believe the last one was 1.1.0.6). But the legacy authentication system (WON) was replaced by steam, and servers were forced to run more recent versions of the game (it is kind of strange nowadays to think that steam used to be universally hated, with its restrictions on versions and terrible, terrible download speeds).

      I would also argue that BH did not kill TFC. In fact, TFC’s competitive scene remained very much alive for several years, which is more than most recent multiplayer shooters can claim. By active I mean that several ladders (both national and international) existed, and clan friendlies / pugs were common. I believe I stopped in the second half of 2004 myself, after playing the game almost exclusively for 4 or 5 years. The number of players who actually mastered BH was low enough that you were unlikely to meet more than one or two at any given time on public servers, so it didn’t really affect the game’s accessibility to casuals. It did cause some competitive players to quit, but the number of people who did was nowhere near enough to kill that community. The most prestigious TFC competition in this part of the world, the ECTFC (European Championship of TFC) ran once or twice a year until 2004, BH or no BH.

      Well damn, there’s still one active TFC league. Some people are quite persistent.

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        Aerothorn says:

        Thanks for writing this! Always appreciate these in-depth looks at game history.

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    Mungrul says:

    Love me some Tribulation :D
    I’d spend hours downloading trick-jumping vids back in the dial-up days before ADSL and YouTube, and was amazed at some of the things people achieved.
    That trick-jumping spawned a self-contained mod where maps were designed purely for trick-jumping and not combat (DeFrag), is truly a wonderful thing.
    I think I’ve waxed lyrical about Q3 and DeFrag here before, but here’s one of the best relatively recent things I’ve seen related to the scene:
    link to youtube.com

    Carmack has every right to be a grumpole about this, but this “Exploit” required definite skill to perform and broadened the options available to players. And technically, id didn’t plan for rocket-jumping in the original Quake, so that’s an “Exploit” too, but can you imagine playing a Quake game without it now?

    • zentropy says:

      I could not! Without the engine quirks I doubt Quake would have had the legacy that it’s obtained today.

  4. Michael Fogg says:

    The second time in two days I read ‘Strife’ in the headline (well, close enough this time) and my heart jumps a little as I think a remake is announced.

  5. Widthwood says:

    Perhaps it’s the misleading wording, but surfing in general, at least in CSS, doesn’t need any special server config. It’s the guy in the video that definitely didn’t use vanilla settings.

    Servers often use different settings to be more noob-friendly, or to use maps that rely on those, but it’s not strictly necessary.

  6. kyrieee says:

    Tribulation, that’s a nice pull :)

    Strafe jumping is probably my favourite game mechanic, even if it’s just a bug. It’s inherently fun, but it also gives an almost endless potential for improvement on the player’s part. I can’t think of any other mechanic that can go from feeling impossible to effortless over and over again. You can spend years doing it and still get better. Luckily we still have Defrag. My proudest moment :D

  7. Tei says:

    Another reason to bunny jump, is that is harder to shot to the floor under you. If you have bad aim, is hard to hit somebody “flyiing”. But you can always hit the ground under or near somebody running. Floor is this flat surface under out feet, is hard to miss.

    I learned this recently in Robocraft where hover plasma tanks are kinda a efficient force.

  8. ain says:

    Besides arbitrarily raising the skill ceiling (which isn’t always a good thing) what strafe jumping does for the game is adding a whole new layer of interaction. Strafe jumping makes you faster and potentially lets you grab upgrades before your opponent, but everytime you jump your character grunts or makes some other kind of loud noise. Using these cues a good player can tell exactly where you are on the map and cross-referencing this with item respawn times make an educated guess on where you will end up being.

    This is why when watching pro Quake players you can see them shoot rockets or grenades at certain doorways. Sometimes it’s simple area denial, but more often than not it’s because they heard their opponent speed towards a certain upgrade and anticipated his or her movement. The players must gauge whether stealth is more important than speed and this is what high level Quake is all about.

  9. DrollRemark says:

    God, strafe jump maps. 99% pure adulterated rage, 1% utter joy (mixed with plenty of relief).

  10. damaki says:

    In boards game we find the bug, then call the game broken and do not play it anymore until a fix comes on boardgamegeek. Once broken, board games get boring. In fighting games, we find the bug, then call it a godsend feature and either you get a new godtier (forbidden) character, or you just get some more cards in your sleeves for mindgames. In some rare cases, the bug get fixed and all the fun is removed. So in fighting games, it is amaaaaazzzzzing. Just have a look a the latest vids of xmania tournament europe, and you will get what I say.

    I’d say that since the bug is available to everybody, it does not matter at all… Just use the damn feature and profit. It does not make the game less fun in Quake 3 case.

    • Baines says:

      There are people who object to such things in fighting games. Others defend it by saying that if the game allows it then it is valid.

      Of course when such things get defended, you get the slippery decision of just what is allowed and what is banned, because even people who will defend a 100% combo started with a simple basic attack will object to items like Guile’s handcuffs or magic throw, even though both are allowed by their games.

      There were tournaments that tried to enforce limits on certain exploits. In a tournament setting, it becomes a matter of enforcement and fair punishment, though. If you ban infinite loops, allowing people two repetitions, then how do you mid-match (and after the fact) punish someone who intentionally or accidentally hits the first attack of a third rep? Automatic round loss? And what if the game carries some status over between rounds? And how will you judge the repetitions, have someone after the fact watch gameplay footage in slow motion marking the moves performed? It becomes far easier to just allow most everything, to ban entire characters if necessary, and to just drop a game from tournament consideration if it is too broken to take seriously. (These restricted moves solutions also didn’t address the lack of balance between different characters. A character with weak hits and a low damage loop would be hurt more than a character with high damage and long loops.)

      At the time, I’d also argued that the way certain parts of the community embraced such game breaking aspects would do long term damage to fighting games. It helped push the increasingly elitist “Get good or don’t play” attitude that eventually started to drive away new players. It helped push the mistaken belief that balance was a bad thing, something that would automatically make games boring. It helped prevent developers from caring as much about balance or general game design. It helped push the idea that artificial difficulty through mechanical skill and rote practice was a positive, which again slowly pushed some new players away from the fighting game genre and lead to some dangerous ideas in developers.

      Not that there was a particularly good solution on any front.

  11. GSGregory says:

    It is easy after they were so successful to talk about removing it but the funny thing is quake would never of been as popular without. The tribes series took the bug/physics exploit and made it the main feature of the future games. Gunz 2 when it released pretty much became a crap game due to trying to “fix” the bugs from the first game and turning away most of the old players.

    There are bugs that break things, bugs that give a good laugh, and bugs that made the game what it is.

    • JakobBloch says:

      I would argue that you can’t actually say whether a game would or would not have been as popular due to any given feature, bug or exploit. All we can say is that those things were a part of the game and that the game was successful.

      • zentropy says:

        True, it’s impossible to predict an alternate reality. But I personally agree with the statement; the movement system is the main reason Q3 is unsurpassed to this day. I couldn’t imagine a world without Quake’s lineage.

        However, I’d like to imagine a world in which arena shooters kept improving after ca. 1999 :/

  12. JakobBloch says:

    I am squarely in the camp that don’t like exploits in games as a baseline. Specifically I don’t like exploits that breaks the basic contrivance of the game. If you are playing a military shooter players should not be jumping around the map or quick-scoping. These are not things that fit the games internal logic.

    So how does this work with Quake. Well… Quake never had much of an internal logic and though the creator wanted people running around, the games levels even in the early years would encourage experimentation. The maps are playgrounds and arenas that don’t really lend themselves to space-marine grunt-jogging but more to wild abandon. Similarly Tribes was a game with great open spaces and jet-packs. Having the ability to control the thrust and thus “ski” around fits the mould. BH in CS however did not fit the mould.

  13. catscratch says:

    Street Fighter’s system of cancelling normal moves into special moves was a glitch too, and now it has become one of the fundamental mechanics of 2d fighting games.

    It’s called emergent gameplay – when an unintentional game mechanic pushes the meta into a new direction that wasn’t foreseen by the developers.

    How do you judge it? Well it’s pretty simple – does it add or detract from the game? Quake was never concerned with realism despite the (for its time) high fidelity graphics, and the fact that bunnyhopping isn’t realistic it doesn’t really stand out thematically. Gameplay-wise, it adds to the game tremendously; it’s hard to do but massively satisfying once you learn. You feel like you’re gliding through the air effortlessly, and these days all maps are designed around strafejumping in mind. You can’t control a map properly if you don’t strafejump since it will take you far too long to get between items, and the idea of taking it out of the game is like taking combos out of fighting games. It’s a fundamental mechanic and it’s what makes Quake Quake. It seems like Carmack didn’t realize what he had on his hands at the time.

    I can see people complaining about it in more realistic-themed games, it doesn’t really fit it. But then again, a shooter without a movement system is boring after you’ve played enough Quake. Even UT, with its simple dodging system, just doesn’t push the same buttons.

    <3 Defrag. I spent countless hours in that. But then I disappeared into the black hole that was OSP duel for a few years and that was that. These days I'm a CA scrub but the siren call of duel is always there.

    • zentropy says:

      <3 this post

    • Baines says:

      I want to recall that was at least partially debunked, that it was discovered during development and the developers simply decided to keep it as a feature.

  14. crbnz says:

    I love these semi-retrospective articles. Especially with Quake as I only started playing with Quake Live (but now thoroughly addicted).

    While I’m still learning to circle jump and strafe properly, the movement system is so smooth and responsive in a way that the dodge mechanics of the Unreal Tournaments I once played never felt.