Quake On Oculus Rift Is Magnificent

Resolution. Anti-aliasing. Crisp text. “Image quality.” The bugbears of virtual reality in 2016.

All of this matters not in Quake. Perfect square pixels, no shading or soft shadows. Almost wordless. It is ideally-suited to VR, in theory. In practice? Best VR time ever, so far.

One proviso, which I’ll get out the way up front: I am experiencing no small amount of motion sickness in almost everything I play on my recently-arrived Oculus Rift. Case in point: even though Quake on the Rift made me giddy with happiness, it also made me giddy with nausea. More so than most other stuff, because it’s so bloody, beautifully fast. I should note that motion sickness has not been the case for anything I’ve played on the Vive, which I’ve had for a couple of months now, and I cannot for the life of me ascertain what the difference is, given they share the same resolution and refresh rate. Annoying and confusing, but until I track down an exact cause and possible solution, I guess I’ll be spending more time with the Vive. Which means not much more Quake VR just yet.


Quake VR
is a modification of Quakespasm, an OpenGL (i.e. fully 3D-accelerated) variant of the original game which adds basic, careful extra prettiness without deducting any authentic Quakiness. It looks like Quake as you remember it, basically, i.e. awesome. Doubly so in the humongo-world of VR. It’s a fairly basic port, but it works well – even down to the UI (health, ammo etc) hovering on the gun, so you can gaze down at it rather than have it perpetually stamped on the bottom of the screen. The weapon position being attached to wherever your head turns feels pretty damn off, but you can change that in settings, so the gun stays still and you can look around independently.

Mostly, though, it’s Quake In The Flesh. Enemies are man-sized (or more). The fortress/spaceship mash-up design feels solidly there. Running right up close to a foe is genuinely frightening, those ancient textures somehow making them more monstrous than pin-sharp modernity might. I think that’s why I’ve been so amazed by Quake in VR: I accept, right out the gates, that there’s no way it can look like real life, and that means I embrace it entirely as an alternate reality rather than worry that this or that doesn’t look photoreal enough. Also, it’s a chance to revisit images burned into my memory in a whole new way.

Living inside Quake, it becomes a sightseeing game as well as an action game, but of course, being Quake, you get little let up. I find myself gritting my teeth in this as I did 20 years ago, because the enemies feel so there. God, a dog lunging towards me is perfectly horrific. Quake! It’s dark and forlorn and otherwordly and, yes, scary.

I admit, it’s basically what we thought VR was going to be in 1996, and it’s a crying shame that it’s taken us 20 years to get there. Naturally, old Quake doesn’t give my GPU too much of a fright even in VR, so it benefits from an “it just works” element that some actual 2016 vr fare doesn’t. The key is stylisation, though; not necessarily deliberate at the time, but like its predecessor Doom, Quake’s look has become distinctively its own, iconic and striking rather than simply aged.

Sigh. I am trying to describe the indescribable. I’ve had a rocky relationship with VR in recent months – reaching a zenith of excitement just before my Vive arrived then collapsing into a deep disappointment when I could find very little (Tiltbrush aside) software to hold my attention for long, and at how much image quality compromise there had been in order to keep things playable on current-gen PCs. The Rift has reinvigorated me to some extent, because it means I don’t hang any hats on the room-scale side of things, and also because there’s a little more in the way of modification of non-VR software for it, partly due to the run up the two devkits and a couple of years of development offered it.

American Truck Simulator, for instance, has easy Rift support but, last time I tried at least, the Vive version wasn’t anything like so happy. Clearly though, the Vive will end up with plenty more stuff in time, and the Revive project is also helping to get Oculus-specific stuff working on the HTC headset. Ultimately it won’t matter which headset you’ve got.

In any case: Quake in VR, as ancient as it is, makes me feel excited about the technology again. Fast, first-person action games with full controls do work, presuming you’re familiar enough with your mouse and keyboard to effectively use them blind, and maybe some more developers will embrace that instead of overly worrying about simpler controls. That’d be good. That’d be great.

Quake VR – or Quakespasm Rift to give it its proper name – is a free download, but you will need the .PAK files from a full copy of Quake if you want to play anything other than the shareware chapter. You can grab that from Steam for the price of a beer, though.

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27 Comments

  1. FLoJ says:

    Q: Did you try strafe jumping at all? And how sick would this make you? Genuinely curious how your brain would cope to that kind of movement :)

  2. Hideous says:

    Re: Vive vs Rift nausea – Are you playing the same games? Spec-wise they’re more or less the same thing, in any way that’s meaningful for nausea, but most of the Vive games don’t have you moving in a way where you’re not doing it yourself, with your actual head. The more seated experiences on the Rift oftren have other, more slidey locomotion solutions so that might be what causes your nausea, rather than the headsets themselves. Quake’s locomotion would definitely make it harder to keep my lunch down.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Translating head movement to in-game camera movement is nontrivial, and I expect the latency of the two devices differs by a fraction of a millisecond or so. They may also be using completely different algorithms to help smooth that motion.

      Even if the hardware were identical, how you use it really matters.

      • k.t says:

        Tracking latency is 8-9ms lower on the Rift due to the post-render reprojection. They also do it asynchronously, assuming you meet the minimum recommended specs, so even dropped frames are properly tracked.

        Latency with the Vive is still just about low enough to avoid problems. As long as 90fps is maintained, nausea is almost always down to the software. Quite why Alec is subjecting himself to all the vomity content I don’t know.

  3. ChrisGWaine says:

    “I cannot for the life of me ascertain what the difference is”

    I feel like you would have thought of this if it were the case, but is it not that games designed for Vive’s room scale let you mostly move by actually moving and by things like teleporting?

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      particlese says:

      The Rift allows a fair amount of walking around, too. Even just standing around, though, the Rift makes me feel slightly funky, whereas I’ve no problem into the Vive. Trying to keep my head as still as possible, I noticed the view moves quite a bit, no matter where I have it in relation to the camera, so I suspect it’s the error or the interpolation of movement that’s the problem. And this is despite the relatively hitch-free experience I’ve had with the Rift.

      Hopefully when the Touch controllers come out and there’s a second camera confirming positions of the tracking points, it’ll improve.

  4. lupinewolf says:

    I’ve only tried the Vive, but my experience with nausea has been this:

    If my movements in real life correspond with my movements in the game, like in every “proper” Vive-only game, there’s never any dizziness, not even after long sessions.

    But if I have to move ingame with a gamepad, or I’m stuck in a virtual camera that moves for me, I instantly get hot and bothered, leading to dizziness and later “can’t handle this shit”.

    I’m curious because Oculus users use a pad all the time and they don’t seem to suffer from this. I’m wondering if I’m “spoiled” by the Vive, and now my brain can’t handle movement that is not triggered by my own body.

  5. King_Rocket says:

    Quake and Quake 2 were the queasiest I ever felt playing VR games.

    I think there must be something inherent in the engine, Doom doesn’t trigger it at all.

  6. Kefren says:

    All along I’ve had no real interest in new VR games – I jsut want to play my favourites in VR. Amnesia, Soma, Penumbra, Deus Ex, Thief, Quake, Gone Home, System Shock 1 and 2. I have a long list of games I already own – I just want to experience being in those worlds. I have no real interest in “room scale” except as gimick to try, no interest in buying a new PC. Can’t wait for an affordable sit-down simple headset with minimal extra bumph, so I can be mouse-and-keyboard happy.

  7. SomeDuder says:

    I admit, it’s basically what we thought VR was going to be in 1996, and it’s a crying shame that it’s taken us 20 years to get there. Naturally, old Quake doesn’t give my GPU too much of a fright even in VR, so it benefits from an “it just works” element that some actual 2016 vr fare doesn’t.

    Sounds like there’s got to be a different way these VR-games are made. Unless processing power increases (Of course it does) and games take a step back in terms of visual splendour (Ehhh…) the VR-stuff will always be playing catch-up and games won’t be compatible with both VR- and non-VR-users.

  8. vrekman64 says:

    hi guys,
    I am one of the poor fellows that bought a passive 3d monitor. Also I have quake 1 and the 2 expansions.
    Is there a way to play this in 3d using tridef, or is there some engine that supports native line interleave passive 3d?
    Thanks.

    • Razumen says:

      If you have an Nvidia card, there’s 3DTVPlay, it supports a lot of games, and for those it doesn’t natively, there’s workarounds.

      Not sure about AMD cards.

      Personally I really like the 3D effect for games, though support isn’t great and the glasses are a bummer.

      • vrekman64 says:

        Finally found a way!
        Ok, it’s not VR, but it is quite “lifelike”. There is this strange feeling you are there, especially when approaching corners and ambush enemies. The winning combination is: the DirectQ port from 2011, Tridef software bundled with the monitor, and most important of all, forced vsync from the Catalyst control center. I’m really happy. On to

        • Razumen says:

          Which version are you using? I’m using side by side mode in Tridef but there’s a weird border on the side of the screen that pops in and out disabling 3D when it does so.

          • vrekman64 says:

            I had the same problem in the beginning. I forced Vsync in CCC (I have an hd5850). This corrected the problem. When the game exeeds 60fps this problem occurs. TriDef 6.5 / TriDef Ingnition 3.8.8

          • Razumen says:

            Hey thanks for the help, I actually found that the real culprit was actually particles: every time they were on the screen it would disable the 3D. Disabling them in the console “fixed” the problem, though it’s not ideal. I didn’t check my versions though, and I’m only running the trial version of Tridef so maybe that’s why.

            Unfortunately I’ll be moving soon and packing away my TV behind so I don’t think I’ll be renewing it once the trial runs out or tinkering with 3D for a while. :(

  9. SIDD says:

    Quake has always been one of the go-to games when it came to Virtual Reality – even back from the days when Virtual Caves were all the rage (for universities with extra money to spend): link to visbox.com

  10. waltC says:

    Yes, VR is suited to 1996 and thereabouts, when it was a novel idea…long before the LCD screen meant that 20″ monitors didn’t have to be huge and weigh 75 lbs, etc., and the advent of 4k-5k gaming on affordable 27″-30″ screens, and the advent of $200 GPUs that could push 4k screens fast enough to game. Because it is so late and the concept so old it’s creaking, I don’t give it much of a chance of ever becoming mainstream–for many reasons. 4k gaming, though–oh, yeah, that’s going mainstream as fast as the tech and the economies of scale can take it there.

    • zbeeblebrox says:

      A concept being old doesn’t really have an affect on its success. There are all sorts of extremely old ideas that were too ahead of their time and had to wait decades for technology or engineering to catch up. When they did, they were embraced just as well as they would’ve been if the idea was thought up that day. VR is no different. It also operates on economies of scale, and it’s pretty clear the second or third generation is going to let in lower end users as parts get cheaper, business applications start getting made, consoles start bundling the hardware, etc.

    • Razumen says:

      Stay on your porch old man, the rest of us will actually be having fun and experiencing new things.

    • Bum Candy says:

      You’re completely wrong. You’re basically comparing looking at a picture of the ocean, to being in the ocean swimming. VR is a totally immersive experience when it’s done right in a way a monitor could never ever convey.

  11. LukeW says:

    Haven’t tried Quake in VR, but I’ve played The Lost Coast (that HL2 mod/demo thing), and it was the best experience I’ve had. Better than modern games that in theory should look 100 times better. Not sure why, but with a headset on, texture quality doesn’t seem to matter so much (at least to me it doesn’t).

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      yhancik says:

      I had the opposite experience, it felt very strange to move the camera/gun with both my head and mouse.

  12. Phasma Felis says:

    It’s interesting to me that Quake is basically the progenitor of Real Is Brown, but it was a technical choice, not a stylistic one.

    Quake has soft shadows–the first game ever to do so, as far as I know–which means each color used has to be available in a bunch of different brightness levels. But most computers at the time still had only 256-color video output. And they wanted reasonably detailed skins, which means they couldn’t use a bright, contrasty C64-type palette as the base–that ogre up there would be flat brown with flat black and red details, like an 8-bit sprite made 3D.

    Thus, the original Quake palette.

  13. onodera says:

    How does mlook work in VR? Do you still turn and aim with a mouse?