Updated: Feb 24, 2021
In the last article, we took a deep dive into Epic’s Unreal Tournament 1999, the first-ever dedicated arena shooter. In this, we will look at its opposite number from i.d. software - Quake III Arena. Let’s dive in.
The rivalry between the Unreal and Quake franchises started with Unreal ’98 and Quake II. Unreal ’98 was regarded by many as having the superior single-player campaign, but many judged Quake II’s multiplayer modes as superior.
As we saw in episode 4 it was Quake II’s multi-player that spawned both QuakeWorld - which utilized client-side prediction to enable lag-free on-line play, and QuakeSpy (later GameSpy) - matchmaking programs that made finding people online to play with easier.
Quake II’s multiplayer proved to be more popular than its single-player campaign. This was bolstered by the inclusion of A.I. bots. This allowed players to both fill out rosters if there were not enough human players to fill all the slots, or to play offline against bots in multiplayer maps.
This was aided greatly by Steven Polge’s ‘Reaper bots’ mod, which created some of the most challenging A.I. players in gaming up to that point. Polge went to work with Epic on the Unreal Franchise. Reaper bots were then superseded by the Gladiator Bots by ‘MrElusive’
Quake 2 Gladiator Bots Q2DM1
Note the bot’s ‘Quake-on-Ice’ movement. Quake III would improve on this considerably
Video by lolstfuwtf
Presumably, it was the success of Quake II’s multiplayer and bot matches that lead i.d. software to take the potentially risky gamble with their next game. Their next game would omit a single-player campaign entirely and focus exclusively on multi-player and bot matches. That game was to be Quake III Arena.
Quake III Arena (henceforth Q3A) was released on the 2nd of December 1999 - less than two weeks after the release of Unreal Tournament ’99. The release of two very similar games with such similar development histories in such quick succession may have raised a few eyebrows at the time, however, it is almost certainly the result of ‘great minds thinking alike’.
Another similarity to UT99 was how Q3A’s ‘plot’ - such that it was - only tenuously linked to the prior Quake games. This was largely limited to being able to play as some of the characters from the earlier titles, such as Ranger from Quake, Bitterman from Quake II, and the Doomguy, etc.
It also featured cameos from some of the developers as optional multiplayer skins. Ever wanted to be the avatar of John Carmack? Now you can 😊
Clearly, the two games were in direct competition with each other, however, both did extremely well both critically and commercially. Q3A sold some 222,840 copies in the US alone by early 2000, earning i.d. Software a cool $10.1 million. Its critical success also matched its commercial, with most publications at the time scoring it 9/10.
Quake III Arena Single Player Campaign on Nightmare Difficulty
Video by World of Longplays
So, how were UT99 and Q3A able to co-exist so successfully? Firstly, they were both fantastic games. Secondly, it might have been due to the two games catering towards two slightly different demographics.
UT99 was more beginner-friendly and customizable, whereas Q3A arguably had a higher skill-ceiling and ‘purer’ gameplay - making it more suitable for competitive pro players.
As an example of Q3A’s reduced ‘beginner-friendliness,’ it was not possible by default to set a map cycle for bot matches - once the match concluded it would simply restart the same map. In UT99 players could choose which maps to include in the cycle and the order they appeared - all from within the game’s user-friendly UI. Q3A required the player to exit the game and create '.cfg' files to do the same. This was at best a hassle, and at worst potentially intimidating for less tech-savvy players.
Q3A arguably had a higher skill ceiling too. For a start, its speed was fixed at the blistering pace seen in the videos below. Secondly, Q3A featured more advanced movement techniques, such as bunny hopping, strafe jumping, rocket jumping, plasma climbing, and plasma jumping. Players who had mastered these techniques gained a significant advantage over those that had not.
I wonder if he could do that if he had more flesh on his bones? I mean, weight must be a factor, right?
Video by Impact2k
Q3A also made greater use of jump pads and teleporters, further increasing mobility.
Video by Offero 04
And I thought the school’s sports day triple jump was complicated…
Video by Absurdly_Delicious
Q3A’s better suitability to high-level competitive play is evident in the comparative longevity of the two game’s pro scene. According to Esports Earnings Unreal Tournament ‘99’s pro scene lasted up to about 2004, whereas Q3A’s lasted to around 2009.
What’s more, Q3A was used in 100 tournaments during that time, with a sum of $1,137,823.19 awarded as prize monies between them.
For comparison, UT99 was used in five tournaments with a sum of $89,000.00 awarded as prize monies between them.
Quake II laid the foundations for the Esports industry, Quake III Arena built upon this success and was partly responsible for the Esports industry's rapid growth. The world’s best players competed in events such as QuakeCon, Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL) and the Electronic Sports World Convention (ESWC)
ESWC (Electronic Sports World Convention) 2008 Grand Final
There are two ways to defeat players this good. One: Practice until you ‘git gud’.
Two: Unplug their mouse and keyboard when they aren’t looking.
Video by decebal01US
Matchmaking, Maps, Mods, and Total Conversions
Q3A’s online community was especially active in other ways too. i.d. software had always been mod and community content friendly since Doom. This resulted in a vast number of user-generated maps available for download from sites such as GameBanana.
Some of these maps were considered superior to some of Q3A’s ‘stock’ maps. Some of the stock maps featured dead ends. This could lead to frustration due to a player running down a blind alley and getting trapped, or a player intentionally waiting - i.e. ‘camping’ at a dead end so that opponents could not sneak up on them.
In addition to maps, a substantial number of mods were created. Of particular importance was the Challenge Pro Mode Arena (CPMA) mod, which was used as the basis for CPL tournaments.
Tremulous Q3A Total Conversion
“Is this going to be a stand-up fight sir, or another bug hunt?”
Video by Bhoomy Gamer
Urban Terror Q3A Total Conversion
Any resemblance to Counter-Strike is purely coincidental…
Video by NetWanderer
Technically Q3A was very advanced for the era. The engine created for the game, officially id Tech 3, but often referred to simply as the ‘Quake 3 Engine’, was a significant step up from the engine that powered Quake 2.
Id Tech 3 may have been the first game engine that required an OpenGL compliant graphics accelerator. If you didn’t have a GPU then no Q3A for you since it lacked a software renderer. Software rendering would become less important from this point on, with many later graphics engines lacking support for it. This was likely a boon to the GPU industry as GPUs were now more-or-less mandatory for high-end gaming.
Another innovation was the ability to render curved surfaces. Before this, curves could only be approximated, resulting in an angular appearance.
Expansion Packs, Spin-Offs, and Sequels
Quake III: Team Arena, a team play focused expansion pack was first released on the 18th of December 2000. This bought the popular 'Capture the Flag' game mode to Quake III.
Quake 3 Team Arena: Threewave Match
We going to jump-cut like it’s a 90s music video.
Video by Gaming Movie Database - IGMDb.org
Quake Live, an updated version of Q3A with several quality-of-life improvements was released in 2010. It was initially a free-to-play game accessed via a web browser plug-in. A subscription service with additional content and features was implemented. However, this subscription service was closed when the game became a retail title on Steam in 2015. Quake Live too was used in Esports events.
Quake Champions, released in 2017, is currently the most recent entry to the Quake series. It too is a multi-player focused arena shooter used in Esports, such as the Quake Pro League and Intel Extreme Masters.
QuakeCon 2012 Grand Finals: Cypher vs DaHanG - QuakeLive Duel - 1080p
NB - I think the bright green and turquoise ‘skins’ are to make the avatars stand out better. I suspect this is competition rules. If I’m wrong please correct me in the comments section.
Video by decebal01US
Quake III Arena made a deep impact on the gaming industry. It cemented Esports as a legitimate industry and is now being used in A.I. research.
Its engine was equally impactful. i.d. Tech 3 was licensed and used by many developers to create an impressive library of games. These include heavyweight titles such as Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and the first Call of Duty.
What’s more, the commercial and critical success of both Q3A and UT99 served as a definitive proof-of-concept; multiplayer focused arena shooters were a hit. This paved the way for similar titles in the future, such as Team Fortress 2, Overwatch and Epic’s own Fortnite.
And that concludes our investigation of the first dedicated arena shooters. In the next article, we will investigate the next giant leap for First Person Shooters, a franchise that defined FPS games for a generation and finally allowed console players to join the ranks of on-line fraggers. I am of course talking about the ‘chief’ of console First Person Shooters - Halo. See you all then.
Did you play Quake III Arena or Q3: Team Arena back in the day? Do you still play them now? Have you tried Quake Live or Quake Champions? If so, what are your favourite Quake Arena memories? Have you attended any of the Esports events, or participated in any of them yourself? Did you try your hand at modding? And of course, which of the reigning arena shooters - UT99 and Q3A - did you prefer and why? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36 years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to online multiplayer. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/IainBaker17, and contacted via email at
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