Influential FPS Games #14: The First Dedicated Arena Shooters Part Two – Quake III Arena

Updated: Feb 24

Quake 3
Quake 3

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.

Grudge Match

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 Reaper bots were then superseded by the Gladiator Bots by ‘MrElusive’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

Differing Demographics

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.

Plasma Climb

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

Rocket Jump

Q3A also made greater use of jump pads and teleporters, further increasing mobility.

Video by Offero 04

Strafe Jump

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