Influential FPS Games #7: Quake

Updated: Feb 24

Quake - The first true 3D FPS

In the last article, we looked at id software’s Doom and how it more-or-less kickstarted the FPS genre, the modding community, multiplayer deathmatch and PC gaming in general. In this, we will look at id’s next original IP, a game which would take Doom’s innovations and improve upon them. I am of course referring to the first truly 3D FPS - Quake.


Quake had a somewhat troubled development, and the game that audiences got to play when it was released in 1996 was quite different from what had originally been envisaged. Quake was originally intended to be an RPG with a focus on 3rd person melee combat, with the protagonist being a Thor-esque character (named Quake?) wielding a giant hammer. However, development of the new game engine was taking too long, so it was decided to strip the game down and return to their fast-paced FPS roots.

In hindsight, this was probably a wise move, for two reasons. Firstly, it ultimately led to one of the best immersive sims ever made - Deus Ex, due to Romero leaving id software to co-found Ion Storm. Secondly, Quake’s influence on the gaming scene - multiplayer gaming in particular - would probably not have been as great if it had been a slower-paced RPG.

Quake’s themes and aesthetics were something of a mishmash of ideas. This is due to Quake’s levels being created by four different designers who were given little in the way of creative direction. As a result, each designer’s levels had a distinct feel which did not necessarily sit well with the others. To create something approaching cohesivity the levels were split into four episodes - one per designer, each with its own unique theme.


Quake’s story was built around this in an attempt to stitch these episodes together in a plausible way, and for the name, ‘Quake’, to make sense.

In short, near future humanity invents slip-gates, a form of teleporter, in order to move things around Earth quickly. However, they inadvertently open to alternate dimensions instead. These alternate dimensions are ruled over by Shub-Niggurath, an eldritch Old One. She commandeers the slip gates so that her spawn can invade the earth. Humanity sends special forces through the slip gates to investigate. Predictably all but the player’s character, ‘Ranger’ are killed. Ranger learns he must collect four magic runes, one per dimension (i.e. episode), in order to defeat Shub-Niggurath (which humanity - not knowing what it is - have codenamed ‘Quake’) and save Earth.

Quake’s story certainly wasn’t going to win any awards, but FPS games of the era weren’t focused on storytelling anyway.

This melding of disparate themes created some interesting situations. In one level you would be up against super soldiers with laser guns and rottweiler attack dogs in a futuristic industrial plant with teleporters. In the next, you might be fighting pyrokinetic demon knights in armour and Ogres armed with chainsaws and grenade launchers in a gothic castle replete with elevators and magical portals. Your near-future protagonist would be using a combination of axes, shotguns, rocket launchers and high-tech lightning guns to fight them.

On paper this sounds like an unholy mess, however, it works surprisingly well in-game and creates a unique experience - even if it was an experience created largely by accident.

Quake longplay

Video by Minase

Sound Design

Quake’s soundscape was utterly unique at the time, largely due to the work of maverick Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor. Reznor was a big fan of Doom, and some of id software’s developers were big fans of Nine Inch Nails. This resulted in a collaboration quite unlike anything that had gone before. To celebrate this the in-game boxes of nails for the nail guns were emblazoned with the 'NiN' logo. Reznor would be responsible for three main aspects of Quake’s audio;

Firstly, Reznor would ‘voice’ the main character, ‘Ranger’. Since Ranger does not speak, this is limited to the jumping ‘huh’s, landing ‘oofs’ and pained ‘arghs!’ he makes during gameplay.

Secondly, Reznor was also responsible for much of Quake’s in-game sound effects, with many of its harsh industrial sound effects sounding reminiscent of Nine Inch Nail’s industrial metal music.

Most notable however was Reznor’s musical score. Its blend of drones, industrial sounds and eerie whispers was the perfect audio to complement the game’s fusion of industrial and gothic horror imagery. There is something unsettling about it which has to be heard to be appreciated.

NB – the Steam version does not contain the musical score, which was originally played straight from the CD. However, the complete soundtrack can be downloaded and added to the Steam version, which is highly recommended if you want the full Quake single-player experience.

Quake OST

Headphones highly recommended

Video by MiamiHF

The Quake Engine

Quake was the first game to run on the Quake Engine, an engine that was truly revolutionary at the time. Several improved iterations of the Quake Engine were released over the following months and years. Each iteration brought with it enhanced compatibility with emerging technologies, in particular hardware 3D acceleration and internet play.

The Quake Engine introduced several features that would have simply been impossible on the Doom Engine. Combined, these resulted in more interesting and varied level designs and gameplay. These features included;


In contrast to Doom’s 2.5D set up, Quake was fully 3D, with full mouse look, jumping and looking and aiming up and down. In addition, it featured fully polygonal enemies and world objects, and simple lighting and particle effects. 3D physics were also incorporated - grenades flew in a parabolic trajectory and bounced when they hit walls, ceilings and floors. This allowed for creative grenade use, such as bouncing them down shafts and around corners to hit unseen enemies from a safe position. Of course, the grenade launching ogres could do the same to you. Gibs too would go flying in all directions, bounce along the floor and fall off walkways in a satisfyingly gory fashion.

Quake’s level design took full advantage of the new engine’s capabilities. Enemies could appear above you on catwalks, but you could hide under said catwalks to avoid their fire.

Flying enemies, such as the floating 'Scrags' could hide above doorways and attack you from above and behind after you had passed through. Quake demanded the player think three-dimensionally and encouraged using height to their advantage.

Some levels, in particular, the low gravity secret level ‘Ziggurat Vertigo’, took this verticality to the extreme, with a map that was taller than it was wide. Progression through it required moving upwards. These vertical levels and their altered gravity were both firsts for the FPS genre, but they would not be the last. Notable examples of levels that would follow suit were the Xen levels from Half-Life, a game which was released only a few years later and ran on much the same technology.

Ziggurat Vertigo (Secret Level)

Video by Zdenda1990


Another of Quake’s innovations was swimming. Doom had water, lava, toxic sludge etc., however, this was used as damaging floor areas to constrain the player’s movements to make areas more challenging. Quake’s water, lava and toxic sludge, on the other hand, was fully three dimensional and allowed for swimming. Many levels made extensive use of this, with many secret areas being accessible only by taking a dip. Biosuits and the Pentagram of Protection allowed for the safe swimming in toxic sludge and lava respectively.

Moving Platforms

A further innovation was the horizontal movement of level objects. Whilst Doom allowed for doors and platforms to move vertically, the Quake Engine allowed for objects to move horizontally as well. This allowed for doors to slide open horizontally and platforms to move along horizontal paths. Again, these features would go on to become commonplace in future FPS games, and they started here in Quake.