QUAKE

In addition to being the first truly 3D first-person shooter, the other completely off-the-chain feature in Quake was its soundtrack. Back in 1996, Nine Inch Nails was massive, having recently released the still-classic The Downward Spiral. Trent Reznor's next major release was the soundtrack for Quake, and what a  soundtrack it was.

Thankfully we'll be able to own it on a physical format soon (unless you kept your CD-ROM), because the soundtrack is being reissued on vinyl. Since it's only marked as "coming soon" on the Nine Inch Nails website, there's not really much else to learn, except that it'll be a single vinyl edition and its cover mirrors the packshot on the original Quake retail release.

I've embedded a YouTube rip of the soundtrack below, so you can be transported back to a time when nailguns were all the rage, and bunnyhopping was in its infancy. 

Left 4 Dead 2

Here's how big a deal Doom's shotgun was: in a game with another weapon called the Big Fucking Gun, the shotgun is the one we remember best. It's reliable at practically any distance. One clean shot to the chest will eviscerate most enemies. Somehow that pump action reload animation and its cha-chick are satisfying every single time with only five frames of animation. How many other games are confident enough to give you a gun this good 10 seconds into the first level?

Before Doom, shotguns were for shooting clay pigeons. After Doom, they were for annihilating demons. And for annihilating practically anything else: as Doom birthed a new genre, you could rely on the trusty shotgun to be there almost anytime, more steadfast and reliable than a squirrely pistol or a ammo-hungry rifle. It's our pellet pal. Our blunderbuss buddy. In the wry words of John Romero, when we spent half an hour reflecting on the design and history of Doom's shotgun: "No other game has a BFG 9000 in it, but lots of games have shotguns."

Today we're celebrating that lineage by talking about some of our favorite shotguns and why we love them. Step one: make it kick, and make 'em bleed.

How to make a great shotgun

"Number one, the damage it does is the most important part," said John Romero. He was talking about weapon design in general. There's so much that goes into a good game gun, but those pain points have the biggest impact in making a weapon feel powerful. "If it does more damage than any other gun, it doesn't matter if it has no sound effects, you're going to be using it," he laughed.

OK, but all that other stuff is important too. Animation, sound effects, the works. When they all come together, you can just feel it. It's an almost animal hell yeah. Fullbright's Steve Gaynor practically got poetic describing this sensation:

"Shooter games can be about a lot of things—the complexity of tactics as you use the environment to your advantage, the cat & mouse drama of chasing and being chased, sneaking up on your prey or falling into your enemy's trap—but it's also always about that aesthetic moment where the trigger's pulled and the audiovisual effects deliver that moment of utterly blowing a videogame creature away. And that's what the shotgun's all about. It's loud. It's sudden. And above all, it's effective."

So how do design all that stuff to feel just right? Bill Munk, animator and creative director at Tripwire, had this to say about developing Killing Floor 2: 

Shooters are always about that aesthetic moment where the trigger's pulled and the audiovisual effects deliver that moment of utterly blowing a video game creature away.

Steve Gaynor

"We start with the gore system, which is a very important ingredient that makes shotguns feel devastating. Second is the impulse force applied to the creatures when they get hit, this is really important to not only make the shotgun feel powerful but also adds to the enjoyment of taking down a target. Third is the damage each pellet does, it's a hard balancing act because depending on what you shot, if it doesn't die or react the way you picture it, everything falls apart and the weapon feels unsatisfying. To balance shotguns in KF2 we first start with the price for the ammo, the weight of the gun and the time it takes to reload. Shotguns generally have massive damage but become less effective at range due to the spread of the pellets which also is a nice tool to balance these high damage weapons.

"Last but not least are the shoot animations. This is an area we've put a lot of time and research in. We animate the shots at high framerate so that we can animate the violent force when you fire a shotgun. This is a detail you barely notice in realtime but can feel the difference."

And when Killing Floor 2 slows down into Zed time, you can really see that animation at work.

You can see even more detail in KF2's shotguns firing and reloading here. They're ahead of the curve in animations, but the fact that Doom's shotgun still feels good with only five frames of reload animation shows how much the damage, muzzle flare, sound effects, and other elements of a shotgun can make it feel satisfying without much real detail.

Take Resident Evil 4's starting shotgun, a standard pump action. It's much simpler than Killing Floor 2's weapons, but blasting zombies with it feels a bit like smiting them with the fist of God. Part of that comes from RE4's once-novel over-the-shoulder weapon aiming. It's incredibly physical. You hold a button down to aim and Leon plants his feet. The camera zooms up to his shoulder, and it feels like you're aiming the shotgun with the whole of his body. The muzzle jerks sharply upward when you fire, and a single blast can send a whole crowd flying backwards. Leon pumps out the spent shell before recentering his aim. It's not fancy, but it feels sublime.

Sound off

No game gun sounds more pleasing to the ear than a shotgun except for, maybe, a bolt-action rifle. And those two weapons have something in common: both are about a single moment of release, followed by a peerless sound saying fire again, baby.

Most game weapons are about a constant stream of sound. The blam, blam, blam of a pistol, the ratatatat of an SMG, the heavy thugthugthugthug of an LMG. With a shotgun, it's all about that one shot. It's a crack of thunder, not a boom. "You need a good, sharp, aggressive sound to drive the shotgun's presence home, not some underplayed thud but a good, bracing crack," said Gaynor.

But the reload can be even better. Only a heavy bolt can match the click of a double barrel popping open and closed or the cha-chick of the pump action. That sound effect really hasn't changed much since Doom 1, and it's easy to see why.

I'd say sound is 70% of the feel of a great shotgun mostly because I've played games while they are muted and they lost the feel.

Kynan Pearson

Sound is a big part of why we love shotguns, but it's also crucial to the "feel" of hower powerful they are. "I'd say sound is 70% of the feel of a great shotgun mostly because I've played games while they are muted and they lost the feel," said Kynan Pearson, who's worked on the Halo and Metroid Prime series. "The reload noise, the boom and the pain noises create a fantastic symphony of death."

Producer Matt Powers, who worked as a producer on the Medal of Honor and Call of Duty series, wrote about this on Gamasutra:

"I kept getting feedback that our shotgun was underpowered…people really kind of hated the shotgun. When I looked at the balance numbers, the shotgun was actually a little overpowered if anything. So…after much consternation I decided to attack the balance issue from the side of perception rather than through the actual numbers themselves. I went to our audio director to talk about changing the sound. He added a bit more low end to the fire sound, pulled out some midrange and bumped up the high end to give it a sharper punch. I did not tell the team that the only thing I changed was the sound, I just asked them to give it another try to see if the changes I made addressed the balance issues they were seeing. The feedback came back unanimously positive."

Animation, sound, weight. Those are some of the ingredients of a great shotgun. So how did id make the first FPS shotgun, with no history to draw on, back in 1993? 

History lesson: the original boomstick

Our love affair with the shotgun started with Doom, but for Romero, it started with two other sources: Rednecks, and Evil Dead. In one of id's earliest games, a 2D sidescroller called Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion, you blast ghouls with a shotgun (and can even shoot at diagonals!). In Dave's first game, you had a pistol, but changing that to a shotgun in the sequel was an obvious move. "You're a redneck in Louisiana, of course you'd have a shotgun," Romero laughed. "We mentioned it when we were talking about Doom, we're like 'Hell yeah man, we had a shotgun in Dave and it was awesome. Why not?'"

Doom's shotgun wasn't originally in the plans for the game at all. The small team at id had the pistol, and plans for a rocket launcher, but they needed something in between. So they designed a rifle with a bayonet. The only problem: it wasn't cool enough. "We didn't like the fact that when you jabbed, it just didn't look good. It looked lame," Romero said. "We'd already had lameness issues with Catacomb 3D earlier, when you're using your hand to throw fireballs and stuff. That didn't look or feel cool. With Doom, we did have the bayonet in there, and I believe we even had it working, and it was just like, you know what? No amount of frames will make this look good."

As they started brainstorming sci-fi weapons like the BFG, their thoughts turned to Evil Dead 2. And voila: a shotgun and a chainsaw appeared. "We basically went, 'a shotgun would totally blow away that stupid rifle.' We made the shotgun, we made the chainsaw. It totally felt right in the game. We put it in, and it was just perfect. The gun cocking animation, the sound, it was perfect. The shotgun blast was great and did a good amount of damage. So that's what happened."

The Doom faithful may know that the shotgun was a Tootsietoy Dakota cap gun model bought at Toys R Us and scanned into the game using a video camera, then edited and animated in a Carmack piece of software called Fuzzy Pumper Palette Shop. It was named after a Play Doh toy. What's surprising about Romero's story is how little tuning it took to get Doom's shotgun just right. They added a spread and randomness to the firing, but treated the shotgun pellets as if they were bullets, making the gun easy to implement. And because they "wanted every gun to be effective at super far distances," handicapping the shotgun's range wasn't an issue.

"It was important that whenever we added any gun to the game, it never nullified a previous weapon. There had to be a reason for keeping the pistol around and everything else," Romero said. "The shotgun, I believe used the pistol randomness, and also added some to the spread, but not too much. So you could kill stuff at a distance. It was not like a sawed-off shotgun that would have a massive spread."

It was important that whenever we added any gun to the game, it never nullified a previous weapon.

John Romero

That would come later, of course, with Doom 2's double barrel super shotgun. First person shooters have since skewed towards treating shotguns more like the sawed off: close combat killers with a very particular purpose, a more compartmentalized approach to "balance" that gives every weapon its role.

"I feel shotguns live and die by where they sit in the balance," said Pearson. "It's easy to make a shotgun too effective or nerf it so it's not dominant in the weapon selection. I feel like shotguns need drawbacks, but part of the satisfaction is the exaggerated quality of wrecking opponents at close range. I prefer tight spread with damage dampening at distance. Everyone has different preferences so it depends on the game."

We can still delight in a good kill with a well-balanced modern military tactical 12-gauge, but our favorite shotguns are the ones that defy those restrictions. Look at the shotgun in Halo: Combat Evolved, which was overshadowed by the pistol but still had tremendous range and a vast ammo reserve.

Other shotguns do something unique to stand out, either in how they affect enemies and the world, or in how they let lead fly. 

Blaster master

When I get a headshot with a pistol I expect, at best, a backflip or an exploding skull. But much of the joy of a shotgun comes from its physicality. I want my enemies blown backwards by raw force. This is where other elements of the game come into play to make the shotgun itself better. A perfect example, Gaynor explained, is Bioshock's shotty:

"It reinforces what makes a great shotgun on its own—an awesome muzzle flash, great pump action animation, amazing sound design, and high destructive power—but also how important its effect on enemies can be. Not just the blood effects or how much damage it does, but how they flip, spin, and pirouette through the environment when blasted. BioShock used tech that allowed the enemies to do a crafted death animation—ie spinning through the air in response to catching a handful of buckshot in the side—and transition that smoothly into a dynamic ragdoll that leaves them convincingly sprawled on the environment in the aftermath. Blasting Splicers with the shotgun was great because the shotgun was great, yes, but also because the Splicers were such wonderful fodder, their reaction to your blasting being an integral part of the whole exchange."

This is one area where Valve's typically soft weapons really shine: Left4Dead 2's shotguns can lift a group of zombies off their feet and send them flying. They also absolutely shred enemies. Valve's Alex Vlachos gave a great talk about Left 4 Dead 2's wounds at the 2010 Game Developer's Conference, and you can see how the system works in this presentation. This applies to all weapons, but shotguns are your best bet for blowing off limbs or big chunks of torso.

Gaynor similarly praised the F.E.A.R shotgun's "effect on a highly dynamic gameworld, where firing this thing off causes dust, concrete chunks, and broken glass to fly everywhere. But of course it would be nothing if not for F.E.A.R.'s slow-mo bullet time mechanic, allowing you to enjoy the shotgun's effects at half speed, every frame of its destructive power lovingly rendered for the player's satisfaction. Jumping over a barricade, going into slow-mo, and hearing an enemy soldier shout "OOoooohhhhhh shiiiiiiittttttt" as you pull the trigger, causing him to backflip over a railing with balletic grace, is maybe one of the most satisfying interactions in any FPS game. Oh, and if you play your cards right and get up into point-blank range, this thing can straight-up mist an enemy in one shot. That's how badass it is."

Romero and Bill Munk both called out Soldier of Fortune's shotgun for similar destructive power. "Soldier of Fortune, especially for the time, really showed the brutality of a shotgun and made the player feel extremely powerful based on the gore system," Munk said. "But for overall feel I'd have to give it to F.E.A.R. The first time you experience a shotgun in slow-mo seeing every pellet fly and the ragdoll react to it is a thing of beauty!"

Soldier of Fortune sure wins for nastiness, though.

Gettin' weird with it

God I love the flak cannon. In my imagination, the flak cannon is what would happen if the god of death metal looked at a normal shotgun and turned it into an industrial tool that could conveniently be used to shred men into paste. It's not simply firing a shell when you pull the trigger: a metal piston slams forward to propel a disc the size of a hockey puck out of the muzzle, where it separates into a spreading pattern of glowing superheated scrap. You can watch every piece make bloody contact with your enemy, but it also has a utility unlike any other shotgun: bouncing those metal meteors around corners to shred bad dudes from afar. Is there any wonder it's our favorite gun ever?

When Doom gave us a shotgun to blast demons, it was novel. Now that every shooter has its own take on the shotgun—and it's usually pretty straightforward—we love the flak cannon and other alternative shotguns for stepping out of that mold.

The flak cannon's secondary fire is a perfect example: it concentrates the heavy damage of the shotgun into a single arcing grenade that's harder to land, but offers concentrated damage you won't get at range with a spreading flak cloud. Romero himself designed a shotgun that was meant to diverge from the straightforward utility of Doom's shotgun: Daikatana's Shotcycler-6.

Daikatana had rocket jumping, but because its rocket launcher fired two shots, it would really hurt. "I thought, can I make a safer rocket jump type weapon?" Romero remembered. "With the Shotcycler-6 I can do six shots, and if you jump it'll take you up to another place. I thought that would be kinda cool for people who are good, and know the secret of the shotgun jump. So it's basically six shots, who doesn't love that, with kickback enough that you can actually get propelled up in the air, almost like a rocket launcher."

Gears of War 4's Overkill is a madman's fusion of double-barrel and auto shotty: it fires a shell from one of four barrels on mouse click and on mouse release, giving you the flexibility for tactical timing or a panicked barrage of eight shots in the span of a second.

Bulletstorm's ridiculous four barreled shotgun has a charge shot that simply vaporizes enemies, burning them away to nothing but bones. It's a fitting middle finger to the concept of balance. 

And though it was a short-lived glitch, not an intentional design, I have to sing the praises of the most overpowered shotgun of all time: Battlefield 3's briefly broken underslung M26 DART. A patch made every 12 gauge flechette pellet deal the full damage of the assault rifle's primary bullets, making the spread an ungodly cloud of death. And yet it's so politely soft-spoken.

In conclusion

 Videogame shotguns are rad. When you use a good one, appreciate it: marvel at its kick, its cocking action, its thundercrack, and the knockback like no other.

"There's something inherently satisfying about video game guns that are built to be 'one shot, one kill' like, say, a hefty magnum revolver, or a bolt-action sniper rifle," said Gaynor. "And that's also the shotgun's job... with the added benefit of not really having to aim. Who could ask for more?"

Long live the gib.

PC Gamer

The annual DICE Summit is an opportunity for game makers of all stripes to come together to share ideas, talk about new technologies, take part in roundtable discussions—and, for 16 famous developers including Feargus Urquhart, Jeff Kaplan, Randy Pitchford, and Tim Willits, to blow each other to pieces in a one-on-one, winner-take-all Quakeworld tournament. 

The single-elimination FaceIt Quake Tournament at DICE will begin with the following matchups: 

  • Sean Dunn (Sparkypants) vs. Shekhar Dhupelia (Wargaming)
  • Feargus Urquhart (Obsidian Entertainment) vs. Patrick Hudson (Robot Entertainment)
  • Randy Pitchford (Gearbox Software) vs. Leo Olebe (Facebook)
  • Ted Price (Insomniac Games) vs. David Wood (Bandai Namco)
  • Min Kim (Bonfire Studios) vs. Sheloman Byrd (Tencent)
  • Kate Edwards (IGDA) vs. Tim Willits (id Software)
  • Niccolo Maisto (FaceIt) vs. Matt Firor (ZeniMax Online)
  • Jeffrey Kaplan (Blizzard) vs. Steve Ellmore (Disbelief)

It's hard not to see Willits as a sentimental favorite, although I don't imagine he's had much to do with Quake (actually, according to ShackNews, the somewhat newer Quakeworld) in recent years. Kaplan is one of the top guys on the biggest competitive shooter currently on the market, which may serve him well. Obsidian is probably my favorite studio in the mix, but I have a feeling Feargus is going to be one-and-done pretty quick. (I'll be happy to be wrong, though.)

The action is set to begin at 10:50 am PT on February 22 and continue through to February 23, with semi-finals, and then the grand final, set to begin at 3:15 pm PT. Bracket and results are available at dice.faceit.com, and you'll be able to watch the action live on the FaceIt Twitch channel.

PC Gamer

Wolfenstein 3D is primarily a game about shooting Nazis. Occasionally you'll shoot dogs too, but they're Nazi dogs. Occasionally you'll steal treasure, but it's Nazi treasure. Nazis are a common foe in videogames because they're unambiguously bad, thus triggering no moral quandaries among those who digitally shoot them.

But what if you could, uh, try to talk them out of being Nazis instead? Rather than fight fire with fire, what if we had an Earl Grey and a chinwag? Dialogue 3D —a "hack" of the original Wolfenstein 3D by Ramsey Nasser—offers one fairly convincing answer: You'd probably not have much luck.

The game comes amid much online debate relating to how people who are not Nazis should treat those who are. Some suggest having a discussion, whereas others are happy to punch them from here to next Sunday. I think it's fairly clear which side of that conundrum Nasser inhabits, and he makes a pretty strong case—albeit via a shallow 1990s videogame.

The game is free, only 7mb, and thoroughly unenjoyable to play. But you might as well give it a shot anyway.

PC Gamer

Fellow PC gamers, we are gathered here today to remember an old friend, one whose warranty expired long ago. As laid out in the law of the upgrade cycle, we must let go of those components that can no longer keep pace with modern demands. And so, it is with heavy hearts that we say our final goodbyes to you, our constant companion for the last 20 years.

Rest in peace, humble optical drive.

You were once a cornerstone of this community, a bringer of joy, a portal to play, an ally in our pursuit of entertainment. You gave us the gorgeous world of Myst, the sublime soundscape of Quake, the unprecedented complexity of Half-Life. You were a marvel of your age, drawing realms of infinite possibility out of those small, innocuous discs. At the time, it felt like nothing less than magic.

Nearly 30 years ago now, you entered this world with a vision. Armed with Red Book audio and full-motion video, you sold us the Hollywood dream, treating us to Mark Hamill taking on a race of giant cat aliens, Jeff Goldblum killing it as Dracula, Christopher Walken telling it to us straight, and... this immaculate performance. Video games seemed poised to replace movies altogether; why would we watch if we could play instead? Alas, it was not meant to be, but we'll always have those fond memories, thanks to you. Your legacy will live on inside us all.

As we commit you to the great server in the sky, let us reflect on all the good you did for this world. Who can forget how crucial you were during the dial-up days? The spiral cords of our 56K modems strained under the weight of individual mp3s; the thought of downloading an entire 750MB CD-ROM was unfathomable. Even when cable internet arrived on the scene, we still relied on you to support us through the file-size boom of the DVD era. Steam might have dethroned you eventually, but your stability during the platform's early, rocky years was what kept us gaming.

In your youth, your laissez-faire attitude allowed our community to flourish unabated. I, personally, owe some of my favourite childhood memories to your liberal approach to game trading; as a kid, hiring and borrowing games was the only way I could afford to play. Thanks to borrowing a friend's copy of Diablo II, I discovered my penchant for click-'em-ups. Thanks to renting Battlefield 1942, I grokked the appeal of online multiplayer. Thanks to hiring out Baldur's Gate II, I realised that games could tell big, complex stories that actually leveraged their interactivity instead of ignoring it. Of course, we all understand why you had to jump on the DRM train once people started abusing your freedoms. Still, those unbridled early years were crucial in making our community as great as it is today.

The fact is, old friend, we simply don't have the space for you anymore.

Alas, those halcyon days are far behind us. The battle of the distribution models is over, and there's no question who lost. How could it have gone any other way? Steam lets us pre-order, pre-load, patch, and play, all without leaving the comfort of our desk chairs. Gone are the overloaded shelves buckling beneath the weight of bejewelled CD cases and boxy collectors editions. Never again do we have to rummage around in dusty attics and dank basements to find that old copy of Day of the Tentacle, only for you to whine like a circular saw when we put the disc in because it isn't mint-out-of-box.

For all the joy you gave us, we cannot ignore the dark times you begat. Refusing to read brand new discs until we'd carefully wiped off every minute mote of dust. Scratching up our favourite games as punishment for playing them too much. Demanding that we 'Insert Disc 2' when it was already in the damn tray. And those multi-disc installs! How can you expect us to set aside multiple hours just to swap GTA 5's seven DVDs in and out?

GTA 5's seven DVDs.

At least you re in a better place now, one where the RPMs are infinite and the CDs are truly scratch-proof. Because as much as it pains us to say it on this day of mourning, you were holding this industry back. Bite-sized games never stood a chance against the pains of disc-swapping. Aspiring developers cringed at the cost of pressing and shipping discs. If we hadn't moved on to the all-digital now, we'd never have known the haunting oppression of Papers, Please, the touching tale of Gone Home, the time-bending antics of Superhot. We'd have to bid farewell to our hundreds-large Steam libraries or else buy a second house just to store all the CDs.

The fact is, old friend, we simply don't have the space for you anymore. Not in our homes, and not in our hearts. Your place at the top of our PC towers is no more. Our mini-ITX cases no longer give you a berth. We will never again hear your mechanical whirr, your voice silenced by the hum of our bigger and better hard drives. From caches to ashes, from disc to dusk, your time is up. You re just too slow for this digital world.

16X. 8X. 4X. 2X. 1X. Eject.

Left 4 Dead 2

Originally published in August 2016, this feature makes a return for Food Week.

I don't remember which game we were playing, but it was the kind of Japanese RPG that listed everything you needed to know about its characters down the side of the screen. Magic points, coins, food, all summed up with helpful numbers. Only one of them was abbreviated: HP.

“What does HP stand for in this game?” I asked my friend, an expert on JRPGs.

“Health pineapples,” he confidently replied. “You have to knock all the pineapples off before you can hurt someone.”

HP, whether it stands for hit points, health power, or indeed health pineapples, is one of many mechanics to come to video games via the original tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons. However, the idea of representing the amount of punishment a character can take with a discrete number of points is much older than D&D. And while we might all know what the abbreviation means, it turns out that what hit points are meant to represent isn't quite so obvious.

"They didn't care if they could kill a monster in one blow, but they didn't want the monster to kill them in one blow." D&D co-creator Dave Arneson

In a 2004 interview with GameSpy, D&D's co-creator Dave Arneson explained that the earliest version of the game didn't have hit points. The rules had evolved from wargames he and fellow D&D inventor Gary Gygax played, in which a single successful attack was all it took for a soldier to die.

That changed when they started experimenting with having players control individual heroes rather than entire armies, as players identified with them much more strongly. As Arneson put it, They didn't care if they could kill a monster in one blow, but they didn't want the monster to kill them in one blow.

Arneson had previously made his own rules for a naval wargame set during the Civil War called Ironclads, and together with Gygax had collaborated on a Napoleonic naval game called Don't Give Up The Ship! Both games had a mechanic that allowed for ships to take multiple hits before being sunk, which they'd borrowed from the wargaming rules designed by author Fletcher Pratt in the 1930s. They borrowed those rules again for D&D.

In his book about the history of simulation games Playing At The World, Jon Peterson explains why hit points were such an important idea: Hit points introduce uncertainty and variance [ ] In Dungeons & Dragons, even when the prospects of a hit are near certain, the damage dice provide another potential survival mechanism via endurance, another way of forestalling death and increasing the drama of combat.

Art for Gary Gygax's Advanced Dugeons & Dragons Monster Manual, predating the earliest D&D PC games.

From table to screen

Like D&D, video game combat discovered a new sense of drama with hit points. Early arcade games like 1978 s Space Invaders typically killed players with a single successful enemy contact, using multiple lives to prolong the experience. Replacing that with the ability to survive a set number of hits before dying added a finer-grained rise in tension. It removes the frustration of being reset to the start of a level every time a player is so much as brushed by an enemy, and as the number of hit points remaining falls your anxiety rises in direct correlation.

Being on your last life may make you cautious, but there's a smoother transition with hit points. You gradually shift between playing more carefully as you approach half-health, biting your metaphorical nails as it dwindles below that, and sinking into erratic risk-taking when only a sliver of life remains.

Video games inspired by D&D were the first to copy hit points, as far back as 1975 games PEDIT5 and DND, which were coded for the PLATO system designed by the University of Illinois. DND was also the first game to have bosses, who could have hundreds or even thousands of what it called Hits.

Early RPG Dungeon (1982) for the PDP-10, which called hit points "Hits." Image via the cRPG Addict

The first official adaptations of D&D to PC were the Gold Box series begun by SSI with 1988 s Pool of Radiance. They followed the rules of what was then called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons closely, which meant beginning characters had very few hit points. Playing around a table there s always the option to fudge dice rolls to prevent deaths from feeling too arbitrary, but the computer was never so forgiving and players got used to reloading frequently.

Games that weren t licenced had no such problem. The first Ultima began players with a tidy 150 hit points, and the second with 400. Important non-player characters like Lord British had totals so high that killing him became seen as a challenge, and by Ultima III players were luring Lord British to the beach so they could attack him with cannon-fire, as if he was one of the naval ships in the wargames hit points came from.

Arcade games tended not to represent hit points numerically, however. Memorably, in the platformer Ghosts 'N Goblins (ported to the Commodore 64 in 1986) Sir Arthur lost his armor on taking damage, continuing to fight in his underwear.

One of the first game to represent hit points with the now familiar life bar was Dragon Buster, a 1985 dungeon crawler by Namco with a Vitality meter that changed from blue to red as you took damage from its bats, snakes, and cave sharks. While red life bars would go on to become standard, other ways of visualizing hit points have been tried with varying degrees of success.

Atic Attack from the Rare Replay collection, Health Chicken half-eaten.

1983 ZX Spectrum/BBC Micro game Atic Atac had a slowly depleting roast chicken that tracked your starvation, and dinosaur fighter Primal Rage used veins leading to a heart that exploded at the moment of defeat.

Other games have tried to make their life bar a part of the game world, as in first-person Jurassic Park game Trespasser where it's a heart tattoo on the protagonist's breast you have to look down at to check. In sci-fi horror game Dead Space the life bar is represented by lights on the back of your armor, which would be very useful if you had a doctor standing directly behind you. Each of these visualizations is just a way of integrating a hit-point counter into the world, but in doing so they free the player from having to correlate a number with something that should feel real and immediate. They re all still the same old hit points, under the surface.

MIDI Maze, a 1987 first-person shooter on the Atari ST, was an early example of both the deathmatch shooter and the idea of representing hit points visually. Each player was a floating smiley face, like a three-dimensional Pac-Man, and an icon of that face at the top of the screen became sadder as they took damage. Later shooters like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom would copy this idea, their protagonists' faces growing more bruised and bloody as they absorbed bullet after bullet.

On the next page: hit points through the 90s and 2000s with regenerating health and more twists from their D&D origins.

Halo is remembered for its regenerating shields, but it had traditional HP, too.

The regeneration generation

MIDI Maze is an early example of another change in the way hit points worked, as it also had regenerating health. It wasn't the first, however. The action-RPG Hydlide, released on Japanese home computers like the PC-88 in 1984, gave players back hit points when they stood still. Where other games had food and first-aid kits that functioned as magically as the healing potions in fantasy RPGs, regenerating health though no more realistic at least took health items out of the game world. It made healing an abstraction like hit points are, rather than requiring players assume Johnny Medkit has wandered the world ahead of them scattering healing items like seeds.

It was Halo: Combat Evolved that popularized regenerating health, which is ironic because it didn't really have it. Halo's hero Master Chief wears an energy shield that regenerates after a short interval without taking damage, but once that's gone he has a traditional life bar that can only be refilled with medkits.

However, the recharging energy shield was what gave Halo its famous 30 seconds of fun that happened over and over and over and over again as designer Jaime Griesemer put it, letting players pop out of cover to shoot aliens and then duck back to recharge and reload, and that's what had a lasting impact.

Hydlide for the Japanese PC-88 was one of the first to have regenerating health. Image via Hardcoregaming101

The idea was copied and modified by plenty of other games. Call Of Duty has become the flag-bearer for regenerating health, taking the blame for its propagation though it wasn't introduced until the second game in the series. Even in the mid-2000s as it was first becoming widespread, regenerating health was criticized by old-school shooter fans for removing some of the drama and tension that hit points represent. It's still enraging comment sections today.

Three games released in 2005 and 2006 all tinkered with ways of making regenerating health retain the sense of rising tension that hit points were first introduced to create. Condemned: Criminal Origins, Prey, and F.E.A.R. all set a floor on automatic healing so that if you take enough damage to fall below around 25% of your hit points you can't regenerate back above that line. It models a difference between taking a serious wound and the kind of graze action heroes can just walk off, and adds grit to more serious games.

Regenerating health was criticized for removing the drama and tension that hit points represent.

When the Just Cause games toy with this, only letting you regenerate a percentage of the most recent damage you take, it can seem at odds with their over-the-top action.

Horror games have also tweaked the way they use hit points to suit the genre. Zombie game Left 4 Dead slows you down the more you're hurt, making it harder to run away from the infected as if you're a movie character being worn down by the chase. In Silent Hill 4: The Room you regain health in your apartment, but when that safe space becomes tainted it stops healing you, a mechanical sign of its corruption that ensures you feel the same dread the character would.

A custom medkit skin in Left 4 Dead 2, via GameBanana.com

Back to the source

Still, across all of these games, what hit points represent isn't entirely clear. Are they purely the injuries you endure, as the suffering face of Doomguy suggests? If that's true why is it so easy to get hit points back, whether through healing items or regeneration or drinking Fallout's irradiated toilet water?

In The Lord of the Rings Online hit points are replaced by morale, which explains why singing a jaunty tune helps top it up. In the Assassin's Creed games it's synchronization, a representation of how accurately your digital simulation is recreating historical events although that raises the question of why being hurt during events where your historical analogue was also hurt doesn't improve synchronization.

Even in D&D it's unclear what hit points really are. In the Dungeon Master's Guide for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition, Gary Gygax wrote that hit points reflect both the actual physical ability of the character to withstand damage as indicated by constitution bonuses and a commensurate increase in such areas as skill in combat and similar life-or-death situations, the sixth sense which warns the individual of some otherwise unforeseen events, sheer luck, and the fantastic provisions of magical protections and/or divine protection.

(Charmingly, the rules then went on to explain that Rasputin would have been able to survive for so long because he had more than 14 hit points. )

Pool of Radiance (1988) was the first cRPG adaptation of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

Constitution, skill, sixth sense, luck, magic, and divine protection are a lot of things to bundle into one number, and raise further questions about why, for instance, poisoned attacks cause extra damage to your sixth sense . When asked about what hit points really are at conventions Gygax was dismissive, giving different answers to the question each time. Sometimes he said hit points represent the way swashbuckling movie heroes survive so many fights, or that they were an entirely meaningless number that represented nothing more than a way of making the game's combat more enjoyable for players.

That second answer is perhaps the best explanation. Given that hit points started out as a way of simulating the ability of a ship's hull to weather cannon-fire, it's only natural that there's going to be some vagueness and necessary abstraction when we apply that same concept to our video game heroes. They may as well be health pineapples, after all.

PC Gamer

REINSTALL

Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting PC gaming days gone by. Today Andy finds fresh fun in the old brown corridors of Quake II.

The original Quake was a muddy medieval world of knights, Lovecraftian horrors, and grim castles. But the sequel, cleverly titled Quake II, goes in a different direction entirely. You re a space marine, naturally, who has crash-landed on an alien world called Stroggos. In a desperate attempt to prevent an invasion, Earth sent an army to the distant planet, but the Strogg knew you were coming and your arrival was a slaughter. The dropships were shot down by anti-air defences and pretty much everyone died, except you. And so, in true id Software FPS style, it becomes a solo mission.

There s a chance you don t remember any of that. After all, Quake II is not a game renowned for its deep, complex sci-fi storyline. But the inclusion of a plot, and mission objectives, was pretty unique for an FPS in the late 90s. As you play, a robotic voice regularly drones computer updated and gives you mission objectives. By modern standards that s completely unexciting, but back then it set Quake II apart from id s other shooters. It was more cinematic, and your actions felt somehow more meaningful. And by your actions I mean shooting , because that s the beating heart of the game. Shooting things, and avoiding being shot.

At the time, Quake II was a technical marvel. Powered by the id Tech 2 engine, it boasted features that seem unremarkable now, but were amazing in their day. Hardware-accelerated graphics, coloured lighting, skyboxes, and the ability to return to previously completed levels were among its once groundbreaking features. After the release of Quake II, the engine powered several other games, including, in the early stages of its development, Half-Life. Quake II also had massively improved networking, making it one of the best early examples of an online FPS. Mod support also dramatically extended its lifespan for anyone lucky enough to have an internet connection with which to download the things.

People are still making mods today, in fact, including a few that let you play the game at high resolutions and with some graphical improvements. It ll still look like a game from 1997, but it makes it a bit more tolerable to modern eyes. Character movement is mapped to the arrow keys by default, but after some rebinding you can have it playing like a modern FPS. Although, weirdly, strafing is faster than moving forward and backwards. A strange sensation that took me a while to get used to. But for such an old game, Quake II is surprisingly playable.

It s still one of the finest collections of FPS guns on PC, and every weapon you wield has a distinct personality.

A big part of this is its arsenal. It s still one of the finest collections of FPS guns on PC, and every weapon you wield has a distinct personality. The chaingun rattles at incredible speeds, getting steadily faster the longer you fire it. The super shotgun is like a handheld anti-aircraft gun, and you can almost feel the power as you unload it into an enemy and hear that echoing boom. The exaggerated kickback on the machine gun, which rises slowly as you fire, gives it a sense of physicality. And I love it when you fire the grenade launcher and hear the metal clink of the grenades as they bounce around the level. Every weapon, except maybe the blaster, is a joy to fire.

But the best of the lot is the railgun. This metal tube of death fires depleted uranium slugs at extremely high velocities, which leave a blue corkscrew of smoke in their wake. The railgun is incredibly accurate it s like a sniper rifle without a scope and it can cut through several Strogg at a time. In fights with multiple enemies, a useful strategy is running around until a few of them are lined up, then firing a slug. Seeing it tear through a line of bad guys is one of the greatest pleasures in first-person shooting.

And the things you shoot are just as well-designed. Quake II has the standard FPS structure of starting you out against small groups of easily-killed grunts, increasing the challenge the deeper into the game you get. In the first few levels you re fighting shotgun-toting Guards, beefy Enforcers with chainguns, and Berserkers who lunge at you with big metal spikes and later fire rockets at you. The way enemies explode into chunks of bloody meat, or gibs to use the parlance of the times, is still gruesomely satisfying. And there are other grisly touches, like when you don t quite kill an enemy and they squeeze off a few extra shots before they finally collapse and die.

But this is just to ease you in, and it s not long before id starts throwing its meanest creations at you in force. The Strogg are weird cyborg hybrids, with mechanical limbs and eerily human, grimacing faces. Gladiators stomp around on metal legs, firing their own version of the railgun at you. Mutants are angry, feral beasts who pounce on you, usually from dark corners. Brains, perhaps the weirdest enemy, attack you with tentacles and blood-stained hooked hands. There s a huge variety of things to kill, all with unique behaviours and weapons, which keeps the game interesting especially when you re facing several types at once.

The hardest thing to stomach when revisiting Quake II is how brown it is. The switch from dark fantasy to sci-fi leaves the levels brutal, industrial, and metallic. There isn t much variety or detail in the environments, and the colour palette is depressingly muted. The actual design of the levels is great, with plenty of secret areas and multi-level arenas to fight in, but the lack of colour and almost nonexistent world-building make it feel like a bit of a slog at times. But I remember thinking this back in 1997, and really it s a game about combat, not drawing you into its world. And since the Strogg live only for war, I guess it makes sense that their planet would be like one giant factory.

When you ve fought your way through the Strogg and infiltrated the headquarters of their leader a space station in an asteroid belt above the planet it s time to complete your final objective: kill it. The Strogg leader is called The Makron, and it s a two-stage boss fight. Its first form is a powerful exoskeleton which comes equipped with a BFG10K, the most powerful weapon in the game. And, unlike your own BFG, it can fire it multiple times in quick succession. When you destroy the mech, it s time to kill The Makron itself, which also has a BFG as well as a blaster and a railgun. Luckily the arena is littered with power-ups, health, and ammo, including a secret underground chamber that can be accessed by pressing a hidden switch. When the boss falls, you step into an escape pod, and that s it. The End unceremoniously flashes up on the screen, and your only choice is to go back to the menu. Imagine if a game ended like that today.

Quake II is still a great game, and I m surprised by how well it holds up. There s something about the feel of the weapons, the way they re animated and how they sound, that makes them some of the best examples in the genre. Even the new Doom, which is a fantastic ode to this era of shooter design, doesn t have anything quite as enjoyably punchy as Quake s railgun.

PC Gamer

Image via defunct gaming site Freakygaming.

WASD feels inevitable today. Once mouselook became standard in 3D games, it made little sense (at least for right-handed players) to hold your left arm across your chest to reach the arrow keys. The WASD keys were more comfortable, and offered easy access to Shift and Space. But even though WASD seems like the obvious choice now, far fewer players used it 20 years ago.

Our favorite four letter word was never a foregone conclusion, and didn't become standard through some gaseous enlightening that spread to every PC gamer simultaneously. The new movement scheme took several years to catch on, and while we can t know whose fingers found their way to WASD first, we do have a good idea of who popularized the style: the greatest Quake player in the universe, Dennis Thresh Fong.

Fong made history when he took home John Carmack's Ferrari 328 after winning the first-ever nationwide Quake tournament in 1997. And when he won that tournament, defeating Tom "Entropy" Kimzey on Castle of the Damned, his right hand was on a mouse, and his left hand was perched over the four keys we now consider synonymous with PC gaming. But even then, not everyone played that way.

His brother was playing with a keyboard and trackball, and he was winning.

In the early days of first-person shooters, Fong says the keymappings were all over the place, and even the great Thresh had only just started to play with a mouse at all. Imagine him just a few years before, sometime around 1993, as a teenager losing a match of Doom against his brother Lyle. Like many Doom players, Fong used only the keyboard. Without the need to look up or down, it was a natural choice so much that using a mouse was even considered weird. His brother, however, was playing with a keyboard and trackball, and he was winning. It wasn t every game both were excellent players but Lyle won enough that one summer Fong decided he had to learn to play with a mouse. After that, he was unbeatable.

Right after I made that switch, my skill improved exponentially, says Fong. Pretty much, from then on, I never lost.

It took some experimentation including a strange attempt to move with WADX but Fong settled on WASD and has been using it since Doom. Did he invent the scheme? No, probably not. Others were also gravitating to the left side of the keyboard for Doom at the same time. But without Fong's influence, the default could have ended up different. It might have been EDSF, or stranger configurations like ZXC to strafe and move backwards, and the right mouse button to move forwards. Some early shooters bound movement to the arrow keys. In 1994, System Shock used ASDX, while Descent used AZ for forward/reverse and QE for banking (if you didn't happen to have a joystick).

Fong tells us he even knew a player who used ZXCV to move.

I m certainly not going to take credit for the creation of [WASD], says Fong. I stumbled across it. I m sure other people started using it as well just based on what was comfortable for them. I definitely think I helped popularize it with a certain set of gamers, particularly the ones that played first person shooters."

Quake wasn't the first game to introduce mouselook (Marathon came before it), but it was the most influential.

It s likely that he did. The very concept of a professional gamer was new at the time, and Fong was well-known on the west coast as the best player around. As Fong s celebrity grew, the one question everyone asked him was: What s your config? His answer could be most readily found in Thresh s Quake Bible, which describes the WASD formation as an inverted T. And his guide carried weight. Even before his success as a Quake player, Fong was a Doom champion, and so people imitated him, just as the kids at the basketball court by my house spend far too much time trying to hit Steph Curry s 30-foot shots.

The evidence can be found on old bulletin board systems. In one thread from 1997, a poster recommends using Q and E to strafe and A and D to turn. Another suggests using the keypad for movement, and someone else says they use A, Shift, Z, X. It wasn't the case that everyone simply gravitated to the 'obvious' choice of WASD or ESDF, and in another thread, we see how Thresh's performance in the Quake tournament spread his style. His play was so impressive, the poster looking for his config speculates that it was impossible for him to turn so fast with a mouse.

Another legend, Quake programmer John Carmack, took note. Even when I was hanging out with Carmack, wherever, at E3, random people would come up and he would hear them asking me what my configuration was, says Fong. So he ended up building a Thresh stock config into Quake 2.

It was a relief. Not only could Fong sit down at any computer with Quake 2 and instantly load his configuration, every time he got the question, all he had to say was type exec thresh.cfg.

Half-Life was one of the first games to bind WASD to movement by default.

Convenient as it was, Fong doesn t think the inclusion of his config was the main factor in the rise of WASD, and I d agree. By the time Quake 2 was out, WASD was starting to feel like common knowledge. I used it, and I don t remember hearing Thresh s name associated with it at the time, though it s possible his configuration entered my consciousness two or three people removed.

And yet games, strangely, took a while to catch up. Carmack may have bundled Thresh s config with Quake 2, but when it released in 1997 the default controls were still arrow keys. A year later, though, that changed. If Thresh's Quake tournament win was WASD's first watershed moment, the second came in 1998 with the release of Half-Life. The Quake and Doom players at Valve perhaps influenced directly or indirectly by Carmack, Thresh, and other top Doom and Quake players included WASD in Half-Life s default keyboard and mouse config, which helped solidify it as the first-person shooter standard.

Valve engineer Yahn Bernier checked Half-Life's original config file for us and confirmed it included WASD. "I remember finalizing this file (maybe with Steve Bond) during the lead up to shipping HL1 but don t recall specifics about when WASD was settled on or really why. We probably carried it forward from Quake1 " he wrote in an email.

The same year, and less than a month after Half-Life, Starsiege Tribes also made WASD default. Quake 3 followed suit in 1999, and WASD's popularity grew even more. It was also the default binding in 2000's Daikatana, but Half-Life, Tribes, and Quake 3 probably had a bit more to do with its popularity.

In a period of a year, Half-Life, Tribes, and Quake 3 set the standard we use today.

I always rebind to ESDF.

Gabe Newell

There were still plenty of heretical control schemes in 1999 like System Shock 2's, which defaulted to WADX (and S for crouch). But WASD had momentum. If it wasn t already ubiquitous by 2004, World of Warcraft defaulting to WASD codified it for millions of PC gamers. Now it s in RPGs and MOBAs and even strategy games, controlling camera movement over maps.

Interestingly, Valve boss Gabe Newell doesn t use WASD. I personally don't like WASD as it takes your hand away from your typing home keys, he wrote in an email to PC Gamer. I always rebind to ESDF. Newell's not alone there. Do a little Googling and you'll find plenty of people arguing that ESDF is the more natural configuration.

More surprisingly, another Half-Life developer, level designer Dario Casali, also rejects WASD. Instead, he prefers ASXC. It feels natural to me, where WASD feels odd, wrote Casali. But lots of people scoff at my config.

What would PC gaming be like had EDSF or ASXC been Half-Life s default? No offense intended to Newell or Casali, but I shudder to think of it. ASXC just sounds bonkers to me. Newell's fairly commonplace ESDF is more palatable, but as Thresh echoes, it feels harder to hit Shift and Control while easier to mispress one of the surrounding keys. For me, Thresh, and millions of PC gamers, it s WASD for life.

You can read more about the history of Quake in our retrospective celebrating Quake's 20th anniversary. We're also celebrating by running a Quake server through the weekend, and Thresh himself will be playing on our US-West server today, Friday, from 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm Pacific time.

Wes Fenlon also contributed to this article.

PC Gamer

The great and mighty Quake turned 20 earlier this week, a moment in gaming history we marked (and continue to mark) by putting up our very own PC Gamer Quake servers for the week. We've also got a really good Quake retrospective I'd encourage you to dig into here. Wolfenstein: The New Order developer MachineGames is getting in on the fun too: It's created an all-new Quake episode, and released it for free.

Installing the episode is easy: Just extract the archive to its own subdirectory inside your Quake directory, then run the Dopa batch file. It works perfectly well with the GOG version of Quake and presumably others as well (GOG's release is the one I tried it on), and you can trust me, it's perfectly safe and won't set your PC on fire.

I haven't finished it yet, but I'm midway through the second level and so far it's really good. The level designs have been really clever so far, with lots of secrets to find, and yes, there is a hidden (but not too-hidden) teleporter to Nightmare difficulty, if that's your thing. Enjoy!

PC Gamer

Twenty years ago, id Software released Quake. You ve probably heard of it. What s less known is that Quake was an idea that had been gestating since id s early days, back in the era when it was best known for the side-scrolling Commander Keen series. The first Keen promised that coming soon as The Fight For Justice, an epic RPG starring Quake the strongest, most dangerous person on the continent, who would explore an epic RPG world armed with a hammer in what id was already calling The finest PC game yet. Instead, it would take half a decade before Quake s adventure came out, breaking both technical limits and id Software itself.

When Quake arrived, it was a true 3D action game everything built in polygons. Until then, most games had just faked it. Wolfenstein 3D took place on entirely flat maps. Doom offered different heights, but everything was still drawn in 2D. It wasn t possible to have rooms under rooms and the like. Duke Nukem 3D and other Build engine games, particularly Shadow Warrior, used advanced cheats to fake the effect. When you jumped into water for instance, you were actually invisibly teleported into another zone elsewhere on the map. Quake was truly 3D, doing things like spiral staircases and lava pits for real, and being as twisty and turny as it liked.

There had been full 3D games of course, like Descent, or the Freescape games that powered the likes of Castle Master even as far back as the ZX Spectrum. To do this, though, they typically had to choose between simple and slow. Quake didn t. It was a technical showpiece and it moved like a greased-up ferret on a decent PC. No excuses. No compromises.

Or at least, no technical compromises. Of Quake s three great achievements, the single-player game is easily the weakest. It s not a terrible game or anything, but where Doom still stands up as a great campaign full of detail and wonderful design despite its simplicity, Quake is a largely bland and joyless experience whose memorable moments were almost entirely restricted to the first shareware episode. They were pretty cool, though. A main menu in the form of a 3D level, with each chapter s area themed around the aesthetic to follow, forcing you to jump a lava pit to select hard mode and seek out the Nightmare mode in the small level beyond. Big baddie Chthon, hurling fire in his lava lair. The first time having your face eaten off by a Fiend. The low-gravity physics of the secret level, Ziggaurat Vertigo. They re effective, as was the experience of being in a fast-paced 3D world full of action.

Quake still looks sharp thanks to modern versions like ezQuake.

Players hoping for a constant stream of such innovation were disappointed. Despite the Lovecraftian influences, there was little to fear or any sense of anything great going on. There were no more giant, dramatic bosses, with the final one, Shub-Niggerauth, just being a static blob defeated with a cheap telefrag rather than a weapon. There was little sense of place. The levels were murky shooting galleries, where even Doom had tried to make its locations feel like real locations to whatever degree of real you can get from starbases slowly being taken over by biotechnology. Certainly players just coming in from Duke Nukem 3D and its real-world settings and constant variety couldn t help but be disappointed, even if Quake has honestly aged much better. It s still dull, but at least unlike Duke it s not writing cheques its engine long stopped being able to cash, and much easier to take as a simple shooter rather than a bigger Experience.

The main problem was that after years of promises and expectation, to have a game that was basically Doom again only set in a castle was something of a letdown both internally and externally. All the RPG features, most planned new gameplay concepts, even the idea of a main character wielding a hammer, had been sucked out, mostly to get the thing out of the door. This led to a major schism within id. John Romero packed his bags to go start Ion Storm and create the more narrative/detail driven game that he wanted to make. (In a case of history repeating, his co-founder Tom Hall had done much the same over the original Doom, which he d also envisioned as being much more of a story-driven experience than the shooter it ended up being.)

Luckily, multiplayer was a whole other matter. Here, the stripped down simplicity and full 3D allowed for fantastic arena design in genuinely atmospheric levels full of cubby-holes to camp and launch assaults from, and even the occasional gimmick, like hitting a button to slide back a level s floor and drop unwary players into a pool of lava. It felt great. The weapons had real kick. Gibbing other players was a pleasure.

Outside the game, it helped that by 1996 online play was finally becoming viable for PC gamers across the world. While Doom had spawned a huge scene in its day, getting online in 1993 was a pipe dream for most players outside of universities. At home, gamers were lucky to have a null-modem cable to connect two PCs together, never mind enjoy the fun of epic LAN parties. Of course those who could got to enjoy a truly wonderful experience.

The raw sense of place and weight that 3D offered soon made the fakery of 2.5D untenable.

And so, people played Quake, and saw that Quake was good. The rocket jump alone took Quake to a whole new level. This wasn t an id invention, but a discovery by fans, so of course the maps hadn t been designed to handle it. The result? One of the net s first famous speed-runs Quake Done Quick, in which the whole game was obliterated in under twenty minutes with tricks like bunny-hopping to raise incredible speed, and rockets to hop through what were meant to be tantalising doors only intended to be accessed after collecting a key or going all around the houses.

Playing fairly or not, the raw sense of place and weight that 3D offered soon made the fakery of 2.5D untenable. It became impossible to ignore that sprites were just two-dimensional, and that when killed, their collapse was a totally canned animation rather than reacting properly to physics (though it wouldn t be until Half-Life that games took the next step and made it standard to give characters skeletons instead of keyframed animation, ushering in the still ongoing ragdoll comedy era).

What all of Quake s technology really empowered though was its community. It was the first game-as-platform, made possible by not just by the 3D engine, but Carmack including an interpreted language called QuakeC that allowed modders to do more than simply create their own levels and make the monsters look like Bart Simpson. They could completely bend the engine to their wishes.

And the modding community ran with this. When you bought Quake, you were buying into a whole universe of content online. Initially this was limited to simple-but-cool additions, like giving the player a grappling hook to scale and swing around levels in ways that had been impossible with previous 2D engines. Experiments gave way to full total conversions like AirQuake, which swapped the players out for vehicles and turned deathmatch into a 3D vehicle combat game. Others proved that the sky wasn t close to being the limit. A little game called Team Fortress, for example, began as a Quake mod, launching with the Scout, Sniper, Soldier, Demoman and Medic classes and building from there.

The ability to create stages, have polygonal characters, and have multiple people control them in scenes also spawned machinima filmmaking. Quake s early examples of machinima may be the Fred Ott s Sneeze of the genre by modern standards, with celebrated stuff like Blahbalicious and Apartment Huntin now looking somewhat yeah... in the era of Red vs. Blue and Source Filmmaker and whatever the hell people are doing to the Overwatch girls today. At the time though, they were often very impressive, especially when run live in-engine, and did pave the way for something new.

Much as the Doom mapping community still puts out new levels, Quake still has a modding scene. This month sees the release of Arcane Dimensions 1.5. Last month, a brand new set of gun models joined the fray. Also, Carmack open sourced Quake s code in 1999, coders have been able to completely overhaul the old engine and bring it much more in line with modern standards. Darkplaces offers real-time rendering of light and shadow, and likely Quake as you remember it looking if you haven t played it for a while, while others, like QuakeSpasm focus more on accuracy.

The Quake family tree

One of many flowcharts mapping the history of Carmack's code, via Wikipedia. Click for full size.

No game since has managed to replicate Quake s spectacular level of success as a canvas for modding. Others have impressive modding communities, for sure, but not the same scale. With Quake, anything seemed possible as long as it didn t take too many polygons. Games like Second Life tried to replicate the phenomenon online, and of course, now would-be programmers can get their hands on the likes of Source and Unity and Game Maker for free or almost free, rendering modding less important at least for making total conversions or a wholly new game out of the bones of the old.

However long it lasted, the Quake era was important kickstarting many an industry career, as well as providing the kind of playtime that most games can only dream of supplying. Some mods even got a commercial release, though not necessarily fondly remembered ones. X-Men: The Ravages of Apocalypse, anybody? The answer, in case you re wondering, is hell no .

Finally, the Quake story became weird. After two official expansions (Scourge of Armagon, aka The One Without The Dragon In It , and Dissolution of Eternity, aka The One WITH The Dragon In It ), id disappeared for a while and released Quake 2 as a single-player focused SF shooter in which you played a space marine fighting the unfortunately named Strogg. It was not very good. At all. Its main contribution to the world was, along with Unreal, teaming up with 3D accelerators to splash coloured lightning around the world whether it liked it or not. Then Quake 3 ditched all of that for a futuristic arena shooter starring characters like a giant cyborg eye before Raven s Quake 4 went back to the Strogg nonsense for another single-player focused game.

With the newly announced Quake Champions, it seems clear a new Quake game is no guarantee of a particular story or style, but rather a way for id to make use of owning the name. Despite that, close your eyes and picture Quake . What comes to mind isn t just another game to be ticked off as completed, nor a technical achievement to be respected, but that rare game that blew past its limits. Quake lives on to some extent in just about every shooter that followed it, and made gaming a better, more advanced, and endlessly more exciting place for its existence.

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