Not only is Quake alive and well in 2017, its modding scene is making a comeback.
For the uninitiated, Quake is a faster, twitchier experience than most modern shooters. While Quake’s protagonist isn’t as inhumanly fast as the protagonist in Doom, your agility allows for bunnyhopping and rocket-jumping tricks that still awe crowds at regular Games Done Quick charity events. Enemies react quickly to your presence and boast generous health pools, so optimal strategy is a combination of rapid evasion and leaning hard on the trigger, burning down one target after another with a hail of buckshot, explosives and nailgun fire.
Quake mapping is consistent, organized and unrelenting. Quake’s community has mostly rallied around a singular download hub for nearly every level, and there’s even a handy launcher that downloads, installs and runs them all for you. Quake map packs tend to be once-a-month events, and they’re of indisputable quality, unshackled by the hardware and engine limits of the 90s.
If you’re an old fan returning after 20 years or a newcomer looking for a fresh hit of rapid-fire violence after getting hooked on the new Doom, you’re in for a wild ride. Here’s a handy guide to jumping into the latest iteration of Quake 1, as well as a few notable mod picks, most of which are single-player.
You can pick Quake up from GOG or Steam, but the GOG version works out slightly cheaper since it includes both official expansions—Scourge of Armagon and Dissolution Of Eternity—which are sold separately on the Steam release. Both expansions are solid enough, but more importantly are required by a handful of mods. If you’re not willing to commit, the old ‘Shareware’ demo of Quake is also compatible with all engines, although don’t expect much mod access from this cut-down sampler.
You’ll also need an engine. We’ll boil it down to the two easiest options. For maximum compatibility and access to the most modern mods, you’ll want to look at either Quakespasm or Darkplaces. The former leans towards more accuracy to the original engine (albeit with cutting-edge mod support), whereas Darkplaces is focused on buffing up the visuals with modern HD textures and shader effects. Quakespasm is easier to set up and has near 100% compatibility with modern and classic mods, so we’ll stick to that for the purpose of this article. Get your engine of choice, unzip it into your Quake installation directory and you’re almost ready to roll on that classic single-player campaign.
As far as installing mods goes, you’ll want Quake Injector, a Java-based downloader/installer/launcher combo that’s hooked directly into the Quaddicted network. Almost all the mods listed below can be found, downloaded and launched without ever leaving Quake Injector.
The crown jewel of modern Quake mods is Arcane Dimensions, a massive collaborative dev-jam combining the talents of the best and brightest Quake community’s mappers and modders. It’s the biggest mod (in terms of megabyte tonnage) in Quake history, weighing in at a staggering 210mb zipped. AD is a melting pot of ideas, with tons of new enemies, weapons, gameplay systems and texture sets supporting some of the most intricate and detailed maps in the scene. Among the entirely new maps are some clever remixes, including Doom’s iconic E1M1, and some classic deathmatch maps redesigned as high-speed monster mashes.
Each of Arcane Dimensions’ levels (each by a different contributor, a common practice for Quake map jams) is a standalone adventure, often as long as several regular levels strung back-to-back, meaning that you’ll be getting a fresh experience no matter which order you play them in. In addition to the meat-and-potatoes content of AD, make sure you check out the ‘Test Map’ hub located off to the side of the main level selection portal. While some of these dozen small maps are merely tech demos for AD’s features, several are solid levels in their own right. The big arena brawl ‘demo’ for the plasma rifle is especially fun.
If you want more classic Quake gameplay without the fancy frills, MachineGames (yes, the Wolfenstein: The New Order developers) have you sorted. One of their senior level designers recently returned to his old 90s stomping grounds and produced seven megabytes of concentrated joy in Dimension Of The Past, a ‘fifth episode’ for classic Quake, picking up in terms of design where the original four left off. It might feel a little light and casual compared to some modern Quake maps, but that’s just it mirroring the less enemy-dense style of the original levels.
But maybe you want to go beyond the authentically retro. Maybe you want the most ridiculously enormous Quake levels ever made. Enter Rubicon Rumble Pack. As a point of reference, the entirety of Quake 1 contains about 1800 enemies, spread across nearly 30 levels. Telefragged, a single level and juggernaut centerpiece of the Rubicon Rumble Pack, contains approximately 1000 monsters, many of them new, all of them interesting to fight. These maps don’t sacrifice detail for scale, either; they’re some of the most intricate architecture on the scene.
Not to spoil too much, but in addition to its enormous scale and enemy density, Telefragged breaks from Quake tradition by opening with a lengthy stealth sequence. If you got a taste for Quake-flavored sneaking there, In The Shadows repurposes Quake’s frenetic gunplay into a slower, more calculating game of stealth and evasion. Creep around, avoid guards, and don’t count on having a loaded shotgun to bail you out of every situation.
If avoiding enemies is too much stress, Explore Jam 2 is a recent release that removes combat entirely. It’s a pack of five atmospheric puzzle-oriented levels. You’ll need a keen eye and a handle on Quake’s more esoteric movement techniques to really master these levels, but it’s a fun and fresh experience if you tire of endless monster mashes. Plus, it really highlights the kind of creativity that drives Quake’s community in 2017.
Going outside of the Quaddicted archives, one set of levels that you’ll unfortunately have to manually install is this Film Noir themed map-jam, notably built on top of Arcane Dimensions’ featureset. It’s a little rough around the edges, but the atmosphere is great, with Sin City-esque red highlights really catching the eye amongst the stark monochromes. It’s worth the effort to get running, although feel free to skip this one if you don’t feel like leaving the cozy confines of Quake Injector.
Getting back to stuff easily found via Quake Injector, we continue the theme of impeccable atmosphere with Warpspasm and Zerstörer - Testament of the Destroyer. These campaigns run with the idea that you’re a lone, questionably sane human being fighting against eldritch horrors capable of rending your soul from your fragile, fleshy body. Both have their rough spots, but they deliver their own intense, high-pressure campaigns against seemingly insurmountable odds. Don’t go expecting happy endings here, and prepare to get quite familiar with the quicksave and quickload buttons if you play on anything above Easy difficulty.
For a final, more sweeping recommendation, I highly recommend just about every community map-jam project the Quake scene has produced. All are impressive, but some are stand-out gems. The most recent release (Retro Jam 6) is a large set of standalone levels with an ancient Egyptian theme, featuring some dusty-looking reskins of the usual powerups to drive home the atmosphere. Beyond that, the older Func Map Jam 2 is an aesthetic triumph. Limiting mappers to just a pair of lesser-used texture sets resulted in a clean and crisp-looking level pack that feels a world away from the industrial decay and grimy stone of regular Quake.
These picks are just the tip of the iceberg, but they should last you a good few weeks of dedicated play. Remember to dig deep into the Quaddicted archives once you’re had your fill of these, and share your own recommendations, memories, tips and tricks in the comments below. Have fun, happy Quaking, and remember: Happiness is a warm rocket launcher.
Dominic Tarason has been an avid gamer since the days of monochrome monitors and MS DOS and is now constantly seeking out the latest and weirdest titles indie and mainstream, local and foreign. Also trying to turn this knowledge of all things nerdy into a career. You can get in touch via email, Twitter, and Skype (JDominicwhite’).