10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About The Making Of Quake


No video game developer influenced the course of action games as significantly as id Software. Their 1996 release Quake features groundbreaking technology that can be followed all the way up to id’s modern titles. Quake introduced a variety of enhanced features, including fully 3D polygonal graphics and networking technology that revolutionized the way we play multiplayer games. That multiplayer is still alive today, and with the release of a fully remastered source port of Quake, new gamers and veterans alike can return to the cramped, gothic stone hallways — it might be time to brush up on your Quake skills!

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Fans might not know that, behind the game’s impressive engine, was a development cycle fraught with trouble. The game was almost very different from what we know today: its core mechanics are closer to Doom than id Software had initially intended. The tumultuous release of Quake was enough to shake up the id Software team, but as the developers moved on to new projects, they took the lessons learned during the production of Quake to heart and utilized them to pave the way for further success in the industry.

Quake Began As A Commander Keen Follow-Up

The main title screen of Commander Keen in Goodbye Galaxy

Quake began life not as the title of a game, but the name of a character. Quake was the name of a legendary, hammer-wielding warrior from John Carmack’s D&D campaign, known for being the most deadly fighter in the land. The team thought this would be a fun character to include in an action RPG setting.

While this idea never came to fruition, a premature advertisement for a game called The Fight For Justice can be found in the original release of the Commander Keen trilogy. It features Quake using such fantastic items as the Hammer of Thunderbolts and a Ring of Regeneration, neither of which are present in the final game.

An outdoor area in Quake's E1M1

Prior to Quake, first-person shooters used clever tricks to appear 3D, but were actually comprised of entirely 2D elements. It is often referred to as 2.5D: the player sees the world projected in 3D on the screen, but in the background, the game is running as if it were a 2D, top-down game.

Quake’s 3D world allowed for fully modeled, polygonal graphics to be used for the very first time, adding a new layer of realism to the environment that had never been seen before. It also led to new optimization techniques, like only rendering areas of the game directly visible to the player, saving valuable processing power.

The QuakeWorld Update Revolutionized Multiplayer Gaming

A group of gamers at a LAN party.

While Doom popularized the online deathmatch, it wasn’t until John Carmack provided an update to Quake after release that multiplayer gaming took off. Quake was initially released with LAN connectivity to allow players within the same network to play against each other, which it became famous for. It also had the ability to connect with players over the internet, but the burgeoning web was not yet fast enough to handle games without a significant amount of lag.

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QuakeWorld introduced client-server architecture to the game, allowing players to host their own servers and connect with others around the world. It also featured several improvements that allowed the game to predict the actions of various elements in the game in the case of lag, so the user doesn’t see any visible slowdown within the game.

Perfecting the Engine Came First, Gameplay and Story Development Last

A chainsaw-wielding Ogre enemy from Quake

Quake’s anachronistic mishmash of grimy futuristic environments, gothic medieval architecture, and horror-themed enemies do not have much of a background or lore to speak of. John Carmack prioritized the engine technology over developing the setting and story for the game, which led to its rocky development.

While Carmack worked on the engine itself, the rest of the team was left to design the game around the features that would work within it. Since the engine was constantly changing and evolving, there was never a cohesive vision for the gameplay and aesthetic. This led to wild fan speculation about the game’s actual content before release.

It Led To The Complete Breakup of id Software’s Classic Lineup

Images of John Romero and John Carmack speaking about their work.

Images courtesy of Official GDC and Jason Scott

Aside from legendary names like John Romero and John Carmack, id fans may also be familiar with Michael Abrash, Sandy Peterson, Shawn Green, and Jay Wilbur for their contributions to id Software’s early successes. Along with Adrian Carmack and Dave Taylor, these team members are commonly considered part of id Software’s classic lineup.

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Unfortunately, the lack of a project lead and cohesive vision led to internal conflict during the development of Quake. In an attempt to boost productivity, Carmack insisted on bringing the team together to work in a single room. This did not resolve the development issues and Romero, Abrash, Peterson, Green, and Wilbur resigned from id Software immediately following the game’s release.

It Was Released On MS-DOS But Developed On NeXTSTEP

A screenshot of the NeXTSTEP Operating System

NeXTSTEP is a now-obsolete operating system that ran on proprietary computers built by NeXT Computer in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. NeXTSTEP platforms were often used in the development of computer games and software, which were then ported over to more common consumer operating systems at the time. NeXT Computer was eventually purchased by Apple, and elements of NeXTSTEP became part of what we know today as macOS.

Doom and Quake fans are likely familiar with MS-DOS, Microsoft’s operating system that precedes Windows. Doom and Quake were intended for release on MS-DOS, but were programmed on NeXTSTEP machines and then ported for use on MS-DOS. This practice was used by John Carmack to ensure the game was easier to port to other systems, should the time come.

The Game Ran Slower On Non-Intel Processors

A socketed Intel Pentium CPU

Quake’s advanced graphical and technical features required the…


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