Quake and the Feeling of Nightmare

December 19th, 2008

quake box art

You may remember that I stashed a pile of classic PC games on my ailing laptop before making the trip over to Shanghai. It’s kind of strange then that I haven’t actually talked about any of those games up to now – with the obvious admission of a few, select indie titles. Finally I finished one of those classic PC games, being the original Quake, and here is my experience of life in hell.

Well actually, unlike its forefather; Doom, Quake isn’t really set in hell, it’s more of a sometimes-rustic-medieval-grudge/sometimes-rustic-futuristic-grunge like set up, with enemy types suitable for either décor. Despite not being set in Satan’s domain, Quake most certainly does a good job at making you feel in a sort of nightmare state;


Much like the build-and-expand-upon nature of id software’s first person shooter development, Quake plays much like a semi-evolution of Doom, in the same way that Doom expanded upon Wolfenstien 3D before it.

Quake’s most significant advancement over Doom is that it’s set in an actual three dimensional playing space and not in sprite scaling, pseudo 3D world. While the game is 3D in presentation, the ability to look on the vertical axis (up and down) with the mouse is absent from the game entirely, falsifying a true sense of 3D perspective. So basically, you have the enclosed feeling of Doom, in an open, 3D space. Unlike its sequel Quake II, vertically looking up and down is awkwardly mapped to the key pad, rather than being handled by the mouse (gliding forward and back). Having to look up or down then requires you to forfeit your hand at the mouse, forcing you to use one axis at a time. Furthermore, with auto-assist aiming used for targeting enemies on higher or lower planes, the need to look above or below is completely mute.

The lack of seemliness vertical sight places an unbalanced emphasis on the horizontal axis, as well as destroying the illusion that Quake is a 3D shooting game through both graphics and play mechanics. The latter breaks the visual intuition created by the 3D game world and makes Quake feel two steps digital, one step analog; a semi-evolution of Doom, instead of a “true” 3D offering. It works against the player’s expectations; intrusive and awkward, almost spiting the player for it.

quake graphics
The former (horizontal emphasis) elongates part of the movement set and ultimately becomes the crutch as to how you play the game; consistently crunching on the one axis. Yet the reliance on this axis is unnatural. People do not turn their heads on one plane, they freely move their head around with digression and so forth. The fast paced run also feels unnaturally skippy. Again, creating a separation between the game world and player, likening itself to something more foreign.

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