Speedrunning is a bit of an industry on Twitch and Youtube these days. Thousands of viewers sit in rapt attention as the world's best gamers compete to complete games both classic and modern as quickly as possible. Authoritative world records are kept, and the stories of world record speedruns can be as compelling as any historical documentary. Semiannual events like Games Done Quick raise millions for charities, showing both the popularity of speedrunning but also the generosity of its fans.
But where does speedrunning start? For me it began with a six megabyte file called QDQ_1949.DEM: a video project known as Quake Done Quick. This file has been sitting in my C:\Quake folder since I heard about it from my other Quake-obsessed friends in the summer of 1997. Simply put, it's an in-Quake recording of a team of speedrunners completing Quake on Nightmare difficulty (the hardest!) in as short a time as possible. Back in the late 90's there didn't exist anything like streaming video sites, so these movies were passed around as demo files - a kind of scripted recording of gameplay that compressed down to a few megabytes which could just about be downloaded over a modem without too much fuss.
The demo files, with their .DEM file extension, could be played back from within Quake itself. This kept the runners honest, as anyone who downloaded DEM files could see for themselves precisely how long a new route took from the first-person perspective of the runner. To casuals like myself, these playbacks were often inscrutable because the runners used advanced techniques I had no idea how to replicate: bunny-hopping, precise rocket jumping, glitching doors with enemy bodies, and even more complex tricks. This all changed with Quake done Quick because like the teacher's pet in high-school algebra class - QdQ showed its work.
What surprises me on this re-watch, more than anything, is how accessible QdQ is because of the "show your work" approach. Modern speedrunning often assumes the watcher is very familiar with the game being run, or with the streamer, or even with the mechanics of the route for a particular speedrun type. That means when you try to watch a world-record run of your favorite game for the first time, not much makes sense. However, with this release the QdQ guys took the time to leverage a hidden function of DEM files that allowed them to edit camera positions away from the first-person viewpoint. This allows for a virtual cinematographer to explain with shot contruction, third-person angles, and camera movement just exactly how the speed runners chose their routes and executed their nearly impossible speedrun. It was even possible to show text which could describe further what was happening.
In this way, QdQ and its successors both invented speedrunning and nearly perfected it in their very first attempt. The camera work does the heavy lifting to show the route, and the sparse text commentary draws your attention to especially amazing tricks. Everything you need to know about the demo is included in the movie DEM itself, guiding the viewer through the essentials and highlighting what makes the run so special. The QdQ team took a new concept - video game speedrunning - and lowered the conceptual bar for entry extremely low. I can state confidently that modern speedrunning started with Quake Done Quick.
There were several more movies in the QdQ series - Quake done Quicker, Quake done Quick with a Vengeance, and Quake done Quickest. QdQr featured more advanced camera work, updated models for clarity, mods that helped give it a storyline of sorts, and the best new routes and world-record speed. As a result, it's even more fun to watch than the original, and can be found on Youtube. The final two are first-person only, and I find them a bit dizzying to watch.
- Name: Quake Done Quick, QDQ_1949.DEM
- Authors: Yonatan Donner, Matthias Belz, Nolan Pflug, and Anthony Bailey
- Release Date: 10 June 1997
- Download: The entire Quake Done Quick series can be downloaded as .DEM files, which can be played back best in the source port JoeQuake, though they should work in vanilla Quake/GLQuake/WinQuake and most modern source ports. Pick it up at http://quake.speeddemosarchive.com/quake/qdq/
- Stream: I couldn't find a good Youtube stream of the original 19:49 Quake Done Quick with classic-looking graphics at high quality 60FPS. So I recorded and uploaded my own! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SkRDEFeC2g
- Trivia: The team behind QdQ went on to make many more speedrun movies on different games, like Quake2 done Quick2, Doom done Quicker, Doom2 done Quick, and many more.
Special Bonus: Scourge Done Slick
The pièce de résistance of Quake speedrunning is Scourge done Slick. SdS is inarguably the apex of Quake speeddemo movies, running the official Quake expansion pack Scourge of Armagon but with its own hilarious and bizarre plot, coupled with the finest cinematography ever commited to a PAK file. The somewhat clunky text explanations from QdQ are replaced here with voice and audio samples, which really helps to explain the speed-running techniques while allowing the viewer to keep their attention focused on the action. And it also lets the SdS team make a torrent of corny jokes. As a teenager, I watched it dozens of times. SdS is tricky to get working perfectly on modern systems, so its best to stream it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSG3JStYMuY