Quake As Artist Tool
The games I loved the most when I was growing up were the ones that let you create, or at least solve creatively. Excitebike on the NES let me make my own motocross tracks and challenge friends with devious puzzles and big jumps. Lemmings on my Mac Classic let me play around with unusual solutions to tricky levels - and if I messed it up I got to blow up all the little floppy-haired guys and start over. I traded levels on floppy disk with other kids in middle schoool for the Mac game Lode Runner: The Legend Returns.
And then there was Quake - my ultimate toolbox.
Unlike those other games with easy-to-use tools, Quake modding and mapping had a big learning curve. Mapping in Quake wasn't a simple painting tool like in Lode Runner or Excitebike. And unlike modern game creation tools, you had to perform a multi-step process to compile your MAP into a playable BSP. If you wanted cool lighting, that had to be compiled also - at excruciatingly slow speeds. Scripting tools allowed modders to create smart object and triggers, and if you had the patience you could make Quake do some things totally unexpected. Expanding possibilities further was QuakeC, a full-on compiled programming language that let modders do things not built into the base engine.
My teenaged attention span never let me get good at lighting and representative brushwork but I loved to build puzzle maps not all that dissimilar to Lemmings levels to share with friends. Those maps are lost to time, but I still remember the joy of the blank slate that Quake represented. So too, apparently, did the huge community of Quake modders. They would create thousands of mods, partial conversions, total conversions, and custom maps.
Looking back over my C:\Quake backup, I see other people like me who took the freedom that Quake gave to make an idea real. Some created stories for thier maps in TXT files that accompanied the download. Some made visual jokes or traps, trying to make people laugh. Others enjoyed using scripts to build animated structures and cool visual effects. And some recreated entire other games in the Quake engine.
Today's map is called QuakeBert, and as you might expect it is a three dimensional recreation of the classic arcade game Q*bert. That's basically it! You jump around, lighting up tiles until the entire level has been lit up. Once you have, a slipgate appears and you can exit and get your score. It's easy to fall off the level and die, though there is an elevator to bring you back up again. There are no enemies, and the only thing you can do is try to complete the level faster and faster.
You can play the level in multiplayer, but there's no real way to compete against another player. My attempt at using bots was an infinite loop of telefrags, becuase the mapper neglected to use more than one spawn point. Honestly, there's not much to the level. Once you realize that you're playing Q*bert, you hop around for a few minutes and then take the exit just like the arcade game. There aren't any enemies, all the levels are the same, and while there is a leaderboard of times it gets wiped when you quit the map.
So why highlight QuakeBert at all? Because it is a great example of reification: taking an abstract concept and making it real. 20 years ago Quake lowered the bar for creating compelling 3D content, and when given those tools people all over the world made real their fantasies and fears - and with far more compelling graphics and atmosphere than in the past. Sometimes they transformed real life into the game world - it seemed to be a rite of passage to recreate your own home in the Quake engine but with grenade-launching ogres. Quake mappers and modders would also leverage their creativity into fun experiences that they shared for free with the world. And while it was easier and more compelling than it ever had been in the past, Quake modding was difficult to execute well and people poured years of their lives into it. They challenged themselves to breath something real out of the abstract concepts in their heads. To go from idea to execution.
We now live in a gaming world where creation and sharing with an audience has never been easier. Super Mario Maker lets you easily share perfect-looking levels with friends - no floppy disks required. Modern game-making toolkits and rendering engines are free, and there are very few limits to creating your ideas. Indeed, these days there's a glut, even a firehose of content.
For me and for many others, Quake is where the power to create ones gaming vision began. Quake let me make my ideas real - even when they were simple. Just like how Q*bert is reified in QuakeBert.
- Name: QuakeBert, quakebrt.bsp
- Author: Brian "Fragbert" Kelly
- Release Date: 24-May-1997
- Download: QuakeBert doesn't appear to be downloadable anywhere on the open web, so I have hosted the original file at ....
- Stream: My run-through of QuakeBert in multiplayer with ReaperBots:
Special Bonus: QuakeOn
The creator of QuakeBert was also the creator of QuakeOn, a "front end" I used back in the day. In modern parlance we'd call it a mod manager. QuakeOn can be made to work on Windows 10, but it doesn't work quite right with modern source ports and mods.
One hilarious feature was "The Helping Head", a severed head that gave you usage tips, Clippy-style.