In previous entries in the C:\QUAKE series, we've explored novel game ideas, moviemaking and speedrunning, and the flexibility of Quake's creation abilities. Today, we'll explore the pure architectual creativity of single-player Quake levels, also known as SPQ. I didn't have a great internet connection when Quake was at its peak, so didn't have much interest in the foundational Quake mods like Rocket Arena or Threewave CTF - or even in Quakeworld. For me, SPQ was where I found my interests.
What I enjoyed most was when mappers would stretch the capabilities of Quake to present new narratives, to show strange new worlds, and to inhabit those places with thrilling combat. While the base game had excellent enemy encounters and was dripping with atmospheric touches, the maps themselves tended to be blocky and lacking in embellishment. In short, id Software Quake levels tended to be uninteresting. It was the mod community that brought architectual artistry to Quake.
The Secret Installation, by Iikka "Fingers" Keränen (better known as IKSPQ5) is a compact and detailed military base-style level. There isn't much story or background to the level, so it fits in perfectly with the base game's theme. What makes it stand out is that it's simply gorgeous to look at. Keränen created 94 new textures to give his secret military base an updated look, many of them inspired by then-recent preview screenshots of Quake II. By this time Keränen was at his peak of Quake mapping skills (as it turns out, this was his last Quake release!) and his detailed brushwork is on full display. The military installation looks like one; brutalist slab-like flourishes give a feeling of impenetrability.
There are neat details everywhere - it's nearly impossible to find a simple horizontal wall or ceiling. Light fixtures all have dimension, rather than being simple textures pasted to walls. Crates are either neatly stacked or in disarray for good reasons. Elevators make mechanical sense, rather than being levitating slabs. Much of the lighting is environmental - from the sky itself, from crenellated windows and skylights, and in one memorable scene from something having smashed through the roof. Keränen was experimenting with environmental storytelling, something that would lead to success in his later career (see below for more).
The enemy selection is stuck with the idiom of the time: base-type levels only have Grunts, Enforcers, and Rottweilers. Despite that limitation, Keränen crafts a series of interesting combat encounters. Enemy defenders man lookouts and hide in clever ambushes that give the fights a sense of verticality. Claustrophobia plays a part as well, requiring the player to dodge and backtrack where needed to avoid attacks. It's just a blast to play and the only bad thing about The Secret Installation is how short the playthrough ends up being.
- Name: The Secret Installation, ikspq5.bsp
- Author: Iikka "Fingers" Keränen
- Release Date: 20-Nov-1997
- Download: https://www.quaddicted.com/reviews/ikspq5.html
- Stream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxfYq3YJ7VE or below
Special Bonus - Iikka Keränen
The creator of IKSPQ5, Iikka Keränen, was a reknowned Doom and Quake mapper and modder. He single-handedly created the AirQuake mod - an airplane dogfighting total conversion for Quake. There was an entire series of IKSPQ levels, five in total plus a level-selector map. The maps were so beloved by the Quake community that Keränen was recruited by ION Storm and worked on Anachronox and Daikatana. Keränen then left ION Storm for Valve Software and has been a level designer for every Valve FPS game from Half-Life 2 onwards: including Portal 2, Left 4 Dead 1 & 2, the Counterstrike series, and Shacknews GOTY 2020, Half-Life: Alyx.
Keränen has been a key part of all of my favorite FPS games, and could be considered an unsung hero of gaming level design.