C:\QUAKE - Part 4: Single-Player Quake and IKSPQ5

C:\QUAKE - Part 4: Single-Player Quake and IKSPQ5

I found a backup of my C:\Quake folder from 20 years ago when I was a Quake-obsessed teenager. This is part 4 of a series on the hidden gems and curiosities from that time-capsule.


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's with Bryan Cranston?
Pic unrelated.


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.  

This menacing and ominous mouth warns of a challenge ahead.
The Secret Installation aka IKSPQ5.
This menacing and ominous mouth warns of a challenge ahead.


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).

Something's crashed through the roof of the base...something not quite human!
Something's crashed through the roof of the base...
... something not quite human!
Lighting wizardry: all the light of this indoor scene is natural, through windows and skylights
Lighting wizardry: all the light of this indoor scene is natural,
through windows and skylights


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.

Close quarters, vertical fighting defines IKSPQ5
Close quarters, vertical fighting defines IKSPQ5



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.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    March 6, 2021 1:00 PM

    Fourth in a weekly series of articles about my Quake mod obsession in the late 90's. This time: IKSPQ5 - "it is the BEST user-created Quake level I have ever played. Period. Bar none. That's it."

    Read more: C:\QUAKE - Part 4: Single-Player Quake and IKSPQ5

    • reply
      March 6, 2021 1:12 PM

      I know Iikka through his stuff he's done as Digital Eel. I've been hanging out with Rich Carlson in various chat rooms for like 25 years. http://digital-eel.com/

      I really enjoy their Infinite Space games. :)

    • reply
      March 6, 2021 1:33 PM

      Nice! Video is set to private btw.

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      March 6, 2021 3:10 PM

      Fuck yes, his Quake levels were perfect and that map is insane. I recently put Quake on my laptop and that was the first map I downloaded for it

    • reply
      March 6, 2021 3:35 PM


      Back before 3D cards, software mode Quake had a certain charm to its looks that GLQuake was never able to replicate. I don't know if it was because of the colors, or the sprites, but it sort of looked better in a way, especially in dark rooms.

    • reply
      March 6, 2021 3:43 PM

      very cool!

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      March 6, 2021 4:09 PM

      Gentlemen, behold:

      | tree.txt
      +---Beyond Belief
      | beyondbelief.zip
      +---CZG's maps
      | czg01.zip
      | czg02.zip
      | czg03.zip
      | czg04.zip
      | czg07.zip
      | czg_februus.zip
      | czg_moon.zip
      | czg_toxic.zip
      | februus.zip
      | honey.zip
      | terra.zip
      +---DaMaul's maps
      | damaul1.zip
      | damaul2.zip
      | damaul3.zip
      | damaul3b.zip
      | damaul4.zip
      | damaul6.zip
      | damaul7.zip
      +---DaZ's maps
      | dazsp2.zip
      | dazsp3.zip
      +---Elek's maps
      | coagula1_coagula.zip
      | coagula2_flesh.zip
      | coagula3_bone.zip
      | cursed.zip
      | darkness.zip
      | golgotha.zip
      | precipice_continuum.zip
      +---Fat Controller
      | fc1.zip
      | oum.zip
      | rc1.zip
      +---Hell in a Can
      | casspq1.zip
      +---Ikka's maps
      | ika.zip
      | ikspq1.zip
      | ikspq1_start.zip
      | ikspq2.zip
      | ikspq3.zip
      | ikspq4.zip
      | ikspq5.zip
      | ikspq_complete.zip
      +---Kona's maps
      | alk10.zip
      | alk11.zip
      | alk12.zip
      | carved_in_flesh.zip
      | flesh.zip
      | rapture.zip
      +---Matt S's maps
      | jawbreak.zip
      | jawbreak_gl.zip
      | lost_world.zip
      | underworld.zip
      +---Matthias Worch
      | bbelief.zip
      | bbelief2008.zip
      | bbelief6_fix.zip
      | rubicon.zip
      | rubicon2.zip
      +---Mexx's maps
      | mexx1.zip
      | mexx10.zip
      | mexx2.zip
      | mexx3-8_VISpatch.zip
      | mexx3.zip
      | mexx4.zip
      | mexx5.zip
      | mexx6.zip
      | mexx7.zip
      | mexx8.zip
      | mexx9.zip
      +---Misc maps
      | antediluvian.zip
      | apsp1_final_threat.zip
      | assault.zip
      | canalzone.zip
      | cgw_levelord_map.zip
      | coagula3_pack.zip
      | colony2.zip
      | colony_1.zip
      | elsinore_gl.zip
      | epoch_gl.zip
      | fmb5.zip
      | fmb6.zip
      | formybabies06.txt
      | gmsp1_colony.zip
      | gmsp3_Day_of_the_Lords.zip
      | grc4_Rust_in_Peace.zip
      | hostile.zip
      | hrim_sp1.zip
      | invein.zip
      | kjsp1.zip
      | moonlite_assault.zip
      | morbidity_2.zip
      | OperUrthMagik.zip
      | pbrsp1_hexameron.zip
      | Q1-badland1.zip
      | Q1-badland2.zip
      | Q1-badlands.zip
      | rc0.zip
      | rc1_OUM1.zip
      | rc2_OUM2.zip
      | rc3_OUM3.zip
      | rstart11.zip
      | rubicon.zip
      | sadlark2.zip
      | sadlark8.zip
      | schist1.zip
      | schist_full.zip
      | ScragbaitEstate.zip
      | shadow.zip
      | sm36.zip
      | southpark.zip
      | starship.zip
      | twisted_xmas.zip
      | vigil.zip
      | zer.zip
      +---Necro's maps
      | necrobrood.zip
      | Ne_SP02_1.3.zip
      | Ne_SP02_extra_textures.zip
      | Ne_SP03.zip
      | Ne_SP04.zip
      | Ne_SP06.zip
      | Ne_SP09.zip
      +---Neil_Manke's maps
      | moon_starship2.zip
      | sofsp1.zip
      | sofsp2.zip
      | zendar1d.zip
      +---The Demon King
      | thedemonking11.zip
      | travail.zip
      | travail_soundtrack.zip
      +---Tronyn's maps
      | arcanum.zip
      | arcextra.zip
      | arwop.zip
      | coe.zip
      | coe_p.zip
      | CoE_patch.zip
      | CovenofEbony.zip
      | drake290111.zip
      | nsoe2.zip
      | nyarlathotep.zip
      | pg2.zip
      | rapture.zip
      | soe_full.zip
      | something_wicked.zip
      | unforgiven.zip
      | ritualsp.zip
      +---Vondur's maps
      | Adm_Cruelty.zip
      | Castle_Koohoo.zip
      | Nastrond.zip

      Still keep all of these around, in case I get the urge. 😁 I also keep a complete install of Quake + Quakespasm in the root of this storage folder that can be unzipped to wherever, so I can be playing QUAKE in approximately 30 seconds. 😎

      • reply
        March 6, 2021 4:16 PM

        Zerstorer, so so SO good!

        • reply
          March 6, 2021 4:27 PM

          It really is, especially for the time it was made. It really pushed the limits of what you could do with the quake engine.

      • reply
        March 6, 2021 4:34 PM

        Also, Check out Christian Grauert (CZG) for a mapper who made some gorgeous and gigantic SP maps that require a modern quake port like Fitz or Quakespasm. They're amazing!


      • reply
        March 6, 2021 4:44 PM

        Your backup and mine have many, many similarities!

        • reply
          March 6, 2021 5:03 PM

          😄 I should visit quaddicted and add some more. So many maps, so little time! also [lol], I just noticed I have Zerstorer's main file in there twice. 😆

          • reply
            March 6, 2021 6:44 PM

            The new stuff coming out of func_msgboard is simply fantastic. Most take advantage of Arcane Dimensions, and that really expands the scope and creativity.

            For this series of articles I will only write about maps and mods that were in my time capsule/backup DVD, but I would enjoy doing some of the modern stuff in the future.

            • reply
              March 7, 2021 6:51 AM

              I love that func_msgboard is still up and running after all these years. 😄
              Even posted there back when I was trying to figure out if you could get fog settings to persist across save / load and map changes. IIRC, it can't be done for the original games because fog settings (if any) are baked into the map data so you'd have to edit and recompile them - not 'kosher' for Id's maps due to IP concerns.

              I love the old school look but I do like a few 'modern' touches like animated texture and model lerping, VIS'd water / lava (with r_wateralpha at 0.4) and round particles.

              If somebody wrote a script like VisPatch to do it, that would work and be OK since it would only inject the needed data into your existing PAK files. It's not a priority since I am one of the few who likes a bit of atmospheric miasma in my QUAKE, so I just made a batch file I can exec from the console. 😉

    • reply
      March 6, 2021 5:42 PM

      You can find some stuff here, looks like the links still work too!


      • reply
        March 6, 2021 6:46 PM

        Quake Terminus has been essential for my research, though some links don't work. I should really just host my entire folder publicly so everyone can enjoy it.

        and my pentium 1 era tweaked-to-hell config files...

    • reply
      March 6, 2021 6:55 PM

      It's a damn good level, but your claim that it's the best begs the question: have you played Arcane Dimensions?

      • reply
        March 6, 2021 7:00 PM

        Oh hell yes! Most of them, anyways. They're beautiful, dense, tough, and polished to a shine.

        It's what kicked off my Quake nostalgia about a year ago, and made me track down The Beckup DVD, and then this series of Cortexen.

        • reply
          March 6, 2021 7:03 PM

          Also, the quote is from Matt Sefton of Matt's SPQ Level Heaven, which I was obsessed with back in the late 90s. I agree with him that at the beginning of the Quake 2/Half-Life there was no better Quake level.

          But IKSPQ5 has been surpassed since, of course.

        • reply
          March 6, 2021 7:03 PM

          Awesome. For what it's worth I also have an ancient Quake dir that's been copied from one hard drive to another over the years until it finally hit my current SSD.

          Unfortunately I did have a crash at some point and had to recreate it so my file dates only go back to 2014.

    • reply
      March 7, 2021 5:26 AM

      Didn't this dude end up working on daikatana (tragically)? He also worked on airquake levels, right?

      I remember his stuff, he was great

      • reply
        March 7, 2021 7:05 AM

        Yep, Daikatana and Anachronox. And AirQuake he designed, programmed, and mapped by himself!

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