C:\QUAKE - Part 6: Early Quake and The Downward Spiral

C:\QUAKE - Part 6: Early Quake and The Downward Spiral

I found a backup of my C:\Quake folder from 20 years ago when I was a Quake-obsessed teenager. This is part 6 of a series on the hidden gems and curiosities from that time-capsule. This time: The Downward Spiral, a swashbuckling Indiana Jones-style mini-adventure.


The Early Days

Quake was released to the general public in North America on June 22nd, 1996. Spurred on by the success of user-made maps and utilities for Doom and Doom 2, Quake fans were eager to explore their creativity in the new game. Luckily for level designers, the editor WorldCraft was released less than two months later, on September 20th, 1996. The floodgates opened, and mappers were let loose.

Get WorldCraft Now!Get Quake Now!

(Thanks to Shacker shotgun1 for these antique website badges from the late '90s)

The early months and years of Quake were spent grappling with the structures and limitations of the Quake engine. Websites like Quakelab (archived here) explored the basic tenets of level design in 3D as well as the technical know-how to get your levels lighted, compiled, and released. Early released levels required close attention be paid to performance, because too many polygons would drop performance to it's knees on any computer then available. Even with these caveats and restrictions, level designers managed to create fascinating experiments and experiences.

Quake mapping tutorial site Quakelab
Quake mapping tutorial site Quakelab.
I remember using this site and its resources for my own Quake maps.

Spiraling Down

Today's level is called The Downward Spiral, released on December 27th, 1996 or about six months from Quake's release date. It was created by Stan C., and is considered one of the best third-party single-player Quake maps of 1996. The art direction is what I'd consider the High Fantasy Castle type, with a number of ambitious outdoor sections. In a clear attempt to keep polygon counts down and framerates up, Stan C. uses high detail and well-executed lighting on the foreground elements the player interacts with while using basic and blocky backgrounds. It manages to feel more expansive than most other SPQ maps of the era, and to my mind easily surpasses some of id Software's maps.

Entrance to The Downward Spiral
Entrance to The Downward Spiral.
Dig the cool waterfall - it's animated!


Where the map really excels in the pacing and visual interest. There are numerous cool things to look at - a rope bridge with slat missing, staid Roman-style temple architecture, interactive cave environments, and not one but two literal downward spirals! The gameplay is brisk and does not let up. The map is as linear as a roller coaster, and just as fun. Each room has a new trick, trap, puzzle, or pulse-pounding gunfight. The constant creativity on display really makes the level feel like a swashbuckling adventure story in the Indiana Jones vein. Unlike many larger and more-complex maps that followed, The Downward Spiral drops you right into the action and keeps up the intensity to the finish.

Cave fight over lave
Can you fend off the grenade-launching ogres while 
crossing the lava-filled chasm?
One of the downward spirals. You'll have to play the level to find the other.
One of the downward spirals.
You'll have to play the level to find the other.


Readers who have played a good number of SPQ levels will know that The Downward Spiral doesn't come close to the best. It is a product of its time - The Early Quake Era - but a superlative example therof. Even the map featured in the first article in the C:\QUAKE series, The Fly, is a clearly superior experience. Nevertheless, The Downward Spiral is worth playing to experience the particular aesthetic of this moment in time in Quake modding. Replaying it for this article was an absolute joy for the less than ten minutes it took me to breeze through this mini adventure.

And the whole time, I had a grin on my face.

There's a cool trap in this cave.
There's a cool trap in this cave.


  • Name: The Downward Spiral, dspirl11.bsp
  • Author: Stan C.
  • Release Date: 27 December 1996
  • Download: A link to download this map, with review and comments can be found at QuadAddicted: https://www.quaddicted.com/reviews/dspirl11.html
  • Stream: I made a run-through of The Downward Spiral using the modern vQuake renderer. Check it out embedded above or linked here: https://youtu.be/lb3Y5iE9pAk
  • Trivia: The level editor used to create The Downward Spiral was called Worldcraft. The creator of Worldcraft, Ben Morris, was hired by Valve Software and eventually sold the Worldcraft rights to Valve. Worldcraft is still in development under the name Hammer, and is the in-house editor for Valve. It has been most-recently used to create the maps in Half-Life: Alyx, best friggin' game of the decade.
  • More Trivia: Did you know there was a level editor created for Quake before Quake was even released? THRED was used by it's creator Johnathon Mavor to make the first-ever third-party maps for the Quake pre-release demo, Qtest, sometime after February 1996. I initially learned how to make maps for Quake using THRED, which used a particularly tricky technique for level building called Subtractive Solid Geometry. 
A map really worth playing.
The Downward Spiral is a breezy, quick adventure that's really worth playing, despite its age.


From The Chatty
  • reply
    March 27, 2021 2:07 PM

    Sixth in a weekly series of articles about the cool Quake stuff I collected in the late 90's. This time: The Downward Spiral, a swashbuckling Indiana Jones-style mini-adventure.

    Read more: C:\QUAKE - Part 6: Early Quake and The Downward Spiral

    • reply
      March 27, 2021 2:12 PM

      Special thanks on this one to shotgun1, who saved some of those classic website badges that every Quake site had back in the day. A few of them are providing some retro flavor to this Cortex article. Thanks!

      Attn: ThomW, roushimsx, someWayne, mn3m0n1c, JohnnyDanger, skankcore, u sir name, gracelessdragon, cap n KRUNCH, someWayne, knytehawkk, ughhhhhhh, quazar, paravis, cokefiend, CrustaR, Waverider, redfive, Maddog_Delphi97, Audhuml4, skizl, dmode101, reelbk, lacker, MikkleThePickle, Distortion462, Ziz, razlebol, MacemannInTW, zehh, frib, ventro, ahlee, sasoi, enyakk, Conan, hobosapien

    • reply
      March 27, 2021 2:15 PM


    • reply
      March 27, 2021 2:16 PM

      Worldcraft was freaking amazing. I ordered a copy as soon as it released and would make the worst Quake maps with it. I wish I still had them. lol

      • reply
        March 27, 2021 4:05 PM

        I still have a few maps I made, all fullbright and with misaligned textures and also pointless and stupid.

        A friend was good with design and made some fun multiplayer maps. I have a few of those, too. Maybe I could do a Cortex on those levels and open them up I'm THRED or Worldcraft to see how they work.

        • reply
          March 27, 2021 4:41 PM

          I spent more time making Half-life maps. I’d make maps of my office, and places like that. Wtf242 ran the prefab site I used to use to find crap to populate it and I learned that years later.

          My favorite gag for years was that I had a friend named Wan, and every time he’d move, I’d make a map of his new apartment and not tell him. He’d come over to my place almost every weekend to hang out and play games. We’d sit down to play some HLDM, and I’d always introduce the new map by saying, “I wanted to get back into mapping and start with something small.” Then the map would load up and it’d be his new place. lol

      • reply
        March 28, 2021 4:57 AM

        My levels always ended up having leaks in them. Never really figured out how to avoid them

      • reply
        March 28, 2021 6:49 AM


    • reply
      March 27, 2021 5:53 PM

      Yesss was waiting for this. Also the Quake grenade launcher was so much fun, did any other ever approach its greatness? Something about the physics and projectile size. And that bounce sound.

    • reply
      March 27, 2021 6:06 PM

      Another great article dude, I love this shit so much.

    • reply
      March 28, 2021 6:53 AM

      These have been awesome. Thanks for posting them!

      It's kinda making me miss the good old LAN party days back when I lived in Singapore as a teen.

    • reply
      March 28, 2021 7:45 AM


Hello, Meet Lola