Fourteen years ago today, the pioneering developers at id Software released QTest, the first public beta of the original Quake.
Contained within a massive 4.1mb package, QTest served as the first glimpse of many groundbreaking gaming features that we now take for granted. Realtime 3D graphics, mouselook support, built-in TCP/IP multiplayer; Quake ushered in an entirely new era of shooters, and we’re still feeling the aftershocks.
To mark the occasion, I asked the guys at id to share some of their memories of February 24, 1996. Read on for comments from John Carmack, Tim Willits, and more — along with a few stories from the team here at Bethesda.
John Carmack, Co-founder and Technical Director, id Software:
We were watching a live online chat when the upload went live. When the first person got it, there was a great clamor for reports about what it looked like. Unfortunately, one of the first things reported was “There is a turtle in the corner of the screen.” I had a check in the code to draw that icon as a sign that you were running at 10 frames a second or less, so you should reduce quality settings to get a more playable experience. Quake was one of the first PC apps where floating point performance was a critical factor, which meant that Intel’s Pentium processor had a huge lead over the competing AMD and Cyrix processors of the time, which had FPUs that were more similar to the 486. A lot of systems weren’t really up to it.
We eventually removed the “turtle check” from our games, because some people felt that we were insulting their systems, but there was also an interesting effect that was a product of the times — we found that a lot of people would crank up the resolution until the frame rate dragged down to about 10 fps, regardless of their CPU speed. Competitive gamers may disbelieve this, but for players that were more interested in the then-novel experience of exploring a modeled virtual world, getting the visual fidelity up above 320×200 resolution was important enough to make the game only barely-interactive. Most people had to wait a bit longer for glQuake and the 3DFX Voodoo to start getting the best of both worlds.
Tim Willits, Creative Director, id Software:
I don’t personally have any good stories about releasing Qtest. I was too nervous to really enjoy the experience. I did like kicking everyone’s ass online in Quake before I was quickly bypassed in skill by any self-respecting Quake player.
Pat Duffy, Lead Artist, id Software:
I was 2 months out of college, attempting to make a living with an art degree. I had played Doom before, having discovered it hidden on a server in the college computer room, but it was Qtest that set me on the path to becoming a video game developer. I had landed my first job as a graphic designer and was working late hours when Robert told me I had to stop everything and go over to see Qtest. I didn’t know what it was, but when he said it was by the Doom guys I was on my way.
I remember sitting there looking around in-game after he loaded it up, I didn’t care about the networking model he was talking about, I just couldn’t believe how big a visual leap had been made from Doom (and everything else out there). While he began to dig deeper into what id was doing I kept looking at the game, walking around, shooting the walls, and being amazed by the lighting, art, and 3d rendering. I knew right then that this is what I needed to do with my life…and nowhere but id Software would be an acceptable studio, these guys KNEW what it was all about. It took me 5 years to get my foot in the door at id, and every day since then has been another day at my dream job, working with some of the most talented people in the industry…all thanks to Qtest.
Adam Pyle, Community Manager, id Software:
I was seventeen years old, an avid fan of id Software and NIN. Before the release of QTest there had been preview coverage in gaming magazines that piqued my interest, which made me keep my eye glued to any news coming out of id. The day of its release became the start of a passion yet to be matched within my gaming universe. I found the unique blend of tech and gothic themes and the unparalleled detail within a 3D world to be mesmerizing. But it was perhaps the soundscape that took me in like no other.
William Shen, Associate Designer, Bethesda Game Studios:
Looking back, seeing the NiN logo on the box of nailgun ammo for the first time is my sharpest memory. I think there’s something definitively 1990′s about all that. Quake and NiN. It was like a revolution of young male nerd anger.
Also, Quake dude had an axe. A bloody axe. That’s hardcore.
Jason Bergman, Senior Producer, Bethesda Game Studios:
What I remember most about the release of QTest was the anticipation behind it. It was going to be INSANE. There had been some screenshots released, but really, there was so much we didn’t know. The community that had sprung up around Quake (well before its release) was enormous (or at least, it was by our standards at the time). People were waiting for QTest not just to play it, but also to start hacking it and working on level editors and other utilities (this was long before games shipped with modding tools, so people had to write their own).
It was really exciting to be part of that community. As a huge fan of Doom, and a fairly active member of the burgeoning Quake community, I was constantly refreshing sites like Blue’s Quake Rag (now Blue’s News), Redwood’s Quake Page (sadly defunct) and sCary’s Quakeholio (now Shacknews) for the latest news. When it was finally released, I was hanging out in the Java chat room on a site called Aftershock (run by Joost Schuur, who moved on to work at GameSpy fairly early on and has been there ever since). John Romero (THE John Romero!) hopped on the channel and announced that it was out.
I downloaded it as soon as I was able to get through to an FTP site (probably either CDROM.com or one of its many mirrors), rounded up some guys in my dorm and we played deathmatch for many, many hours. For a test release, there was a LOT of content in that thing…awesome weapons like the nailgun, full 3D graphics (!) and an early version of one of the greatest deathmatch levels of all time (DM2 forever!).
A lot changed between QTest and and that initial retail version of Quake, and I guess it probably seems quaint to people who are used to the constant stream of news over Twitter and the many big gaming sites these days, but the release of QTest was huge for the community back then. And those guys who couldn’t wait to start hacking the game? They’re now a Who’s Who of the gaming industry, and you’ll find their names in the credits of games like Modern Warfare 2, Left 4 Dead, Borderlands, Gears of War…pretty much any of the major shooters from the last few years (including subsequent games from id). The Quake community was tightly knit and very, very motivated. It was a pretty unique time in the gaming industry.
Also the game was awesome. Did I mention that?
QTest can still be downloaded over at FileShack. Share your own memories of 2-24-96 in the comments.