The day Quake shook the gaming world: Carmack, et al share their QTest memories

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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.

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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.

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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.

Reader Comments

  1. I remember the first hearing the QUAKE demo over the phone after my brother inlaw had downloaded it for me and was giving it a test run. It sounded like the suffering of the damned as sfx were in slow motion due to the cpu speed yet the game was strangely still playable like a slow motion nightmare of the horror movie TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.

    When my brother inlaw finally got the QUAKE demo in my sweat drenched hands truly the experiance was fear beyond fear. Just like DOOM it felt as if a doorway to the supernatural had been opened through my 486/DX33.

    It was the first game i upgraded a pc system for before the full version came out a month later alongside DUKE NUKEM 3D. Memories a trip into time where things still..lurk.

    Thank ID Software for the unnatural.

  2. I was sitting at work when it came out, contemplating buying a new computer which could run it (to replace my trusty old 486sx). The 3Dness blew my socks off, the temporary sounds made me giggle. I spent hours jumping in holes between rooms that were above and below other, and strafing back and forth to see the slight view tilt. And getting shot. Glorious!

  3. As the story goes, I was working in London at the time and was id Software’s web and FTP admin part time, planning their distribution. With the time difference, it was already late at night by the time the file was ready for distribution, and I left the pub after having had a few drinks already to upload it to the dozen or so FTP sites.

    Of course, it didn’t go smoothly. Other mirror sites who were camping out on the previously selected official FTP servers used up download slots and the moment I started to upload the file, they already started to mirror it, causing some places to have an incomplete version of the file.

    It all worked out in the end though apparently.

  4. I named my cat Quake shortly before Qtest was released. Unfortunately, I did not have a FPU and couldn’t run it–I had to take it to my girlfriend’s house to finally see it.

    It blew my mind.

  5. I remember launching the demo for the first time and shooting those dogs in the face with a shotgun and thinking “this…is AWESOME!”. Although I hadn’t spent much time with Doom, the weighty feel of the Quake engine immediately hooked me.

    Quake was also the first game to make me feel actual fear. Specifically, when playing by myself late at night and creeping around hearing the “whispering” in a certain part of Trent Reznor’s soundtrack really just put me on edge. Exhilarating!

  6. I don’t remember QT Test.
    But I do remember Quake, reading about it a magazine and being excited. Then getting and actually playing it! Except I was a nine year old kid, that game de-sensitized me to the slaying of Lava Gods. Thanks Carmack!

  7. I remember the hidden dragon in Qtest, I was obsessed by it. A big-fraking-flying monster in 3D, wow… Years later, Daikatana came out with its own flying dragon, heh. Carmack and Romero ruled my world. Quake forever!

  8. Ah, qtest. It really was all your fault. All those hours lost, in-game and out, to the obsession known as Quake. How many of us watched the clock tick down on Slipgate Central? How many of us went out and bought a Pentium PC in anticipation?

    And who will ever forget the crazy times in #quake (Like the time Softchoice caught on fire while Disruptor was there late one night…)

    Yeah, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Quake opened a lot of doors for a lot of people, in no small part due to John’s steadfast commitment to the community that supported id’s efforts.

    On that note, to John: no one in the industry deserves the GDC Lifetime Achievement Award more than you. Not only for your contributions to the craft, but for the countless people you’ve helped directly and indirectly through the mod community to establish their own careers (including many of the people present here).

    I wish you continued challenges and enjoyment in the coming years.

    Best regards,

    Rick “^Drag0n^” Brewer

  9. Ahhh memories, i was a vivid player and now i’m passing the torch to my kids (just installed Q1 and Oakbots for them). Greetz to the Id-people! I also bought Q1 from the pallet in the store, i forced them to go and get one from the warehouse :) … “i want that damned box”.

  10. I was at Cambeidgw University when this came out and I still remember linking two PCs via serial cable in my room to play this late the night it came out. The volume kept getting louder and louder as we grenaded the bejeezus out of each other giggling all the while. More and more of my male neighbours came in to join the impromptu ?serial?/LAN party. We all had a great time until we were shutdown by one of the college porters for making far, far too much noise.

  11. What can one say to THE CREATORS of NEoTRoN?

    …ermmmm well Thank You so much for a kick off, for all the Quake you gave us.

    You showed me the way with Quake3Arena. NEVER before or since has a game sustained my primal urge for war like this game. You gave me an experience I can NEVER forget. It has even tainted how I view ALL games now. Only a few in the last 7yrs have given me that same buzz of combat that Q3A gave me by the planet load.

    When I left SEGA for Xbox, I was so sad at leaving you lot behind, but I swear to you all, I took the ARENA’s with me… every soul I took was as a result of the skills you gave me.

    I made Xbox LiVE MY Q3A.

    Such a perfect game… timeless classic, that in time will be surpassed… but not by anything I’ve seen so far.

    Thank you for the games, and the many moments of inspiration you have given me.

    Good Luck with Rage.

  12. i bought a pentium pro just to run quake at full software rendered glory… only for hardware accelerators to come out a few months later.

    still worth it. favorite game ever.

  13. God I miss Quake. I used to be in Clan 311 – we had John Cash from iD and a host of other good players like Kornelia Takacs. Oh, the good old days, how I miss them…

    - synthpunk – cb at wasteland dot org

  14. I find it pretty amusing to see Quake being given credit for mouselook here, considering it was Bethesda’s Terminator: Future Shock that had this feature a year earlier. As a default control scheme too (in Q1, you had to mess with console to turn it on) :)

  15. I have something to share.

    I remember when quake test was released. I was all over it, and subjected my close friends to it as well. We were all in university, so we took over a computer lab one night to lan it up. Apparently it was during exam season and strict no noise policies were enforced. Obviously playing a new deathmatch game, in close quarters, even wearing headphones can get quite heated… about 1 hour into our gaming session, 4 campus security officers busted into the room, two at each entrance to the lab. I wasn’t really aware of anything at that point apart from my score, 80 to -5 or so… that is until one of the security people tapped me on the shoulder.

    We ended up losing our computer access for the rest of the semester, which ended up being like a week.

    It was worth it.

    When the game was finally release I remember making a mod so you could be one of those nasty dogs… unfortunately I never uploaded it and eventually lost it. I also got so good I finished the game only using an axe and killing every enemy in all levels, found all secrets, in all 3 episodes. I never did get into the online play as much as I had with doom2 however.

  16. Having loved Doom, and having upgraded to a spanky new Pentium 100 with 8MB of RAM in late ’95….

    Being a student, we had access to fast downloads at university, so my biggest problem was how to get this 4MB beast back to my home PC when the only portable storage media was the humble 1.44MB floppy.

    There was no WinRAR, I didn’t know about ARJ either, but another guy in the uni labs had a file splitting program (a kinda early command line HJSPLIT), HURRAH!

    Praying that the floppy disk gods would deliver me from bad sectors and CRC errors, my breath was held whilst I waited for the endless whirring to cease, and I eventually got to COPY /B QT.01+QT.02+QT.03+QT.04 QTEST1.ZIP.

    BONGO MUNGUS!

    I took my rig round my bestest buddy’s house and we sat out in the back garden. I copied the zip to him via Win95′s Direct Cable Connection, and we played via a serial cable.

    When it rained, we took our kit indoors, each set one up in a bedroom and ran the serial cable out of the window to link us up.

    Great days.

  17. My age was 8 when my brother who is 10years elder than me bought his first PC which was a Intel Pentium 1 133mhz 32mb ram very expensive at that time for his work and programming purpose. I never used to play Video games such as Atari. Outdoor games where much better. He had some PC games which didn’t turn out fun i think he even showed me doom. First time when i saw Quake i.e one monster attacking another i was like holy **** this is something intresting. I was like wow this is 3d i mean i can see the creatures front,back and sides. The first time in 2nd Level EPI-1 the two stones fly in the air and Fiend comes out jump in front of the screen omg i fell down from my chair running to my brother! I will never forget my first game experience Quake!

    Since PC is first time to me i never knew what kind of effort was put into this game and what exactly is happening. My brother explained me with a simple program and made a Hangman game and explained so and so. Then i understood the effort. Then i was wandering in the maps like Pat Duffy. I was always intrested in those fire effect,grenade laucher bounce (i mean that was physics in the old days WOW). That is why i love IDsoftware games and my favorite dev is John Carmack and Tim Willits!

  18. Wow, I’m very impressed by the hard work that was put into QTest, the level design, the graphical effects (Wavey water and the wavey distortion effect underwater that I DO NOT see in any other modern game sadly…) I’m a diehard obsessive fan about games that I love to look back and see the tech demonstrations that the games had before their initial gold retail release. To be honest, QTest doesn’t look any different than Quake 1 Shareware or Registered, which is surprising since I except most pre-release demos to have a good portion of stuff missing… I do kinda like these old weapon models, and the way the nailgun is here, than in Quake 1, but that’s just my opinion.

    I still have the Quake 1 Shareware release on a old ’98 PC Gamer CD, back when I was 6 or so years old, I remember trying it a little and it ran about 25 to 30 framerate for me. It was an amazing game, and I find QTest to be pretty interesting in that most of the sounds are higher quality, and the level design is slightly different..

    I’ve yet to try to play with QTest’s networking to see if I can try to play a game of this on the computers lying around this house.. But I’m defiantly glad to beable to have this precious gem of a tech demo, it’s just a big part of my childhood all these old games, I still play iD Software’s Wolfenstein 3-D to this day, these are all classics to be remembered, as they set forth alot of standards in PC Gaming and the FPS genre.

    Quake engine is very amazing and you can even see Goldsrc and Source engines roots just from looking at how the engine works, the cvar’s, the file formats (.BSP for maps .MDL for models .WAD for generic texture\tile lumps, etc), and various other things. (Especially Goldsrc since that was built upon QuakeWorld and various bits of Quake 2 code), very influential game engine. And it’s very amazing how much the Quake Engine did on just a Pentium class processor at the time, when 3DFX Glide based 3D accelerators didn’t exist yet.

    Thanks for the amazing work iD Software, it’s possibly the greatest engine I could ever lay my eyes on, just due to all the amazing things it pioneered in such a infant time of PC gaming and how it was all put to use. 10 out of 10!

  19. I remember going out that night with some friends whose only interest in Qtest was me frothing at the mouth about it at every opportunity. We ended at a friend of a friend’s apartment and all I was hoping for was that this friend of a friend had an internet connection so I could hop on irc eftnet #quake to find out if Qtest was released. I downloaded and IRC client hopped on #quake and sure enough it was busting at the seams in anticipation…I think at the time it was “Bear” Barret Alexander from id Software who dropped by and hinted to the peeps on #quake that it was goign to come out some time that night. After getting home that night at about 2am I went ahead and downloaded the sucker and spent at least 1hr in my drunken state checking out all the new cool things that it had over Doom…Rooms over rooms, 3d models, particle effects, and the raw hardness of the whole game. Quake was dingy, grungy…it made doom just seem cartoonish. I went to sleep that night with so much antiipation and a thirst to frag all challengers! I found the dragon that night and i’ve been chasing it ever since!

  20. Very bad, i was too young to play it 1996, i got Quake 1 later, 2001. It was the first First Person Shooter ive played before. And because of this my Nickname on the Internet is Quake-Ranger, or Short Ranger366, or simply Ranger. Because i like the Ranger from Quake. I really love id software’s Games, and will ever be a true customer of their games. Sorry for my bad english, im trying.

  21. Even in the days of Wolf3D and DOOM, I always wanted “true 3D”. QTest delivered it and I was in awe of the visuals, even via a software renderer. I was playing on a computer that had no business running it either, a 486/66.

    I remember showing my brother and trying to convince him how revolutionary this was. He didn’t get it, until he saw GLQuake later. :)

    This makes me miss QuakeWorld, until I remember how addicted I was to it. A lot has changed, but some things remain the same. Can’t wait for Rage. Linux client please. :)

  22. I’ve been waiting for this game room that she would be better in terms of graphics, as well as the Catacombs, Wolf, doom. When on TV in the game gear was told that in Quake and showed gameplay, I started to collect money to buy a Pentium 100 Mz instead of my 486. (autotranslated from russian)

  23. Wow, good times, great memories. Gaming seemed so much simpler then. The Quake community was great. We lived, sleeped and ate Blue’s News, Planetquake, visited *at least* daily for whatever new stuff was out. I remember dreaming up a site idea just so I could get the @planetquake.com address (a status symbol to some degree back then). Joinging a clan, (Clan Time2Quake)even a trip to Manhattan for M3 in 97 and of course the obligatory new PC to run the game just a little better. I still have my old 3DFX board and how cool was it to get the 56K modem, bringing our ridiculous pings down a few notches?

    I’m not a designer or game industry guy but Quake still changed my life. It was and remains the coolest game ever made. It still stands up to the test of time too, like the gaming industry’s “Citizen Kane.”

    I play STO now, which is as close to the late 90′s Quake experience as I have found. Good friends, cool roleplaying, and kicking the crap of other Fleets (clans) for fun (coming soon) :)

    I miss the old days a lot, though. I lost touch with all my clan and website pals over the years. There should be a reunion.

    Da Figmeister
    figin@planetquake.com

  24. one of my favorite games ever!

    played the shareware first and ordered directly from id at that time (i still have the CD around)

    i had to upgrade my rig to a p166 & ati match64 for the VESA modes…

    at that time i thought the game was great but i rediscovered it when i started playing DM in the office and also when i got a 3dfx, i couldn’t believe how good it looked!

    amazing game…

  25. I remember playing quake when it came out. My heart still draws to it. It was such a huge part of my life and in my eyes revolutionized/invented 3d gaming. I would spend hours at work playing quake with my boss. My friends and I would lan up and play every weekend, create our own custom mods. Then Team fort came out and blew me away. I long for those days to return.

  26. I got Quake 1 just a few days after release in Germany, a week later or so it was banned in germany. At first i didnt realized what i was holding in my hands in comparison what we know what i became today… i didnt even realized the huge difference twoards doom (full 3d models etc), and most sadly germany was stoneage in internet. when i was first connected to the internet about 1998/1999 i was one of about 50 people who had access to the internet or were even interested in computers or even played a lot of pc games ;) wow, what and experience theese times.
    thank you id for all the countless hours with q1/q2 and alter on the basics for half life

  27. I was just turned 16 when quake was released to the masses. I do remember i had the luck to have access to my dad’s Pentium 90. (I had a 486dx33 with 8mb of RAM and an 160Mb HDD if i remeber rightly).

    I remember downloading it at my uncles house and sneaking it onto my dad’s pc….. It was awesome!!! It changed the way i looked at PC’s. My parents wouldn’t let me have a console so my entire gaming life i had been pineing after the kinda graphics my friends got. Wolfenstien 3d was great, Doom had been fun and Quake rocked my world. I have been a PC fanatic ever since, and it has moulded my view on what made a game truly revolutionary.

    Sorry for rambling.

  28. I was only twelve years old when the first Quake released. I remember seeing my uncle play it on his system, and I was still just learning how to build a PC at the time; Playing Doom II and Rise of the Triad on a frankenstein. Lol. Wasn’t until around 2000 that I built my first gaming PC with some of the money earned from my first real job (I was still only 15). 900 MHz AMD Athlon T-Bird and a 3DFX Voodoo 3 3000. Ordered all the parts through one of my uncle’s catalogs. First game I put on it. Quake III Arena! Then… Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight! Can’t forget Deus Ex! Oh man, I miss that. Seems like sales are more important than a compelling game these days. Developers were so passionate back then. Now… Battle of the corporations. Anyway. Congrats to the id team. You guys are true gaming pioneers. Thank you all.

  29. Quake was the reason I bought my very first computer. I didn’t care much about operating systems and word procesors, just that what I bought could run Quake, and run it well. In my opinion, Quake and the Quake family line are still the best games out there. And thank you Steam for making it possible to continue to play and enjoy Quake on todays systems. An updated Quake with modern graphics would be cool though.

  30. I started playing FPS since corridor7 / woldenstein / doom back in 1994 i guess.

    I played games such as duke nukem, quake 1,2,3 & 4, all the doom games, wolfenstein games, half-life, counters-trike, call of duty, medal of honor, oh well….every good FPS i played it.

    But i gotta tell you something…QUAKE 1 is THE ONE!

    i still have fun playing it, and since quake 1, half-life and counterstrike (both games used quake 1 engine) were the only ones who got close do quake 1…

    The game was simply AMAZING it brings toggether all the key factors for a perfect game!

    My best gaming memories are from quakeworld team fortress…man i loved those times..

    There was NO GAME after quake 1 that can match its awesomeness !!!!

    (sorry for my bad english)

    P.S.: Its about time for ID software to make a new quake title based on quake1 story AND GAMEPLAY…yeah true bunny jump! no more straff jump plz! i wanna be able to control my avatar in mid-air lol :p

    Seriously QUAKE 5 ASAP !!!

  31. I have missed so many schooldays cause of this game. Not that I can complain, quakeworld is much more fun than math. It was a revolution, i remember when my friend started playing with the mouse, I won super easy and he went straight back to keyboard only and said that “playing with mouse sucks cause you can’t aim”, oh my how the times have changed.

    And I still play quakeworld, yes it’s still there and we have a good community going.

    And yes new graphics is avalible :P
    Feel free to check it out quakeworld.nu

    And Quake1 (quakeworld) is still the best game around.

  32. Being an avid DOOM player, I can remember not finding the QTest screenshots
    especially impressive. This was a game that had to be experienced in its full
    immersive glory to understand why it was different from everything else on the
    market at that time. This was an exciting time with many new frontiers to
    be explored and the id team was always on the front line of technical
    innovation, leading a charge into a future that was certainly inevitable.
    Another wonderful and innovative aspect of id was the openness regarding their
    technology, Michael Abrash documented in good detail what was happening behind
    the scenes during Quakes development w/ Carmacks approval. Not to mention the eventual GPL release of the source code which (for a major game studio) was
    unprecedented at that time and still uncommon. Quake is a milestone in several
    ways.

  33. It says a lot when a game, transforms your life. When I started Quake for the first time it made me fall in love with computers. Everything from modding it to creating custom, batch files, to of course playing quake-world, requiem, runequake omg!

    Anyhow I spent way too much time playing Quake. Seriously this game, got me started in a career in computing. Thanks ID!

  34. We all played Doom on a BBS in Joliet Il. named J.A.G.G. and were waiting for Quake to arrive. It was a great day when qtest came out. In Doom, the levels were unable to be constructed with a room over a room. Quake changed all that and was welcomed with open arms and we couldn’t wait to start building levels for the new game. Then Zoid created Capture the Flag and it was even better for a multiplayer game.

    Thanks, ID software for many, many memories. I was addicted and couldn’t stop playing…

  35. I had a Cyrix 486 at the time. No soundcard, no internet and no mouse. I finished the game in Nightmare mode after weeks of keyboard only game, mute game and at the smallest possible resolution (can’t even remember it) just to be able to play it. Then I played and replayed the game for ages and around 2 years ago I put the original Quake in my Nokia N82. If someone told me that in 1996, I’d have laughed in their face.
    To me, Quake is still the best fps. Also, its music score is legend (Reznor did a real work of art).