Quake Games – From Half-Life to Wrath: Aeon of Ruin

The engine of the first Quake of 1996 is associated with the transition of the gaming industry to full 3D. Of course, there were Virtua Racing, Virtua Fighter and Tekken before it, but first person shooter is a much more massive and difficult genre to perform. In the new article, we will talk about the features and legacy of the Quake engine.

What is a game engine?
Often in profile reviews and user reviews, a game engine is equated with a graphical one, but this is a simplification.

A game engine is a set of programs. They are collected under one “roof” and are responsible for all the components of the game: graphics, animation, sound, physics, artificial intelligence of characters, scripts, multiplayer, interaction with input devices. Smaller engines are packed into one common engine: combat (for example, turn-based showdowns on a separate screen in an RPG), physics, and others. For the gamer, all this turns into a game. For the developer, the engine is the software environment where he digs.

Such graphics are provided by id Tech 7, a distant descendant of the Quake engine, in Doom Eternal.

Previously, a separate engine was written for each project. Now developers mostly choose Unreal Engine or Unity, rarely – CryEngine.

A distinction should be made between the concepts of engine, framework and library. If a library is a set of code in a binary file (for example, with the .dll format familiar to every player), and a framework is a set of libraries and development tools, then an engine is an add-on over frameworks with additional functions like a level editor.

Quake Engine: Pedigree
The id Tech series engines, Wolfenstein 3D and Quake engines are the brainchild of programmer John Carmack, co-founder of id Software, and now an Oculus consultant. Engines, of course, existed before him, take SCUMM from Lucasfilm Games or Underworld engine (Ultima Underworld, 1992), but usually the heyday of the first engines is associated with Carmack.

In Wolfenstein 3D (1992), Carmack turned to raycasting. In the “eye view” mode, the engine sends rays towards walls, Nazis and other objects, measures the distance to them and shows textures and sprites in accordance with the received data. The technology works in real time.

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Wolfenstein 3d

For Doom (1993), as part of id Tech 1, Carmack came up with a special tree-like level storage system and called it BSP (Binary Space Partitioning). BSP reduces the load on the hardware: not the entire level goes into memory, but the sector where the player is located, and the parent sector (includes the sector with the player and neighboring ones). Not a complete map! It is important. In the 1990s, in addition to BSP, another technology was known for displaying the visible area of ​​the level, the so-called “portal”. In memory, it loads the sector with the player and those sectors that are connected with portals. This approach is used in the shooter Descent (1995).


In id Tech 1, you cannot place a room above the room, the floor runs parallel to the ceiling. On the other hand, id Software has implemented elevators and elevators in Doom. Before the era of “3D without compromise”, there was very little left.

Quake engine: features
Quake was released in 1996. The source code of the engine was made public by Carmack in 1999.

In Quake, there are no simplifications in terms of models of enemies and objects – they are done in 3D. But the pieces of the level are processed in advance, like the “lightmap”, a map of static light sources. It is easy to guess that id Software went to the trouble of making the shooter run on any computer, including without a video card. For the same reason, BSP technology came in handy again. Quake originally came out with a software renderer only. Then came support for Rendition’s Vérité V1000 3D accelerator and OpenGL.


In id Tech 2 (Quake 2, 1997), Carmack immediately built support for video cards (with OpenGL) in addition to a software renderer. Interestingly, the programmer placed the renderers in .dll libraries, separate from the Quake 2 engine. As a result, it became possible to add new renderers without touching the main code.

Quake 2

In Quake 3: Arena (based on id Tech 3, 1999), software rasterization is no longer available, graphics processing is entirely at the mercy of the video card. Another notable change is that fighter models are now split into three parts: head, arms with torso, and legs are animated separately.

Quake 3: Arena

Quake Engine: Famous Games
The Quake engine has a branchy family tree. The engine was actively changed by enthusiasts, game studios who bought a license, and by id Software itself – id Tech 2 and 3 followed the Quake engine. Let’s briefly go over the notable projects that used its code.

X-Men: The Ravages of Apocalypse (1997, PC). Quake addon from Australian team Zero Gravity Entertainment. The enemies familiar from Quake have been replaced by cyborg clones of the X-Men: Gambit, Wolverine, Storm and others. It turned out to be a pretty funny shooter with shooting superheroes.

X-Men: The Ravages of Apocalypse

Hexen 2 (1997, PC). Heretic (1994) and Hexen (1995) are based on a revised Doom engine. Raven Software has ensured that the hero is able to look up and down and use items whenever he pleases. The “heart” of Hexen 2 is the Quake engine. This is an FPS in a dark fantasy setting. Shooting gameplay is complemented by pumping and puzzles, and their complexity is not as merciless as in the previous part. The environment is varied: from Mesoamerica to Ancient Egypt.

Hexen 2

Half-Life (1998, PC, later PS2). One of the most significant projects on the Quake engine. Rather, on its order of a modified version – GoldSrc, which later gave life to the familiar Source. Half-life shone with an adult storyline worthy of AI opponents, skeletal animations, facial expressions and nice options such as stationary weapons (a “trick” became the standard for shooters – see Uncharted, Gears of War), which exhilarated the gameplay.


Kingpin: Life of Crime (1999, PC). An action-packed crime fighter from Xatrix Entertainment that was thwarted by the American Columbine High School massacre. Not so long ago Slipgate Ironworks and 3D Realms took over the remaster of the classics on Quake 2 engine. A re-release with improved balance, cleaned up “bugs” and a tweaked mission system is announced for PC and consoles. There is no release date yet, because Slipgate Ironworks faced unforeseen difficulties – due to the loss of the source code, she had to do reverse engineering.

Kingpin: Life of Crime

Soldier of Fortune (2000, PC, then Dreamcast and PS2). Another creation by Raven Software, now on the Quake 2 engine. The central feature of the shooter is the ability to shoot any limb at the enemy.

Soldier of fortune

John Romero’s Daikatana (2000, PC and Nintendo 64). When id Software cofounders John Carmack and John Romero parted ways, the latter founded Ion Storm. The team initially sculpted Daikatana’s FPS on the Quake engine, but ended up swapping it for id Tech 2, impressed by the Quake 2 demos. Although the game combined different historical eras and offered many types of weapons and enemies, it came out raw. Neither the figure of Romero, nor such functions as the presence of partners and pumping parameters, which were not overwritten in the “shooters” helped her. Daikatana was a sell-off, and Romero hasn’t been in charge of any really big projects since then, until last year’s Empire of Sin strategy.


American McGee’s Alice (2000, PC). Dark third-person action game on id Tech 3 from game designer American McGee and Rogue Entertainment. The project was remembered thanks to the original setting and weapons – few people had previously imagined Alice Lewis Carroll as mentally ill.

American McGee’s Alice

Wrath: Aeon of Ruin (PC). The game debuted on Steam Early Access in November 2019. Surprisingly, it is based on the Quake engine! Such an unexpected greeting from the past. And the name of one of the publishers knocks out a nostalgic tear – 3D Realms. In Wrath: Aeon of Ruin, you will find yourself in a dying world full of all sorts of ruins and dark forests. The goal sounds simple: to put things in order and pour abundant blood on the earth. Version 1.0 will be ready in the second half of this year. Then the game will drop on PS4, Xbox One and Switch.