The Day The Sprites Died

My first encounter with Quake was just over 10 years ago. I can still remember how that night played out: a school friend had received a top-spec PC for his birthday (a monstrous yet magical box at the heart of which beat the raw, pulsating power of the Pentium 1) and had invited me over with the promise of seeing a little glimpse of the future. Up until then we had spent our evenings pounding round the corridors of a certain UAC owned Martian colony fragging the faces off demons and imps ‘til our fingers seized and our eyes bled. But as my friend slipped a shiny-new CD-ROM into the drive, I beheld the latest wonder that id Software had concocted to tempt us even further from our homework.

We were no strangers to the FPS at this point; Doom and Wolfenstein had kept us occupied for a couple of years, and I had developed a slightly obsessive relationship with Dark Forces (alongside X-Wing, one of the best Star Wars licences ever released). So, with our youthful eyes well accustomed to the sight of both running and gunning, what was the big deal? Granted, anything bursting forth from the same developmental loins that spat out Doom is going to garner a special kind of attention from the gaming community, but what was so different, so groundbreaking about Quake?

The disc span, the screen flickered, and my jaw hit the floor.

Polygons. Dear God man, just look at the polygons…

As many Doom fans already know, while the environments you found yourself exploring were basically 3D affairs the enemies were not. Your satanic antagonists were at this point still sprites: pre-rendered, 2D images projected into a 3D space. The designers managed to give the illusion of a 3D foe by rotating the sprite on its vertical axis, so that no matter which angle you looked at it from the sprite would always be facing you. First time I sussed this out was studying the entrails of a dead imp (I was a curious child), slowly circling the corpse and watching the guts follow me like gooey, decomposing eyeballs. 


Quake gave us an FPS first: the polyagonal baddie, the first enemy to truly exist in 3D space. Seeing a Shambler lumbering towards me with its fully realized claws outstretched was a revelation. I was looking at a formed creature with a genuine physical presence and the impact of that moment has stayed with me throughout the years. I’ve always had a penchant for visual splendour, a love and respect for the awesome power of the aesthetic and its ability to enchant, inspire and immerse. Quake, as my friend had promised, gave me a glimpse into the future of video games. From that moment onwards our virtual lives included an extra dimension of adversity. This game took the first few steps down what is now a well worn path. And with Quake Live blipping into existence last week it’s good to know that the original pilgrim is still on the road.







4 responses to “The Day The Sprites Died”

  1. MrCuddleswick avatar

    Quake was certainly a revelation. I was late to the party though, as we didn’t upgrade from a 486 until a couple of years after Quake’s release. Lovin’ ya blogs, lovely stuff, I’m a fan.

  2. Tony avatar

    Quake rocked my world (hey, that was an accidental pun) but the thing that amazed me about it was not the graphics, awesome though they were.

    It was the way the enemies would sometimes fight with each other which I thought was awesome, like when the big guys with chainsaws would attack the little flying ones…

  3. Donna avatar

    Quake will still be my first love. Sure I love Wolfenstein and Doom too, but Quake holds my heart like no other.

  4. shaunmcilroy avatar

    I have vague memories about the old PC CD-ROM demo discs you would get with magazines and sneaking into the Careers room in school, booting in DOS mode and playing games that amazed us! All in DOS! Amazing!

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