I finally managed to track down a copy of the now-rare Quake mission pack Scourge of Armagon. I wanted it specifically so I could watch Scourge Done Slick, which is an excellent machinima that marries incredible gameplay with a great sense of fun.

Of course, once SDS was over, I started playing Scourge myself and discovered that it’s actually a damn good mission pack and does lots of things with the Quake engine I wouldn’t have thought possible. I also couldn’t help but notice how little things had really changed from a gameplay standpoint in first-person shooters.

I mentioned to my good friend Lee that I thought that Quake was revolutionary, but that since then all other FPS games have simply been evolutionary. Now, Lee’s a naturally contrary person, so he asked me why I thought this. After all, Lee said, Quake wasn’t the first true 3D polygonal game. It wasn’t the first first-person shooter. It was ugly – all browns and greys. What made it so special?

(It must be noted here that my good friend Lee is a big Marathon fan.)

There are several things Quake did that made it revolutionary. Allow me to bullet point:

It was the first 3D polygonal first-person shooter that used 3d models for almost everything – yes, there are still a few billboarded sprites in the game, but they are used only for minor things like explosion effects. This fully 3D space gave the game a coherent feeling no other game had at the time, especially when combined with…

Lighting effects. Quake was the first game to have real 3D lighting – Carmack insisted on it, even though it was an incredible challenge to do in eight-bit color and it meant having to draw every frame of the game twice. The effect of having every light source (even rocket explosions!) affect every object in the game drew the player in – and pointed the way towards the future.

QuakeC and Radiant – id’s player-friendly philosophy allowed players to use the same tools as original level designers instead of the hacked-up, reverse-engineered tools of the past.

And finally, Quake was incredibly popular, which meant that the people who did create new content had a huge audience for their work. The fact that Quake came out just as the internet was beginning to take off didn’t hurt anything either.

Quake probably wasn’t the first game to do any one of these things, but because it did all of them at once and rode the rising wave of the internet, it created a huge fanbase willing to create new content and continually breathe new life into the game. Quake didn’t create modders, but it empowered them in a way they hadn’t been before. Modding moved out of the realm of putting Barney at the end of Wolfenstein 3D and into the realm of Team Fortress. That’s why ten years after it’s release people are still making cool things for Quake like Scourge Done Slick.

And that’s a revolution.