Quake 3 was always a game that stood out to me as being one of the “purest” of the classic arena shooters. Watching this clip of Rapha vs Cooller was what really brought the game to life in my eyes. I had always appreciated the game for pure simple shooting with some great weapons, but Rapha’s commentary let me in on how the game really worked. Quake is a game of knowledge, sound, and fury.
On the most basic level, Quake‘s weapon selection embodies some of the most iconic and fundamental weapons that exist in first person shooters. The real key to Quake‘s weapons though is how each of them scale in terms of how close you are to the target versus how much damage per second you can inflict. When further away, players can only hit with the Rail Gun for high burst damage, rockets that are easily dodged, or the Plasma Gun, which has the highest damage per second but is difficult to land every shot with. At mid to close range, the Lightning Gun dominates as the next best damage per second next to the Plasma Gun, with rockets being useful for utility. Close up, the Shotgun does ludicrous amounts of damage, but it’s so difficult to use that it only rarely comes up.
While the Rail Gun, Lightning Gun, Machine Gun, and Shotgun require direct lines of sight, the Grenade Launcher, Rocket Launcher, and Plasma Gun are independent projectiles rather than direct hitscan attacks, making them useful for attacking opponents without a direct line of sight or laying down suppressive fire. In the first few seconds of the match, Cooler fires off two rockets directly at Rapha’s future position, catching him for a lot of damage. One of the keys to good play is simply choosing the right weapon for the right opportunity, and trying to get the drop on your opponent when they’re using a lower DPS weapon than you are, or are forced to use one by the terrain or their ammo supply.
In order to really dominate in Quake, you need a bit more than just good aim or weapon usage. It pays to know how the map is laid out and how to control it. Unlike a lot of modern shooting games, in Quake you only spawn with a weak Machine Gun, and you need to pick up the stronger weapons and other power ups laid around the map. To get your favorite weapon you need to know where on the map it actually is. Beyond that, you need to know the locations of the Red, Yellow, and Green Armor, Mega Health, and the assorted Armor Shards and Health Bubbles. These items are important because they’re how you get a lead on your opponent and win the game, or how you hang onto life when you take a beating.
Every item in Quake spawns on a timer. After someone grabs a Red Armor it takes another 30 seconds for it to come back up again, so no one else can grab it during that time. If you want to win, you need more armor and health than they do, meaning when that item pops up, you need to be the one grabbing it, and not your opponent. For that reason it’s important to know the timing of all the major items, those usually being the Red Armor, Mega Health, and sometimes a Yellow Armor, depending on the map. In the Rapha vs. Cooller match, there was a lower area with the red armor and mega health, and a higher area with a Yellow Armor. On that map, the side with the Red Armor and Mega Health is considered the stronger side of the map, so players will usually fight over controlling that end. Cooller spawned on that side and was able to get the Red Armor and Mega Health for most of the game, so he was able to keep a life lead over Rapha in the beginning.
Keeping track of item spawns in Quake is tricky, but Quake actually has a handy tool for it built into the game. A timer is at the top of the screen displaying how long the match has been running. Whenever an item is grabbed, you can just add 30 seconds to the timer to determine the next time it will spawn. Players also want to establish a rotation of items if possible, usually depending on the map. The idea is to just grab a set of items in order, remember the time each one will spawn, and be there when it does to keep up a stack of armor and health.
Of course, when the other players know you have control over an item, they’ll try to take control away by showing up when that item spawns to take it for themselves or use it as bait to get a good ambush in on you. To counter this, the common tactic is to mess with the other player’s timing by delaying when you pick up the item. If they think they know the correct timing based on when they saw you go for it, then by delaying the pickup they can lose the correct timing and try to challenge your control during a time when the item won’t even spawn. Cooller attempts this at 7:53, but Rapha hears it from above.
On a lesser level, even the weapons themselves can be controlled. Rapha states around 5:27 that he’s trying to get a rocket, but Cooller keeps denying him the weapon he needs to fight back. By denying your opponent the right type of ammo, they can only fight you from certain ranges. For example, without Rail Gun ammo, it’s difficult to fight your opponent at a long range and will force more direct confrontations, making it better for them if they prefer a “keep away” style of play, and prevent you from getting close.
In order to control the weapons and power ups, you obviously need to move. Quake maps are typically on the smaller side, with multiple levels, wide gaps, and teleports connecting space. Moving through levels fluidly is a multifaceted affair. Beyond simple directional movement, Quake allows players to gain speed through strafe jumping and circle jumping. Both of these involve smooth whip-like motions of the mouse in conjunction with the strafe keys. Using these you can accelerate to high speeds, allowing you to both move yourself around the map more quickly and jump across otherwise impassable gaps. On the map in Rapha vs Cooller, it’s possible to use a quick circle jump to clear the entire gap between the big bridge above the red armor and the ledge where the Rail Gun rests across the way. During the match Cooller probably used strafe jumping at 11:25 to catch up to Rapha and fire off a quick rail, upsetting Rapha’s stack of health, on a lesser level the players are strafe jumping throughout the match to move around quickly.
Health and some types of ammo can also be sacrificed to move about. Rockets propel players and can be combined with jumps for massive leaps up cliffs and across gaps. The Grenade Launcher can be used for even bigger leaps, but it takes longer to explode, making it harder to set up, especially in the middle of a match. By angling the Plasma Gun well, you can run across walls with sustained plasma fire bursting on yourself, propelling you upwards. Of these, only rocket jumps have enough utility to see frequent use, but all are handy in the right circumstance. Quake‘s various movement methods enable such a range of fluid motion that it inspired the Quake DeFrag mod, based entirely on traversing obstacle courses against the clock.
The downside to moving quickly in Quake is that it gives away your position. Every time you jump, you emit a loud grunt that can be heard across the map. Quake’s 3D positional audio allows players with good hearing to get a good read on your position if you just strafejump everywhere. Rapha listens carefully at 9:37 for Cooller to take one step, indicating he’s at the top of the stairs, ready to be railed, and again at 15:02 to tell that Cooller isn’t jumping, giving Rapha a chance to grab the Red Armor. Weapons all have their own distinct sounds as well, as well as power ups. By listening carefully, the timing on a power up can be learned without a direct confrontation. The only way to completely silence yourself is to walk by holding the run/walk toggle. This is used in the match by Rapha trying to avoid a fight at 4:40.
On the other end, movement helps establish position. By positioning yourself favorably you can get the upper hand in confrontations. At 11:14 Rapha takes position on top of the bridge to rain rockets down onto Cooller by the Red Armor, who is limited to only fighting back with the Lightning Gun, because there is no wall behind Rapha to splash rockets off of and Rapha can take cover from the lightning fire with the bridge. Early on at 8:25, Cooller takes on Rapha directly in close quarters because his stack guarantees a win even if both of them hit each other with their most powerful weapons.
In the end though, the lot of this won’t matter if you don’t have the most basic skill down: aim. If you can’t hit your opponent, then there’s no way to win. Aim in Quake differs a bit depending on the weapon. The Lightning Gun is where most of your damage comes from, and with that it pays to have the cross hairs perfectly stuck onto your opponent, as commentators love to call out Quake pros for. The Rocket Launcher requires a measure of prediction, aiming at where your target will be instead of where they are, usually aiming at their toes so the rocket will splash up and hit the target instead of hitting them directly. Grenades are typically fired to bounce off walls and into areas you can’t see directly, or to deny passage to opponents.
Additionally, the way you aim ties into the way you dodge. In general, dodging in Quake is performed by using cover and strafing either forward and back, or side to side. Side to side movement is helpful against weapons like the Lightning Gun, where the attacker is trying to aim at you directly (for reasons that should be obvious), where forward and back movement is more helpful against the splashes of the Rocket Launcher, because they need to aim at a thin band on the ground to splash up at you, and moving closer or further quickly changes the thin space they need to aim at. The most effective way to wreck someone dodging your fire is to get them into a situation where they cannot avoid your shots, usually by taking the higher ground, or sometimes by suspending them in the air. The same way rockets can propel you through the air, they can similarly boost opponents, and while airborne they lose a lot of control over their movement. The Lightning Gun and Plasma Gun also knock opponents back, so with the right positioning they can pin an opponent against the wall, or hold them practically levitating in the air.
Between these factors and considerations is nearly everything going through the mind of a Quake champion. The hard part is putting it all together and figuring out how to apply it, which I leave up to you.