Quake Was Inspired by an Epic D&D Character
  • Quake Was Inspired by an Epic D&D Character

    In the previous installment we discussed the influence of the disastrous end to a Dungeons & Dragons campaign and how it helped shape the beginning of the first-person shooter, Doom. But there was another character who influenced id Software's follow-up to Doom. His name was Quake, and although he never appeared in his original form in the titular game, his magic arsenal was typical of a a high-level D&D character.

    What's the Big Deal About Quake?

    Ryan Winterhaller describes the influence of Quake, which took Doom's innovations to the next level:

    Without it, the industry would be a very different place today. It gave rise to many of aspects of modern gaming that we take for granted. Its developers, modders, and even the very code of the game itself are ubiquitous in the industry today. Id Software's 1996 FPS gave rise to 3D gaming, client/server online play, the most prolific mod scene in history, multiplayer clans, server browsers, eSports, mouse-look as the PC control standard, Valve and dozens of other companies, and even 1UP's sister website, GameSpy. Without Quake, it's unlikely another game that featured the same suite of innovations would have come along. We would have had to wait for each of those things one at a time.

    Where Doom launched the concept of first-person shooters over LANs, Quake took it a step further onto the Internet. And just like Doom, Quake was inspired by the same D&D campaign that id Software founder John Carmack created.

    The D&D Connection

    John Carmack was an avid dungeon master who worked on a massive Dungeons & Dragons campaign that included all of the id Software coders. As described in David Kushner's Masters of Doom, it included elements that would appear in both Doomand Quake:

    Carmack’s D& D world was a personal masterwork of forests and magic, time tunnels and monsters. He had a fifty-page glossary of characters and items such as “Quake,” a fighter with a magical “Hellgate Cube” floating above its head, the “Chalice of Insanity . . . a chalice from which you get Jellybeans of Insanity which, if ingested, will cause you to go nuts and fight everyone around you” and the Mighty Daikatana sword. He relished the feeling of creating a place others could explore. The way D& D was played, he, as Dungeon Master, would invent and describe the set and setting. Then it was up to the players to dictate how they wanted to proceed.

    Originally, the game where Quake would debut was titled "The Fight for Justice":

    They described more installments of Keen as well as a new game based on characters and elements of Carmack’s evolving Dungeons and Dragons world. “ The Fight for Justice,” they wrote. “A completely new approach to fantasy gaming. You start not as a weakling with no food— you start as Quake, the strongest, most dangerous person on the continent. You start off with the hammer of thunderbolts, the ring of regeneration, and a trans-dimensional artifact . . . all the people you meet will have their own personalities, lives, and objectives. . . . The Fight for Justice will be the finest PC game yet.”

    The idea was shelved. Co-creator John Romero describes the origins of what would eventually be Quake, which was the name of a character from a D&D campaign:

    When we finished our first Commander Keen series on December 14th, 1990, we immediately started working on Quake in January. It was a top-down RPG, and was supposed to be based on our D&D campaign we were playing. The character of Quake was in this group called the Silver Shadow Band. It was a very small elite group of super bad@$$ characters. [He was this] Thor-like guy, and he had this amazing hammer, and this thing called the Hellgate Cube -- which was a sentient inter-dimensional cube that would rotate around him and go do its own thing depending on what was going on.

    Masters of Doom elaborates on the objects that would debut in Quake:

    The idea came straight out of their old Dungeons and Dragons games; Quake was the character Carmack had invented who possessed a powerful hammer, capable of demolishing buildings, as well as a supernatural conjuring object, Hellgate Cube, floating above his head. Id had first worked on a Quake game back in the early Commander Keen days but gave up because they felt the technology was not yet powerful enough to do their idea justice. Now, Carmack said, the time had come. The technology was ready to make the most convincingly immersive 3-D experience yet, the first fast-action, first-person game to support groups of players competing together over the Internet. Not only would Quake be id’s most ambitious game yet but it could be the world’s.

    Eventually the team's ambitions outstripped the current level of gaming technology. The released version of Quake strayed far from its original fantasy roots. So what were these three objects inspired by D&D that never appeared in the game? We can make a few educated guesses.

    The Ring

    The ring of regeneration is the least mysterious of Quake's magical arsenal. Quake debuted in 1996, before 3.5 edition, so it's likely that any inspiration Carmack took from D&D came from AD&D. Here's the AD&D version:

    The standard regeneration ring restores 1 hit point of damage (and will replace lost limbs or organs eventually also) per turn. It will bring its wearer back from death (but if poison is the cause, the saving throw must be made or else the wearer dies again from the poison still in his or her system). Only total destruction of all living tissue by fire or acid or similar means will prevent regeneration. Of course the ring must be worn, and its removal stops regeneration processes.

    There's also the possibility that the ring was a vampiric regeneration ring, which would make the character nigh-unstoppable:

    This ring bestows one-half of the value of hit points of damage the wearer inflicts upon opponents in hand-to-hand (melee, non-missile, non-spell) combat immediately upon its wearer (fractions dropped). It does not otherwise cause regeneration or restore life, limb or organ.

    Given the non-stop action of first-person shooters, both types of rings were possible in the video game -- or even the possibility of upgrading the ring of regeneration to a vampiric ring. If the ring is somewhat generic, tracing the cube's roots are not quite as straightforward.

    The Cube

    The Hellgate Cube likely had a parallel in the Hellraiser movies that first debuted in 1987. The cube in the Hellraiserfranchise was known as Lemarchand's box:

    Lemarchand's box is a fictional lock puzzle or puzzle box appearing in horror stories by Clive Barker, or in works based on his original stories. The best known of these boxes is the Lament Configuration, which features prominently throughout the Hellraiser movie series. This was designed and made by Simon Sayce, one of the original creative team members. A Lemarchand's box is a mystical/mechanical device that acts as a door — or a key to a door — to another dimension or plane of existence. The solution to the puzzle creates a bridge through which beings may travel in either direction across this "Schism." The inhabitants of these other realms may seem demonic to humans.

    Given its description as a cube, it was likely a Cubic Gate in Carmack's original D&D campaign. Here's the AD&D version:

    Another small cubic device, this item is fashioned from carnelian. The 6 sides of the cube are each keyed to a plane, 1 of which will always be the Prime Material, of course. The other 5 can be chosen by any means desired. If the side of the cubic gate is pressed but once, it opens a nexus to the appropriate plane, and there is a 10% chance per turn that something will come through it looking for food, fun, and/or trouble. If the side is pressed twice, the creature so doing, along with all creatures in a 5' radius will be drawn through the nexus to the other plane. It is impossible to open more than 1 nexial link at once.

    The Hellgate Cube was probably keyed to five different planes of hell. The Hellgate Cube, like the hammer and ring, never made it into Quake:

    The Hellgate Cube was going to be a sentient cube that fed off the damage that one did to living beings. The more one fed it, the more it would assist one by shooting evil wisps of smoke into enemies. If the user ran around a level too long without killing something it would go away for a while.

    And what of Quake's hammer, arguably the most defining aspect of his magical arsenal?

    The Hammer

    The original idea of the Quake hammer was the hammer of thunderbolts:

    The Hammer of Thunderbolts was intended to constitute the only usable arm in the original game, but with alternative modes of fire. Some people were critical about this concept. The Hammer would also be throwable. (A similar usable arm called the Mjolnir would appear in Scourge of Armagon, however.) According to Sandy Petersen, one of the arms that id Software discussed a hammer that the protagonist would hit the ground with, and it would cause a literal quake (explaining the game’s title), which would extend away from the hammer along the ground with dust puffs, and would heavily damage or knock monsters back, and possibly even damage walls (or at least go through doors). Aerial monsters would not be affected by it.

    Sandy Petersen, the principal author behind Call of Cthulhu, also earned his video game chops designing seven levels forQuake. In this case the hammer's origin isn't a mystery -- it's obviously a hammer of thunderbolts -- or is it? Here's the description of the hammer from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide:

    Hammer of Thunderbolts appears to be a regular hammer of largish size and extra weight. It will be too imbalanced, somehow, to wield properly in combat, unless the character has 18/01 or better strength and a height of over 6'. The hammer then functions as +3 and gains double damage dice an any hit. If the wielder wears any girdle of giant strength and gauntlets of ogre power in addition, he or she may properly wield the weapon if the hammer's true name is known. When swung or hurled it gains a +5, double damage dice, all girdle and gauntlets bonuses, and strikes dead any giant* upon which it scores a hit. When hurled and successfully hitting, a great noise as if a clap of thunder broke overhead will resound, stunning all creatures within 3” for 1 round. Throwing range is 1” + 1/2”/point of strength bonus for the gauntlets and girdle, i.e. 6 + 7 to 12 = 13 to 18 X 1/2” = 6 1/2”, 7”, 7 1/2”, 8", 8 1/2”, 9”. (Thor would throw the hammer about double the above ranges . . . ). The hammer of thunderbolts is very difficult to hurl, so only 1 throw every other round can be made, and after 5 throws within the space of any 2 turn period, the wielder must rest for 1 turn.

    The description doesn't quite line up with Carmack's interpretation. It doesn't cause earthquakes or demolish buildings. There is, however, a hammer that is capable of "demolishing buildings" known as the Mattock of the Titans. Here's the AD&D version:

    This huge digging tool is 10 feet long and weighs over 100 pounds. Any giant-sized creature with a Strength of 20 or more can use it to loosen (or tumble) earth or earthen ramparts in a 100-cubic-foot area in one turn. It will smash rock in a 20-cubic-foot area in the same amount of time. If used as a weapon, it has a +3 bonus to attack rolls and inflicts 5d6 points of damage, exclusive of Strength bonuses (see girdle of giant strength).

    And yet the Mattock doesn't cause quakes. There is one magic item that fits the bill: a magical warhammer that does everything Quake was capable of, including being "throwable" and capable of causing "literal quakes" that "knock monsters back". That weapon is the legendary Whelm, the a dwarven warhammer from the AD&D adventure, White Plume Mountain:

    Whelm, a lawful neutral hammer +3 (+5 for warves), intelligence 15, ego 18. Purpose: kill all trolls, giants and goblin-types (including bugbears and hobgoblins). It can be thrown and will return from up to 150' thrice per day (dwarves only). It also acts as a hammer of stunning; once per day, when struck upon the ground, it will send forth a shock wave stunning up to 45 hit points of enemies up to a distance of 60' for 1-4 rounds if they fail to save vs. spells. Whelm also detects gold, gems, and the presence of goblins. A drawback is that the bearer of this weapon will come under the influence of a severe case of agoraphobia (fear of wide, open places), and will fight at -2 when not inside a building, at night, or (best of all) underground. Whelm is obviously a dwarven weapon.

    Was this the "smoking hammer" so to speak? There was only one way to find out.

    Carmack Responds

    I asked John Carmack about Quake's hammer and its possible connection to Whelm (as well as the connection of the Demonicron to the Demonomicon of Iggwilv). His response:

    @DREADSPACE No, and no, at least consciously, but I was at least aware of both modules, so perhaps subconsciously.
    — John Carmack (@ID_AA_Carmack) September 8, 2016

    There we have it. Like most DMs, Carmack likely took a little bit of everything for his campaign and tweaked the elements he liked, discarding the elements he didn't. And of course, translating D&D to video game requires some concessions, so the original incarnation of Quake changed over time.

    That doesn't take away from Carmack's fantastic imagination, his coding prowess, or his ability to envision a world that could not be contained by video games alone. Quake may have never debuted in his own game in the original fashion of an epic-level D&D character, but his descendants would continue his tradition, most notably the fantasy first-person shooter, Hexen II.

    Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, and communicator. You can follow him at Patreon.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. mrm1138's Avatar
      mrm1138 -
      Huh. Sounds like the Hellgate Cube was repurposed into Doom 3's Soul Cube.
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