17/10/2017

THE CREATURES OF QUAKE

What with it being October and all, I was thinking about what games I’d most like to play to keep the Halloween mood going in between writing articles for this year’s Spooktacular. There were a lot of obvious candidates that sprang to mind: Blood, Night Slashers, Bloodborne, perhaps an attempt to complete Resident Evil 7 on “Madhouse” difficulty… and while I’m sure I will play those games over the next couple of weeks, I also thought of id Software’s all-time classic PC shooter Quake, because why not? It seems more than Halloween-y enough to me. Dark, labyrinthine stages dripping with oppressive atmosphere, a sinister soundtrack, and monsters. Horrible, twisted creatures, plus dogs and fish. Evil fish, mind. So I played a bit of Quake and then thought hey, I want to write about these monsters, so here they are: the hideous creatures of Quake!

Grunt


(images from the Quake wiki)

Okay, so we’re not off to the most hideous of starts with the Grunt, one of Quake's least exciting enemies. It’s… a guy with a gun. He’ll shoot at you with his gun if he sees you. The most interesting things about the Grunts are that they look very similar to the player character (presumably they were your monster-fighting predecessors who were reanimated upon death) and that their leg armour has ventilation holes. Makes sense to me, nobody wants sweaty thighs to strike during the heat of battle.


Closer examination seems to confirm that the Grunts had something done to them post-mortem, and their chests seem to have been opened up and then stapled shut again at some point. It’s a little hard to tell, though. I’m looking at the chest area and I can’t tell what’s supposed to be flesh and what’s body armour. The blood implies that there’s meat under those staples, but there’s definitely some armour on the midriff because that’s not what abdominal muscles look like unless you fall asleep face-down on top of a novelty cookie cutter. Whatever armour the grunt is wearing is a little too small for them, too. It’s riding up over their gut just enough for you to see their belly button. Crop-tops aren’t usually a look you see on undead murder-troops from a hell dimension, so full points to id Software for pioneering new fashion trends.

Enforcer


The Enforcer is also a soldier with a gun. A higher-ranking soldier, and as is befitting their rank the Enforcers carry laser guns that are actually easier to avoid than the Grunt’s non-laser weaponry. On the plus side, they do get a sweet new helmet for full-face protection, and their faces being only partially visible through the darkened glass is an effect that I still think looks really cool to this day. That might be because it reminds me of the Super Naturals toyline. If you didn’t think the young VGJunk would be extremely into action figures with a ghostly hologram gimmick and a main villain called “Skull,” then I can only assume this is your first time reading the site.
As well as having laser guns, the Enforcers are the only enemies in Quake that can talk. Using intelligible English words, I mean. The other monsters might be talking to each other, I suppose, but I don’t understand the guttural tongue of the elder things. The Enforcers have actual digitised speech clips, though, and they say things like “you there!” and “freeze!” What they don’t say is “shoot to kill!” although for a long time I thought they did.  I distinctly remembered playing Quake as a teenager and hearing the bad guys shout “shoot to kill!” but I was wrong. It isn’t in Quake. I began to doubt everything. A deep existential malaise crept into my soul as I pondered the fallibility of memory. Then, a couple of years ago I found out I was thinking of a “total conversion” for Quake called Malice where some enemies do, in fact, say “shoot to kill!” Thank you for reading my anti-climactic anecdote.

Rottweiler


Testing the theory that all dogs are good dogs to the absolute limit are these Rottweilers. Infected with a frenzied bloodlust, these dogs will charge at you and try to bite you to death but they make authentic whimpering noises when you shoot them, so I still feel bad about killing them even though they’re trying to use my windpipe as a squeaky toy. Thanks, id.
You might think that with them just being regular dogs, the Rottweilers aren’t that interesting, but honestly I think they’re one of the most upsetting of Quake’s monsters to fight. Partly that’s because of the aforementioned whimpering, but mostly it’s because they move really quickly but don’t look quite right while they’re running around. They don’t have as many animation frames as it seems like they should have, so they kind of twitch and float towards you in a manner that works surprisingly well with Quake’s semi-Lovecraftian setting. They’ve got a Hounds of Tindalos kinda vibe, and it’s a shame you only see the Rottweilers in a few stages.

Zombie


Now here’s a classic Halloween monster amongst Quake’s menageries of horrors: the good old zombie. It’s about what you’d expect from a zombie, really. A reanimated corpse with a lust for human flesh, its decayed body has rotted away so severely that its external genitalia have fallen off. Thank god for small mercies, no-one needed to see the zombie’s decomposing wang flopping around while it attacks the player. Halloween’s supposed to be spooky, not traumatic.
Being a zombie, these creatures can only be defeated through complete dismemberment. There’s a missed opportunity here, because you can (usually) only achieve that by using explosives to blow them into tiny chunks, but the hero of Quake comes equipped with an axe. There definitely should have been a way to hack the zombie to bits with the axe, even if it’s just to give the axe something to do.
As for attacking, the zombies rip out disgusting lumps of their own rancid flesh and throw it at you. I can only hope this zombie attack method makes its way into the next series of The Walking Dead, turning the show into the undead equivalent of a custard pie fight.

Rotfish


Ah yes, the Rotfish, so named because it is red and it was first discovered by a German naturalist. Of course not, it’s just a manky, rotting fish. Quake has underwater areas and there has to be something down there that’s trying to kill you, no matter how ineffectually. They couldn’t just have an angry fish, of course, so we get the Rotfish instead. It’s definitely the least of Quake’s monsters.

Scrag


Now we’re talking. The Scrag is a truly bizarre looking creature, a flying, acid-spitting monstrosity that’s part snake, part man and a terrible piano player. “Teeth for arms” isn’t a monster design you see very often, but I think it’s one with a lot of potential. The Scrag certainly proves it can be creepy as all get-out.
As well as being a great monster design, the Scrags are also proper bastards. Every time I play Quake, every god-damned time I’m playing through levels I’ve beaten dozens of times, I always manage to get ambushed by these floating arseholes. They hide in the darkened corners at the top of rooms and shoot at you before you can spot them, or they teleport in from whatever the Scrag equivalent of a green room is before puking their acidic bile all over you. Sometimes they’ll be zipping around, dodging your bullets, while at others they’ll fly right into your face, seemingly with the sole purpose of getting right in your bloody way. It’s difficult not to imagine them saying “hey, what are ya doin’, huh? Fighting monsters? Huh? Huh?” while you’re trying to shoot the other monsters that are blasting you with lightning or grenades. To make matters worse, when you do shoot them they make a noise that sounds a hell of a lot like someone saying “nah.” Don’t you “nah” me, you little shit, get back here so I can shoot you with my nail gun.
Also, the Scrags are referred to as “wizards” within the game’s files. I wish I didn’t know this, because it means I want to fight Scrags that wear wizard’s hats and somehow carry a wand in their stubby little horn-arms and such creatures don’t exist.

Ogre


One of Quake’s most iconic and plentiful monsters are the Ogres. Can I just take a moment to say how disappointed I am that the memeification of Shrek means that can no longer see the word “ogre” without thinking of the big green lump? And that as a result every time I play Quake I’m half-expecting one of these things to shout “get out of my swamp!” at me as it tries to eviscerate me with its chainsaw? If there was any justice in the world, these would be the most famous ogres, because they’re pretty great. They’ve got a chainsaw (for chopping) and a grenade launcher (for making you panic when you hear the “ting ting ting” sound of a grenade unexpectedly landing nearby.) Chainsaw and grenade launcher is a truly great videogame weapon combinations, if you ask me.
The Ogres themselves look like bouncers that once turned Pinhead away from Hell’s trendiest club, with teeth like a sack of old pennies and pale, angular head that makes me think “here’s what Kryten would have looked like if Red Dwarf was a horror rather than a comedy.” The Ogre’s appearance does raise one significant question, though: who makes their dungarees? Does each Ogre fashion their clothes from the flayed skin of their victims, or is there an Ogre Dungaree Emporium out there? If there is, I can’t help but imagine it as being very similar to the place that I had to go and get my free school uniforms from when I was a (poor) child. Wherever they come from, these outfits have a cute little Quake symbol on the chest. You know, just to make sure you know the snarling, chainsaw-wielding psychopath works for the bad guys.

Knight


Some of Quake’s stages have a medieval theme, and what could be a more appropriate foe to encounter amongst the ruined castle of these levels than a sword-swinging knight? If you thought Dark Souls was the first game to hide relentless killer knights around corners and behind secret walls, then think again.
Appearance-wise, there’s not much to say about the knight. They’re wearing plate armour, their swords are drenched in blood, their bright red shoulderpads are actually reflective so they can safely  embark on late-night bicycle rides. Their only method of attack is to rush towards the player and try to introduce their sword to your internal organs. While grunting, of course. There’s a lot of grunting in Quake. Sadly for the knights, there’s little a sword can do to protect against a double-barrelled shotgun, despite what your Japanese animes might tell you.

Death Knight


Hang on, Death Knight? Then what was the other knight? Maiming Knight? Over-Exuberant Playtime Knight? Okay, fine, the Death Knight. He’s like the other Knight, except bigger, tougher, and with a ranged attack that must surely cause much envious muttering amongst the lesser Knights. The Death Knight’s ranged attack consists of a spread of small fireballs, complete with trailing particle effects, and when I was a kid seeing this move in action blew my mind. I mean, I was already reeling from my first exposure to Quake, on a friend’s (dad’s) PC that ran it perfectly – the scope, the atmosphere, the three dimensions! I think the Death Knight’s amazing-looking fireball shot was the thing that tipped me over the edge, though, especially because the pattern of the projectiles is reminiscent of a pentagram and I was enough of a closet goth to really appreciate that.
With the ability to attack from any distance and some pulverising sword attacks, the Death Knight is clearly a cut (pun intended) above the regular Knight. It is a shame, then, that the Death Knight’s helmet looks so much like an upturned bucket.

Fiend


Witness, and tremble at the terrifying and very pointy visage of… the Fiend! They’re my favourite enemies in Quake and, come to think of it, one of my favourite enemies in any videogame. Why? I think it might be down to their sheer simplicity. They’re a creature formed from teeth, spikes and the pure concept of rage, and their only purpose is to do you harm with their their arm claws or their face-spikes or their cloven hooves. You might be thinking “running towards the player and trying to kill them” is a common theme amongst many Quake monsters, and you’re right – but the Fiend is different because it’s so good at it. The dogs are weak, the Knights are easy targets, but the Fiend? The fiends jumps, it sprints, it uses its powerful hind legs to launch itself across the goddamn map with the sole aim of furious stabbing. Not only can it survive a good few shotgun blasts to the face and rip you to shreds in moments, but the Fiend is particularly effective as a panic generator. You might be having a perfectly manageable battle with a group of monsters but then a Fiend appears and all your plans go out the window as you struggle to kill the lightning-fast slaughter demon that’s bounding towards you like a rambunctious puppy. Well, a puppy built out of kitchen knives and rusty nails, anyway.
The one saving grace of the Fiend is that they are deeply, irredeemably thick. Just the dumbest monsters out there, and you can use this to your advantage in a couple of ways. You can lure them into jumping down pits or into pools of water too deep for them to leap out of. Then you can stand at the edge of the pit and laugh at them, but it’s the nervous laughter that comes from the niggling fear that the Fiend might jump out of the pit. Or, you can try to get the other enemies to shoot the Fiend, and if that happens the Fiend might turn around and kill your opponents for you. There are few things more satisfying that seeing a furious living buzzsaw change allegiances, albeit temporarily.

Spawn


From my favourite monster to my most hated, in the form of the Spawn. A rare and mysterious monster, the Spawn only shows up a couple of times during Quake. For this we should be grateful, because they’re a right pain in the arse. Like the Fiend, they move at high speeds and attempt to slap the player about, which is annoying by itself because they’re much smaller and harder to see than the Fiends. However, they also detonate in a highly damaging explosion when you kill them. Not cool, Spawn. In a way they feel more like environmental hazards than fully-realised monsters, and dying to a spawn gives the same feeling as falling into a spike-pit you should have avoided. Like I say, they’re not my favourite, but I must give id Software credit for creating a convincingly gooey, blobby monster when the 3D graphics technology of the time mean that gooey, blobby monsters were the hardest kind of creature to create.

Vore


I tell you what, I’m real glad I’m getting all these images from one source because the idea of having to do a Google Image search for “vore” is not one I was looking forward to.
Anyway, this is the Vore. You first encounter it as a boss of sorts, before it becomes more of a regular enemy later in the game. I say “regular,” it’s still a challenge whenever you face it. You might think it’s spider-legged lower body would make it one of the game’s quicker monsters, but it isn’t. It’s one of the slowest, and that’s the only break you get when fighting a Vore because they have tons of health and they fire highly damaging homing projectiles. “Homing” does quite describe just how tenacious these projectiles are, actually. If you can't get them to hit a wall and explode, they will track you wherever you go like the spiky purple orb equivalent of a Liam Neeson action movie. A tricky creature to fight, but one that’s different enough from the other monsters in the game to be fun to fight.
Even though I’ve seen the Vore thousands of times over the years, it’s only now that I’m noticing that it has quite a lot of the Scrag about it. They share the same sickly grey skin tone, and the “inside” of the Vore’s legs looks a lot like the Scrag’s tail. Maybe Vores are the evolved forms of the  Scrags. They have more legs, better magic powers and crucially aren’t horrible sneaky bastards that always manage to get the drop on me.

Shambler


I described the Ogre as Quake’s “iconic” monster, but I suppose that title should by rights belong to the Shambler. The toughest non-boss creature in the game, the Shambler is a hulking brute of a demon with a winning smile and a shaggy white coat of fur. No, really, apparently the Shambler is supposed to be furry. I’m not sure how I feel about that, I think it’s a lot creepier if the Shambler has no fur and the skin texture of a condom filled with wallpaper paste.
With a lot of health and some extremely deadly attack, the Shamblers are the most dangerous monsters that you’re going to regularly encounter while playing Quake. In one of my all-time favourite videogame dick moves, the Shamblers also take reduced damage from explosives. Just when you though you could put that rocket launcher you collected to good use, here comes a Shambler to ignore your explosives and punch you to death. I used to think that the reduced explosive damage was to make the Shambler even harder to beat, but now I think it was a much sneakier design decision – it’s so shooting it from around a corner with the grenade launcher is ineffective. You see, one of the Shambler’s attacks is a lightning beam, which works in a very specific way: if the Shambler can see you when it fires the beam, it always hits you. By making round-the-corner grenades a poor combat option, you’re forced to step in the Shambler’s (lack of) eye line to fight it. Now that’s a vicious bit of design.
If you don’t like the sound of getting electrocuted, there’s a way to stop the Shambler from using that attack. Unfortunately, that method is to get really close to the Shambler, so swings and roundabouts. Once you’re all up in the Shambler’s face, it’ll try to clobber you, but if you’re quick you can move backwards and out of range while also not being zapped. This leads to a method of fighting the Shambler often called the “Shambler dance,” where you duck in and out of the Shambler’s reach and if you don’t think fighting this dark, gory game’s most powerful monster by waltzing with the bloody thing is the greatest thing ever then I think you should re-evaluate your life.

Cthon


Quake also features a couple of “proper” boss monsters, and I’ve got to be honest, they’ve never been as interesting to me as the regular creatures. I think that’s partly because the boss battles are more like puzzles than anything else, and that takes you out of the high-speed, secret-hunting, run-n-gun action that makes Quake so great.
That said, I do like Cthon’s design. It’s so close to being a standard lava monster but its face being a features stone slab bisected by a glowing fissure turns it into something unsettlingly different. Sometimes a small change is all you need to mix up a common monster type, you know? It’s just a shame you fight Cthon by standing on buttons rather than by blasting it with a six-barrelled nail gun.

Shub-Niggurath


The final boss of the game is where Quake’s H. P. Lovecraft influence shines the strongest, with a battle against Lovecraft’s own Elder God Shub-Niggurath. It was a bold decision (although I suspect one born from time and budget constraints) to have Quake’s final boss be an immobile, abstract entity that does little to fight the player besides summoning regular enemies for you to wade through. I’ve said before that I quite like it when a game’s final boss isn’t as powerful as their troops, because leaders are rarely the ones that do the actual fighting, you know? That’s true for Shub-Niggurath, and if you are (understandably) disappointed by Quake’s lack of a “real” climactic fight then just try to think of it as an interactive cutscene, I guess.
Just like Cthon, I think Shub-Niggurath’s design is good. I certainly appreciate the eerieness of it being a fleshy tree stump that’s constantly bleeding, and it’s very much in keeping with descriptions from the original Cthulhu Mythos stories. As an extra flourish, if you take a look at the shape of Shub-Niggurath you’ll realise that it’s the same shape as the Quake logo. I had a little lightbulb moment when I figured that out, let me tell you.

Those are the horrific denizens of the world of Quake, and I love pretty much all of them. If you didn’t also love them, and especially if you’ve never played Quake, then I hope you’ve got at least a little affection for them after reading this. Okay, maybe except the Spawn. Nobody loves the Spawn, except particularly sadistic creators of new Quake levels.

18 comments:

  1. Funfact: Aside from doing the music, Trent Reznor does most or all of the voices (most apparent in the player character's grunts and shouts)

    So I tend to picture the player character as a skinny goth in BDSM gear as even though I know that isn't the case

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    1. Now I'm kinda disappointed he's not humming NIN songs while he's shooting monsters.

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  2. Excellent! I love Quake. Tempted to play it again myself now...

    I always thought one of the cool things about Quake was the sound design. The scrags, for example, whisper, which is really creepy. The fiends also have a kind of bark when they launch themselves, the monstrous equivalent of "INCOMING!".

    Some other tidbits...I had a couple of Super Naturals figures! I am also amused by Horror Kryten. And one more thing; many years ago (my copy says 1988), "S. Petersen's Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters" was published. It features artist's renditions of many Mythos monsters. The Quake spawn sprite looks like it was scanned directly from the book's "formless spawn" picture. (Yes, THAT "S. Petersen".)

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    1. You should definitely give in to temptation and play Quake again. Yeah, the sound design is fanastic - the noise of the grenade launcher is one of my all-time favourite weapon sounds in a videogame.

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  3. That remark on Shub-Niggurath looking like the Quake logo was pure genius. Thank you!
    Also, I think it kinda resembles the final stage of Doom 2 in which you fight with a wall. Well, maybe not with a wall (Romero's head isn't much of a wall) but still.
    When I think about it, there have been quite a few 2D games in which the bosses were simply walls spewing projectiles.

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    1. As I recall, Shub Niggurath *was* specifically inspired by the final boss fo Doom 2!

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  4. Great, now do the monsters from the mission packs.

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  5. I'd never spotted the Quake logo on the ogre's dungarees before. I'll never look on them in the same light again! Great article, thanks.

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    1. They;re just so proud to be part of the team!

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  6. Thanks for the awesome article! I really hope you consider doing one about the monsters from the Mission Packs, as well. There's some really cool stuff in those.

    You make an excellent point about the missed opportunity regarding the axe and the zombies. I hope someone mods that feature into the game, if they haven't already.

    Here are some funny/interesting quotes from Quake's manual:

    "Nailgun: A two-barrel dingus that prickles bad guys with armor-piercing darts, technically
    termed 'nails'."

    "Rocket Launcher: For when a grenade positively, absolutely, has to be there on time."

    "Thunderbolt: Try it. You'll like it. Use the same technique as watering your rosebush."

    "Rottweiler: Bad, bad doggie! Play dead! -- blam! -- yipe! Good dog!"

    "Grunt: Goons with probes inserted into their pleasure centers; wired up so when
    they kill someone, they get paroxysms of ecstasy. In essence, customized serial
    killers. Easy to kill, and they tote shotgun shells. It's like a little Christmas each
    time you blow a Grunt away!"

    "Knight: Canned meat. Open 'er up and see if it's still fresh."

    "Death Knight: This particular canned meat tends to open you up instead."

    "Spawn: A merrily bouncing blob as dangerous to kill as to ignore. Blech."

    "Fiend: In essence, organic buzzsaws, rife with pummeling power!"

    "Q. Don't you worry that Quake teaches people that all problems can be solved by the misuse of
    deadly force?
    A. No."

    "Q. Are you guys Satan-worshipers?
    A. No."

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    1. Oh man, I remember reading the Quake manual so many times...

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  7. before Quake, the Fiend made a few bucks posing for the Japanese cover of the MSX game "Shit".

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    1. ...And before that the novel "The Howling III: Echoes".

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  8. I never really played Quake proper all that much, but I did have the X-Men Quake Total Conversion, in which all the monsters are changed into clones of the X-Men. It is one of those things that is so strange that I almost wouldn't believe it existed if I didn't have it.

    I also had Supernaturals figures as a kid and the hologram on one of them was defective.

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    1. I remember that mod! Wasn't it, like, an officially released product and everything? Incredible. It also makes me remember that someone was trying to make a mod for Quake 3 that turned it into Dragonball Z, I wonder if that was ever finished.

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  9. Oof, this article brings back the bad memories...as a kid playing a ripped copy of Quake (no music, which was much scarier) I could barely handle some of these monsters.

    I had no sense of humor when it came to horror and the Knights' Krueger-esque faces and "MMMM!" sound when they saw you tended to make me reach for the god mode. Listening to No Doubt while I played made it a little easier though.

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    1. Well, that's fair - when you're a kid, they're pretty bloody frightening. It was always the vores that made me tense, I think it's because you don't see them that often.

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