Annual pilgrimage to the temple of Id has evolved over the years, but its grassroots spirit remains
This past weekend, the 21st annual QuakeCon barreled through Dallas, Texas, filling the ritzy Hilton Anatole with the sounds of digital violence and fan adulation. QuakeCon is a bit smaller, and a bit more low key, than most video game conventions, built as it is around a familial and decades-old group of fans that first assembled with computers and cables to play Id Software's competitive shooter, Quake in 1995. But there was still plenty of excitement. Here's the best stuff we saw.
1. DraQu's crazy-fast Doom speedrun
During Friday's Fast as Hell panel, Id's Gameplay Systems Designer Peter Sokal and AI Gameplay Designer Kurt Loudy watched bemusedly as record-setting Finnish speed-runner known only as "DraQu" ran through their game in front of a room full of fans in under 90 minutes. DraQu has the speedrunning record in both Nightmare and Ultra Nightmare modes of Doom, having previously beaten the game in an hour and 18 minutes. In expert fashion, he showcased a number of exploits and collision glitches that let him skip single fights and even entire levels. When he used the hugely powerful gauss cannon to propel himself above the world geometry and skip the entirety of the first hell level, Bethesda's Global Community Lead, Matt Grandstaff, turned to the developers and asked, "What's the average playthrough of that stage?" Peter Sokal answered: "Not that short!"
2. Nineties-style shooter, Dusk
While most of the games at QuakeCon were either of the classic variety or one of Bethesda's juggernauts, there were a few intriguing indie projects in margins, too. One of the best was Dusk, a throwback first-person shooter developed by independent creator David Szymanski. It channels his love of the original Quake and Doom into a fast lo-fi shooter with handcrafted levels and a gory aesthetic – think Quake meets Children Of The Corn. On the small expo floor, he was showing off an endless horde mode to give the public their first taste of the game's feel. I watched as a veteran shooter fan cut through 40 waves, Szymanski watching with pleasure, awe, and maybe a little discomfort. "I need to make this harder," he said.
3. Old-school Quake bedlam and a live Quake Champions demo
The convention ended explosively, with some of the best competitive Quake play the community has seen in years. During the Quake Live 1v1 finals, veteran competitors Shane "Rapha" Hendrikson and Orekov "Evil" Sergey traded kills while climbing, rocket jumping, and teleporting at dizzying speed through stages they knew like extensions of their own bodies. During the third of their five matches, Evil came back from a dizzying nine overtimes, ending a desperate stalemate that lasted for almost 20 minutes of white-knuckle play. Rapha eventually took the title, but Evil brought it down to the wire. Afterward, Id creative director Tim Willits took the stage to introduce the first ever live gameplay of Quake Champions, which felt just as fast and brutal as the classics.
4. The two dudes playing fighting games on a projector
But, even with all the exciting revelations and shows of skill, the heart of QuakeCon will always be in the massive LAN Party space, a sprawling darkened room filled with thousands of players and their computers. This is where QuakeCon started, all those years ago; with passionate fans coming together to network their computers and play.
"It's really a social experience," said Ryan, from Denton, TX, who has been coming to QuakeCon since 2004. We found him and his friend, who preferred to go by his gaming handle, Travitz, tucked away in the side of the cool, darkened LAN room, playing the absurdist fencing game Nidhogg on a projector. "We meet friends here every year," said Ryan. "We have this set up, which is very inviting, for people to come play fighting games with us. And we meet new people."