How a programming error gave rise to one of the most brilliant mechanics in one of the greatest games of all time

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Although some developers may disagree, some of the funniest or funniest things to do in video games come from bugs. Games like Skyrim have shown us that bugs can create very interesting situations and comic, but there are titles that have taken this further. Over time, some of these bugs become hallmarks of gaming, and when reflecting on these kinds of cases, it’s impossible for me not to think about the strafe-jumping from Quake.

Starting from a programming error, this error was not only something that changed the way his players behaved in online games, but it came to generate disagreements between the gaming community and its creators, Id Software. But what is this accidental mechanic and why is it important? Today we are going to review the bug that marked athail a generation of gamers and the most popular PC game genre, whose repercussions have reached, decades later, even current and popular titles, such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or even Apex Legends.

If you take a look at the video that I have attached just before these words, you will notice that high-level Quake players do a very curious thing: when moving around the stage, they do it by jumping. Although it may seem that the thing ends there, there are explanations and history behind the benefits of moving in this way. They are not mere jumps, it is a technique with considerable evolution and studies: the previously mentioned strafe-jumping.

Strafe-jumping was a programming glitch that became a crucial part of the FPS.

As I said, this movement technique is not just about moving forward while jumping haphazardly, strafe-jumping is a way of exceed the maximum speed of movement of the characters using three factors: the lack of friction that is achieved when jumping, the diagonal movement in the air and the manipulation of the camera in relation to it. It’s a complicated technique that has had people figuring out the mathematical implications behind it, and one that gives those who have mastered it an impressive advantage over other players. And you know what? Id Software didn’t design it, it’s a programming bug that became crucial part of the competitive scene of their games and that affected many other first person titles.

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This accidental mechanic has its origins before the release of Quake itself. And it is that, as his own name says, the strafe-jumping it needs jumping, but years before the release of Id’s 3D shooter, FPS had us all on the ground and didn’t allow the use of the mouse to rotate the camera. That’s where the predecessor of this occult technique comes in: the strafe-running. in 1993, With the releases of Pathways into Darkness (one of the first games from the well-known Bungie) and the first Doom, players came to the conclusion that moving diagonally allowed them to move faster than normal. This is something the developers were slow to learn about. In the case of Doom, the John Romero, one of the key figures in its creation, admitted that they did not know about the bug and its consequences until more than a year after the launch of the title. Be that as it may, the creators of maps and mods for the Id FPS soon took it into account and forced players to know how to take advantage of it to overcome some of their challenges.

With the release of Quake in 1996, it didn’t take long for FPS fans to find a way to replicate this kind of technique. “If in Doom we could gain extreme speeds above what is allowed by moving diagonally, who tells us that this is not possible here?”, is a logical reflection. If we add to this similar movement techniques in other titles of the genre, such as the so-called tricorching From Descent, it stands to reason that the most popular game of the moment would have legions of fans delving into its mechanics to add more depth to its movement.

Quake Strafe Jumping

While strafe-jumping was initially done more by eye, there began to be a conversation around why it worked the way it did and how it could be optimized. On paper, the ideal is to take into account movement vectors, angles and a large number of factors as precise as they are complicated to be able to make a perfect sequence of jumps. Outside of theory, in the end it’s a bit impossible and impractical to apply this to a normal game, so there’s no way to make it 100% consistent. And yet it became The angular stone of high-level, competitive movement in the multiplayer shooter community.

Id Software figures came to discuss this bug with the community

Big figures from Id Software even argued with the community for wanting to fix the bug, although they were slow to comment on it. “The strafe-jumping you’re a bug. The fact that people have practiced a lot to be able to take advantage of it does not justify its existence. […] When I play online, I enjoy running and dodging more than just dribbling. This is my personal preference, and it turns out that this one counts for a lot :-)”, said John Carmack, chief programmer of the company and one of the most visible heads of Doom history, in an exchange with his players. If we see the code source for Quake 3, we can see that they did indeed try to fix the bug for the third game in the series, but the result was less than satisfactory.

Ironically, when Quake Live, the originally free version of Quake 3, was released, gamers were able to notice a pretty big change. While it’s true that strafe-jumping still required some knowledge of how the technique works, Id made moving forward and jumping increase your top speed to a midpoint between normal running and knowing how to execute the hidden mechanics. Recognizing the legacy of their game, and knowing that this is part of their history, far from wanting to review that bug, the North American studio wanted to provide an alternative for those who were not masters of this mechanic.

In the end, and despite Carmack’s complaints, instead of going against the current and wanting to perfect their game on a purely technical level, in Id they ended up accepting that a small programming error is already part of the history of one of their most relevant games. till the date. This also did not happen in a bubble. Titles that used the same engine as Quake, such as the first Call of Duty or Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, were also affected for him strafe-jumping, creating all kinds of unintentional strategies within their online games. On the other hand, this also affected games that used engines derived from Quake. Works like Half-Life, Team Fortress 2 or even Titanfall 2 and Apex Legends had to add measures to limit the maximum speed of their base players in order to control the power of this practice. Still, it’s not something that was completely corrected, and to this day you can still see remnants of what was once the star mechanic of competitive shooters.

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