Just over 14 years ago, id Software released QTest, the first public beta version of Quake. The package was 4.1MB and contained many groundbreaking gaming features that ushered in an entirely new era of FPS games. Some of the leading id Software developers share their thoughts on the Bethesda Blog:
John Carmack, Co-founder and Technical Director, id Software:
We were watching a live online chat when the upload went live. When the first person got it, there was a great clamor for reports about what it looked like. Unfortunately, one of the first things reported was “There is a turtle in the corner of the screen.” I had a check in the code to draw that icon as a sign that you were running at 10 frames a second or less, so you should reduce quality settings to get a more playable experience. Quake was one of the first PC apps where floating point performance was a critical factor, which meant that Intel’s Pentium processor had a huge lead over the competing AMD and Cyrix processors of the time, which had FPUs that were more similar to the 486. A lot of systems weren’t really up to it.
We eventually removed the “turtle check” from our games, because some people felt that we were insulting their systems, but there was also an interesting effect that was a product of the times — we found that a lot of people would crank up the resolution until the frame rate dragged down to about 10 fps, regardless of their CPU speed. Competitive gamers may disbelieve this, but for players that were more interested in the then-novel experience of exploring a modeled virtual world, getting the visual fidelity up above 320×200 resolution was important enough to make the game only barely-interactive. Most people had to wait a bit longer for glQuake and the 3DFX Voodoo to start getting the best of both worlds.