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History: A GDC 1996 Quake presentation by Michael Abrash

9:00 PM on 01.08.2011 // Maurice Tan

In the run-up to GDC's 25th anniversary, Jason Scott has been archiving materials from old GDCs for this occasion. And by old, think VHS tapes, CRT monitors and overlay sheet presentations. In a rocket jump from the past, former id Software employee and programmer legend Michael Abrash has been found talking about technical wizardry in Quake at the 1996 Computer Game Developer Conference; GDC's old name.

While the full video presentation will be uploaded in the next few weeks, the GDC Vault has two video excerpts from presentation online. One is about scaling models at a distance. A model can contain hundreds of polygons, but sometimes you only see a couple of dozen pixels depending on the player's resolution and distance.

The other video concerns portals. No, not your Prey or Portal types, but doorways and openings that let you look into rooms next to the one you are in. There's no point in rendering that entire room if you only see part of it, right? As Abrash explains the ideas behind fixing that problem -- which took months to arrive at -- you can almost hear the audience going "wtf" over it.

The best thing about this is how it shows you how much things have changed in so little time. Some of the things they did in Quake may not look very impressive in the current age, but at the time it was a technical masterpiece of quad damage proportions. If you want to hear more about things like post processing, vertices, DLLs and the technical feedback they got from the Quake community, an audio version of the full presentation can be found here.

The 'GDC 25' Chronicles: A Quake Aftershock [GDC]

Maurice Tan,
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