As much fun as Doom was, it felt more like a gory cartoon with most of the scares coming from enemies hidden behind doors and blind corners. Quake, on the other hand, felt endlessly creepy and scary thanks in part to its real-time lighting that helped set the mood. To make any room feel as spooky, Rodrigo Feliciano went back to the game’s original source code to make a flickering Quake lamp.
What exactly is going on with the power grid where Quake takes place is anybody’s guess—there’s zero chance those buildings are up to code—but as someone discovered back in June, the moody lighting in Half-Life: Alyx used the same flickering code as the original Half-Life, and that code can actually be traced all the way back to Quake, which was created by id Software’s John Carmack over 25 years ago.
Was the lighting in Quake so incredibly realistic that no one has been able to top it in over a quarter-century? Probably not. What’s more likely is that the code was used as a shortcut by one of Half-Life’s developers, given the original Quake source code was released under the GPLv2, and has since evolved into a fun Easter egg over the years, similar to the Wilhelm scream sound effect that to this day keeps popping up in movies and TV shows.
The flickering lighting patterns in Quake were defined by a string of letters, with ‘a’ to ‘z’ representing no light to full brightness, respectively. A string like “azazaz” would make the lights appear to turn completely on and off, while in Quake, the string looked more like “‘mmamammmmammamamaaamammma” with ‘m’ being a given light’s default brightness setting.
Feliciano was able to easily bring that same code to an Arduino Pro Mini, which he wired to a hacked emergency light featuring an array of white LEDs that could quickly flicker and dim on command. The result is a flickering lamp that looks like it was purchased from whatever the creepy Quake world version of Ikea would be. Syncing it up with the actual game should be equally trivial, but I can remember many late-night gaming sessions in the late ‘90s where Quake was already creepy enough on its own—the last thing I wanted was my entire room to feel like it was full of creepy monsters hiding behind every corner.