Lovecraft In Quake - Sources And Inspiration

The influence of Howard Philips Lovecraft on my work is apparent to anyone aquainted with both. As well as being directly affected by the writings of this eccentric and visionary author, many works in other media that have come to reside in my imagination are themselves built upon a foundation of ideas and experiences drawn from what has come to be known as the Cthulhu Mythos. Movies of the profoundly effecting survival genre such as Alien, Aliens, John Carpenter's The Thing, Pitch Black and so on all are dramatisations, through indirect processes of inspiration and reinspiration, of the core concepts first expressed in Lovecraft's stories way back as early as 1917. In music, too, many themes can be traced back to that dark and swollen prose, the most authentic of which can be found in the music of the Nephilim.
I also believe that the nature of what Lovecraft did accounts for its phenomenal effect on art of many mediums across the entire length of the twentieth century; unlike the supremely detailed worlds of Tolkien's Middle Earth or Herbert's Dune, the realm of the Cthulhu Mythos is so expansive and all-consuming, yet so vague and indistinct, that no one author can now be revered as its sole authority. On the contrary, imagination has always been the prime material of these narratives so each new artifact, entity or world adds to the existing storyscape while remaining free from restriction to only that which Lovecraft himself detailed.
Computer games, sharing essentially the same sources of inspiration as genre movies and music, have also been infected with the presence of The Great Old Ones. Most, though not all, players are aware that some Lovecraftian elements exist in the first game of the Quake series, but it is not widely know just how deep the influence goes. Half-Life, while visibly based on the 1950's B-movie lore of UFOlogy, also owes much to the Cthulhu Mythos.
To better convey this contribution to the atmosphere of Quake and its continuing role in my own work, I have drawn together all the examples I can cite of Lovecraft in Quake.
I first posted some of this material on the currently defunct QMap forum.

Sandy Petersen - a contributor to game design for many years now, Sandy Petersen's first and most influential publication was the transformation of Lovecraft's stories into the Call Of Cthulhu roleplaying game back in the early eighties. Although Lovecraft was known to aficionados of horror fiction, it is probably this game that is most responsible for popularising his original writing. COC was voted by readers of Dragon magazine as best RPG ever, an achievement certainly due in part to how faithful Petersen was to both the style and the substance of the mythos. Credit is deserved by any system whose most critical statistic quantifies not the characters' strength, intelligence or weapon skill but their rapidly deteriorating sanity!
Lovecraftian references certainly exist in id software's releases prior to Quake, but it was when Petersen was hired as a level designer that the major influx occurred [addendum: I have discovered that Petersen was largely responsible for the writing, monster characteristics and level progression of both Doom and Doom 2, to the extent that he gave his daughter a t-shirt bearing the legend "Doom - My Dad Wrote It"; now that's parental discretion :) ]. For the making of Quake, each level designer was ostensibly designated a separate episode and texture wad - John Romero: episode 2; American McGee: episode 3: Sandy Petersen: episode 4 - and it was the last ( and hardest ) of these that superficially contains the most Lovecraft references. However, although it is unlikely that Quake veterans would rate episode 4 as the greatest level design ever, it was the monsters that really bore the strongest investment of mythos character and this I am sure was due predominantly to Petersen's involvment.
What follows is a summation of all the creature sources I have discerned from my own encounters...

Cthon - contrary to popular interpretation, the name Cthon is probably not directly from Cthulhu, but from Brian Lumley's mythos 'Chthonians'. The word cthonic is in original greek kthon or xthonos which literally means 'dweller under the earth'. The depiction in Quake of an infernal-red monster is probably id's own stylisation ( quite right too ) but if you look closely at Cthon's face, you'll notice he hasn't got one; just a maw of crimson fangs opening vertically. The vertical mouth is taken from one of Lovecraft's creatures, the Gug.

Shub-Niggurath - this is the only overtly female entity in the mythos, but is never encountered in Lovecraft's own stories. Another writer, Robert Bloch ( who was Lovecraft's protege when he was a teenager, and went on to write the novel that was cinematised as 'Psycho' ) added this himself:
"Something black in the road, something that wasn't a tree. Something big and black and ropy, just squatting there, waiting, with ropy arms sqirming and reaching..."
- 'Notebook Found In A Deserted House'
It is this passage on which the Shub at the end of Quake we all know likely based.
However, my personal interpretation ignores other writers, and is based more on the following:
"Ia! Ia! Shub-Niggurath! The Black Goat Of The Woods with a Thousand Young!"
- HPL, 'The Whisperer In Darkness'
And from Sandy Petersen 'imself:
"It has been guessed that she is a perverse fertility deity"
- Call Of Cthulhu Roleplay
Based on this, and other insights into the mythos, we already know what Shub-Niggurath looks like - The Alien Queen.

Shambler - "Shuffling towards him in the darkness was the gigantic, blasphemous form of a thing not wholly ape and not wholly insect. Its hide hung loosely upon its frame, and its rugose, dead-eyed rudiment of a head swayed drunkenly from side to side. Its forepaws were extended, with talons spread wide, and its whole body was taut with murderous malignity despite its utter lack of facial description"
- HPL and Hazel Heald, 'The Horror In The Museum'
I'm not 100% sure on this, but I think the Dimensional Shamblers ( Dimensional, presumably because they can 'teleport' between worlds...ahem ) cropped up in another extended mythos stroy in which they were revealed to be inhabiting an area of the Himalayas and were consequently the origin of the Yeti myth. This could explain the furry whiteness of the Quake Shamblers.

Scrag - "The nethermost caverns', wrote the mad Arab, 'are not for the fathoming of eyes that can see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; til out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.'
- HPL, 'The Festival'
This passage is why the scrags are called monster_wizard in the original Quake code.

Fiend - from the waist down, the fiends are based on 'ghasts', which are said to "leap on long hind legs" and have "a pair of yellowish red eyes". They also have hooves that clatter. id just stuck spiky bits on the front to make them more dangerous :)

Spawn - there are two obvoius canditates for the inspiration for these: Flying Polyps, and Shoggoths. Shoggoths are more likely; they are large, oily black and polymorphic. 'The Blob' is basically a Shoggoth with a movie contract. John Romero seems to like them, too. It has also been suggested to me that the Formless Spawn of Tsathoggua is a likely basis for this nasty creature, given the name and the accompnying illustration in an early edition of the Call Of Cthulhu roleplaying game.
However, investigation of the model animations for the Spawn reveals an unused flying animation. Also, they're a lot smaller than a Shoggoth, partly for gameplay practicality I guess. "Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!"
Right. Next.

Shalrath - not based on an existing Lovecraftian creature AFAIK, but contains the basic elements. Alien, partially humanoid and magically proficient. The triple legs are the most obvious mythos signiture; it's a common way to make an alien's biology appear definitively non-terrestrial. Two or four ( or any even number of ) limbs is too close to the physiology of real animals, so many creature designers opt for three. But Lovecraft did it first.

Koth - yeah, okay, this one is personal.
Like Her Highness Shub-Niggurath, Koth is never met personally in Lovecraft's prose, only alluded to in sinister tones. He is the dark god of Dreams. The most potent references to this deity are via the Sign Of Koth: "At last, however, they came to a tower even vaster than the rest, above whose colossal doorway was fixed a monstrous symbol in bas-relief which made one shudder without knowing its meaning. This was the central tower with the Sign Of Koth"
- HPL, 'The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kaddath'
Again, Lovecraft never described this sigil pictorially so it is left to other creatives to make their own mark, so to speak. My own interpretaion is based directly on the construction methods of the Quake font. It's the symbol that pulses in the upper left of this site.
[/shameless self-promotion]

Another Mythos fan built a simplistic DM level called 'The Tower Of Kaddath' ( as opposed to 'The Tower Of Koth' ) which I think is still over at
[/selfless shame-promotion]

The Silver Key - in the id tradition of color-coded keycards, Quake's two main access items are the Gold and Silver keys.
"I look forward impatiently to the sight of that great silver key, for in its cryptical arabesques there may stand symbolized all the aims and mysteries of a blindly impersonal cosmos."
- HPL, 'The Silver Key'

Other lands/locations and story titles have been used for maps and even websites; the secret map of episode four ( e4m8 ) is called 'The Nameless City', e2m2 is called 'The Vaults Of Zin' ( a location nearby the Tower Of Koth in the story 'The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kaddath' ). E2m5 is called 'The Elder God Shrine', not an actual story title but a reference to a group of Lovecraftian deities. And the words 'elder', 'nether' and other such exotically bleak descriptions are scattered throughout Quake's end-of-episode flavour text.
Steve Resco's early Single Player masterpiece is named and based on 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth'.
John 'metlslime' Fitzgibbons' homepage is titled 'Celephais' after the central city of Lovecraft's Dreamlands ( ) and his first single-player map was named after a Lovecraft story/creature called 'The Crawling Chaos'
Iikka 'fingers' Keränen built a Q3A map titled 'The Doom That Came To Dunwich', a compound name derived from two of Lovecraft's story titles: 'The Doom That Came To Sarnath' and 'The Dunwich Horror'. The map can still be found over at ..::LvL ( ).

An interesting note is that the name of the Doom creature 'Cacodemon' is derived, not from one of Lovecraft's minions, but one of his adjectives: "I have said that the fury of the rushing blast was infernal - cacodaemoniacal - and that its voices were hideous with pent-up viciousness and desolate eternities." - 'The Nameless City'

One thing, much subtler than the direct transmission of entities from page to monitor, is the fact that Quake is a first person experience. Almost all of Lovecraft's stories are written in the first person, as that is the way in which he strives to communicate his cosmic hallucinations - to us, though we were actually there.

A last creature, not one of Lovecrafts, but worhty to be ranked alongside them. The Nihilanth from Half-Life. When H. R. Giger was first approached to work on 'Alien' back in the late 70's, he was sent a letter by someone from Fox, saying of the adult creature:
"Someone has suggested that it should look like a huge, deformed baby. But in any case, you should feel free to design whatever you wish."
In the end, the basis for the phenomenal xenomorph was a painted biomechanoid lifted by Ridley Scott from the pages of Giger's portfolio, the first copy of which he had given to Scott.
The portfolio was titled 'Necronomicon'.
Ah, What Dreams May Come...

Thanks to metlslime for certain additions and ammendments.

Find more Lovecraft material with the Cthuugle search engine:

That is Not Dead Which Can Eternal Lie,
And With Strange Aeons, Even Death May Die