Jump to: health and armor, weapons, tactics, how to play, configuring, improving

Quake Live is one of those games that's a bit hard to get into, and how to play it is not always intuitive. In SC2 you can simply buy the game, create an account and start playing and learn as you go along, or you can go to TeamLiquid.net and watch countless streams for entertainment or education - not quite so with Quake Live. Therefore, this is meant as a guide to new players or spectators who have already "decided" that Quake Live is a game they want to get into.

If you're not yet sure if you want to get into Quake, I recommend you check out my introduction to Quake Live for some entertaining and educational videos and guides - they are easier to digest than this massive and in-depth wall of text!

Very short about my "qualifications" in Quake: I was at best low-mid level dueller who got into Quake Live when it launched. I'd started playing Quake 3 CPMA some months beforehand. I've no delusions about being a particularily good quake player, but consider myself a fairly decent teacher and writer, which is what made me want to write this.

Basics of the game

The basics of the game are simple: within a time period (10 minutes for 1v1, 20 minutes for TDM), get the most kills and you win. In CTF, you obviously need to capture the opponent team’s flag more than they capture yours, within 20 minutes. Sounds simple, right? Nope! Although the idea is simple, there are a lot of game mechanics and techniques you're required to master in order to be able to put up a fight.


Let's start with the most basic thing - moving around in Quake is more than simply pressing WASD. Strafejumping or bunnyjumping is basically required whenever you're moving around and not getting shot at, as strafejumping will basically let you move, on average, about twice as fast as someone simply running around. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to realize how much of an advantage this is.

I won't go too much into detail on strafejumping if the concept is new to you, but I will link you this video and this video, which tells you everything you need to know about how it works. It looks daunting at first, but the exact angles you need to hit and so on will come to you eventually. Watch other people do it and it'll seem intuitive after a while.

Health and armor

While modern shooters usually have you regenerate health when you’re out of combat, and you get a set of weapons when you spawn, you have to pick up health, armor and weapons in Quake Live. You start with a pathetic Machine Gun and 125 health at the start of the game (and every time you die) and have to work your way from there by picking up items.

These are health bubbles. The yellow and orange ones give you 25 and 50 health, respectively, but only up to 100. The green one gives you 5, up to 200. The blue health bubble is the megahealth (or just mega) which gives you 100 health up to 200, and is one of the "major powerups" along with the red armor.

These are armor pickups. All of them give you extra armor, which absorbs damage, making you lose less health. In reality health and armor almost always add up, so there’s no real difference between 100HP+200 armor and 200HP+100 armor. (There is, however, a difference between having 10HP+100armor and 100HP+10armor, because armor will only absorb up to 2/3rds of the damage you take.)

The small green bits are called shards and give you 5 armor. The green, yellow and red armors give you 25, 50 and 100 armor, respectively. All of these pickups give you extra armor all the way up to 200. Whenever you have more than 100 armor, you will lose 1 armor per second. The same applies to health.

Controlling these items is one way of winning a match, especially the "major powerups" (mega and red). Armors respawn 25 seconds after they've been picked up while mega respawns 35 seconds after being picked up. Good players will try to remember when these items spawn so that they can pick them up over and over again or at the very least be there to do some damage as their opponent tries to pick it up.


There aren't that many weapons in Quake Live, but they are all very different - I won’t go over all of them, just the most important ones. If you ever see someone use anything other than these three, it’s usually because they’re missing one of them or they just want to show off - these are the three main weapons in Quake Live:

The rocket launcher deals splash damage and is most effective at short range. A direct hit will deal 100 damage, but usually less as direct hits are very hard to pull off. Tip: aim for the ground near your opponent rather than the opponent in mid-air!
The lightning gun deals 5-7 damage in very quick succession, but has limited range. Used at mid range or when the map makes it hard to hit with rockets (like in some stairs).
The rail gun deals 80 damage and has unlimited range, but a long reload time. Usually used as a sniper gun of sorts, very risky to use at short range.

Using these weapons effectively is another way to win a match. Some players will have insane aim and will seem to be able to hit every possible rail. If you can do more damage than your opponent, that means you can afford to not pick up as many armor/health items - so at the highest level, you'll have two types of players: The strategic ones who rely on controlling items and using positioning and strategy to gain an advantage, and aim players who rely more on hitting every shot and doing more damage than their opponent.


When playing, there are many tricks and techniques you can use to gain an advantage. A few very basic examples:

When you have a rocket launcher, it's very hard for your opponent to charge through a narrow corridor without taking a lot of damage.

If you have a railgun, you can often deal damage at long range before your opponent has time to fire back.

The player on the high ground usually has an easier time dealing damage than the player on the low ground.

Sometimes, you can predict where your opponent will spawn after you've killed him, and you can pick up a spawnfrag.

These are some extremely simple examples. In addition, there are mindgames (your opponent thinks you'll go this way so you'll go another way instead), delaying items to screw up your opponent's timings, rocketjumping to sacrifice health and armor in order to get somewhere faster, walking silently to sneak up on your opponent and much more.

Playing Quake Live

OK, now you know how Quake Live works! At least the basics. You’ll learn a lot more as you play. Ask better players for advice! But... how do you start playing? Easy! Go to www.quakelive.com, create an account, download and install the plugin, then wait for everything to download. Definitely play the tutorial - not only will it assess your skill level, but it'll also provide some practice maps where you learn the basics of movement.

Once you feel ready to play a real match, click the "Play Online" tab to see a list of available servers. Click the "customize" button in the top right and tweak the settings as you like.

I recommend leaving the settings as shown in this picture, but changing the gametype depending on what you want to play. These are the different gametypes available to you:

  • Free For All (FFA) - race to get the most frags. Usually (not always!) FFA servers are filled with low level players, so a nice way to learn your way around the maps, how to move around and how the different weapons work.
  • Clan Arena (CA) - spawn with all the weapons and lots of HP and armor and try to take out the opposing team. Really good mode for learning to use the weapons.
  • Capture the Flag (CTF) - what is sounds like. Fun team-based game mode.
  • Team deathmatch (TDM) - two teams fight over armor and weapons to get the most frags over a 20 minute period.
  • Duel - the 1v1 mode which is probably what you'll want to focus on improving at the most - get good at duel and you'll be good at all the others, too.

Right away, I'm going to tell you that I don't recommend playing public CTF or TDM as the games will often feel unfair and annoying because the skill level of the players can vary a lot. If you want to play team games, play FFA and CA until you feel comfortable with the game and play some duels against fellow low-level players, and when you feel ready, join what's called a CTF/TDM pickup.

If you use QLprism, hit the small "IRC" icon in the bottom right, then join a pickup channel and add yourself. You join a channel by writing /join #channel and hitting enter.

If you don't use QLprism, you can use the QuakeNet webchat instead. There are also standalone IRC clients like mIRC.

Once in the pickup channel, you usually add yourself by typing !add tdm or !add ctf. Then you'll get a notification once there are enough players to start, and someone will make a server and give you an URL which you can put into your browser to join the game. IMPORTANT!!! If you're AFK when this happens, you'll risk getting banned from the channel and from doing pickups in the future!!! In QLprism, you do this by hitting the small [URL] icon in the top left. You'll usually need a password to enter the game - if you get an "invalid password" error when you try to join, open the console and enter /password passwordgoeshere.

Here's how it'll look when a pickup is ready:

[17:31] < twm> !add tdm
[17:31] <@killkissBOT> Game Ready - Players: floutek, GBNC, fjj, rox__, eteto[ket], aCtion`nightops, NightMarize, twm
[17:31] * killkissBOT changes topic to '[TDM 0/8] || [ Rules: http://tdmpickup.eu ] [ New teampicking: 1-2-2-1 | Mumble: tdmpickup.eu: 64738 pw: pickup | Ragequit & Ruining pickups = ban ]'
[17:31] < GBNC> http://www.quakelive.com/#!join/324913
[17:31] < Preben> Team Death Match (Warmup - - spawned by gbnc on Campgrounds - 1/24 in Frankfurt
[17:31] < GBNC> pass: tdm

If you're a free user, you'll probably need someone to invite you to the server. Ask the person who hosted the server first - in this case, GBNC.

The different pickup channels (on QuakeNet) are:

  • #tdmpickup - European TDM
  • #playquake - European misc. modes
  • #qlpickup.eu - European misc. modes
  • #qlpickup.na - North American misc. modes

Configuring Quake Live

Playing Quake Live with the default settings is fine, but you usually want to tweak the settings. If you've watched any Quake Live stream you'll immediately notice that it doesn't look exactly like the default settings.

First of all, you need to know where your Quake Live folder is. Since Quake Live is only a browser plugin and not an application you can install wherever you want, this can be kinda hard to find. This is where it's located:

Windows 7: C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\LocalLow\id Software\quakelive\home\baseq3
Windows XP: C:\documents and settings\USERNAME\AppData\LocalLow\id Software\quakelive\home\baseq3
Linux: ~/.quakelive/quakelive/home/baseq3

Once you've found it, I recommend you add it to favorites in Windows simply by dragging the folder into your favorites bar on the left.

Once you're in the baseq3 folder, create a new file and name it autoexec.cfg. This is a config file, and naming it autoexec means it'll automatically be executed/ran every time you start Quake Live.

Now, start Quake Live (online match, practice match, whatever) and fiddle with the settings until you're happy. Open your console by hitting the tilde key (left of 1) and type /writeconfig myconfig. This will save all your options in myconfig.cfg for later use. Open autoexec.cfg and enter one line: exec myconfig - this will make sure that myconfig.cfg is loaded every time you start Quake Live.

Why should you do this? After all, even if you don't, all the settings you enter in the options screen will be saved in the future, right? Well, there are several advantages:

  1. If you have to reinstall or change computers, you can copy the config file to a memory stick or upload it somewhere and re-use it
  2. You can keep different configs for different occasions (for example, one for playing, one for taking screenshots, one for streaming etc.)
  3. You can download and try out other players' configs without them overwriting your settings
  4. You can access settings that aren't visible in the options menu

People who play regularily often tidy their config file up, removing all the unnecessary crap. If you want to take a look at pro players' configs, you can download a bunch of them (gathered at DreamHack Winter 2011) here. Unzip the .cfg files, place them in your Quake Live folder (home\baseq3), open your console and type /exec configname.

OK, so now you know how configs work! As for the game settings themselves, spend some time trying them all out! For starters, try the different config presets that are available on the options screen (ultra quality for max graphics, competitive for a setup similar to what the pros use etc.).

Here are some settings I strongly recommend you take a look at:

  • Weapon binds: Remember how I said the Rocket Launcher, Lightning Gun and Railgun are the main weapons? Your binds should reflect this and make their hotkeys as accessible as possible. I've bound Rocket Launcher to R, Lightning Gun to E and Railgun to Q - all close to WASD. You do not want to be reaching for the 8 key when you need to rail someone quick!
  • Turn off screen bob, shake on hit, colour when hit - all these things will make it harder for you to see what's actually going on in the game.
  • Turn on "force enemy model", and make him something bright green and big so your enemies become easier to spot and hear.
  • Make sure you turn on console access!

Improving at Quake Live

This is the hardest part. Once you've started playing, whether it's FFA, CA, duel or TDM/CTF pickups, you'll probably notice you're getting smashed pretty handily. Ask anyone who plays Quake and they'll all say the same thing: Quake has the steepest learning curve of any game. New players will easily be discouraged early on because you feel helpless in team games and you get smashed in duels.

First of all, you need to realize that most people who play Quake Live have done so for years. While Quake Live went out of beta in 2010, Quake 3 (which is basically the same game) had been out for over 10 years. Some players played better in 2000 than you do now! Quake gets a very low influx of new players, so it's not a matter of you being too stupid to learn the game quickly enough, it's that everyone has at least a year of experience more than you. Second, you must know that even good players have the same experiences as you. Watch any pro-level game and you'll often see one player down 0-15. At a local LAN in Norway I would smash my way through newbies winning 40-1 and then lose to Fazz 0-50. My proudest moment of that game was almost getting a frag - twice!

In Quake, small skill differences make for big score differences - and a close game may not appear close if you only look at the scores. If you play a duel and lose 10-0, that doesn't mean your opponent was ahead of you the entire game. Maybe you had 3 important moments in the match and those moments just barely tipped in his favour - the game might as well have ended 0-10 or 6-5. Once you get into this mindset, enjoying and improving at Quake becomes much easier. That being said, here are some tips.

Practice movement. Start a practice match on a map you play often on. Kick the bot (open the console and /kick [name of bot]) and just practice moving around the map. Try as hard as you can not to bump into walls and see how fast you can get from one item to the other.

Play CA (clan arena). CA will give you all the weapons from the get-go, and is a great way to learn how to use them. Focus on the three main ones, and mostly rockets. LG and RL are intuitive point-and-click weapons while rockets require a bit more thinking.

Watch your demos. If you're using QLprism, there will already be a "demos" link in the top right, next to your avatar. If not, the Firefox plugin is called Quake Live Demo Player and you should get it! Make sure your options are set to automatically record demos (the console/config command is cg_autoaction 3).

Time items. You know that armors respawn 25 seconds after being picked up and megahealth 35 seconds. Assuming your game clock counts up, you should then know that if you pick up a red armor at around 1:15, you should try to be around for the next one at 1:40. Practice these timings in your head (??:00 => ??:25, ??:25 => ??:50, ??:50 => ??:15 and so on) and always round off to the nearest 5 to make it easier. Focus on timing just one item to begin with - either the megahealth or red armor, depending on which one you get control over in the start.

Try to deduce how much HP/armor your opponent has. At many points in the game you'll want to at least consider what items your opponent has. If you have 100/100 you may feel pretty confident going into a fight, but if you haven't been able to do damage at or take the mega or the red for the last minute or two, your opponent is probably 200/200 and you shouldn't engage.

Listen! The sounds your opponent makes is probably the most information you're ever going to get in a game of Quake. Just from listening you will (with experience) be able to tell where your opponent is going, what items he's picking up and how much health he has if you're shooting at him. Go back and watch your own demos and see if you can spot mistakes made from misreading something you heard.

Watch others play. There are tons of tricks, jumps, prediction shots and movement patterns to pick up on in Quake Live, and the best way to do so is to watch others play. Whether it's your friend that has more experience than you, a livestream of the weekly ZOTAC cup or a demo of two top-level pros duking it out, watching other people play and seeing if there's something you can learn from it can only be good.

Talk about the game. Gather a bunch of friends and take turns playing duels, and every time you're done, spend a few minutes giving and taking advice. Sometimes, hearing something as basic as "your opponent picked up twice as many red armors as you" is all you need.

Be calm. You're not playing a tournament match worth several thousand dollars, so focus hard on being calm. When adrenaline is flowing through you your arm muscles will tense and you'll have a harder time aiming, you'll gain tunnel vision and maybe not see that red armor that's been left up or your opponent moving to intercept you further ahead, and it becomes easier to make rushed decisions. Be aware of when you become tense or stressed, and take a second to tell your body to calm down. Quake Live doesn't even have a proper ranking system, so it doesn't matter if you win or lose, as long as you improve!