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Optimal Lighting And Brightness / Darkness Settings In Quake
This has come up a couple of times either as direct questions or regarding specific map releases, and probably warrants a discussion thread to offer a guideline or reference point.

How is Quake supposed to look in terms of brightness / darkness / contrast?

While it wasn't so much a problem in the past, it seems that nowadays, with practically everyone using LCD/flatscreens, it can be tricky to determine how to calibrate them for Quake and in consequence how to light a map in a way that works for everybody.

For example, a map that looks fine on one setup may appear very dark on another; or the opposite.
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yeah, the "brightness" slider in the options menu controls the "gamma" cvar. "gamma 1" is when the slider is all the way to the left; the darkest setting. 
If it is I'd like to submit a bug report for having the wrong name. Gamma is not brightness.

That's just terminology, but unfortunately it's terminology that dates back to the original software Quake, so it's probably too late to change it now.

Change the menu text from "brightness" to "gamma" and you'll get complaints that there is no longer a gamma option.

Change the cvar name and behaviour and you get complaints from the other perspective.

Accept it as a quirk of Quake and - of course - the name in the menu is all wrong, but given 20 years of legacy it's probably the least invasive option.

Similarly, what certain engines call "contrast" isn't actually contrast at all either. 
Whatabaout a test map/mod to set the lighting right so as to standardise things a bit ?
A la adjust your slider until you barely see X etc but in a purpouse built map with prompts ? 
That’s not such a bad idea 
By the way, the darkest shades of darkness in the software renderer are darker than in the hardware renderers. The software renderer clamps the last non-black level of darkness to full black, and some colors in the palette goes black before others.

I'd highly recommend testing the maps in the Mark V WinQuake engine, as AFAIK it's the software-rendered engine that's most faithful to vanilla Quake while also supporting most extended limits. 
Lets Make It Happen ? 
So, lets do it :D

A map with a set of rooms and prompts to help adjust ones settings to something sane and close enough to what everyone else is using

Like "adjust your whatever until you faintly see the zombie on the wall at the end of the room" etc..

This would be the most flexible approach to a "standardization" of brightness/darkness settings. If everyone designs with similar settings.

Seems to the only way that could work across different engines/sourceports etc. 
I'm pretty sure that won't work across different monitors and lighting scenarios as ericw and others have alluded to. Since your monitor could be darker or lighter than mine you will get different results no matter what.

If you use the start map as a reference when you are lighting levels you should be okay. However, don't do what I did last time and rely on screenshots. You need to "eyeball" it "live" in-game. 
This could be used just to get the display in the ballpark. 
If i raise the brightness to the maximum while on a pitch dark room i begin to guess something, but i use a CRT here. Is there so much of a difference with TFT one? 
I don't see any symbol on my S7 screen at max brightness? The dang text hurt my eyes tho. 
I am talking about one standardised map with a half/dozen differently lit / fogged etc rooms - with an indicated / enforced viewpoint of the room (eg teleport player to immobilised space)
There you proceed room by room to adjust your own settings to be able see what the prompts indicate you should be seeing for that particular room (in this room 1 you should adjust brightness/contrast until the ammo box disapears in the shadown but the zombie on the wall remains visible) etc...

If then mappers + players go through this setup we have a standardized setting that should be quite resilient to different engines and monitors.

It would also invalidate some engines that fuck too much with lighting etc.

It should at the very least be an interesting experiment no ? 
I'd be down for this if it was more involved as you describe but not sure you could do different fogs in the same map unless it was a mod like AD. 
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