Wolfenstein 3D was a commercial success, as well as a new standard for 3D action gaming. It prompted developers, including id Software, to ask themselves, “what can we do next?”
The very next year, id answered its own question and made gaming history.
I was ten, not much older than I was in the previous article’s flashback. I had a buddy in school (we both liked video games) who handed me another set of blue 3.5” floppies one day. “Don’t let the teacher see,” he said softly under his breath. “It’s doom.” Little did I know this was a proper noun, not just some dire warning. I played the shareware version through in two days, out of both grim fascination and obsession.
Released in December of 1993, Doom is still played today by more people than you’d think. Once again, pioneer John Carmack devised a versatile 3D game engine from scratch. id’s team used this game engine to tell a grim story, a tale of pyrrhic victory in the face of demonic horror. Doom came under fire often for its intense level of violence, even being tied to the infamous Columbine shootings. However, even 22 years after its release, the original game still has a loyal following and a lively community.
The id team began working on Doom even as they were putting the finishing touches on Wolfenstein 3D. Carmack had already begun work on an even more advanced rendering engine, one with far less limits and far more detail than what had come before. Floors and ceilings could be on different elevations, even rising and falling during play if programmed to do so. Walls no longer had to be at 90 degree angles, either. This was done by dividing the map into “sectors,” each of which had its own set of data (floor/ceiling levels, lighting, etc.). In addition to more dynamic lighting options, the engine also boasted the capacity to texture all surfaces visible in the game, adding a new level of immersive detail. While the enemies and objects in Doom were still represented by 2 dimensional sprites, the art team created many of them by photo-scanning sculptures, resulting in some truly impressive monster graphics. All this art was painstakingly produced by the team of Adrian Carmack (no relation to John, believe it or not), Kevin Cloud, and Gregor Punchatz. The game had much richer sound and music, as well; Bobby Prince made a return as the composer, borrowing licks (within legal boundaries) from some popular heavy metal bands to fill out a soundtrack that is still hailed today as one of the most lush scores in 1990s gaming.
Doom’s story is split up into three episodes. You play the role of a marine sent to investigate strange messages coming from Mars’s twin moons, Phobos and Deimos. The UAC has been developing teleportation technology there, and recent messages indicate that something’s gone terribly wrong. In the first episode, “Knee Deep in the Dead,” you arrive on Phobos, only to find out that the messages were right on the money; the UAC base is crawling with undead humans and what can only be demonic creatures. By fighting your way to the source of the infestation on Phobos, you are transported to the other moon, Deimos… and “The Shores of Hell.” In this second episode, your marine must forge through increasingly ominous and Hell-like landscapes to reach the Tower of Babel, where the cyberdemon awaits. At the end of this struggle, you discover that Deimos floats above Hell itself. In “Inferno,” you seek nothing less than to cut the head off the invasion; you must reach Dis, the capital of Hell, and destroy the spider mastermind. As you move through the last two episodes, you see less and less of the possessed humans and many more of the various types of demons.
Speaking of the monsters, they take various forms… and present a variety of threats. Your stock enemies are possessed human soldiers, some of whom carry shotguns that make them significantly more dangerous than their bottom-tier cousins. The first demonic foes you encounter are the imps. Not the little red men of folklore, these big brown bastards hurl fireballs and possess claws like Ginsu blades. There’s big pink-skinned demons, whose bite can put a serious hurt on any marine who lingers too close. The bosses of the first episode, the Barons of Hell, become rank-and-file heavies in the other two chapters of the game. They behave much like the imps do, but these massive goat-headed thugs are much more adept and both dishing it out and taking it. Some enemies fly, making them even more of a pain in the ass; the pumpkin-like cacodemons belch electricity, and the flaming skulls known as Lost Souls simply launch themselves at you like maniacal little cannon balls. The cyberdemon at the end of episode 2 is a sight to behold, and he’s also quickly lethal if you don’t watch out for his constant barrage of rockets. The spider boss in episode 3’s last hurrah is slow and ponderous, but if it draws a bead on you with its massive multi-barrel cannon, you’re toast.
Don’t go thinking that the monsters are the only thing that can kill you in Hell… Various environmental hazards present themselves, from acidic chemicals to lava to the incredibly unpleasant crushing ceilings that pepper the game’s corridors. Walls and surfaces can also shift, trapping you in hopeless ambushes that pit you against superior numbers. Doom is one of the most entertaining games I’ve ever played, but it is not a friendly game. It’s actively trying to kill you. All the time.
You start each episode with naught but a wee pistol (which looks to be modeled loosely off a Beretta M9, but I’m not a firearms expert). However, some of the zombies drop shotguns, and there are even better weapons waiting to be found. Chain linked machine guns, rocket launchers, and even experimental plasma weapons like the BFG 9000 can be discovered. They appear both conspicuously and in the secret areas that dot each level. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for a chainsaw, which not only beats your puny fist in terms of damage output but drags the targeted enemy into it while you carve up some meat. Since you’ll also be hurt on a regular basis, it helps to look around for medical kits… and there’s also a big blue ball that does more than any doctor could ever do. Armor will help too; it comes in two varieties, and absorbs a fraction of the damage you take from certain sources. There are also various powerups and tools to help you, like night vision goggles and hazard suits. If you find a black medkit, it not only fills your health, but gives your punch the force of a rocket as you blitz out on the adrenaline high. There are even green spheres that render you temporarily invulnerable, at the small cost of forcing you to see in high-contrast monochrome for the duration. Another sphere turns you temporarily hazy, almost invisible. I stress "almost." This makes it slightly harder for the enemy to target you, but it's more effective in multiplayer deathmatch against actual humans.
Doom also pioneered the multiplayer deathmatch. Via modem or other means, players could face off not against demons, but one another. Much of this is self explanatory, but suffice it to say that even a rookie deathmatch opponent presents a much more tangible threat than any demon. Players could also progress through the normal game together, but deathmatch was (and is) considered much more fun.
Doom’s success was monumental, but the game also fell under the same crosshairs so many violent games do; public outcry over the gore and (vaguely) Satanic imagery led to widespread controversy. Doom was even implicated in the 1999 Columbine shootings, as both shooters were not only avid players but also dabbled in editing it and creating maps. Harvard, the Secret Service, and the US Department of Education all did studies that eventually showed no real correlation between video games and real-life violent crime, but the stigma remains. Overall, this didn’t hurt Doom’s popularity; if anything, it boosted its signal.
In response to fan-made editing tools for Wolfenstein 3D, id purposefully made Doom’s content easy to access and edit. To this day, a diligent Internet search will turn up great vaults of user-made maps, graphics, and even sound effects for the game. In more recent years, Doom even got a loving overhaul when ZDoom was developed. Along with its direct descendents Skulltag and Zandronum, ZDoom added modern FPS elements to the game, such as bots, better multiplayer functionality, and (in the case of Skulltag) more game-types. Skulltag also added new weapons and enemies, most of which are variants on the original content. To this day, the game is modded, added to, and expanded.
Doom spawned a sequel, which itself is considered the standard for fans of the series. Doom II features additional types of enemies, a double-barreled shotgun, and 32 new levels. Doom II was used to make Final Doom, two more 32-level installments that ramp up the challenge for hardened marines ready to test themselves. There was also The Master Levels; I’ll admit that I never played them, but by all accounts, they are insanely difficult. The original Doom was re-released in 1995 with an extra episode, “Thy Flesh Consumed.” The game engine was used to make many other titles, which I will not attempt to list at length. Notable among them are Heretic and Hexen, dark fantasy spins on the FPS experience. In 2004, Doom 3 hit the shelves, and while it was considered a very good game, hardcore fans (including yours truly) felt like it wasn’t really a Doom game. It just lacked the distinctive feel.
A new reboot looms on the horizon, and if you’re into gaming, you’ve seen the trailer, the E3 gameplay, and everything else. I, for one, can’t wait to dive into Hell again. Doom was a world-shaker back in 1993, and I have no doubt it will shake 2016 just as violently. That said, nothing can beat that initial rush when I ran into the hangar on Phobos and fought my first zombie soldiers. The original Doom can be outdone with more modern technology, but it can never be truly eclipsed in terms of impact or quality.
- Designer Tom Hall had a far more grandiose vision for the game, and outlined it in a document. Conflicts over the direction of the game led to Hall resigning.
- The name of the game was inspired by a scene from the film The Color of Money.
- Some of the weapons are scans of toy guns. The plasma rifle's barrel is actually part of an M-60 machine gun toy that come apart, turned backwards.
- I didn't go into a lot of detail about the game's engine this time, but if you're interested in the technological bits, here's another big chunk of what made the game work like it did.
- Level 4 in the first episode originally contained a structure that lowered to display a swastika symbol on the floor. This was later removed.
- Someone created isometric views of every map. Enjoy.
Thanks for reading, RetroManiacs!