Thursday, 21 February 2013

SPECIAL FEATURE - DOOM - 20 Years On & Still Going Strong! (Part 1)

Doom is a game that simply doesn't need an introduction yet deserves, no - demands one.

Before I get started I should come right out and say it; Doom 2 is my favourite game of all time. I have been playing the first two Doom titles  consistently for the last two decades, and have just started playing my way through the recent (and excellent) Doom Classic Collection on PS3, as well as PC Doom with multiple enhancements. In part 1 of this feature, I will look at the original games that took the world by storm, and the many official expansions and ports to home consoles that followed. 

Ever since I first got my hands on the original shareware release of Doom way back in 1993, I was hooked. I had already played Wolfenstein 3D on a friend's (and the school) computer, but after finally getting my own desktop system, there was one game I just had to get hold of, and Doom was that game. The shareware edition was completely free and contained the entire first episode, 9 levels of shotgun wielding, demon blasting action.

The first screen of the original Doom, ahh memories

After minutes exploring the first stage I was completely addicted. The graphics were simply mind blowing at the time, offering a level of immersion never seen before. It really felt as if you were in the boots of the lone space marine tasked with fighting off the invading armies of hell. You were thrust right into the action, fists clenched and pistol loaded, a deep sense of fear as you made your way through the dark corridors, not knowing what lay ahead. It may seem laughable now, due to the primitive graphics, but Doom was scary. Real scary. Running through a dimly lit base, lights flickering, low on ammo and massively outnumbered, it was an experience that required you to keep a change of pants close to hand. While Wolfenstein 3D had allowed us to experience a game from the viewpoint of the protagonist, Doom ramped everything up to the next level, and nothing could prepare you for the adrenaline fuelled rush of actually being there in the game. Doom is now 20 years old, and is as much fun today as it ever was. Sure, it has lost the wow factor that it had back in the day, but two decades of progressively more tedious first person shooters has resulted in new and old gamers alike returning to these seminal titles in order to enjoy some good old fashioned carnage. No fucking about, no superfluous nonsense getting in the way of the action, no unskippable cut-scenes, no horribly voiced, wise cracking a-hole as the hero, no computer terminals to hack or pointless mini-games to endure. Just you, a sweet selection of the most balanced guns ever to grace a first person shooter, and a hoard of hideous hell bastards standing between you and the exit. Perfect.

Some more action from the first episode of Doom

The Creators

Coming from the twisted minds at id Software, Doom was the much anticipated follow up to their ground breaking first person shooter, Wolfenstein 3D. John Carmack was in charge of producing the game engines seen in Wolfenstein, Doom, and the follow up games that included Quake, Quake 2, Quake 3, Doom 3, and Quake 4. Alongside John Carmack were a small team of talented game designers, programmers, and artists such as John Romero, Sandy Petersen, Adrian Carmack (no relation to John), Mike Abrash, Kevin Cloud and Dave Taylor. Others would come and go along the way, including the addition of American McGee for Doom 2 and Tim Willits, a Doom player who created levels that impressed id, for the Ultimate Doom episode, Thy Flesh Consumed. 

It is not an exaggeration to state that without Carmack's amazing game engines the face of gaming would be very different today. These engines were technical marvels that pushed the technology to its limits, inspiring other developers to create their own engines, or simply license out the engine from id. Without id's engines (known as Id-Tech) there would be no Half-Life, Hexen, Jedi Knight, Kingpin, Soldier of Fortune, Call of Duty, Medal of Honor or any of the many sequels. There may not even be a PC games market at all, as it was Doom that made the PC a viable gaming platform, and Quake that started the boom in graphics cards and technology such as OpenGL and 3D-FX. 

John Romero is probably the most famous due to being the 'poster boy' of id during the Doom days. As well as designing the game and programming  alongside Carmack, Romero was also one of the level designers for Doom and Doom 2, but actually contributed few levels. Only 7 out of Doom's 27 maps, and 6 of Doom 2's 32 maps were designed by Romero, the rest being made by Sandy Petersen. But it was his game design and programming that made Doom the game it is. He is also famous (or infamous) for leaving id during the making of Quake to start Ion Storm to produce his epic vision, otherwise known as Daikatana. This game would run over its deadline by many years, and was panned upon its eventual release. 

Be sure to pick up a copy of the excellent Masters Of Doom by David Kushner. A great book that tells the story of id Software and the birth of the Doom phenomenon. Then play some Doom, of course. Play it in its original form via the excellent DosBox now. 

The Games


Wolfenstein had blown PC gamers away, and made console owners green with envy, due to its super fast 3D gameplay and violent Nazi blasting action; there simply wasn't anything else like it. Arriving in 1993 Doom simply pissed all over Wolfenstein. With a brand new engine and new setting, the surface of Mars, Doom was a whole world away from what had come before. Gone were the featureless ceilings, repetitive corridors and Nazi enemies, to be replaced with hideous monsters, demonic imagery and a Sci-Fi horror vibe that produced as many scares as it did yelps of joy. 

Believe me, this was scary stuff in 1993

You are given a now iconic set of weapons in order to dispatch the demons and zombies. Starting with your fists and a pistol, you will soon upgrade to the, now legendary, shotgun and will procure along the way the chaingun, rocket launcher, plasma cannon, and the devastating BFG (Big Fucking Gun) which can decimate an entire room of foes with its huge green flash. You can even wield a chainsaw, getting up close and personal to slice up your foes. Each of the 8 guns available are perfectly balanced as well as extremely satisfying to use. To this day, they remain the best set of weapons to grace a first person shooter. 

Choose your weapon. The guns of Doom are perfectly balanced 
and great fun to use against Hell's minions

The beasts you slaughter throughout the game are just as memorable as your murderous arsenal. Starting with undead soldiers wielding pistols or shotguns, you then face the horrors of the brown fireball hurling imps, the 'pinkie' demon who charges at you like a bull in an attempt to bite chunks out of you, a bulbous flying red monstrosity named the Cacodemon, and a powerful Minotaur style creature called Baron of Hell. You had better hope you're well armed if you run into one of these bastards. There are also flaming skulls named lost souls that emit a piercing shriek before hurtling towards you, and a semi-visible version of pinkie called a spectre. An awesome touch is that enemies who stray into each other's crossfire will then start attacking each other. It is hugely satisfying to watch as imps and demons fight amongst themselves, allowing you to finish off the victor.

Two Barons await you at the end of episode 1. Bring it on!

No action video game would be complete without bosses, and Doom certainly doesn't disappoint. A mighty roar and the thumping sound of hoof prints signifies the first boss's approach, and a sign that you had better find some cover. The Cyberdemon is as a big as a house, and armed with a rocket launcher that he fires at you in rapid succession. He is capable of taking a serious barrage of your own rockets before falling, though 4 close range blasts from the mighty BFG puts pay to his antics. As if he isn't nightmarish enough the end of the third episode houses one of the most memorable, and hideous, bosses in gaming. The Spider Mastermind . A huge biomechanical spider that resembles a giant version of Krang from The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on a robotic set of spider legs, he is a truly vile creation. Armed with a massive Gatling gun he is a force to be reckoned with, forcing you to run and hide from his line of fire as well as unleashing a torrent of your own rockets or plasma. 

The Cyberdemon in all his hideous glory. Note - I am about to die!

The Spider Mastermind hates having his photo taken, so 
had to use the invincibility cheat to get close enough to snap him

Although mostly outright carnage, Doom also consists of minor puzzles and environmental hazards to avoid. Lava and radioactive sludge causes damage to players who step in it, and exploding barrels can be used to kill nearby enemies. Teleporters, switches, elevators, and coloured keycards also play a pivitol role in your adventure, and add a slight level of depth to proceedings. The excellent level design and placement of these items and obstacles played a large part in Doom's addictive gameplay and overall success. Power-ups are on hand to assist you in battle. As well as standard health, armour and ammo pick-ups, you can also acquire mysterious orbs; Blue for an instant 100 health, and the rarer green for temporary invincibility. By far the best though is the berserker pack. Collecting this little beauty turns the screen red, switches you back to fists, and allow you to punch enemies to mush with a few well aimed left-hooks (our hero is apparently a south-paw). Smacking imps and pinkie demons in the face and watching them reel back or explode like a balloon full of offal is still one of the most satisfying things in a video game.

Bam! Right on the snout. Punching enemies to 
death is immensely satisfying

All this excitement meant that people rushed en masse to upgrade their PCs, in order to play it as it was intended, and a whole genre was kick-started and began morphing into what is now one of the most popular genres in gaming. It is the game that turned the PC's image from stuffy office computer with a few games, into a fully fledged gaming machine to be proud of. Productivity across the globe also suffered as blue collar workers everywhere used the office computers and internet connection to engage in LAN or online battles, or deathmatches as they are known, against each other, or even players from around the world. This online head to head was the birth of modern online gaming as we know it. Doom is one game, perhaps more than any other, that can rightfully claim to have changed the face of gaming forever and launched an entire genre into the lime light.

Doom 2

Forgoing the shareware model of the previous game, Doom 2 was instead published by GTInteractive after a lucrative deal with id, and was released as a full retail product. It landed to mixed reception. While clearly the better game, it stuck very closely to the formula of the original with only minor tweaks to the familiar gameplay. It still sold over 500,000 copies on launch and was heralded as a resounding success.

Stage 1 of Doom 2 appears to offer nothing new over
 the original, but soon all will be revealed

The story brought the action to Earth, with the nameless hero returning home to find our planet overrun with hell spawn. This enabled is to construct more elaborate level designs based around cities, outdoor areas and more 'Earthly' locales. These levels are much less linear than the original's and are absolutely teeming with enemies, allowing for much more monster on monster fights. Only one new weapon was added, but what a weapon it is. The double barrelled shotgun can stop an elephant in its tracks such was its power, the only downside being a fairly slow reload time. However, it feels well balanced and fits in alongside the standard arsenal perfectly, in fact it is impossible to imagine Doom without it.

The double barrel shotgun has awesome stopping power

The highlight of Doom 2 though is the extended bestiary of foes. 8 brand new monsters rear their ugly mugs and attempt to tear you a new one. The skeletal Revenant fires homing missiles at you while trying to get close enough to punch you in the chops with his bony fist. The Mancubus is a fat, grotesque creature who fires twin flame projectiles at you, and the Pain Elemental is a flying creature similar to the Cacodaemon, with the added horror of spitting lost souls. Also out for your blood is a new version of The Baron of Hell, called a Hell Knight, a chaingun wielding former human, a smaller version of the Spider Mastermind that fires a stream of plasma bolts at you, and last but not least the Arch-Vile. This scrawny scum-bag is the worst of all as not only does he charge up a BFG shot that fills your entire screen, hitting you if you are anywhere within eye-shot of him. But he also has a tendency to run around resurrecting the dead monsters. That's right, he  zips around the levels bringing all the slain monsters back to life, causing chaos in the process. God help you if he starts doing this in between you and the level exit, as it means ploughing your way through hordes of seriously pissed off monsters. 

The Arch-Vile charging up his insanely destructive blast,
 there is nowhere to hide here

This time around the Spider Mastermind and Cyberdemon are joined by another iconic boss, The Icon of Sin. This wall mounted nightmare continually spawns other enemies at you while you try to figure out how to hurt him. To defeat him you must ride an elevator upwards and at the correct point fire a volley of rockets into his exposed brain. If you use the idclip cheat that allows you to run through walls you will discover, behind the horrific visage, the decapitated head of creator John Romero. The rockets being fired into the Icon's brain are actually destroying John. There is a hint to this within the chant that the Icon delivers before he begins spawning foes. The speech is Romero himself saying “To win the game you must kill me, John Romero”, distorted and played backwards.

The Icon of Sin is both hideous and very difficult to destroy

Doom 2 was better than Doom in every way, so why the mixed reception? Well, id had released the necessary tools to the public that allowed users to create their own Doom levels (called WADs). This resulted in thousands of home made levels by players from across the world. Many of these were excellent, rivalling id's own efforts. Then the mods and total conversions started to appear, graphical hacks based on anything from Aliens and Star Wars, to more ridiculous source material such as The Simpsons and Barney The Dinosaur. It was this unlimited pool of additional content, freely available, that led many to question paying full price for something so similar to the first game. Doom 2 was also very expensive, with the CD-ROM edition clocking in at a wallet busting £50. I was one of the many people with more money than sense that splashed out on it and I still own it to this day.

Final Doom

Final Doom was an official release that saw the light of day in 1996 on both PC and Playstation. The original team at id had little to do with this release, as it was created by talented mappers from the Doom community, at the request of GTInteractive who were keen to milk the lucrative Doom license for all it was worth. It consists of two 32 level Megawads, one by the Casali brothers (The Plutonia Experiment) and the other by TeamTNT (Evilution). Both episodes are excellent and a perfect follow on from Doom 2, i.e. more of the same. New textures, inventive level design and challenging action make it well worth getting hold of. It was released on the Sony Playstation, and is also included in the recent PSN Doom Classic Collection.

Final Doom's 2 new episodes added new 
textures to liven things up

More Doom

Doom was re-released as Ultimate Doom in 1995 and included an additional episode named Thy Flesh Consumed. This officially made level set is exceptionally challenging and was made for those who had already mastered Doom's previous episodes. This fourth episode is actually my least favourite of all the official Doom episodes as its stages are heavily lava based and contain many annoying fights on narrow passages.

Thy Flesh Consumed ramped up the difficulty

The same year id Software also released an official map pack for Doom 2 entitled The Master Levels. Comprising of 21 new levels, these maps were not in fact made by id at all, but by talented mappers contracted to do so. Included in the Master Levels was a poster, and a CD containing nearly 2000 user made levels from the internet. These were collectively known as Maximum Doom and varied in quality.

Destroying a Pain Elemental in one of the Master Levels

The Ports

Doom received ports on multiple systems, and now it's hard to find a platform it hasn't been ported to, officially or not. While none can touch the PC originals in terms of graphics and speed, many offer the same satisfying gameplay, and often add their own unique take on the franchise. One added bonus (for the hardcore anyway) was the fact that the console ports had no in-game save option. This meant you had to complete the stage in one life in order to get a password or be able to save. This was a step up from the PC version, which allowed you to save at any point, taking away the element of fear when entering a new room, as you could just reload and try again.

The different art style used on the Sony 
Playstation release

The Sony Playstation version, released in 1995, is excellent and, although slower than its PC counterpart, has some top notch lighting effects & cool animated skylines, giving the game a much more sinister feel. Adding further to this atmosphere is the dark, ambient soundtrack that replaces the horrible MIDI rock tracks of PC Doom. The game also throws a curveball by adding all the Doom 2 monsters into the original (Ultimate) Doom's levels, adding to the challenge, and offering some surprises to those of us used to the enemy placement of the PC games. It is the best console port by a large margin, and I would go as far to say that if it had a better framerate and higher resolution it would beat the PC version.

The flaming sky and ambient lighting gave the Playstation 
version an even more sinister vibe

The Sega Saturn offers up a similar version to the Playstation, with the same soundtrack and an attempt at the same lighting effects, but it suffers from a terrible frame-rate, ruining the experience. Sega also had a 32X version that is acceptable, but nothing to write home about.

While it looks similar to the Playstation version, 
Saturn Doom chugs along at a snail's pace

The Nintendo 64 version is pretty much an entirely different game, with all new levels and remixed versions of the Doom monsters and weaponry. It is an atmospheric game with a much slower pace than the original, but it is a great alternative to the usual Doom experience and is well worth seeking out.

N64 Doom went for an entirely new look, 
and is a unique Doom experience

The Atari Jaguar is home to a decent port that plays really well. It is also one of the few console ports coded by John Carmack himself. For reasons unknown, it has absolutely no music during gameplay but, to be honest, it's a relief to play without the tinny Midi rock tracks assaulting your ears, and leads to a much more immersive experience. Unfortunately, you had to contend with the piss poor Jaguar control pad, which resembles an early 1980's telephone.

Jaguar Doom is a fairly good port let down by the 
controller and a complete lack of music

Trip Hawkin's 3DO gave us the worst port of Doom, a hideously slow version that is painful to play, resembling a slide-show of Doom screenshots rather than the smooth fast paced action PC users were used to.

You should see this shit moving

Even the humble SNES and Gameboy Advance both had a stab at it, producing predictably pixellated but fun ports. They are fairly impressive considering the technical limitations of the systems, and worth a look for fans.

SNES Doom was surprisingly good, all things considered...

... likewise, the GBA version was impressive for the hardware

Since then Doom has been a homebrew staple, appearing on any hacked console you care to mention. The Wii, DS, and PSP all have unofficial ports of Doom, allowing some demon slaying on the move, or even with motion controls.

Homebrew enabled PSP and Nintendo 
DS handhelds can also run Doom

The Good:

  • Sony Playstation
  • N64
  • Atari Jaguar

The (not so) Bad:

  • Sega 32X
  • SNES
  • Sega Saturn
  • Gameboy Advance

The Ugly:

  • 3DO

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Doom set the template for the first person shooter which, 20 years later, is the most popular genre in the western world. It was copied and cloned repeatedly after its release as games companies desperately tried for a piece of the Doom pie. The results were a mixed bag, from the excellent Dark Forces, Hexen, Duke Nukem 3D, Strife and Rise of the Triad; To the downright awful, including Corridor 7, Operation Bodycount and Ken's Labyrinth. The worst of these clones often looked more like Wolfenstein 3D than Doom, as developers simply couldn't do Carmack's brilliant Doom engine justice. Other companies tried to emulate the Doom experience on systems like the Amiga and Sega Mega Drive, but poor efforts like Zero Tolerance (Mega Drive) and Gloom (Amiga) just went to prove that the systems weren't up to the job.

Both Heretic (top) and its sequel, Hexen (bottom) were 
excellent games that replaced Doom's Sci-Fi horror 
setting with a fantasy one.

Both Duke Nukem 3D (above) and, later, Shadow Warrior (below)
 added ludicrous gore, crazy weapons, interactive and 
destructive environments and even vehicles.

George Lucas was so impressed with a Star Wars Doom mod
 that he tasked his Lucasarts team with producing 
their own first person shooter

Set in a horror environment, Blood came across like 
Doom meets The Evil Dead movies

Part 2

Click HERE for part 2, in which I take a detailed look at enjoying Doom in 2013, 20 years on from its original release. The PC is home to some exceptionally good mods and add-ons that bring the Doom experience kicking and screaming into the modern era. The Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 also have some impressive, and more recognisable, Doom action on their downloadable services.