Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Twenty years of Doom

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 11, 2013

doomcoverYesterday was the 20th anniversary of Doom‘s release.

I guess, in a very round-about way, it is because of that day in 1993 that I became a professional game developer. Doom took the industry by storm, and I think it was a not-insignificant factor in convincing a bunch of engineers from the simulation industry to try their hand at gaming, and in convincing a major publisher to fund them. Doom was what convinced the industry that 3D was the future.

It was kinda dumb for the rest of us, because we’d been enjoying both 2D and 3D just find, thankyouverymuch, for years. We could boggle at the suits in the industry (which, not long before that, hadn’t had many suits), both because they were jumping on an old bandwagon, and that they were suddenly abandoning 2D as if it were the plague.

But regardless, the company was founded and funded on a wave of “going 3D,” and I was one of the first employees. Number sixteen. I got to be paid to make games. Really cool 3D games with cars shooting bullets and flamethrowers at each other, giant tentacled flying skulls that shoot missiles, and flying shark-ships. That was just in my first year. So, thank you, Doom.

As a fan of Wolfenstein 3D, the Wing Commander series, Ultima Underworld, and several flight simulators, Doom was probably more evolutionary than revolutionary for me.  I was in the middle of finals on the day it was released, and downloading the thing was an exercise in frustration until it had gotten mirrored at enough sites to deal with the demand. So it was a few days later (the 15th?) when I finally copied it from a friend who had managed to download the shareware episode – actual physical shareware! I was finally able to play, albeit in a reduced-sized window on my underpowered 386/40.

But… wow, what an evolutionary step! Even at somewhat less than 320 x 200, it was amazing. That’s what most people remember – how incredible the graphics were at the time. Of course I was blown away. Everybody was. I’d expected something significantly better than Wolfenstein 3D, but Doom was even better than I’d expected. I was happy for weeks in single-player.

One of the cool things that I think we lost for a while (but regained with indies) was that very free-form, crazy, do-what-sounds-fun design of the game. I mean, the whole thing with John Romero’s head being the “boss” in Doom 2. The secret levels. Commander Keens being hanged. The swastika on the floor (later changed). Telefrags. The “BFG 9000.” The bunny head on a spear. The game was over-the-top, and reveled in it, and the enthusiasm of the tiny team of developers shone through in a big way. In some ways, it feels like the modern counterparts are often too safe and too serious. Doom was rough, wild, and ready to party.

If there was a revolution (or, again, revelation), it was the first time I played cooperatively. Deathmatch was very fun, but playing coop gave me a real vision of how awesome multiplayer could be. Sure, I’d caught glimpses of that playing the coin-op arcade game Gauntlet cooperatively, or playing some multi-user dungeons (MUDs) over the years, and tried (semi-successfully) to play a cooperative mission in Falcon 3.0 with a friend. But Doom was a more free-form arena with (at the time) the most realistic graphics, and it was just amazing. Even for a jaded gamer like me.

But the real trick – as it had been for Wolfenstein 3D and Commander Keen for the id guys – was how a tiny little team of upstarts without a “real” publisher, without going through the “proper” channels for making and distributing games in an industry that was rapidly being dominated by a few big publishers – could pretty much upstage the entire industry like that. Their story became fuel for a later age when the industry was truly in need of an indie revolution. They were there first.

I still love Doom. While being able to actually look and shoot up and down – and to have a true 3D environment – has been a significant improvement, and there have been all kinds of minor innovations and enhancements, the core gameplay for most modern First-Person Shooters has not strayed very far in 20 years.

I have a tough time believing that it’s been that long. But it’s a milestone worth noting. And playing.

UPDATE: A well-done birthday wish…

Filed Under: Retro - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • Noumenon said,

    I downloaded it and played it on my phone… a terrible port, but it worked!

  • björn rirzl said,

    Don’t you mean 20th anniversary?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Sorry, that was wishful thinking on my part… Corrected. 🙂

  • McTeddy said,

    I remember the first time I played Doom at my friend Steve’s house. Yep… first words out of my mouth, “Wow, this is stupid. All I do is shoot things. I’m gonna go play a good game.”

    Sigh… it’s sad to look back and think that modern games would make Doom look intelligent and deep.

    – – –

    Whining aside, I have developed a massive appreciate for doom as a designer/developer. The use of audio to compensate for limited graphics tech is nothing short of genius.

    Even if I can’t identify an enemy in the distance by it’s 4 pixels, my ears can hear it. Even if I don’t see my bullets connecting, the sounds inform me that I’m on target.

    That limited tech doesn’t hold back the game play. No matter how many years pass, the game is still playable. That is a truly amazing accomplishment.

  • Bad Sector said,

    You should check out this video from some guy from IGN playing Doom co-op with John Romero from a couple of days ago:


    John describes many of the design ideas going on at the time (and he mentions how modern shooters do not have the whole “abstract” level design). And it is a fun video to watch/listen to.

  • Anon said,

    I played the shareware version of Doom because I liked the Mars scenario with the zombie soldiers, even though the game wasn’t really that sophisticated – to put it mildly.
    I never liked the flying demons etc. but that’s entirely a matter of taste.
    My biggest thanks to id goes for people being able to mod it to make the Aliens total conversion, for example.
    *This* really set things off for first person shooters.

    > Sigh… it’s sad to look back and think that modern games would make Doom look intelligent and deep.

    I can’t agree with that.
    IMHO Doom wasn’t deep and neither was Wolfenstein 3D or Quake or anything id put out at the time – at least if single player mode is concerned.
    For “deep games” see the Looking Glass games of the time like Ultima Underworld or System Shock and later the Thief games. Not because I like those games better but simply because they offer much more to the player.

    id survived longer than Looking Glass, though, which says more about gamers than those companies.

  • groboclown said,

    I remember the day it came out. A friend of mine had sat down at the college Unix mainframe with a shell script to keep retrying the FTP server. He brought it over to my dorm room (I had the best PC at the time among our friends), and I booted it up, with the lights off and my stereo blaring the audio.

    The thing I remember best about that game was the dynamic lighting and the sound. It had *dark rooms* with flashing lights, and *creepy sounds*. From that perspective, it was unlike anything I had played before.

    Ah, we can’t go back. But then, I recall what it was like to program for those computers, and I don’t want to go back.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    No kidding. I miss those days, but I am very appreciative of how much better technology (and development) is today.