DailyDispatchOnline

Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Culture Games

The Significance of Doom at 30, According to Its Creators.


I

In the late summer of 1993, a young computer programmer named Dave Taylor began a new job at an office building located on the Lyndon B Johnson freeway in Mesquite, Texas. The building stood out with its black glass exterior among the surrounding car parks, industrial units, and strip malls. Game designer Sandy Petersen referred to it as the Devil’s Rubik’s Cube. Taylor’s workspace was on the sixth floor in office 615. Despite the stained carpets and water-damaged ceiling tiles, this was where a team of five developers, artists, and designers were creating what would become one of the most influential action video games of all time. This was id Software. This was Doom.

On the day that Taylor joined the company, he had just finished his degree in electrical engineering. However, the company, which had previously created twelve smaller games for digital magazine publisher Softdisk and shareware pioneer Apogee, had already produced a successful game called Wolfenstein 3D. This game featured fast-paced action and basic polygonal environments, with a theme centered around Nazi shooters. Taylor was introduced to John Romero, the talented designer and coder of the company, who showed him their next project. The project was partly inspired by a line from the movie Color of Money and was given the name “Doom”, in reference to the main character’s pool cue. The concept behind the game was a combination of Aliens and The Evil Dead. The team behind the project, including the brilliant coder John Carmack and artist Adrian Carmack, incorporated their personal interests into the game, such as heavy metal, Dungeons & Dragons, gore, and cutting-edge programming.

Taylor remembers the initial demo with no creatures or gaming elements, just a 3D engine. Despite this, the fluid movement and immersive experience were impressive. The renderer and textures added to the gritty and cool atmosphere, almost resembling an in-game cinematic. Romero’s enthusiasm only heightened as Taylor was amazed, making him a great demo presenter. While Doom was groundbreaking, John’s presentation played a significant role in Taylor’s reaction.

Doom

Romero’s game design philosophy was influenced by a variety of factors. Growing up, he was surrounded by traditional board games and enjoyed constructing his own worlds using popular building toys like Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys. When video games became popular in the late 1970s, he was lucky enough to live near an arcade where he could try out new games and learn about different types of gameplay. While he loved playing classics like Pac-Man, he also had the opportunity to experience lesser-known titles such as Mousetrap, Venture, and Make Trax, exposing him to a wide range of possibilities for virtual worlds and interactions.

By the end of 1992, it was evident that John Carmack’s 3D engine for Doom would increase the speed of real-time rendering and enable the incorporation of texture maps for enhanced environment detail. As a result, Romero aimed to create intricate, multi-level worlds with curved walls, moving platforms, and a nightmarish Escher-inspired death maze.

According to Romero, all the games we had seen prior to Doom consisted of hallways with 90-degree angles. Games like Bard’s Tale and Dungeon Master followed this same pattern. He still considers Wolfenstein 3D to be a maze game, similar to its predecessors. However, Doom was the first game to incorporate large rooms, stairways, dark and bright areas, and elements like lava to create a complex and abstract world. This was something that had never been achievable before.

Romero’s childhood trip to Disneyland left a lasting impression on him. The sense of exploration, with each attraction leading to the next, influenced him greatly. This can be seen in the game’s use of verticality to create visual and navigational intrigue. Windows, ledges, and hidden passages were strategically placed to offer glimpses of rooms or coveted weapons just out of reach. Romero explains, “I wanted players to catch these little glimpses…to entice them with something they want, but make them figure out how to obtain it, even if it feels like they’re cheating.”

I aim to bring joy to the player in the same way Disney brings joy to their customers. My goal is for players to have a great time discovering things that feel unique to them. Proper pacing is crucial – there are separate moments for combat and exploration, and they typically don’t happen simultaneously. During combat, the focus is solely on defeating enemies. Once that is accomplished, players can take a moment to assess their surroundings and plan their next move. I put a lot of thought into my level design, providing players with opportunities to think, take in the environment, and solve puzzles, as I believe this is what makes the game truly enjoyable.

Doom

Romero was not the sole designer for Doom. In the Summer of 1993, Sandy Petersen joined id and brought a different perspective to the team. Previously, he had worked on Civilization at Microprose and designed for RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu at tabletop gaming company Chaosium. His approach focused on the structure of role-playing adventures, which complemented Romero’s style. With only three months to complete 20 maps, Petersen utilized Romero’s DoomEd map editor and drew inspiration from his experience creating D&D campaigns. His levels included hidden doors, monsters, and traps, sometimes using old D&D dungeons as a basis for the Doom maps.

Drawing from Dungeons & Dragons for a video game was not a novel concept – it had already been established in computer RPGs like Ultima and Wizardry. However, Doom’s unique combination of rapid 3D gameplay and intricate, scripted levels would greatly impact future gaming. Its influence can be seen in every first-person action game we experience today.

Petersen had a knack for creating maps that were a cross between stage sets and puzzle rooms, drawing players into mini-stories of risk and reward. He chuckles, sharing that his trademark move was luring players into traps. For example, a room might have a pillar with a powerful weapon on display, illuminated by a spotlight. Despite knowing that picking it up would create chaos, players couldn’t resist. On the other hand, John Romero’s approach was to simply teleport a monster behind players, requiring them to anticipate its arrival. However, Petersen’s maps always provided a hint or clue that danger was imminent.

However, Doom was not limited to single-player mode. To enable players to connect their computers through a modem to a local area network (LAN) and play together, Carmack extensively studied books on computer networking. Prior to Doom, two-player modem games were typically slower-paced strategy or simulation games with 2D graphics, like Tele Chess or Modem Wars from Electronic Arts. Multiplayer games were typically only available on mainframe computers in university programming labs, with adventure games like MUD being popular. With Doom’s arrival, fast-paced, real-time action in both competitive and cooperative modes became mainstream in the gaming industry. The excitement of seeing your friends fight against imps and zombie space marines alongside you in a virtual world was truly exhilarating.

Romero described the experience as a fast-paced multiplayer game full of intense deaths. He is credited with creating the term Deathmatch for the versus mode. He believed that this game would consume players and be the greatest game ever made. He also recognized its potential to impact the entire gaming industry, not just shooter games. He saw it as the ultimate mode for any game and foresaw it improving with the advancement of networking technology. This was his vision of the future.

He was correct. Upon its release on December 10, 1993, Doom was immediately recognized as an all-encompassing game – id Software had opted to make the condensed shareware version accessible through the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s FTP site, but this caused a crash almost immediately, overwhelming the network. Extensive communities centered around Doom began to emerge on bulletin boards and forums, and fans even managed to create a homemade level editor within a few months. It wasn’t just the intense gameplay that attracted players, but the overall design of the game.

Disregard the advertisement for the newsletter.

Romero stated that the design rules were altered with the removal of traditional arcade elements such as lives and score. The focus of the game was not to achieve a high score, but rather to continuously progress without interruption. The game’s objective was to encourage players to keep playing and always strive for more.

All aspects of the game contribute to the feeling of forward momentum. In the early stages of development, there were items to collect like treasure chests, something common in role-playing adventures. However, these were removed because they did not serve a purpose in the game. Instead, pick-ups were added to help players progress, such as new weapons, more ammunition, and increased power. According to Romero, they focused on putting in exciting elements like invincibility, radiation suits, invisibility artifacts, and full maps – all of which aid players in achieving their goals in the game. In terms of design, their main focus was on the core gameplay loop of running and shooting, and any added elements needed to support this.

The recipe also included cheats and secrets. Programmer Dave Taylor made sure there were various ways, often involving codes that could be typed, to bypass sections and obtain power-ups. According to Taylor, these cheats were necessary for debugging purposes. When repeatedly playing through a level to find bugs, it was more efficient to use cheats rather than actually playing the game. Taylor was personally motivated to include these cheats because the game made him nauseous. However, he also decided to leave them in for players to discover, resulting in legendary key combinations like IDKFA and IDDQD.

Many people tend to describe id Software during this time as a chaotic gathering place for geeks – with loud heavy metal music, pizza deliveries, and plenty of caffeine. However, the driving force behind the company was efficiency and attention to detail. According to Taylor, it was a “productiv-ocracy” where those who could deliver were given freedom to do what they needed to. This allowed for the team to focus on polishing the game, making it feel satisfying and paying attention to small details. For example, the artist even drew buttholes on every enemy, although most players may not have noticed as they are usually only seen from the front. Another small detail that added character was when a monster would retaliate when shot by another monster.

Numerous essays will be written this month discussing the complex impact of Doom. It is accurate to say that this game revolutionized the modern PC gaming industry, establishing it as a platform for technologically advanced action shooters. Doom also pioneered online multiplayer deathmatches and provided players with scripting tools to design their own maps, leading to a thriving modding community. John Romero’s decision to license the Doom engine to other developers, such as Raven for Heretic and Hexen, introduced a new business model for marketable development middleware. Additionally, the game’s feature allowing players to record their progress through levels sparked the speed-running movement. These accomplishments are all incredibly significant.

However, the reason for Doom’s lasting impact after 30 years is not solely due to its technological capabilities. There is now a common joke, asking if any new technology is capable of running Doom. And without fail, if the device has a screen and a central processing unit, it can run Doom. The game can be played on various consoles and computers, as well as unconventional devices such as ATMs, electronic pregnancy testers, and internet-connected refrigerators. In fact, Doom can now even be played within the game itself.

Why?

Doom continues to be an exceptional and exhilarating gaming experience. Its purity and focus are unmatched, with not a single pixel going to waste. According to Romero, who is currently developing Sigil 2, a follow-up to the original Doom series, even when played at full speed today, Doom remains one of the fastest and most thrilling games available. The experience is even better now due to smoother gameplay. Despite resolution, Doom maintains its fast pace and challenging nature, proving that its gameplay is what truly matters.

Source: theguardian.com