This weeks Retro Wednesday is one that was a stepping stone for an entire genre. When Doom was released in 1993 by ID Software, it was far and above anything in its day.
A friend had brought over some shareware games for me to try out just after the school year started in 1993. One of them was simply labelled doom, and he told me he wasn’t sure what it was since his computer couldn’t run it. We left that game for last, I think before that we played some Zone 66 and maybe some Star Control.
Finally it came time to see if my 386 DX would run Doom. He was kind of vague as to how old the game was. We had never heard of it before, I could tell it was something a little more advanced than the average shareware game however since it took a long time to load.
We were welcomed with a menu and some midi music, as soon as I hit new game I got the biggest shock of my life. This new game was the exact same gameplay as Wolfenstein 3D but was way more advanced. It would go on to be considered a major milestone in the first person shooter genre.
The gameplay of Doom was just like Wolfenstein 3d, which had come out a year prior also by ID Software. It was in the first person. You were required to find keys to unlock various doors in the level, eventually finding the exit. The level played out like a maze. You had to navigate the maze and find the keys all while encounter various enemies who would try to kill you.
You had a full arsenal of weapons, more than Wolfenstein 3d. You had your fists for a melee weapon, however later on you could find a chain saw, a pistol, a shotgun, a chain gun, a rocket launcher, and not included in the shareware version were the plasma rifle and the BFG 9000 a kill all monsters in view gun.
In addition to key gathering you also had switches you needed to flip and elevators which took you to different areas. Sometimes the switches would simply recall an elevator which was near by and sometimes they would lower an entire while in a completely different part of the level.
The idea of armor was also introduced in Doom. Where the more armor you had the less health damage you would take. So in addition to health packs strewn throughout the levels you also had armor upgrades to pick up.
In addition to the single player campaign. Doom had Multi player, in 4 player deathmatch mode and 4 player co-op mode. Deathmatch was just simple deathmatch. No teams no additional rules, you just ran and killed the other player as much as possible. Co-op was simply playing the singleplayer campaign through with several friends. Now I should explain that in 1993 there wasn’t much of an internet, let alone broadband. All multiplayer games took place over LAN and direct dial up connections. Some BBSs [For those who are to young to know. A BBS also known as a Bulletin Board System, was a server people would call into to talk to other people via computer. This was pre internet technology.] with multiple nodes later had the ability to launch a Doom game right from the BBS so you had a kind of lobby before playing the game.
This game came out for just about everything. Windows, Mac, Sega Saturn, Jaguar, GBA, XBLA, PSX, PAL, SNES. And I believe it was probably on even more systems than that.
Although Doom is a 3d game, it is actually played on a 2d map. This is hard to explain if you don’t quite understand, however its simple to say its less advanced than modern 3d games. In a modern 3d game a player can stand on a ledge directly over top of another player. In Doom this was not possible. Players could not stand directly on top of other players or enemies. When elevators went up they always were open to the opposite side you got on. So although the elevation changed you could not walk on a floor over top of the area you just came up from.
Dooms character control was simple by today’s standards. It had the exact same controls as Wolfenstein 3D which I really liked. The player would use the arrow keys to control the character. Press Alt to strafe, Ctrl to fire, space to activate doors and switches. As an alternative you could use the mouse to aim, however this never caught on with a lot of people since you couldn’t actually look up or down. This became an issue once windows keys became standard on keyboards, since it was right between Alt and Ctrl and would cause the player to accidentally exit to windows.
Something new to games in general which Doom introduced was lighting effects. They were simple but very effective at the time. They could change the light level of a room and make it darker, while simultaneously lowering the light level of all of the sprites in the room. This made the Doom atmosphere very dark. And the level designers used this new trick well. You would often find yourself in a room flickering between bright light and pitch black. My favorite moment was in one level you flick a switch and all the lights go out, and you hear a bunch of monsters coming after you.
Another neat feature was an overhead map. By pressing tab you could see a map of everything that you’ve revealed. Hidden elements would not appear on the map. And if you got a computer upgrade somewhere, it would reveal the entire map.
Doom had a storyline which very few people read. In the shareware version, or even in the full version the game never once explained why you were killing these things. However little known at the time was that the ReadMe.TXT file that came with the game actually contained a little story.
------------------------------------------------------------ THE STORY SO FAR ------------------------------------------------------------ You're a marine, one of Earth's toughest, hardened in combat and trained for action. Three years ago you assaulted a superior officer for ordering his soldiers to fire upon civilians. He and his body cast were shipped to Pearl Harbor, while you were transferred to Mars, home of the Union Aerospace Corporation. The UAC is a multi-planetary conglomerate with radioactive waste facilities on Mars and its two moons, Phobos and Deimos. With no action for fifty million miles, your day consisted of suckin' dust and watchin' restricted flicks in the rec room. For the last four years the military, UAC's biggest supplier, has used the remote facilities on Phobos and Deimos to conduct various secret projects, including research on inter-dimensional space travel. So far they have been able to open gateways between Phobos and Deimos, throwing a few gadgets into one and watching them come out the other. Recently however, the Gateways have grown dangerously unstable. Military "volunteers" entering them have either disappeared or been stricken with a strange form of insanity--babbling vulgarities, bludgeoning anything that breathes, and finally suffering an untimely death of full- body explosion. Matching heads with torsos to send home to the folks became a full-time job. Latest military reports state that the research is suffering a small set-back, but everything is under control. A few hours ago, Mars received a garbled message from Phobos. "We require immediate military support. Something fraggin' evil is coming out of the Gateways! Computer systems have gone berserk!" The rest was incoherent. Soon afterwards, Deimos simply vanished from the sky. Since then, attempts to establish contact with either moon have been unsuccessful. You and your buddies, the only combat troop for fifty million miles were sent up pronto to Phobos. You were ordered to secure the perimeter of the base while the rest of the team went inside. For several hours, your radio picked up the sounds of combat: guns firing, men yelling orders, screams, bones cracking, then finally, silence. Seems your buddies are dead. It's Up To You Things aren't looking too good. You'll never navigate off the planet on your own. Plus, all the heavy weapons have been taken by the assault team leaving you with only a pistol. If only you could get your hands around a plasma rifle or even a shotgun you could take a few down on your way out. Whatever killed your buddies deserves a couple of pellets in the forehead. Securing your helmet, you exit the landing pod. Hopefully you can find more substantial firepower somewhere within the station. As you walk through the main entrance of the base, you hear animal-like growls echoing throughout the distant corridors. They know you're here. There's no turning back now.
A funny thing to me, but a lot of people who read this probably won’t be familiar with a world without an internet. You’re probably just too young to remember not having it, or maybe you’ve forgotten. But if you’re response is, whats the big deal about not having the internet. Consider this, how do you think you got software updates for Doom?
In the same readme file as the storyline is the phone numbers for ID’s BBS “Software Creations BBS”, which you would have to call to receive updated files. You could also register for them to send updates via snail mail.
I played through the shareware campaign before writing this. And even reading this over I don’t really feel I’ve given this game justice. If you feel you want to give doom a try, its available on Steam, under the title Ultimate Doom, which contains an episode that wasn’t available at the original release.