Today marks the 20th anniversary of Doom’s release! id Software’s warm up with Wolfenstein 3D paved the way for their next mega-hit that became a seismic event in the industry bolstering the already impressive cred of id Software and its members in being among the godfathers of the 3D revolution.
It was a game that vastly improved on what Wolfenstein 3D had done before. Doom allowed the use of more detailed textures now present on both the floors and the ceilings, sloped floors, moving surfaces such as rising and falling floors, non perpendicular, slanting walls, and a stereo sound system. Though it wasn’t the first game to hit on some of the same ideas — 1992’s Ultima Underworld featured quite a few advanced features of its own that Doom would also implement such as sloped surfaces, textured indoor areas, and variable room heights (though it also allowed the player to actually look up and down as well as jump). But as an action game that threw players into a bloody grinder of lead and demon flesh without worrying about experience points, it found an ready audience.
But from a purely action shooter perspective, Doom would brand every other challenger coming after it within its sandbox for years. If it was a first-person shooter, it was often propped up by marketing and a number of journalists as the next “Doom killer” or another “Doom clone” despite whatever it may have to stand on its own two feet with echoing the kind of “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality that we see today with MMO’s versus World of Warcraft or console shooters versus Halo or Call of Duty. Everyone wants to take pot shots at the biggest gorilla in the room, and for much the early 90s, Doom was the benchmark by which everyone else was compared to whether they wanted it or not.
It would be years before the comparison finally fell away as technology and gameplay design continued to improve, distancing later games from Doom on their own merits and eventually addressing such efforts simply as “first-person shooters”.
Games such as 1994’s System Shock up to 1998’s Half-Life were so different from Doom that it was hard to call them “Doom clones” or “Doom killers” without a straight face. CRPGS, especially, that had embraced the first-person view such as Bethesda Softworks’ Elder Scrolls series simply defied being classed anywhere near their more action-oriented cousins by the simple virtue of being weighted as CRPGs than shooters.
Outside of the technological achievements of the engine John Carmack coded, it would also foster an already talented community of modders who may have cut their teeth in modding id’s earlier triumph, Wolfenstein 3D. They would go on to create custom .WADs (.WADs were the type of files id’s games, like Wolfenstein and Doom, used to store content such as the levels and those nasty Cacodemons inside) for the game that changed everything from replacing the chainsaw with a lightsaber, making Barney the Dinosaur a target complete with sound clips straight from the show, to creating a total version of everything in the game based on Aliens.
Modders were doing back then what many big time developers do today — borrowing the engine to make the things that they wanted to play. And thanks to a number of gifted programmers who volunteered their time to build the tools that would be used, Doom and many other games that followed after it became incredibly accessible to the imaginations of thousands of players. It was something that would become expected with every id Software release by many, many modders.
Doom also brought people together and blew them away in networked multiplayer. It wasn’t the first game to do so, but the incredible tech behind the engine and the gory nature of its action immediately made it a hit coining the term “deathmatch” as two players attempted to duke it out or in four way co-op. It was a huge feature back in then, something no one had really seen before in a fast-paced game like Doom in a time when calling in to a BBS or a network via modem was still state of the art.
There really isn’t anything more to say that many, many others have already said and have meticulously detailed. As impactful as it was on game design and technology, it also had its own share of controversies over the years as it was used as a convenient scapegoat because of its incredibly violent material, an opinion that studies such as this one by the Secret Service have found to be without truth.
Today, Doom has seen its release on multiple platforms over the decades with its most recent one on Microsoft’s Xbox Live service in 2012 courtesy of Bethesda (Activision had released Doom before in 2006 for XBL Arcade, too). The source code for the game was released to the public at the end of 1997 and modders continue to add and improve on the original game 20 years later such as with Brutal Doom cranking everything in the original even more intense with a number of tweaks to the gameplay. And in a final gesture of having come of age, Bethesda offers a plush Cacodemon at their online store.
Nowdays, most of the original team behind the game have moved on. John Carmack, the man behind the engine code, is over at Oculus VR where he’s focused on bringing affordable virtual reality to the masses when he’s not launching rockets. In 2005, artist Adrian Carmack (no relation to John Carmack) apparently retired from gaming until the Wall Street Journal revealed that he was forced to sell out of id for what he has claimed was a fraction of what his stock was worth as a founding member.
John Romero moved on from id and founded the ill-fated Ion Storm studio in 1996 after being forced out of id and he’s kept the enthusiasm he has for game design alive and well over the years since, ultimately culminating in indie developer Loot Drop where he works along with his wife, Brenda Romero who also has had a multi-decade career in gaming which players may recognize under Brenda Brathwaite.
Artist Kevin Cloud is still at id and works as their lead artist. Robert Prince, who scored the game with heavy metal riffs and sound effects, continues to work as an independent with his latest project being the first-person, old school flavored shooter, Wrack, now up on Steam. Designer Sandy Petersen had left id in 1997 and worked at Ensemble Software, eventually taking a professorship at the Guildhall in 2009 before jumping back into game design at Barking Lizards Technologies.
No one could have guessed at how big Doom would become, just that it was going to be cool. Or how it would ignite an industry during those cold nights way back in December, 1997.