December 10th 1993 – Doomsday.
Yes folks. Doom is 20 years old.
I’ve previously chatted my usual brand of word-shit over these here pages about the fact that only very few games can claim such an impact on the entire industry – the entire medium – as to warrant a chapter all to themselves. Well, I think perhaps of all those rare and mighty games, and there aren’t many of ’em, Doom sits above all others. I’d argue that no single other game can claim to have impacted the gamingverse like it (with the possible exception of pong). But before you all form an orderly queue to smash my face in with Space Invaders arcade machines, Mario Brothers cartridges and hadouken’s, let me explain why…..
Gaming is a very rich medium, and just like other mediums it has genres and sub-categories and the like. Some of these are difficult to pigeon-hole and define, but others are not, and I would put it to you dear reader that the Titan of the gaming genre’s is the First Person Shooter.
Just to clarify, I’m not championing the FPS over all other genre’s; I’m not saying it’s a better style of gaming or superior in any way shape or form. True, my personal preference tends to lean toward the FPS over other game-types but I would hope like me the vast majority of gamers enjoy all the fruits from our shared and beloved tree. My point is that the First Person Shooter could arguably be considered the biggest, most popular style of gaming for varying reasons. Call of Duty and the like – whatever you think of that particular franchise and its various clones and forerunners is testament to just how big the genre is. I’m not even saying that’s necessarily justified, but this entire article kind of hinges on this point so go with it. Going with it? Good. Well then, if that is indeed the case, if the FPS is the Daddy, then Doom is the Godfather; Doom started it all…
OK so that’s not strictly true. Doom wasn’t the first FPS (proper), as I’m sure everyone knows. That particular honour is bestowed upon Wolfenstein 3D (also from developer id Software – more on them later). But Doom was the one that made it all proper, the one that hit it big, the one that made the impact.
Wolfenstein 3D was released in 1992, a year before Doom, and was a sort of spiritual successor to the old Atari 8-bit/Commodor 64 game Castle Wolfenstein (and its sequel Beyond Castle Wolfenstein) released in the 80’s. Wolfenstein 3D put you in the shoes of ‘BJ Blazkowicz’, an allied GI Joe P.O.W escaping Ze Nazi’s notorious prison ‘Castle Wolfenstein’. It was a breakthrough game, a seminal moment. It set the benchmark and created a new playing field. Prior to Wolfenstein the closest video games (still of course in their infancy) came to anything remotely similar were very rudimentary – essentially wire-frame games like Maze War (first released waaay back in 1974 – Jesus that’s old). Wolfenstein was a piece of class for what it was. You’d think then that this article should be about that game? Why Doom? Because where Wolfenstein drew a map, laid foundations and drafted blueprints, Doom went right ahead and set that shit on fire.
Doom built on it all. Over the blueprints laid out by its predesessor, it created nothing less than a First Person Shooter Bible. It had the fucking lot. A decent pulp, sci-fi story; Demons unleashed from Hell onto the moons of Mars after secret government experiments went tits-up (it even had a back story for the main character which was fleshed out in the accompanying leaflet found inside the games box). A large array of interesting enemy types which were progressively revealed as you advanced in the game, all of which got increasingly more difficult to kill. A mighty roster of guns (Wolfenstein had only 3); pistol, shotgun, chaingun, rocket launcher, plasma rifle and of course the iconic BFG. It even gave you a particularly vicious and satisfying melee option in the form of a big fucking chainsaw, not to mention all the now-standard-issue FPS pre-requisites like body armour, medkits and the like. The thing even had night vision. It had a satisfying heft to its gameplay too which was helped by the weapons feeling like they really counted, there was blood, there were reloading animations…..and all of this wrapped up in a deliciously menacing atmosphere.
^ Big F*****g Gun
That’s one of Doom’s trump cards; it really did have atmosphere. It was scary. You felt alone and outnumbered (because you were). The cries of the Demonic beasts that rang unseen through the levels kept you on your toes and ratcheted up the tension, which was then released perfectly in some of the earliest adrenaline-fuelled, pant-wetting carnage I can remember. And it really was you in there. There was never any character name (except for ‘Doomguy’). That was a deliberate aspect designed precisely for that reason. He doesn’t have a name, because he’s you. It’s a funny thing, because I remember thinking of the 2004 ‘reboot’ of Doom (er…Doom 3 I believe) that was one of the most disappointing things about it; a lack of atmosphere. id seemed to forget what atmosphere was and defaulted back to ‘darkness = atmos’ which of course isn’t the case; Doom had almost no shadows at all.
Almost all of those things that Doom did are still seen in the marrow of good shooters today. The elements in it play like a tick list of ‘must-haves’ for all the FPS games that followed. Indeed, the phrase ‘Doom clone’ was common during the 90’s as everyone wanted a piece of the bloody, shooty pie.
Jesus it even had controversy surrounding it. Due to its ultra-violence, it’s use of Demonic enemies, Satanic imagery and generally the whole ‘Hell’ thing, it was attacked by religious groups, branded a ‘murder simulator’ by some out of touch, self righteous prick, and just generally picked on by people who didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about. It was arguably the first ‘video-game nasty’ which was to inevitably corrupt the youth of the day. And not just ‘the day’ either; it’s ‘corrupting legacy’ was and is still wheeled out and dusted off whenever some fucked up kid goes on murderous rampage in a school. The killers responsible for the Columbine massacre in Oklahoma in 1999 were heavily into Doom and the tabloid press couldn’t shout about it enough.
All that aside, it wasn’t just the obvious ‘gamer’ things Doom pioneered. It was techy stuff as well. Engine development. Networking (which was a notoriously bumpy journey in itself). Multiplayer, and of course Modding. id released Doom’s source code in 1997 and since then it has been modded to Hell and back. Spaghetti Western Doom mods, Sonic The Hedgehog Mods, Ultra Brutal Mods, Ghostbusters, Mario, Batman, Aliens, they’ve all been launched into the Doom-world in some form or another.
^ The infamous ‘Brutal Doom’ mod.
This is why for me Doom stands alone. It wrote the book on the First Person Shooter, the biggest selling genre in gaming today. The commercial dominance of titles like Call of Duty and Battlefield, the almost religious following and anticipation of the Half Life series, the unequalled carnage of Unreal Tournament. These all owe Doom everything.
And because of Dooms’ legacy on this genre, which has bought so much interest, so many new gamers, consumers, developers and cash to the industry, it is in fact the entire industry itself that has benefited from the impact Doom had. Without Doom the industry itself may be very different. Other genres may not have the interest invested into them. They may have not had the heart and soul and resources poured into them. Gaming in itself and the epic culture that surrounds it would be a totally different thing if not for those pioneers at id.
Let me also just say this. No article or blog on the legacy of Doom would be complete without highlighting id software’s contribution to gaming and in particular the FPS genre. Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem; all id. The old guard that pioneered the genre with those titles have fragmented and gone on to other developers now; other projects, other games, leaving only one of the original Doom team to be involved in the next instalment (current title I believe is ‘Doom 4’) due for release…er whenever the fuck it’s ready (to paraphrase the remaining Founding Father himself John Carmack). That small team of programmers and software developers are as responsible – in my opinion – as anyone else for gaming being the goliath entertainment industry that it is today, not to mention one of the greatest, artistic and immersive mediums we’ve got.
It is for those gushing reasons that I believe Doom stands dominant as the single most influential game of all time. What Doom did is still being felt to this very day on the latest and greatest titles that gaming has to offer. And with the technology ever improving, the budgets increasing, the talent emerging and the industry as a whole going from strength to strength, that is no mean feat.