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Doom History: Part 1

With the excitement for Doom Eternal reaching a fever pitch these past couple weeks over the reveal of gameplay footage at this year’s QuakeCon, it’s important for gamers to note the franchise’s legacy in the history of gaming. Doom wasn’t always just the fast-paced, vertically-enhanced 4K gorefest we saw recently. However, its legacy is also not only defined by the 1993 MS-DOS launch of the series’s debut. I want to honor the legacy of Doom and its place in video game history through a feature-article series based on just that: the history of Doom.

From small beginnings…

Doom is the creation of id Software, a game development studio famous for both introducing the world to the first-person shooter genre (FPS) and pushing the boundaries regarding what content is socially acceptable to put into a video game. In an interview with Doomworld back in 2013, John Carmack – a renowned computer programmer and co-founder of id Software – revealed his inspirations for Doom. As a youth raised in the ’80s, the sci-fi and horror genres in cinema were prominent themes. Naturally, Carmack conceived the idea of Doom with a little bit of inspiration from films like Aliens and Evil Dead 2. It makes sense, right? If one were to throw those two films in a blender, the theme of Doom wouldn’t even be a stone’s throw from the result.

Doom history

Photo courtesy of Mod DB

Carmack’s ’80s pop culture inspirations didn’t stop there. The title “Doom” came from a scene in the film The Color of Money. In this particular scene, Tom Cruise’s character is at a pool hall with a custom pool cue in a case. After he is asked what is in the case, Cruise responds, “Doom.”

A Cultural Impact: Doom (1993)

Doom busted onto the PC scene on December 10, 1993. While id Software was a relatively small studio at the time, the game only took approximately nine months to complete. That is a huge contrast to the amount of time, effort, and capital that goes into the AAA blockbuster hits we know today. But despite all of that, the design was far beyond its time. Design is something id Software has always excelled at. Carmack helped start a trend for the studio when he developed a new 3D game engine specifically for Doom. As the years would progress, id Software would become known for developing its own engines for its games. And, in many cases, the studio would license the engines to outside studios.

From the time of its release and onward, Doom went on to make waves in the video game industry. Although it followed in Wolfenstein 3D’s footsteps, Doom really laid the groundwork for the future of the first-person shooter genre going forward. Furthermore, it challenged the political sphere by drawing attention to the violence-in-video-games debate.

… being able to be violent against demons that are threatening to destroy humanity, that gives you a good cause.

-John Carmack

Doom certainly attracted its share of critics, most of whom were not gamers themselves. Parents, politicians, and analysts of all sorts waded into a debate that’s continued on in various forms ever since. While vocal opposition in the media blamed the game for violent and aggressive behavior, Carmack refuted that notion. In a 2013 interview with The Verge, Carmack stated that “being able to be violent against demons that are threatening to destroy humanity, that gives you a good cause. I do not feel bad at all about the games that I’ve made, what their impact on people has been. I tend to think that it’s probably been a net positive.” However, in the same interview, he understood the unease one might feel towards modern games allowing the execution of civilians — a likely reference to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2‘s infamous airport stage, “No Russian.”

I certainly remember my first experience with Doom and its over-the-top violence, as it were. I was 8 years old and it was the summer of ’94. My summer routine every morning was to turn on the fairly-new family PC and play Solitaire. On one particular morning, however, I found a floppy disk on the desk with a sticky note. My dad’s chicken scratch was scribbled into the note instructing me on how to install the software for a new game simply called “Doom.” Eagerly, I installed the software, booted up the title, and was taken to a darkly-themed title screen with difficulty options such as “I’m too young to die,” “Hurt me plenty,” and my all-time favorite, “Ultra-Violence.” My 8-year-old brain was firing on all cylinders as the grim visuals and difficulty options already confronted my innocence.

Photo courtesy of MyAbandonWare

With a gun in hand, I was racing through maze-like corridors on some otherworldly plane shooting undead Marines and spiky fireball-hurling hell-spawn. It was the first moment I ever saw bright red blood splatter from my violent actions in a video game. Later, I’d be jarred when my enemies would explode into meaty chunks with a well-timed shot to an explosive barrel or the use of a rocket launcher. All manner of firepower was at the Marine’s disposal including a pistol, shotgun, machine gun, chaingun, a sci-fi inspired plasma rifle, a rocket launcher, and a devastatingly powerful gun called the BFG. Many fans would come to know this weapon as the “Big F—king Gun.” My dad didn’t know what to expect from the game, but he was entertained by what he saw when I later provided a quick demonstration. Of course, I was sternly instructed to not play the game when mom was around. However, nothing stopped me from pushing the Space Marine through every nook and cranny of Mars until I’d reached the final unwinnable onslaught of demons that would drag me down to hell. It’d be a couple more years before I’d play the full game and enter “The Shores of Hell.”

Photo courtesy of Abandonware DOS

Doom, along with other graphic video games such as Mortal Kombat, inspired the creation of the ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board). Id Software’s creation would later earn a Mature rating (ages 17 and up) from the ratings board when Doom was ported to the Super Nintendo. This was one of Nintendo’s first forays in the realm of graphic violence. The SNES release allowed me to share the experience with friends who didn’t have PCs or a PC version of the game. Whether kids as young as we were should have been playing the game was up for debate. However, the game instantly became more fun when my friends and I could take turns and holler at each other, share secrets and tips, and instruct one another in solving the game’s puzzle-like non-linear levels and gain access to the level-ending switch that ushered in the next stage.

Doom II (1994)

Photo courtesy of Giant Bomb

In the year that followed the initial release of Doom, the development team put out a sequel that, for all intents and purposes, was more of the same but bigger and better. Again, players filled the shoes of the nameless Space Marine. However, this time the demon horde had brought the fight to earth. Much of Doom II stylistically looked the same as its predecessor. There were clearly no graphical improvements here. The level structure, however, was far more complex. Doom II was naturally a more difficult game, in my opinion, due to the levels that felt sprawling in comparison to those of the original.

Furthermore, while Doom contained enemies like the Zombieman, the fireball-conjuring Imp, the four-legged demon hound Pinky, the minotaur-inspired Baron of Hell, and the big baddy famously known as the Cyberdemon, Doom II included all of those enemies and more. The gluttonous fire-throwing Mancubus, the skeletal rocket-launching Revenant, and the demon resurrecting Arch-Vile ranked among all-new additions to the expanded sequel.

Final Doom (1995)

Towards the beginning of ’95, a team under the name of TeamTNT was formed out of the members of a Doom-editing mailing list. They began work on “TNT: Evilution,” which was a plot based on Jupiter’s moon, Io, and the nefarious UAC continuing their interdimensional work despite the demonic invasions of the past. Id Software acquired the assets developed by the team and tasked two of the team’s developers, Dario and Milo Casali, (Yes, they were brothers.) to complete another plotline known as “The Plutonia Experiment.” These two episodes were combined to form the packaged product known as Final Doom, which id Software released in 1996 for both the PC and PlayStation console.

Final Doom offered fans an extension of what they already knew and loved from the original Doom and its sequel. However, it attracted the more hardened fans with its challenging atmosphere, as the game instantly threw some of the worst demons at players right out of the gate. This included the powerful Arch-Vile who’d send damaging blasts and resurrect other demons relentlessly. To further the pain of combating these “vile” creatures, they were the fastest moving demonic enemies in the game and could absorb an inordinate amount of damage before being brought down.

This concludes part 1 of Doom history. Check back in with Nintendo Enthusiast for part 2 covering Doom‘s shift on future generations both graphically and thematically in Doom 64 and Doom 3. Also, find out what the original ideas were behind Doom 4 and, ultimately, the fate of the project.

(Click here to view part 2 of “Doom History.”)

Chris Hinton
Accountant by day, video games enthusiast by night.  Somewhere in between all of that, I'm a husband, dad, and generally a giant man-child, too.  If a game is all about action, there's a safe bet I'm playing it.  I started laying waste to virtual worlds as a youngin' on the ol' Atari and haven't stopped since.


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