Good Evening, and Welcome to Hell (five years of Doom)
By Rowan "Sumaleth" Crawford
he year is 5 AD.
Yes, it's been five years since Doom was released onto an unsuspecting public, and five years since the gaming calendar was reset. We now live in what can be considered a "post Doom" era, and before that was…well, nothing important really.
Five years and even to this day it has a huge following, not to mention the glowing love of just about every action game fan old enough to remember it. This is the game that literally changed the face of gaming, and now, five years on, it's the ideal time to sit back and access the aftermath. Why was it such a success? The answer to that is remarkably clear: everything. The graphics, sound, music, baddies, weapons, atmosphere, originality, gameplay; there was no single element of Doom that wasn't well ahead of its time, and together they were dynamite. For id Software and the release of Doom, everything felt just right. With millions of PCs hiding away in offices and homes all around the world, Doom was like the ultimate virus, spreading from PC to PC until there was nowhere else for it to go. Just about everyone that had a PC had Doom, and everyone else was talking about it.
The shareware demo was a generous offering, featuring an entire episode of the final game and built-in deathmatch. Deathmatch! It's become a noun in it's own right, but of course it was Doom that introduced that word, and the whole concept in the first place. With an episode of maps, countless secrets, multiplayer co-op, and deathmatch all released free of charge, shareware Doom probably offered more gameplay for free than any previous full, commercial PC game.
It was a calculated decision that paid off; people bought the full game by the truckload. It was one of those rare occasions where the perfect game was married with the perfect marketing, and the rest, as they say, is history. Everyone was playing it. It was the main game at first that shocked gamers everywhere. While their previous game, Spear of Destiny (AKA Wolfenstein 3D) really got the ball rolling, it was Doom that first showed the potential of fast, textured 3D graphics for creating real environments. It was as addictive as it was amazing, truly the best action game anyone had seen. Then people started trying out that weird deathmatch mode, a seemingly bizarre concept where you didn't play the real game anymore, you just tried to shoot each other. It was such a complete marriage, with the ground breaking main game, spread out over 3 huge sprawling episodes taking you right into the bowels of hell, providing the game to end all game for the lone player, combined with the brilliantly realized long term appeal of the multiplayer deathmatch. If game players were fish, Doom was the ultimate worm. We were hooked.
With Doom firmly implanted in the minds of the gaming generation, it went on to create something else that was new: a community.
With its ability to load user created maps, Doom had longevity built into right from the start. Once the creative members of the game playing public begun to fiddle with creating maps, combined with the hardcore gamers and their relentless lust for new environments, the result was a huge, complex community that still exists today, although for a much larger range of games. With the addition of the Internet, and the world wide web in particular, the Doom community grew almost exponentially and, in the process, kept Doom fever alive far longer than any game since Elite. It's really interesting to consider that there have been literally dozens of "Doom clones" since its release, yet the game that started it all is, for many, still the best of the genre. Could it be that id Software nailed the genre perfectly first time? Or do we see Doom through the proverbial 'rose colored glasses'? There's no real answer to that question, of course, but considering that people still play the game today it's hard not to believe that Doom may well be the "perfect game", or at least as close as anyone has ever got.
Virgins to the New World
Who can forget the first time they saw it? "That’s an animation, right?" Your eyes would take a second or two to comprehend what they were seeing, quickly followed by a shiver down your spine that felt like you had transcended to your 3rd life. "It's interactive???" You run in circles around the opening room like a child in a toy store at Christmas, focused on everything at once yet unable to comprehend everything in one go. Up and down the stairs, looking out a window across a field, demons running around throwing fireballs at you. This is it. My life is complete! The game was filled from beginning to end, with memorable moments and subtle details that even today have hardly been matched. As far as the "oh wow" moments go, it's hard to top your first encounter with the Cyberdemon; you begin in a small, cramped room, with the sounds of "something" on the other side of those doors. Which door should I take? What weapon do I need?
You tentatively open one of the doors and peak in to find row after row of rocket crates. Surely it isn't going to take all those to kill him? How big is he??
You can hear him on the other side of the arena so you decide to slip in and get the rockets while the way is clear. The door closes behind you and you can't get back in! You rush around to collect as many rockets as possible while the stomping sound gets louder and louder. No looking back now, it's time to show whoever, or whatever, it is exactly what a rocket looks like coming directly at you from the distance...It's funny thinking about it now, but it was one of those all too rare gaming moments when you realized he had a rocket launcher too. He wasn't afraid to fire them indiscriminately either; the air was literally filled with rockets, both yours and his, the resulting dance between all parties involved was almost majestic in nature. Simply amazing.
While the inclusion of deathmatch and the ability to create new maps provided longevity, it was the subtle details in Doom that gave it depth and complexity. The different attack methods of the Imp, for example: fireballs from long range and the electric shocks if you were close. Or the skill in luring baddies towards explosive barrels to both save ammo and to see that gloriously gory mega-gib animation sequence just one more time. One feature of Doom that fits into both categories is the art in getting the demons to attack each other. That moment when you realize that yes, they really are shooting each other (and really getting stuck into it too) was like a gaming orgasm. The gameplay soon deviated into the realms of hammy western movies where you'd leap out between two demons, yell something poetic like, "you guys looking for me?", then jump back out of the way at just the right moment. Round one! My money is on the Baron...
Another fine moment is that first meeting with the Spectre, that little pink demon wearing the mostly invisible predator-style jumpsuit. That first encounter had you spinning around like a demented top, desperately trying to find where that sniper was hidden only to find he was actually staring you in the crotch! And who can forget that final game completion screen with the message explaining that you had arrived safely back on Earth at long last. Then the camera pans slowly to the left revealing buildings on fire in the background and that infamous rabbit head on a pike in the foreground. A gratuitous setup for Doom 2, of course, but it was definitely one of those goose bump moments.
Where Were You When...
Everyone has his or her own "Doom story". It might be the first time they come across something in the game, a particular moment in a game of deathmatch once, or maybe the type of drink they always drank when they sat down for a game.
My first chance to play Doom was when I got my current job, which has a network of SGI machines and, of course, it had Doom. Every night at 5:30 we'd drop whatever work we were doing (if we could), jump into Doom and go hard at it for an hour or two. It was an amazing way to unwind at the end of the day, and we somehow managed to keep that up for a whole year before the boss finally put an end to it (didn't that happen to everyone?).
C'est la vie.
|Credits: Illustration © 1998 Mike Sanzone. Good Evening and Welcome to Hell © 1998 Rowan Crawford. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, dangit.|