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The History Of: Doom

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id software circa 1992 was a very impressive place to be...

Published on Jan 27, 2009

id software circa 1992 was a very impressive place to be. Into its second year of independence, John Romero, Tom Hall, Adrian Carmack and John Carmack had proved that PCs could do more than Wordstar.

id invoked magic with each piece of software it created, and garnered a savagely loyal following that was always impatient for new releases. A master of freeware distribution, id soon learned the merits of episodic content, and so it funnelled longevity into its titles by adding new worlds and levels to existing content.

While working on the SNES port of Castle Wolfenstein, John Carmack stumbled across a routine that he believed would greatly speed up the development of 3D games. Soon this routine grew into the DOOM engine and a new era of in-game design dawned.

Debate ensued as to what sort of game would fit onto the incomplete engine, with discussion veering toward acquiring the Alien licence. However, the team agreed that a licence would prove far too restrictive. id had many great ideas, and while these were being fine-tuned, Carmack dubbed the undesigned game ‘DOOM’. He attributes the title to a scene from The Colour Of Money where Tom Cruise shows up at a pool hall with a custom pool cue in a case. ‘What do you have in there?’ someone asks him. ‘DOOM’, replied Cruise with a cocky grin. “That, and the resulting carnage, was how I viewed us springing the game on the industry,” remembers a proud John Carmack.

Work originally started on DOOM in late 1992. While John Carmack worked on the engine, John Romero would sketch out early level design on a clever editor that he had developed, while Adrian toiled over creating DOOM’s visual realisation. Tom Hall, id’s resident game designer found it all hard going. For Tom, good games didn’t just happen: they came from careful planning. So, as the rest of id forged ahead he developed a Bible of all the things that the game should contain. John Romero would add to this on occasion, but while everyone at id was aware of the Bible, scant regard was paid to its actual contents. John Carmack underpins this, saying: “We worked from the technology toward the game. The style of play from Wolfenstein was clearly a good thing (in retrospect, it was the birth of an entirely new genre), and I had a pretty solid idea what the next step in the technology was going to be: arbitrary two-dimensional maps with variable floor and ceiling heights and table-based lighting.

Thematically, DOOM was viewed as ‘Aliens meets Evil Dead II’,” he continues. “Tom was attempting to do ‘real’ design work at the beginning of the project but the rest of the team was pretty much pushing ahead with a ‘just do it’ approach. So careful planning lost out.”

John Romero remembers this time slightly differently, however. “Tom started crafting the storyline in November 1992 and created the DOOM Bible, which turned out to be his initial ideas of where the story should go,” he says. “After that point, he mostly made lots of notes about ideas, drawings of the world map, sketches of game characters and so on. So, yes, there was a definite storyline created at the beginning of the project and we all started following that design.”

Whatever the truth behind the Bible, Tom would be id’s first casualty due to his differences with John Carmack. Tom was eventually replaced by Sandy Petersen. An industry veteran, Sandy proved the perfect counterbalance for John Romero. While John Romero designed levels of pure adrenalin that reflected the apex of gaming from the era, Sandy’s levels were much more sinister. Nothing was obvious, objects were littered throughout each level, but their uses were specific. If a player misused an object, the game got harder, buttons the player had to press and doors that had to be opened would all unleash more hell spawn. This balance between the two designers ensured end users would never feel comfortable in DOOM’s horrific world.

Bob Prince a veteran from id’s back catalogue was brought in to add sound to the game. Bob visited the office occasionally but was never in-house; his remoteness led him to Tom’s DOOM Bible, which became his inspiration for the music. “What helped the most with the sound in DOOM was the DOOM Bible that Tom Hall compiled,” he confirms. “Much of what was in it never appeared in the game, but it set a mood for starting on the project. Within a few months of receiving that document, I had roughed out a lot of music and most of what turned out to be final sound effects.”

The sound process was far from linear on the fledgling game engine, and the challenges were vast. “With DOOM, I was supposed to have some software that would allow me to do this sort of thing, but it never got programmed,” explains Bob. “I depended on John Romero to plug the sounds in for me, and I could then see if they fit for timing. If they didn’t, I would try to get a mental picture of what was wrong, correct it on my computer, save it on the network and then John [Romero] would plug it in for another trial.” That the sound became such an integral part of the DOOM experience is tantamount to the technical genius id possessed at that time.

Away from id and the development of DOOM, the gaming press was going mad for a new format that was fast replacing disk and cartridge-based systems, CD-ROMs. Myst and The 7th Guest had turned heads the world over, with their incredible visuals demonstrating the power of the new medium. The US gaming media especially, was talking about how gaming was about to change forever. With their full-motion videos, and CD sounds, talk of how Myst and The 7th Guest would replace the iconic games of the Eighties and early- Nineties populated magazines like Wired. Even the console manufacturers looked to be getting in on the act with new CD announcements.

Jay Wilbur, id’s business manager explored this technology and brought Myst to the guys at id. Unanimous in its condemnation, id hated Myst. Even Sandy, who had worked for years with Sid Meier at Microprose, didn’t like it. Galvanised by the team, Jay set about trying to get some press for the asyet- unfinished DOOM. Unfortunately, the gaming press weren’t interested, and a short broadcast on local television showing the id guys at work did little to bolster DOOM’s profile.

Knowing full well that the game would be a smash if people new about it, Jay began selling DOOM in a different way. “We don’t care if you make money off this shareware demo,” Jay told retailers. “Move it. Move it in mass quantities.” The retailers couldn’t believe their ears, no one had ever told them not to pay royalties. But Jay was insistent. “Take DOOM for nothing, keep the profit. My goal is distribution. DOOM is going to be Wolfenstein on steroids, and I want it far and wide. I want you to stack DOOM high. In fact, I want you to do advertising for it, too, because you’re going to make money off it. So take this money that you might have given me in royalties and use it to advertise the fact that you’re selling DOOM.” Jay got plenty of takers. And it was advertised by retailers right across America, from Wal-Mart to Babbage’s (now known as GameStop).

The original id press release adorned the walls of retailers, stating that DOOM would be ready for release in autumn 1993. At this time details of the game were sparse except for the revelations that DOOM would show visible monster and scenery damage. Few screens were made available, but the ones that were made public showed some of the game’s more spectacular weapons and monsters in action.

The gaming press were quick to follow the retailers, acutely aware that something big was happening at id Software. Previously closed doors were now opened, and column inches gave way to features and articles on the game. This groundswell didn’t detract from the development. If anything, it made the team more resolute to deliver John Carmack’s vision of something, “Bigger, badder and better than everything that had gone before.”

Development continued swiftly and in June 1993 the guys at id Software had a meeting. Aware that it was going to miss its autumn release date, it looked at the game itself. Without a strict format or direction, DOOM had taken on so many elements that it lacked purpose and an independent identity. The decision was made to narrow the experience. The score and all the elements that contributed to scoring points were removed from the game. A life bar replaced the three-man allocation of the first beta builds and the BFG (Big F**king Gun) had its parameters changed. Originally a multi-fireball-spewing smart gun, it was honed to be a single-shot weapon that would provide instant death on contact with any foes. More significantly, the gameplay was honed as well. John Carmack explains why the game was changed and the issues that led to the slowdown in DOOM’s development. “Speed was an issue. One big ball is a ton more efficient than a couple of hundred little ones,” he says. “The other thing is that the spew of little balls just wasn’t that effective. Usually only one or two would hit a given target at a reasonable range, so it didn’t deliver that much damage against a single opponent. We wanted the BFG to be a weapon that obliterated rooms full of enemies, and no directed weapon ever really managed that. We originally had little items that you could collect to get an extra life (like coins in Super Mario), but it finally sunk in for me during DOOM that computer games don’t have to be like arcade games, and that the concept of limited numbers of tries just really didn’t apply.”

The final crunch of DOOM progressed, morphing from the early Alpha builds that were demo-ed through magazines and download services, into the game we know today. And, as John Carmack welded the multiplayer elements into place that John Romero would later coin ‘Deathmatch’, id realised that it had made one of gaming’s very few complete products. When DOOM eventually arrived on 10 December 1993, the id server, that was to deliver the game to the masses outside of retail, crashed as 8,000 people clamoured for the first levels, and on commercial networks such as America Online users crammed into electronic ‘rooms’ waiting for their chance to download the program. Depending on the speed of the user’s modem, transfers took between one and four hours.

“It was a mob scene the night DOOM came out,” said Debbie Rogers, forum leader of America Online’s game section. “If we weren’t on the other side of a phone line, there would have been bodily harm.” About twenty thousand America Online users snapped up copies at launch. That, however, was just the start. Some six months later id released figures stating that over 1.7 million copies of DOOM were installed and in use across the US. The DOOM creators had somehow ventured into the eye of the storm. It wasn’t that DOOM was selling, it was the fact that it was being played, over and over. The term deathmatch entered the English language and, despite the fact that many gamers today have still not experienced DOOM in LAN or an online scenario, the legend of the experience grew.

The clamour for a game so totally modern has been seen since, but it was the values of gameplay that made DOOM a continuing success. John Carmack misunderstood the product, while John Romero knew full well why DOOM was such a success.

At its heart, DOOM was Gauntlet in 3D: find the key to open the door, kill the enemies in the levels while replenishing health, find the exit and repeat. The BFG replaced potions, and enviro suits replaced magic amulets. While death permeated the Gauntlet experience, bosses and sub-bosses embellished DOOM and fantasy evolved into hell. id distilled the formula that had defined a generation and made it grow up. Every bit a technological spearhead, DOOM oozed the best arcade experiences of the Eighties and early-Nineties. It was fast paced, mystical and challenging but, more importantly, demanding of the player’s attention. DOOM cast a tall shadow over the gaming landscape that few would escape.

By the time 1994 arrived, 3DO and Atari had both launched new consoles. Technology was king and both companies saw the merits of having what was perceived as the absolute technological gaming monster on their consoles. The conversions that followed would hallmark the future for the DOOM franchise on home formats. Both consoles struggled under the weight of John Carmack’s engine. The 3DO produced a similar but much slower game than the original, and with the pace gone it was little more than a homage to DOOM. On the other hand, the Jaguar baulked at the resolutions needed to display the game, and despite offering a reasonable port could only operate in a windowed mode that used less than a third of the available screen.

Even Bill Gates got in on the act when he announced Windows 95 and the arrival of Direct X at a developer’s conference, as Masters Of DOOM author David Kushner recollects in his bestselling novel, “As the lights fell, a video screen lowered above the stage – it was time for the main event. The crowd cheered as DOOM’s familiar corridors began to roll. But it wasn’t the DOOM soldier chasing the demons, it was… Bill Gates. Microsoft’s fearless leader was superimposed running inside the game in a long, black trench coat and brandishing a shotgun. Gates stopped running and addressed the crowd about Windows 95 as a gaming platform: a platform that could deliver cutting-edge multimedia experiences like DOOM. But no sooner had he begun, an Imp monster from the game jumped out, and asked Gates for an autograph. Gates responded by raising his

shotgun and blowing the beast to gory chunks. “Don’t interrupt me while I’m speaking,” he said, then finished his speech. At the end, the screen went black with blood, only to be replaced with the familiar Microsoft phrase, “Who do you want to execute today?” The most-talked-about operating system of all time was illustrated by the most famous man in the world of computers standing inside DOOM – Jay realised that DOOM II was going to be a very easy sell.

DOOM II was announced in May 1994. The original team were joined by American Magee, who fleshed out John Romero’s ideas while designing his own levels. The extra time allowed John Romero to build even bigger maps, while helping DOOM engine licensees realise their game ambitions. Released in October 1994, DOOM II was more of the same. Using the same engine with slightly cleaner visuals, the game was bolstered by new weapons, eight new enemy types and over 30 levels plus two levels ported from Wolfenstein 3D. id abandoned the incredibly successful shareware model that had served it so well the year before, and chose instead to sign a lucrative publishing deal with GT Interactive, therefore creating a direct-to-retail route for DOOM II. Co-op play was enabled via the internet and deathmatches could now sustain four players at one time. It sold over 500,000 copies at launch. id Software had started to change the way people played games and expectations were huge for a third.

DOOM II: Hell On Earth was the simplest game id ever made. The gamers couldn’t wait, there was a route straight to market for the game, and it was a straight sequel delivered with aplomb from the darling of the games industry, who was itself enjoying a rare moment of comfort and stability. John Romero sums the game up nicely: “I even believe that keeping the double-barrelled shotgun for DOOM II was a great idea because it kept it from only being a set of new levels and monsters – that new weapon was probably the greatest addition to the entire genre and kept DOOM II from being just a footnote or regarded as just an addon.” DOOM had brought id the freedom to develop on its own terms, but GT Interactive had other ideas.

So, when John Carmack told an eager games conference in 1994 that id was moving on and that its next game would leave DOOM for dead, a meeting was called with GT Interactive to highlight a future for DOOM. By this point, other developers had caught up with the DOOM engine and DOOM was beginning to look less impressive with each new release. However, GT wanted more DOOM, while id wanted to make Quake. As a side note to this, John Carmack deliberately left holes in the protection of the DOOM engine for the hacking community, which allowed players to make their own maps. In its infancy during DOOM, by the time DOOM II was released this had flourished into a massive community for hackers and fans alike. Maps were freely passed around the internet and made both releases feel fresh, but of more note was the community’s ability to change the WAD files. This meant that gamers could populate DOOM’s game world with anything that they wanted to, from Happy Days to Star Wars. Think of any famous character and they probably appear in a DOOM WAD. George Lucas became aware of the Star Wars WADs and instructed LucasArts to make the Dark Forces games – DOOM was affecting all that came across it.

id agreed a middle ground with GT Interactive that would see the release of The Ultimate DOOM in 1995. This release contained everything that had been released in the series before plus one extra episode, ‘Thy Flesh Consumed’. id had expanded rapidly off the back of DOOM’s success and the original team only contributed two levels to this new offering. John Carmack, who, by now, was working on a new engine, was unimpressed. “Ultimate DOOM involved a lot of recycling,” he says. Tim Willits was brought in from the DOOM community and the release would contain newly developed levels, while some of the best community maps would also be integrated into the new episode.

At the start of 1996 Final DOOM was released, this time it was programmed not by id but by Team TNT. Funded by GT Interactive, the game was a release aimed squarely at the DOOM hardcore. “We had even less to do with Final DOOM than with Ultimate DOOM,” states John Carmack. The game was viewed very much as a cynical cash-in by GT Interactive. Containing two modded versions of DOOM II, the game had little appeal outside the DOOM community and that’s where DOOM signed off for the Nineties. Many conversions would follow, but it wasn’t until 1998 and DOOM 64 that the magic exploded onto a console.

id moved onto a new engine and a new series of games, but DOOM had become part of the id heritage and the DOOM community kept on growing. Fans continued to find more and more in the game. id may have moved on but the gamers hadn’t. In 1997, John Carmack released the source from the DOOM engine. Now the modding community moved into overdrive, porting DOOM to all sorts of formats that hadn’t received a conversion and reclaiming DOOM on systems that had received lacklustre conversions. Little was heard from id about DOOM in the following years, until a surprise announcement at Macworld in 2001, where John Carmack told the audience that a new DOOM engine had been in development for some time and that id Software was planning to release a much anticipated DOOM 3 in 2003.

DOOM 3 wasn’t an easy journey though, as both Adrian Carmack and Kevin Cloud (two of id’s owners at the time) were fiercely opposed to the remake. “They thought that id was going back to the same old formulas and properties too often,” remembers John Carmack. Not for the first time, it was the creation of a Wolfenstein game that would lead to the inception of DOOM. Return To Castle Wolfenstein was a runaway success and Game Of The Year in 2001. John Carmack evidenced his argument with this fact and gathered enough internal support to confront the other owners with an ‘Allow us to remake DOOM or fire us’ ultimatum. A standoff ensued that would see graphic artist Phil Steed fired by Adrian Carmack. Facing an internal revolt and an id Software without John Carmack, Adrian and Kevin gave in and the creation of DOOM 3 began.

DOOM 3 was to feature the most revolutionary game engine the world had ever seen, a team of 20 people grafted from 10am to 10pm Monday to Saturday with no holidays, for over two years, to realise the ambition of DOOM 3. Touted as a re-imagining of the original, it followed the DOOM Bible much more closely than DOOM had managed.

Storyboarded and written by Matthew Costello (ironically the writer of The 7th Guest), the game would move DOOM from fast-paced frenetic action into survival horror territory. The music was originally to be handled by Bob Prince, but when John Carmack and Bob couldn’t reach an agreement on how to integrate the music, Bob was replaced by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who himself would be replaced for personal reasons by the then drummer of Nine Inch Nails, Chris Vrenna. After a drawn-out development cycle, the game achieved Gold status in July 2004. 15 minutes after achieving this status, lead designer Tim Willits announced to the world: “Oh yeah, we’re thrilled. To be truly honest, DOOM 3 is even better than we thought it was going to be when we first started. We have 20 super-talented, highly motivated people that put everything they could into this title. We’re very proud of this child that we’re sending off into the world.” When pushed on the DOOM 3 experience before the game’s release, id’s CEO, Todd Hollenshead, made a statement that would make DOOM 3 unmissable for established ‘DOOMsters’ the world over. “There are two different aspects to the fear element of the game. There’s the overwhelmingly creepy suspense-dread feeling and then there’s the shock moments of something jumping out at you or something unexpected happening. To me there’s a general uneasiness where you feel like you should get your diapers and then there’s the others where you just ruin the seat of your pants.”

DOOM 3 was every bit the monster its predecessors had been. Needing a hardware upgrade to run on many computers, it arrived into a crowded marketplace, rubbing shoulders with Half-Life 2 and Halo 2, two games that wouldn’t have existed had it not been for the original. Not surprisingly, it was a massive success. Awards were showered on the game, but gamers were divided on the merits of the new DOOM. Four-player deathmatch may have been present, but for an audience that had experienced the delights of Quake 3 Arena it felt light, while others bemoaned the lack of co-operative play options.

Containing all the elements and creatures from DOOM plus some new weapons wasn’t enough for some gamers. DOOM 3, like a Clive Barker novel, proved just too frightening for some, while others missed the adrenaline rush of the original. Since its release, however, true to all of id Software’s best videogames, DOOM 3 has sold more copies year on year as gamers come to terms with the experience. The communities and the love are growing at phenomenal rates. In 2005 an expansion pack called DOOM 3: Resurrection Of Evil was released, which tied up all the original’s loose ends. This also went on to win many accolades as well as a massive audience.

Even today DOOM is still being visited and experienced by new gamers, with the most recent version being made available on Microsoft’s premier Xbox Live Arcade service. John Carmack may not be quite ready to unleash a new version of id’s franchise any time soon, but you can be sure that when he does, the world will be waiting for it.

 

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