In the early 90’s I was lucky enough to get my first PC. It was middle of the road for the times – a 486sx 25Mhz, with a whopping 4MB of RAM and a gigantic 100MB hard disk. I was chuffed to find a picture of it on the ‘net, here it is in all its glory:
By today’s standards most definitely primitive, but at the time it was my pride and joy!
I was a spotty, awkward and anti-social teenager at the time and I obviously got it as a “study aid”. Hmmm, silence…….. are those crickets I hear in the background? OK, well, to be honest, that was just an excuse! I admit it, I wanted to play games! Sorry mum!! Many games graced that machine and one of those was DOOM. Now, any gamer worth his or her salt should be immediately familiar with this particular game. If you aren’t, for shame! This game was, excuse the pun, a game changer for the first person shooter genre.
Released in December ’93, this game was to take the world by storm. I still remember reading a review in a PC mag. It had just one screen shot – the player was being smacked up the head by a particularly angry looking Imp. Here’s a couple of the fellows out for their afternoon constitutional……
Looks kind of crap doesn’t it!? By today’s standards it probably is, but back then? Boy, oh boy, did that look cool! I distinctly remember thinking to myself: “you shall be mine, oh yes, you shall be mine”! And so it was, and it came to pass that in 1994 I got hold of a copy of the shareware version of DOOM. The full game consisted of three episodes: Knee-Deep in the Dead, The Shores of Hell and Inferno. In the shareware version you’d get the first episode for free. It came on four 3.5 inch floppy disks. Yep, you read correctly – FLOPPY DISKS!! I installed it with eager anticipation and I wasn’t disappointed! This was a game which lived up to the hype. It was simply brilliant. Creeping through dark corridors, hearing hell-spawn in the distance, you really got immersed in the experience. I recall on one occasion I was caught completely off guard whilst passing through a relatively quiet and dark area of the game. Arriving at the end of a dark corridor, an Imp jumps out at me from nowhere, screaming, hissing and scratching at me like a cat in heat. I literally jumped out of my seat with fright. True, it was quickly dispatched with my trusty shotgun, but it was a close call. That little brown bundle of spikes, teeth and fireballs may not have killed me, but the fright it gave me sure knocked a couple of years off me!
Needless to say, I put up the cash for the full version!
But what made DOOM so good? There were other 1st person shooters knocking around at the time. DOOM itself even had a predecessor in the form of Wolfenstein 3D. That in itself was a great game – there’s even a HTML5 version you can play. What did DOOM have that the other’s didn’t? What made it so special that, for a number of years after its release, all other 1st person shooters were called “DOOM Clones”? What was its secret? In my opinion three things made the difference.
Atmosphere and Ambiance
Take a look at the two images below.
The one on the left is from Wolfenstein 3D, while the other is from DOOM. Wolfenstein is very plain with solid colours throughout, whereas you can immediately see that DOOM’s game world is much more realistic, creating different moods with textures and colours.
DOOM was highly and easily customisable. You could create new levels and characters through what were called WAD files. You didn’t need to know a low level programming language to create them either. This created and extended interest in the game through loads of new and diverse content.
Multiplayer Network Games
This is something taken for granted today, but back then this was relatively new for first person shooters. Up to 10 players could play together over a LAN. The games were called Deathmatches. Some attribute this term to DOOM itself, however this is mired in controversy and it is unclear if DOOM was responsible for the adoption of this term. This feature however, was probably the game’s biggest attraction. It was so popular that many companies had to incorporate firewall rules on office networks to specifically block deathmatch games.
All this along with the slick, robust and reliable game engine as well as the ease of distribution through shareware made DOOM a gaming phenomenon. It was the game that really kick started the first person genre. In my opinion, computer and console games are not only a technical achievement, they are also a work of art. They are a vision created by an artist and intended for the enjoyment of others. In this respect DOOM is a masterpiece and deserves a place in the gaming equivalent of the Louvre!
What do you think? Was DOOM critical to the rise of the FPS? I’d love to hear your comments, opinions and a few gaming adventures!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll dust off my BFG9000 and go Imp hunting!