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'Doom' retrospective: Seminal first-person shooter revisited

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Retro Corner: 'Doom' screenshot

First Released: PC (1993)
Now Available on: PC, Xbox Live, iOS, more

The phrase 'Doom Clone' was bandied about a lot in the 1990s, and there was a good reason why. id Software's iconic first-person shooter made a tsunami-like impact on the games industry when it landed in 1993, exploding the genre into the mainstream and introducing many of its recognised hallmarks.

id kickstarted the FPS movement in 1992 with Wolfenstein 3D, and Doom was a natural extension of many of its themes. Work on the game began later that year when developer John Carmack designed a ground-breaking 3D games engine that would later become known as the 'Doom Engine'.

Retro Corner: 'Doom' screenshot


With advanced tech on their side and lessons learned during Wolfenstein 3D's development, the studio set out to make the perfect shooter. Carmack was influenced by the movies Aliens and Evil Dead 2, and this was reflected in Doom's science-fiction-horror premise. The game's title was inspired by a Tom Cruise quote from the film The Colour of Money.

Designer Tom Hall, who had worked on previous id titles including Wolfenstein 3D and Commander Keen, drew up detailed plans for Doom in a document dubbed the 'Doom Bible'. This text contained numerous ideas that did not make it into the final product, including multiple playable characters and additional interactive features.

Unfortunately for Hall, these ideas did not find favour with the rest of the development team, who envisioned a gameplay-driven experience, and the designer was forced to resign from his post for being on an entirely different wavelength to his colleagues.

Much of the level design was completed by John Romero and Sandy Petersen, and the visuals provided by Adrian Carmack, Kevin Cloud and Gregor Punchatz. The art team constructed templates for the in-game monsters from clay, and based some of the weapons on toy guns from Toys 'R' Us.

Retro Corner: 'Doom' screenshot


Doom was a phenomenal success for many reasons. The addictive, adrenaline-pumping gameplay and ground-breaking technology at its core are but two factors behind its market dominance. It certainly did a lot of things right from a playability perspective - the monsters were imaginative and a lot of fun to pump with bullets, the levels were atmospheric and the arsenal an absolute joy to wield.

From a technological standpoint, the Doom Engine was a game-changer, giving the title a level of relative realism that had never been seen before. Doom's visuals were a considerable improvement on Wolfenstein 3D before it, allowing the developers to incorporate full texture mapping of all surfaces and rooms with height differences, as well as varying levels of lighting and colour.

All of the above made Doom far more visceral than its predecessor, which appeared bland and static by comparison. The development team's intention was to help video gaming reach a new level of immersion, and the first-person viewpoint aided this.

The game's protagonist, who would become known only as Doomguy, was left nameless for a reason. Carmack and co wanted players to feel as though they had stepped directly into the game, and judging by the life-consuming effect it had on many fans, we can safely say that goal was achieved.

Retro Corner: 'Doom' screenshot


Technological and gameplay advancements weren't Doom's only contribution to gaming. The shooter also popularised the shareware distribution model, a business strategy id Software had adopted for previous releases.

Episode one of the game was available for free, with users encouraged to share the nine-level sampler among their friends. The idea was to whet the player's appetite enough to convince them to purchase the full game. Although many fans were satisfied with the first episode alone, sales figures for later entries in the series suggested the strategy paid off.

Doom pioneered online gaming with the inclusion of two to four player co-op and deathmatch modes. Although limited modem technology meant id wouldn't fulfil its potential in this area until the Quake era, the game was still an online phenomenon, clogging more workplace networks than any worm virus.

Several firms, including Intel and Lotus, even formed anti-Doom policies in the interest of productivity. Microsoft staff are reported to have held the game in the same regard as a "religious phenomenon", but their relationship with Doom was more productive than most businesses.

Retro Corner: 'Doom' screenshot


Fully aware of Doom's popularity, Bill Gates superimposed himself over footage of the game for a presentation about the Windows 95 operating system, and the title was later ported to the platform to showcase its gaming potential.

Doom is also credited with giving rise to the mod-making culture associated with the FPS genre. The game was coded in such a way that users could modify the game and create custom levels via WAD files. The first level editors appeared in 1994, and thousands of these levels were distributed through a variety of channels.

WADs based on blockbuster movies including Star Wars, Ghostbusters and Aliens proved particularly popular, but some budding coders used Doom as a platform to show what they could do. A DIY level designer named Tim Willits caught the attention of id, and eventually went on to become its creative director.

Doom was a massive success for id Software back in 1993, but it was also the beginning of something much bigger. The game paved the way for a tidal wave of imitators and gave rise to a culture of creating and sharing, as well as the phenomenon that is the modern online deathmatch.

Retro Corner: 'Doom' screenshot


The title was ported to a range of other systems at post-launch, with console versions varying in quality, and has spawned numerous sequels and expansions, both official and unofficial. id even bundled the original classic in with the recent Doom 3: BFG Edition as a bonus feature.

Although the FPS landscape has dramatically changed since 1993, anyone who has ever played and enjoyed a game of this nature owes a debt to Doom. Almost two decades on, the game is starting to show its age, but it's still a blast to play - and the legacy and the memories its fanbase treasure will always remain strong.

Do you have any fond memories of Doom? Post a comment below!

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