First published in CubedGamers (Printed Edition): June 2016
On December 10th 1993, id Software uploaded a shareware version of their new game to the Software Creations BBS and a University of Wisconsin-Madison FTP server. Already hotly anticipated due to the circulation of unauthorised alpha versions, and screenshots in gaming magazines, within weeks Doom had become the must have PC title, helped by the fact that the first episode (Knee Deep in the Dead) was free to play, and included an innovative “deathmatch” mode, which allowed players to play against each other over the internet.
Hugely influential, Doom not only defined a new genre of gaming, but pushed back the boundaries of what was thought possible in 3D gaming. In creating the game, id had succeeded in their aim to create a powerful, and violent game, that would affect people on a gut level. Though its predecessors Wolfenstein 3D, Catacomb 3D, and to a lesser degree Hovertank 3D had laid the groundwork in terms of creating pseudo-3D graphical environments in the first perspective, it was with Doom that company founders John Carmack, John Romero, Tom Hall and Adrian Carmack delivered a truly immersive experience.
The innovations presented with Doom included altitude differentiation (all floors and ceilings in the previous games had been the same height) and texture mapping, with varying light levels to frighten players, unprecedented gore and a heavy metal style soundtrack. Whist the game lacked the professional polish of other early first-person 3D PC games such as Myst and The 7th Guest, it trounced their static environments with a truly immersive gaming environment. Players could also take advantage of a set of modding tools that allowed players to create their own levels, creatures and textures. The most popular of these, based on the movie Aliens, was described as a “total conversion” since it left nothing changed from the original game.
Widely praised by the gaming press, both PC Gamer and Computer Gaming World named Doom as Game of the Year. The game also received an award for Technical Excellence from PC Magazine, while the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences named it as the Best Action-Adventure Game. In an earlier press released, id had claimed that Doom would be “the number one cause of decreased productivity in businesses around the world.”
They were right. Intel, Lotus Development and Carnegie Mellon University were one of the many organisations reported to have implemented policies specifically disallowing Doom deathmatches during working hours, as productivity plummeted and computer networks became clogged. By late 1995, the game was estimated to have been installed on more computers world wide than Windows 95, Microsoft’s new operating system. Id were earning $100,000 per day from $9 shareware purchases.
Crucially, id decided to license the game engine to other companies, as they had with Wolfenstein 3D. That decision had led to a number of games powered by the Wolfenstein engine, the most notable being Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold, created by JAM Software, Released just a week before Doom, initial sales for the title were strong, as were initial sales. However, they quickly tailed off as it became apparent that it had been superseded. Capstone’s Corridor 7: Alien Invasion and Operation Body Count (a game in which you shoot terrorists who have occupied the UN Building and taken the government hostage) similarly sank without a trace.
This time round, there was a revolution. Before they became known as first person shooters, games that emulated the gameplay of Doom were simply known as “Doom clones.” In the next year, developers rushed to capitalise on the phenomenon. Christmas 1994 saw the release of Raven Software’s Heretic, Bungie’s Marathon (notable for being a Mac exclusive title) and Apogee’s Rise of the Triad (originally a sequel to Wolfenstein 3D, Tom Hall had taken the idea with him to Apogee/3D Realms after a disagreement with John Romero caused him to leave id). One developer not to rush was Tim Sweeney of Epic MegaGames, a rival shareware company. “”When Doom came out, I gave up on programming for a year,” he once remarked, “Because this was some unimaginable witchcraft.”
Other games followed, some using the Doom engine, such as Heretic sequel Hexen, and Rogue Entertainment’s Strife, and some using custom engines, such as Lucasarts’ Dark Forces, and notably 3D Realms’ Duke Nukem 3D. A classic title, Nukem was powered by the Build engine, developed by Ken Silverman, an id fan who had programmed his own version of the Wolfenstein engine whilst still at high school. In the following four years, 3D Realms would also deliver Shadow Warrior, Blood, and Redneck Rampage. By this time, id had released both Quake – with soundtrack by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor – and the sci-fi inspired Quake II, whilst Valve had released Half Life, and GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64. Each title set the bar higher in terms of graphical capability.
All the while, the influence of id was pushing programmers to create higher quality 3D environments. Indicative of this was Tim Sweeney, who emerged from his garage in 1998 with his latest offering. Unreal as a game proved a solid addition to the genre, boasting superior graphics to Quake II. However, the games real legacy was its engine. Although primarily developed for first-person shooters, successive generations of the Unreal Engine have been used successfully to develop a variety of stealth, MMORPGs, RPG and adventure titles. In 2014, the Guinness Book of Records named the Unreal Engine as the most successful video game engine, having been used to develop 408 games (as of July 2014) including the Gears of War series. Each of these games owes a debt to Doom and id software.
Today, the FPS is the most popular game genre. In 2015, a 24.5% of all games sold in the United States were classed as shooter games, with action titles just behind on 22.9% and RPGs, many of which are played from the first-person on 11.6%. Other game companies may have come along and taken the reins from id in producing titles, however, one cannot escape that id, with their ingenuity and vision, hastened the development and perfection of 3D graphics on the PC. One can only marvel at the immersive, visceral, and do it yourself feel of Doom, and welcome each new remake alongside the dozens of titles that it directly spawned.