Gaming: The EVILution of Doom

Andrew takes a look at the first-person shooter series, Doom.

The first time I saw id Software's first person shooter survival horror classic Doom was on the PC DOS computer in 1993, not long after being first introduced to Wolfenstein 3D.  Despite running with choppy video and playing on a reduced screen size, nothing remotely like it had come before.  For the first time, the elements of fear, horror and transgression were now part of the gaming world and the idea of a lone space marine on Mars fighting for survival against a seemingly endless horde of minions from Hell was something at once controversial, frightening, radical and a whole lot of fun to play.  Where the soon to be popular first-person-shooter gaming genre wet it's feet with Maze War and Wolfenstein 3D, this was the first time the experimental genre took hold of the mainstream gaming demographic and made FPS gaming a household name.  

Originally intended to be an Aliens game with a hint of Evil Dead II before the moniker was lost in rights issues, Doom more or less as close to the frenetic and tense energy of James Cameron's 1986 film as video gaming ever came at the time.  Soon after, additional episodes supplementing the first game, numerous sequels, a movie, novelization tie-ins and spin-offs would follow in the years to come, making Doom one of the most successful and beloved video games of all time.  While I myself admit to being a casual gamer with not much knowledge of the technological aspects, I have been an avid follower of id Software since I discovered Wolfenstein 3D and Doom and for all the ups and downs which befell them over the years, Doom is undeniably the game which single-handedly made the company into a major force in the video game industry.  With this article I will attempt as a fan to trace the trajectory the ultraviolent FPS classic series has taken over the years, starting with the 1993 game leading up to the recently released 2016 reboot.

Doom (1993)

After John Carmack of id Software developed what became known as the Doom engine, Carmack lifted the title from, of all places, Tom Cruise's line in Martin Scorsese's The Color of Money in which he opens up a briefcase containing 'Doom' before bloodshed is unleashed.  Spring-boarding from the Wolfenstein 3D engine, the Doom engine at the time represented a major step forward in level design with the advent of full texture mapping, height differences as opposed to the fixed walls and ceilings of Wolfenstein 3D and custom light and color palettes versus the fixed light levels of the predecessor.  Where low light levels are now a staple of the survival horror genre, this was the first time a videogame preyed on the player's fear of darkness and what may or may not be lurking within.  Also new are the inclusion of elevators, staircases and bridges, giving the player a far more dynamic experience than having everything take place on the same floor.  Giving the game an edge over Wolfeinstein 3D were the extensive blood and gore effects with enemies dying a crimson soaked death or exploded into grue at the end of a barrel, grenade or rocket.  In addition to much of the same weaponry as id Software's previous FPS success were the chainsaw for toe to toe combat, the berserk pack which transforms your human punches to superhuman and the cheekily named BFG-9000 (short for Big-F**king-Gun) which can wipe out all the enemies within firing range in a single shot.  

While both games contained an avatar of your player which would react to being shot or wounded, Doom compounded with stereophonic sound and the avatar looking in the direction where fire came from made the three-dimensional experience that much more immersive by having you respond to enemies behind you.  Adding to the survival horror tension was the heavy-metal/ambient score by Bobby Prince whose score has since become synonymous with the game.  Although the concept of jumping wasn't yet introduced until Doom III, the game as it stood represented a great step forward in enhancing the player's immersion into the world of the game.  Doom's WAD file extension also allowed for fans to create their own custom made levels or modifications, a concept not previously allowed to players on Wolfenstein 3D.   After a long and arduous journey of designing levels with the help of John Romero and Sandy Petersen and graphics design by Adrian Carmack, Kevin Cloud and Gregor Punchatz, Doom was finally released in 1993 as a free shareware with the first few playable levels included as well as an option to purchase the rest of the game for anyone who wanted to continue the story.  The biggest advent of the new game involved the multiplayer gameplay involving deathmatches where players can fight to the death either with every man for himself or working together on a team. 

The game was an unprecedented success upon release of the shareware with over one million official copies sold as well as secured the sales of future Doom games and add-ons that didn't initially come as a shareware release.  So popular was the new game, particularly in the multiplayer arena, that it became a big problem in the workplace with many business and academic organizations forced to impose policies against gameplay during work hours. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails went on to say the shareware of Doom 'halted any sort of work we were trying to get done at that time'.  Said to be installed on more computers than the Windows 95 operating system, Doom also struck a chord with the custom homemade level designers with the modification capabilities of the WAD file program and many fan based takeoffs including Aliens, Star Wars and even The Simpsons started surfacing in FTP servers and off-brand floppy discs and compact discs sold in stores.  With one game, id Software revolutionized the PC gaming industry and the success soon expanded to console systems including but not limited to the Super Nintendo, Sony PlayStation, Sega Genesis 32X, Atari Jaguar (which included two additional levels) and eventually the Xbox 360 and PlayStation Network.  Even as late as 2016, devoted fans have reworked the game with new modifications including Brutal Doom, Z Doom and J Doom.  Eventually an official version of the original Doom shareware with a fourth new episode called Thy Flesh Consumed was also released in stores as The Ultimate Doom.

Given what was termed 'politically incorrect' about the game's Satanic imagery and extreme violence, Doom was also a lightning rod for controversy.  Often dubbed a 'mass murderer simulator', Doom soon found itself in the midst of a firestorm when the Columbine High School massacre occurred and it came out in the press that the perpetrators of the crime, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were devoted players of the game.  Prior to the killings, Harris even noted it would be carried out 'like playing Doom'.  Despite the controversy in the court of public opinion about the game's potential dangerous influences on those who play it, it eventually died down as the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education eventually debunked the theory of violent entertainment being responsible for violent acts and Doom was able to throw off the shackles of being scapegoated and return to the stature of being "the breatkthrough game of 1993".  It was only a matter of time afterwards that a sequel should follow and with 1995's Doom II: Hell on Earth, it followed with a vengeance.


Doom II: Hell on Earth (1994)

Picking up where the prior game left off, Doom II: Hell on Earth moves the demons from Hell from Mars to Earth this time around and with marginally improved graphics design despite utilizing the same engine as the previous game, newer enemies and the inclusion now of the double-barreled shotgun.  Contrary to the first game which was broken apart into several separate episodes, Doom II is all one lengthy game.  The game also didn't get a shareware trial release like the first game, instead coming out in full and where the first game was available by mail or through online retailers, Doom II received a mainstream release on store shelves with advertisements in retail chains like Best Buy and Circuit City at the time.  Although like most sequels Doom II amounts to more of the same, it's a thoroughly satisfying gaming experience with the introduction of some of the most iconic enemies the franchise saw yet: the Revenant and the Arch-Vile.  Where the Barons of Hell, these giant minotaurs who threw fireballs of plasma at you, were the most feared enemies of the first game, Doom II offered a whole range of new adversaries that were far more fearsome.  

The Arch-Vile, for instance, not only could burn you alive before exploding you with a rocket level fireball, but it would resurrect all the enemies you just killed so the obstacle of defeating it was that much more difficult.  The Revenant hoisted upon it's shoulders these homing missiles which would follow your every move until you were hit provided you could evade them by hiding around sharp corners.  The newly released 2016 Doom for instance bore the Revenant on the front cover and collector's editions of the game included a Revenant figurine.  The Arachnotron and it's mother, the Spider-Mastermind, found themselves in all the subsequent Doom games as well including taking the badge of honor of the final boss in the latest offering to the franchise.  Something of a cross between a giant metal spider (Wild Wild West, anyone?) and the brain Krang from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, these were some fearsome arachnids from Hell that could kill you in an instant with their plasma guns or, in the case of the giant Spider-Mastermind, a super chaingun.  Finally the Cyber-Demon takes the minotaur construct of the Barons of Hell to a whole new deadly level, blasting rockets at you like no tomorrow and among the most difficult enemies to topple.  Doom II also has a few tricks up it's sleeve in the way of Wolfenstein 3D secret levels that are carefully hidden but have the S.S. guards from said game and the theme music for Wolfenstein 3D's final boss fight.  There's also a few subtle references to id Software's first gaming success Commander Keen hidden within the secret Wolfenstein 3D levels, making the homage a fun tribute to the building blocks that brought id Software to where they are now.  

Upon release in 1994, Doom II proved to be even more successful than the first, finding many separate console ports along the way including the Game Boy Advance and eventually the Xbox Live Arcade.  The multiplayer gameplay was also far more successful for having many of the technical issues from the last game ironed out this time around.  So successful was the game that in 1995 an expansion pack Master Levels for Doom II was subsequently released and many years later in 2009 when the Xbox Live Arcade version came out, a new episode entitled No Rest for the Living which included co-op gameplay and far more difficult levels than had been released up to that time was included with the Xbox Live release.  Those who liked or detested the first game weren't going to find much different this time around except it was a lot more difficult with an even heavier amount of enemies fighting you at once, which also made it easier to trick your enemies into fighting one another when one monster accidentally attacked another monster trying to hit you in the process.  In 1996 one more expansion pack was released in the form of Final Doom, which included sixty four new levels and an even more challenging difficulty than had been released up to that time and not long after the PC release it was ported over to the Sony Playstation with a new brand of sound effects and music by Aubrey Hodges who also scored the Nintendo 64 reworking of the game, Doom 64.  

Released in 1997, Doom 64 was arguably the last console port of the original Doom and Doom II which redrew all the sprites for the graphics design and monsters as well as new sound effects and music but ultimately still followed the same basic plotline and gameplay as the games that inspired it.  Something of an outlier in the Doom canon, Doom 64 was up to that point the darkest lit game in the series with many levels almost entirely in deep shadow, making it difficult to play through without adjusting the gamma, brightness and contrast settings to improper levels.  The sprite animation was also much clunkier than the games that preceded it, with herky-jerky movement on the animation which lacked the fluidity of the first two games.  Still, this was as close to a wholly new Doom game as players were going to get at the time, completely changing the look and feel of the game in a way that hadn't been seen before.  Plans for a Doom 64 sequel were on the table but were ultimately swept off once id Software's Quake series took hold of the first person shooter genre and Doom was placed on the back burner for quite some time.  


Doom 3 (2004)

Around the year 2000, John Carmack announced rough plans to revisit the Doom franchise, much to the chagrin of Kevin Cloud and Adrian Carmack who weren't ready to go back to the well once again.  After the success of the new Wolfenstein 3D reboot, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Cloud and Carmack reversed themselves and agreed to pursue the project.  After a technical demonstration of the newly developed engine for what would become Doom 3, a promotional making-of video was released with test footage, comments by John Carmack and now historical footage of Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor's brief involvement with the project.  Having composed the sound effects and music for id Software's 1996 smash hit Quake, it made sense to have Reznor on board doing the 5.1 surround mixes for the game.  After an alpha beta leak of the test version of Doom 3 surfaced online however, the project was ultimately delayed further to contain the leak and during that delay Reznor sadly ultimately dropped out of the project before his former drummer Chris Vrenna and composer Clint Walsh handled the game's soundtrack.  Gamers saw in the E3 demonstration and the alpha leak a Doom they had never seen before with dense lighting effects, detailed and realistic looking sprite designs and a whole new visual approach with respect to the character's first person point of view.  Where Doom and Doom II contained fixed angles which the character had to move through, Doom 3 now offered free look where you often had to point your cursor directly at your enemy above or below you.  Doom 3 also added the jumping feature where pressing the spacebar would allow you to jump over crevices, bridges and up upon boxes containing special items.  Also new to the game is a demonic artifact known as the Soul Cube which upon being recharged can be fired upon enemies with an effect similar to the BFG-9000 except that every enemy vanquished now provides you with health recharges.  

What separates this particular Doom entry from everything that preceded it is the flow of the game.  With the award winning id Tech 4 engine used to design the levels this time around, the first level may as well be a cut-scene as it mainly consists of your character getting acclimated with the Mars base environment, gathering weapons and armor, obtaining mission objectives and venturing out into the unbreathable planetary atmosphere before any actual Doom oriented gameplay begins.  While all the other games had a story, Doom 3 attempts to make the game far more cinematic than previously with debatable success in the results.  Like Doom 64, Doom 3 is infinitely darker than any of the official Doom releases up to this point with some levels leaving you completely reliant on your flashlight for what little visibility you can attain from it.  Having to drop your flashlight to go for your shotgun while trying to fight an enemy in total darkness isn't the easiest form of gameplay either but that was likely the intention to make it more realistic.  The enemy designs were also radically different than what had come previously with the biggest changes being made to the Barons of Hell, now dubbed Hell Knights, and the Cacodemon design this time around looked very like a flying Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors.  One of the game's shortcomings is that it simply doesn't spend enough time in Hell, instead recycling many of the same techno dungeon Mars base levels again and again before being transported into the netherworld for only a few levels before returning to the Mars base with the Soul Cube.  The level designs for Hell are really spectacular and I found myself less interested in the gameplay than soaking up the rich audiovisual atmosphere.  Doom 3 is far more hallucinatory than any of the prior games with the inclusion of nightmarish visions of Hell, demonic disembodied voices and strange poltergeist activities on the Mars base.  

Released around the same time Valve Entertainment's Half-Life 2 was coming out, the game was an enormous commercial success for id Software but at the same time found itself in competition with Valve Entertainment's recent offering.  If you went to Game Stop to pick up your pre-ordered copy of the game, chances are you would hear the cashiers and store employees going on about what a letdown Doom 3 was when unfairly compared to Half-Life 2.  The common belief at the time was that no computer existed that could properly handle the graphics capabilities demanded by Doom 3 although that changed within the year of it's release.  Not long after, an expansion pack named Resurrection of Evil was released and sported greater difficulty, new weapons modifications and a special weapon which could catch an enemy's fire and return it to them, sometimes killing them in a single shot.  The reception wasn't as strong as Doom 3 and I'll admit to having returned my copy with disappointment after beating it.  Doom 3 also came out in a truncated version for the Xbox which compromised the graphics somewhat but represented the first time the game had been ported to a console system with the 5.1 surround audio intact.  The best of both worlds came in 2012 ultimately with the release of Doom 3: BFG Edition which ported the complete and unabridged Doom 3 to the PS3 and Xbox 360 consoles with the inclusion of all the original Doom games (sans Final Doom), No Rest for the Living, Resurrection of Evil and a previously unreleased set of Doom 3 levels known as The Lost Mission.  Gamers saw improved graphics and lighting for Doom 3 on the BFG Edition and players with 3D televisions now could enhance the gameplay with the advent of three-dimensional video.  


Doom (2016)

And so the series sat for almost 10 years while id Software pursued the Wolfenstein 3D series.  In the 2009 Wolfenstein which utilized Doom 3's engine, the game was a direct sequel to the far more successful Return to Castle Wolfenstein but was poorly received with weak sales figures resulting in the layoffs of many employees from Raven Software.  In 2014 however the Wolfenstein 3D series made a Hell of a comeback with Wolfenstein: The New Order which was released on Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, spawning a massive commercial and critical success including winning Game of the Year awards and in turn renewing interest in the possibilities of another Doom game.  Owners who pre-ordered the game were given access to an upcoming alpha beta test version of what would ultimately become the fourth entry in the Doom series.  After an initial announcement in 2008 and nearly a decade of development Hell with revisions back and forth including the abandoning all the prior work done on the game before starting from scratch in 2011 including title changing from Doom 4 to Doom, the latest and arguably the best entry yet in the Doom series was about to be unleashed on the unsuspecting public at large.   

Utilizing the newly developed Tech 666 engine, Doom was released on the PC, the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, leaving smaller systems like the PlayStation 3 out of the equation due to the state of the art graphics capabilities.  While the alpha beta release preceding the official game release date proved to be somewhat of a disappointment with weak multiplayer action too reminiscent of Quake III: Arena Something of a throwback to the fast paced gameplay of Doom II with elements of the storyline, structure and enemy designs of Doom 3, this new Doom jettisons the slow introduction of Doom 3 in favor of the instant beginning of the first two Doom games.  While this new game has it's own share of detailed cut-scenes and more or less follows the plot structure of Doom 3, the gameplay is unmistakably closer to the original games with the overwhelming array of monsters and rich arsenal of weaponry.  One of the key changes to this new Doom involves the chainsaw, which can decimate an enemy in one blow but now requires fuel to continue using it and you run out of gasoline quicker than you'd expect, making for a far more realistic approach to the chainsaw.  Most of the weaponry is the same though the addition of Gauss Cannon, similar to the Railgun in Quake, is a welcome one with a charged blast exploding an enemy in a single blow.   

Doom also, believe it or not, lifts a few cues from Dead Space by providing you with a customized upgradable armored suit as well as special upgrades for your weapons, enhancing either their firepower or accuracy at your discretion.  While this new Doom loses the Soul Cube from Doom 3, it retains the Hell Knight creature design from the prior game almost down to a tee and the inclusion of the aptly named "glory kills" are a welcome addition for the bloodthirsty Doom fan.  A welcome addition to the "glory kills" involves gaining health after killing your enemies an aspect not present in any of the prior Doom games.  The journey to Hell and back is virtually the same as Doom 3 though with greater detail and far more time spent inside the dark dungeon of evil.  In addition to the story mode are SnapMaps, or in-game map editor in which players can design their very own custom made levels and one of the more fun SnapMaps included a popular original Doom level tribute.  Doom also manages to transpose elements from Quake, notably the Quad Damage powerup which increases the damage of your firepower on enemies and side-missions involving collecting Runes can also be traced back to Quake.  Most of the sound effects are completely new though Doom fans will appreciate the reuse of key sound effects from the original game in pivotal moments of the new game and many of my favorite tracks from the original games have been reconstructed for this new Doom.  One of the most memorable tracks in the game, the Imp Song, sounds very like the opening theme to Alien by Jerry Goldsmith in this new rendition for instance.  

Most of the reviews for the new Doom have been positive although just about everyone, myself included, had a bone to pick with the multiplayer gameplay which in both the alpha and the game itself were decidedly lacking in originality.  The general consensus has been that the single-player story mode is a wholly original reinterpretation of the Doom mythos where the multiplayer is kind of run of the mill online multiplayer gameplay.  One criticism I do have about this new Doom however is how you save your progress and reach checkpoints, using the same progress saving format as Wolfenstein: The New Order.  Where before all you had to do was hit the save button wherever you were in the game, now you have to reach a certain checkpoint before the game will automatically save your progress and in some instances I had to go through a long chain of enemies over and over again before finally beating the last one after the umteenth try.  Despite this small quibble, the new Doom was an absolute blast and for someone who has been playing these games since they first came out I was thoroughly pleased with the results.  In short, this is what Doom 3 more than should have been, offering a technically proficient and fully immersive gaming experience while not losing sight of the impulse that made the first two Doom games so damn fun to play in the first place. 


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- Andrew Kotwicki