RE:Play – Doom

RE:Play – Doom


PC gaming is doomed! Microsoft has bought up Blizzard and they already owned Bethesda.  That’s it! It’s just gonna be consoles from now on. If it ain’t Xbox or PlayStation you ain’t playing! Game over, man. GAME OVER!

Get your panties out of a knot. I’ve heard PC gaming is dead more times in my life than I’ve been killed in TF2. Guess what, these genius prophets of the gaming apocalypse have gotten it wrong every single time. Blizzard games might become Xbox exclusive? Seriously? You’re worried about Blizzard dominating the gaming industry? 

All of Blizzard’s grade-A talent has been gone for a while.  Kaplan may as well have turned the lights out when he left the building.  They ruined StarCraft, they let WoW die on the vine, killed Heroes of the Storm, Diablo 4 doesn’t have any kind of window for release, they couldn’t even get that stupid handheld version out the door.  Overwatch is now their biggest game and today that game has a whopping 0.05% of League of Legends monthly players.

I personally am not worried about Microsoft leveraging this company to take over gaming.  As for Bethesda, good lord, am I the only one that remembers the disaster that was Fallout 76?  And that game is, naturally, still broken.  Every patch they send out fixes three problems and breaks three more.  I know there is a ton of hype over Starfield but if it was made with Creation engine then it’s going to arrive with Bethesda’s now typical day-one patch of 45GB that will fix nothing.

The only thing I’m sad about is that Bethesda bought up id when Rage bombed a few years ago.  Which means Microsoft now owns DOOM.

DOOM came out at a time when everyone was claiming that PC gaming was dying.  Sega Genesis (Mega Drive outside the US) and the Super NES were absolutely burying it as a platform.  Street Fighter II, Lethal Enforcers, and Mortal Kombat were all burning up the charts.  

Sure, the graphics on the latest computer equipment was better but what did PC games have to compete with in terms of sheer excitement? Gabriel Knight? Leisure Suit Larry? Sorry guys, but the writing is on the wall, it’s all over but for the crying when it comes to computers.

Then a completely free shareware game started getting passed around.  And it changed everything.  PC gaming was back from the dead because of this space-zombie game. Even the most diehard console stick-jocks wanted desperately to play it. 

I got my own copy by, (apparently), accident. I had traded a copy of a game whose title I can’t think of to a guy whose name I can’t remember.  I was supposed to be getting a copy of Blake Stone in return.  I was honestly quite pissed at the guy for ripping me off until I played DOOM for about a minute.  That minute changed everything, not just for me but for an entire industry and an entire world of gaming.

id software got its start in life somewhat illegally.  A couple of Johns whose last names were Romero and Carmack were moonlighting at a company called Softdisk. They were using the company’s equipment to make a game for themselves.  They got caught and had to make a deal.  They would make their new game, Commander Keen for Softdisk to avoid legal action.  It sold decently for what it was. But they were already working on a project that involved a new technique of scrolling wall generation, which meant for the very first time you could play in an environment that roughly resembled a first-person experience.  Originally it was a dungeons and dragons setting but then they found out that the trademark for Castle Wolfenstein had lapsed.

The very first Wolfenstein game had sold pretty well from the early to the mid-eighties, while hopelessly obsolete by 1990, the title was reasonably fresh in the minds of gamers. And so, Commander Keen’s grandfather, BJ Blazkowicz (yes, that is canon) began the first of his many escapes from Castle Wolfenstein.  

Wolfenstein 3D was a big seller for the tiny company, it put them on the map in a pretty serious way.  However, while it created legions of fans for id, Romero and Carmack were actually dissatisfied with the end result. Sure, it was groundbreaking, but it didn’t push the envelope anywhere near as much as they had wanted it to. It would have been more accurate to have called it Wolfenstein 2D, back and forth and side to side was great but up and down was not going to happen. There were also drawbacks that the players themselves frequently complained about.  Given the repetitive nature of the brick sidewalls, navigation was surprisingly difficult.  The weapons were also repetitive, the only difference between the pistol, machine gun, and chain-gun were the rates of fire.

All of these things were noted by id as they designed their new game, which was to take place in the Aliens universe.  However, the studio did everyone (what turned out to be) a massive favor and demanded way too much for the use of the franchise.  id started over from not quite scratch turning Weyland-Yutani into Union Aerospace Corporation and the aliens into cybernetic space demons. The location was switched to the Martian moon Phobos. Named for the god of fear who was the child of the god of war.  Rather appropriate. And the great-grandson of BJ Blazkowicz (yes, that is canon), went into battle against the forces of evil.

There is no explaining to younger Millennials or Zoomers what it was like to play DOOM for the first time.  I know it seems silly to look at that game and call it virtual reality, but it was the first real stab at creating a gaming world that felt genuinely lived in.  

For instance, what few windows there were on the research station, revealed glimpses of a black and white view of a Martian landscape.  We all knew what those pictures were but in 1993 they had never been used in a game like that.  It gave the alien feel of the place genuine verisimilitude. We all knew that was what planets really looked like in the real world.  Not like Tatooine, or Yavin 4, or any of the places the Enterprise went to. No, most planets looked like this barren, cold, lifeless rock-strewn wasteland the UAC research station was based on. Despite the technological limitations of the era, this little touch made Phobos feel real to us, which made the game genuinely scary to play at night.   This is the first game that I know of where there were widespread reports of people dreaming they were in the game.  Hell, I had dreams like that and I certainly never dreamed of a game’s setting before then.

This was the first game where you could move in three dimensions.  The weapons were intuitively accurate in function, they worked like they were supposed to do. The pistol was nearly useless against all but the weakest monsters. The shotgun was great at hurting everything but only at close range, there was a drastic drop-off in damage the further away you got. The Chain-gun burned ammo like 1970s incense sticks, and the rocket launcher could only be used from a distance since it caused splash damage to you, (this was actually quite the innovation. There had been rocket launchers in Wolfenstein clones but they caused no damage to the hero even if he was on top of the target).  There were a couple of other plasma weapons that weren’t available on the shareware.  The Plasma Rifle and the hilariously awesome BFG 9000.

id seems to have put the most effort into free-to-play levels that were on Phobos, they were the best designed and best balanced of the game.  Which makes sense, given that the point of the old shareware business model was to advertise your game.  Naturally, you had to put your best foot forward.  Truthfully the unlocked levels weren’t as good but that didn’t really matter because what you really wanted was more DOOM.

And when that wasn’t enough what were you to do?  Well, normally you just had to bide your time until a sequel came out.  Not so with DOOM.  This was the first game to really popularize modding.  Carmack, Romero, and company, intentionally designed Doom to make it (comparatively) easy to design your own levels.  Gamers swapping these mods gave DOOM serious legs well past what should have been its “sell-by date”.  This was one of the ways that DOOM changed gaming culture.

Another bigger change was that this was the first game where it was worth everyone’s time to set up a LAN and play with your friends. Maybe there was another game before DOOM where it was possible to do that, but DOOM was the first game where everyone, to include Mundanes, wanted to play it that way.  It made what had been a fairly solitary hobby, a social activity.  When I think about my memories of playing DOOM, it’s not the cyberdemons or the Beholder that was lifted straight out of the AD&D Monster Manual. My strongest memories are of DOOM are beer and laughs and jokes about the Simpsons. DOOM was the game where you had fun with your friends.

You could tell that it had really hit the big time when the MSM condemned it.  They went into full-on Seduction of the Innocent mode on DOOM big time.  Psychologists opined on how it was turning Generation-X into killers.  The proto-Karens demanded something be done because “won’t someone please think of the children.”  All of which helped to make it even more popular.  When hypocritical Tartuffs vilify something, that something is automatically cool.

It also started a flood of… I was going to say “copycats” but that really wasn’t the case.  You aren’t a copycat of Mercedes Lackey because you write urban fantasy.  Nor were the companies that made “Doomclones” copycats. They were simply creating games in the genre that id software established. But boy was there a bunch of them. Rise of the Triad, Strife, Heretic, Hexen, Blood, Redneck Rampage, Star Wars Dark Forces, Shadow Warrior, Duke Nukem 3D, and Rebel Moon.  I won’t say the list of Doomclones is endless, but it sure seemed that way in the nineties.

About the time that Sierra launched Half-Life there was a concerted effort to rename the genre FPS. It was the end of an era.  

id had quite a few other milestone games that I will cover another time.  But I’m afraid there is not going to be any more greatness from that studio. They are now owned by Microsoft and Redmond is where innovation goes to die.  There is a gigantic tribal division in that company, the senior side thinks that anything other than Windows and Office is a distraction and should be defunded whenever possible.  That very definitely includes gaming.  That faction has frequently tried to kill Xbox and nearly succeeded once.  How it works is that some CEO will take a rabid interest in gaming for whatever reason (currently it’s the stupid metaverse) and when that project fails, resources are withdrawn.  On top of that Microsoft has gone super-Woke.  id of old could not possibly thrive in that kind of environment.  And the new id produced a girl power Wolfenstein.  

And the truth is, it doesn’t matter. Every game that has caught my interest since 2016 was produced by a small independent studio.  Just like id used to be.

Okay, I’m done here. 

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