Doom at 25: The FPS that wowed players, gummed up servers, and enraged admins

Who cares? Let's whip out the BFG and blow up the boss

doom
Doom's much-celebrated 2016 incarnation honoured the balls-to-the-wall ultraviolence of the original

On December 10, 1993, after a marathon 30-hour coding session, the developers at id Software uploaded the first finished copy of Doom for download, the game that was to redefine first-person shooter (FPS) genre. Hours later IT admins wanted id's guts for garters.

Doom wasn't the first FPS game, but it was the iPhone of the field – it took parts from various other products and packaged them together in a fearsomely addictive package. Admins loathed it because it hogged bandwidth for downloading and was designed to allow network deathmatches, so millions of users immediately took up valuable network resources for what seemed a frivolous pursuit to some curmudgeonly BOFHs.

The game was an instant hit – so much so that within hours of its release admins were banning it from servers to try and cope with the effects of thousands, and then millions of people playing online. It spawned remakes and follow-up games, its own movie (don't bother) and even a glowing endorsement from Bill Gates:

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What makes a winner?

So what made Doom so good? And what made so many people (this hack included) spend hours, days, even weeks online playing it?

FPS were nothing new in computer gaming but Doom was something different. The game featured pseudo – but convincing – 3D graphics (which look hopelessly blocky these days but were superb for the time), excellent sound, and had an inventive streak that players had come to expect from id Software – the changing character face on the central console, ridiculous super villains and a penchant for sick humour.

The previous year the gaming company had released Wolfenstein 3D, which used the same 3D-style graphics, along with big guns, the opportunity to shoot Nazis, and a maze-like structure full of hidden doors and equipment drop points that had been used in gaming for 20 years or more.

One of the first games to use a form of 3D graphics expertly was Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss and when id Software's co-founder John Carmack saw this game he developed the idea. Wolfenstein 3D borrowed heavily from others but also added in fun touches – blood splatters for successful shots, interesting new weapons, and an over-the-top hokeyness that was to characterize Doom.

True, there wasn't much of a plot – it boiled down to if it moves shoot it, and if it doesn't kick it anyway. But as Carmack infamously said: "Story in a game is like story in a porn movie. It's expected to be there, but it's not important."

So for those that want it the plot of Doom was simple. A gateway built on Mars malfunctions, spewing out hordes of monsters. A single lone marine must fight his way through them and kill them all.

That said, you could have enormous fun doing so. The game was gory, atmospheric and featured a variety of over-the-top weapons, including chainsaws, portable Gatling guns and the infamous BFG (Big F**king Gun) 9000.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it

Doom took many of the touches from Wolfenstein 3D but two were key. First off, both games allowed players to modify their levels and to build new ones. This feature was extended in Doom and, coupled with networked deathmatches, helped to build a loyal – some might say obsessive – fan base that inspired people to acquire some important technology skills.

Secondly, id stuck with the shareware model it used in Wolfenstein, where the first few levels and basic game engine was free and then you could buy more levels when, or if, you wanted to for a flat fee. Shareware had been around since the beginning of commercial programming, but Doom showed that you could make millions from the business model and that piracy can actually help sales long term.

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The game was so successful Bill Gates considered buying id; he was impressed that LAN gaming of Doom had become so wildly popular among his staff. Presumably if you spent all day trying to slap a GUI interface onto Windows 3.0 you needed some downtime killing people and monsters – and possibly your Redmond team leader.

The game really excited then-Microsoft employee Gabe Newell, who was one of the team porting Doom to the fledgling Windows 95. Convinced that such games were the next big thing, Newell quit Redmond and started games studio Valve, makers of the Half-Life franchise which borrows much from Doom.

Doom's developers released the follow-up Quake franchise, which had a proper 3D engine and much better graphics. While it outsold Doom many times over – in part due to the mass adoption of PCs in the home – and is a favourite of the multiplayer circuit, it never quite had the impact of the original.

If you try playing Doom now, the graphics and resolution look like they've fallen out of an old Minecraft server, accuracy is a joke, the sounds seem basic and the gameplay formulaic. But those of us of a certain age will never forget the visceral thrill of our first game, and the unalloyed joy in blowing an annoying coworker's head off.

If you have memories – fond or foul – of Doom, feel free to share them in The Reg forums. ®

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