Updated: Nov 25, 2020
In the last article, we looked at the first truly mainstream FPS - Wolfenstein 3D and its critical and commercial success. This put its developer, id software, squarely on the map, and did much to popularise the nascent PC gaming scene and its newly found speciality, 3D gaming.
However, the team at id were not content to rest on their laurels. They had something bigger, better, bloodier and even more genre-defining in mind. What they had in mind was Doom.
Development and Design
Wolfenstein 3D was a technological marvel, but id’s lead game engine programmer, John Carmack, was not satisfied with its limitations. So, whilst the rest of id was busy creating Wolfenstein 3D’s expansion pack, Spear of Destiny, Carmack set to work on creating a far more advanced engine which would power id’s next major project.
Spear of Destiny
The power of the PCs available at the time was ever-growing, whilst their prices continued to drop. Thus, the number of potential players with access to higher-end PCs was continuing to grow.
Before long this high-end prospective player base grew large enough that it became commercially viable to target these users exclusively. Players with anything less than a 386 processor need not apply. Unburdened by the need to cater for less powerful hardware, Carmack was able to tailor his new engine to higher-end PCs, thus opening up a wealth of new possibilities.
This new engine, id Tech 1, allowed for level designs and architecture which were simply impossible in Wolfenstein 3D. Walls could now be set at angles from each other, freeing level designs from the need to be grid-based. What’s more, walls were no longer constrained to being of equal height. Narrow corridors with claustrophobically low ceilings could now open out into large roofless expanses.
What’s more, enemies could now appear above and below the player, meaning players had to be on the lookout for enemies attacking from windows and other elevated positions. Stairs and elevators were now a possibility and would go on to see extensive use.
What’s more, large sections of the map could now raise or lower in real-time, allowing for dynamic level designs which could change in reaction to the player’s actions. In short, id Tech 1 allowed for verticality which the earlier Wolfenstein engine did not.
Id Tech 1 allowed for a significant jump in graphics as well. Texture mapping could now be applied to both ceilings and floors, a marked improvement over the mostly plain ceilings and floors of Wolfenstein 3D. Another improvement was the ability to animate textures. These would be used to create far more visually appealing water/lava / toxic sludge effects.
Soon id software had the engine they needed for their next big project. Now they needed to design a game around it.
Intellectual Properties and Inspirations
I.d. could have taken the easy route and built their new game using an existing and well-established IP, a notional Wolfenstein 3D 2 for example. However, to fully unlock the creative potential of the new id Tech 1 engine a fresh IP was needed, one that would grant them total creative freedom to go wild and push their new engine to its limits.
For inspiration, they looked to some of their favourite films - in particular, the Aliens franchise. Allegedly, Doom was originally going to be a licensed Aliens game, however, the team allegedly decided against it so they could retain total creative freedom.
However, the idea of armour wearing space marines battling nightmarish creatures in a near(ish) future sci-fi setting stuck. Aliens’ industrial-sci-fi aesthetic is visible in Doom’s earlier levels, whilst the portrayal of the Doomguy himself is inspired by the colonial marines.
Another of the team’s passions was Dungeons and Dragons. Allegedly, after a lengthy Dn’D session demons had invaded and taken over the earth. The influence of this can be seen both in Doom’s narrative and in some of its creature designs.
This heady mix of Aliens, H.R. Giger, Dungeons and Dragons and The Occult all came together to shape Doom. Its premise was simple enough and was able to mix these rather disparate themes magnificently. Doom’s plot thus consisted of the following;
Scientist stationed on the moons of Mars - Phobos and Deimos - were experimenting with teleportation and inadvertently opened a portal to Hell. Demonic spirits came flooding through and possessed the people stationed there. These were soon followed by nightmarish demons, some of whom were an unholy fusion of flesh and machine.
The space marines were sent in to investigate and predictably all but the Doomguy were killed. Doomguy must then rip and tear through the ranks of Hell on Mars’ moons, then literally ‘go to Hell’ to fight them on their own turf. Not exactly Shakespearian storytelling, but it didn’t need to be - the plot was only there to give a backdrop to the carnage that you the player was about to unleash.
Doom had a diverse and interesting bestiary of foes to rip and tear through. Rifle brandishing possessed zombiemen and their shotgun-wielding counterparts, fireball hurling imps, hard-charging Pinky Demons and their semi-visible cousins, floating fireball spitting Cacodemons and flaming mouthed Lost Souls are all regularly encountered.
To create a more impactful aesthetic for Doom’s extra-dimensional demons the team at id employed the use of clay sculptures. First, the monsters were sketched out, then sculpted out of clay. The models were then filmed from different positions with a video camera and the resulting images translated into digital. This is what gave Doom’s demons their distinctive ‘faux Claymation appearance’. A more in-depth explanation of this process can be seen here.
None of Doom’s enemies were mere palette-swapped clones of each other with more HP either. Each enemy type had very specific attributes and attack styles. This introduced an element of on-the-fly strategy, as which enemies needed to be prioritised would depend on which types were present and the layout of the environment. In wide-open expanses hit scanning enemies would need to be prioritised since you could not dodge their attacks. In tight corridors and cramped rooms, the melee attacking Pinky Demons would need to be dealt with first before they could close the distance with you and maim you with their jaws. The video below explains this in more detail.
What We Can Learn From DOOM by Game Maker's Toolkit
This ‘Orthogonal Unit Differentiation’ has gone on to influence many of the best post-Doom FPS, including id’s own Quake, Monolith Production’s Blood, Valve’s Half-Life, Bungie’s Halo and GSC Gameworld’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
Conclusion of Part One
Doom's aesthetics were distinct, which helped it to stand out amongst other games of the era. It's mature themes and visceral gore helped cement the idea that video games were not 'just for kids'. Doom's line up of enemies was highly influential, both in terms of design and in their behaviour and abilities. We will see their analogues appear time and again as the Influential FPS series continues - see how many you can spot. In the next article, we will investigate how Doom's iconic arsenal of weapons has shaped the load outs of many later FPS protagonists. See you all there.
Did you learn something today? Were you aware of Doom's unusual development? What are your thoughts on Doom's digital claymation aesthetic? Did you realise how carefully chosen was Doom's line up of enemies? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36 years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to on-line multi-player. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/IainBaker17, and contacted via email at email@example.com
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H.R. Giger, Cthulhu (Genius) III, 1967. Courtesy of the H.R. Giger Museum.
Doom’s Cacodemon from https://www.writeups.org/cacodemon-doom-video-game/
Dungeons and Dragons Beholder from https://forgottenrealms.fandom.com/wiki/Beholder