Updated: Feb 24
Hi again. In the last article, we looked at Doom’s development and design concepts. Now we will look at some of the technical trickery - some would say wizardry - that enabled Doom to run on the hardware of the day. Then we will investigate how Doom has influenced the FPS genre and PC multi-player gaming as a whole.
Although the power of home PCs had grown since Wolfenstein 3D’s release, they remained incapable of rendering fully 3D environments. Therefore, to get Doom running on the hardware of the day id had to employ some very clever workarounds. There has been some controversy of late regarding this, with some claiming that Doom was not a 3D game, while other commentators refute this. Perhaps 2.5D is a more accurate description.
This 2.5D arrangement forced several restrictions, including;
· Rooms could not be stacked one upon another.
· The player was unable to look and aim up or down. The engine compensated for this via a form of auto-aim with a pronounced vertical axis.
· The player could neither jump nor crouch.
· The game lacked crosshairs, which made precise aiming difficult. This was mitigated by the game’s generous auto-aim. (Allegedly, some players jerry-rigged their own crosshairs by sticking a dot on the centre of their monitor’s screen.)
By modern standards Doom’s control set up was awkward. Default movement forward and backwards was via the up and down arrow keys, whilst the left and right arrow keys were used for turning left and right. To strafe players needed to hold alt + the left/right arrow keys. This required some finger gymnastics, especially for those with smaller hands.
Mouse control was also awkward, as moving the mouse up and down would cause you to walk forwards and back. It was easy to do this by mistake, which was often frustrating, and sometimes fatal.
I remember playing Doom as a young teen on my friend’s PC back in ’93, and even then I found the controls unworkable. To make matters worse there was no easy way to re-bind the controls in-game either, although it could be done before running the game via the setup program. However, my friend was either unaware of the setup program or forgot to tell me about it, thus leaving my young self believing these default controls were mandatory. This is why - and I’m letting you all in on my dirty little secret here - I didn’t like Doom at the time.
In preparation for this article, I tried running vanilla Doom again via Steam using ‘classic controls’. They were as unworkable as I remembered and I gave up after five minutes. Modern audiences will likely find Doom far more enjoyable via one of its many source ports. More on those in the next article…
Release and Reception
Doom was released using the same shareware model as Wolfenstein 3D. The first episode - ‘Knee Deep in the Dead’ - was available as a free download. This helped get it out to a wide install base. The remaining episodes could be ordered directly from id.
Doom’s sequel, Doom 2 was a full commercial release and sold in stores. To help it to stand out on shelves it featured impressive box art.
Doom 2 introduced a new campaign of 30 levels and several new enemies. These new enemies were all as distinct and unique in their abilities and attack patterns as those in Doom. To combat these new foes the player’s arsenal was expanded to include the now-iconic double barrel ‘super’ shotgun.
Id would go on to release numerous commercial continuations of the Doom franchise throughout the ‘90s. The expansion pack, Master Levels for Doom 2 was released in 1995. This included 21 maps made by some of the most talented members of the Doom community. The CD also included Maximum Doom which included over 3000 levels - although these were of varying quality.
Boxed expansion packs would go on to become a common sight in Post-Doom FPS games. Examples include Unreal’s Return to Na Pali and Half-Life’s Opposing Force and Blue-Shift expansion packs. Physical expansion packs would remain a popular business model during the dial-up internet age. Once broadband became common boxed expansion packs were superseded by DLC.
Master Levels for Doom 2 box art. Can you imagine getting 3000 + levels as paid DLC today? How much would it cost if you could?
Released the same year was Ultimate Doom - a commercial release of Doom which included an additional nine-level episode ‘Thy Flesh Consumed. For many gamers outside the US, this was their first opportunity to play the full version of Doom. (Importing items from the US was not as easy back then in the days before internet shopping.)
1996 saw the release of Final Doom, a two-episode standalone game based on Doom II
The success of Doom on PC was immense. Allegedly, at one-point Doom’s install base was larger than that of Windows! How was this possible you might ask? For a start this number probably included the free shareware episode of Doom, and secondly, not all PCs at the time came with Windows built-in - many people were still running DOS.
Another of Doom’s biggest influences on FPS games was its invention of multi-player ‘Deathmatch’. Indeed, it was Doom that coined the term. Nothing like this had been seen before, and its popularity was huge.
Up to four players could connect at once via dial-up internet or LAN. This, in turn, led to the infamous ‘LAN parties’, which looked a little something like this…
LAN parties were particularly popular in colleges at the time, partly because colleges often had better computer networks than most domestic setups. They became so popular that several colleges allegedly had to ban people from playing Doom on the colleges’ networks due to the networks crashing under the strain.
NB - This was pre-broadband when 56k dial-up internet was ‘aspirational’.
Doom 1993 Deathmatch
Video by AXDOOMER
Another of Doom’s innovations in FPS gaming was four-player Co-Op. Doom 2 excelled in this, as its campaign levels included Co-Op specific changes to make them more challenging. This was done to balance out the combined firepower of multiple players. The Co-op would go on to become another popular feature in FPS gaming, with games such as Left 4 Dead being designed around it.
Doom 2 Co-Op
Video by ToxicBarrel