Metal is many things. A material hard and coarse in nature that by forging it in fire becomes sharp enough to cut through anything in its path. The music that bares its namesake is equally cutting and exudes an unyielding attitude that seeks to separate the posers from the true acolytes. Metal is the sentiment of not blindly following the rules, a path less taken to the darker side of the street. In videogame form, there is nothing more metal than Doom.
The creators of Doom, id Software, were always hellbent on changing the perception of PC gaming in the 1990s. Games of the time were rigid and slow in comparison to their console counterparts. The graphical fidelity was technically superior on PC, but no other developer could nail movement in a game like id. The team had made a name for themselves with their Commander Keen series (which came about after a failed Super Mario Bros. 3 PC demo) along with the genre defining Wolfenstein 3D, but nothing topped Doom. In an era that was already soaking with “tude”, Doom established an identity all its own. The moody lighting, the grotesque monster designs, the signature push forward combat, and all the MIDI guitars a Soundblaster could handle; Doom looked and felt a cut above everything else in 1993.
In December of that year, Senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl held a hearing to publicly condemn the inclusion of violence in videogames sold in America. The bulk of the arguments sought to portray the videogame industry and its developers as deviants seeking to corrupt the nation’s youth. Id Software responded as if to raise the largest middle finger imaginable, by releasing Doom to the world the very next day. A quarter of a century later people are still talking about it.
“I am greatly proud of the fact that Doom is one of those things where everything that has a 32-bit processor has had Doom run on it, and I think that’s been one of the great aspects of having it be open source.”
– John Carmack, Co-Founder of id Software
But Does It Run Doom?
Even before establishing the company’s Mesquite, TX headquarters in suite 666 of the Town East Tower, id Software saw the potential to disrupt the PC space with their business ethos. There had been multiple retail releases of Doom beyond its initial mail order only release, and id also licensed the Doom game engine to other developers, and the result was Heretic (metal), Hexen (metal), and Chex Quest (definitely not metal).
Id was keen to their fanbase’s desire to create custom levels to their previous game Wolfenstein 3D, so the incorporation of a more modder-friendly design was integral to Doom’s codebase. The game’s WAD (Where’s All the Data?) package file system allowed for the easy installation of custom levels. Only needing to install a single-file also allowed for fans to share levels on various BBS and FTP sites of the day. The links to these creations circulated for years as sequels to Doom came and went, but the game’s most lasting impact was how the company sunset those original four floppy discs.
By the time the Doom arrived on the Sega Saturn in 1997, the game had been seen in over a dozen iterations and id Software had moved onto their Quake franchise. In an unprecedented move the company published the raw source code for Doom under an open-source license on December 23. Giving everything back to the community that made id Software into an elite-level developer was an endeavor seemingly out of another timeline. In an industry fraught with secrecy, the act of gifting such valuable IP away may just have been id Software’s most metal move of all.
In the years since everything from cameras to calculators, printers to pianos, or really anything with a display and 12 MB of storage has received a port of Doom. The very action of porting Doom to another device has become a pseudo right of passage in the hacker community. It has gone to the point of each time colloquial phrase, “Does it run Doom?” is said another metagame of hacking one-upmanship ensues. Suffice it to say the same “us against the world” mentality Doom was imbued with has spread beyond the game itself.
“I believe the most important legacy of Doom is its community, the people who have kept it alive for 25 years through the creation of mods and tools.”
– John Romero, Co-Founder of id Software
Still Shreddin’ After All These Years
The Doom franchise has reinvented itself several times since 1993 (more to come when Doom: Eternal releases in 2019), yet the original remains top of mind for one of its creators. John Romero, one of Doom’s original programmers, recently announced he would be releasing his own spiritual successor to Doom entitled SIGIL. This free MegaWAD expansion of nine new levels is in Romero’s words, “a labor of love and a reminder of all the amazing times that we had at id working on the original.” It promises to drop the player back onto the shores of Hell directly after the conclusion of Doom’s fourth episode (see trailer below).
Moreover the fact this project comes from a man so inexorably entwined with id Software’s early days is a testament to their games’ cultural impact. For action platformers there was Commander Keen, for online multiplayer there was Quake, but it was Doom that solidified the company as the foremost designers of first person shooters. If there ever existed a shortlist of games that remain both influential and fun to play given the current gaming landscape, it would not be complete without Doom. It continues to inspire people to pursue modding in all its forms and to never settle for “stock”. The most metal game, like so many of its characters, simply won’t die. It will persist just as it redefined PC games 25 years ago.
There may be no better example of “Does it Run Doom?” than this post about the game running on an ATM.