DooM Retrospective: 25 Years of Metal

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?

Lost Episodes of DooM Book Cover Square
The Lost Episodes of Doom by Jonathan Mendoza came with a floppy disc featuring 24 episodic Doom WADs.

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

id Software Creators Group Photo from John Romero Archive
Promotional photo of id Software’s original crew with the Spiderdemon and Mancubus models.

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.

35 thoughts on “DooM Retrospective: 25 Years of Metal

  1. Exactly, only violent video games tech violence to the youth. The streets of SF, Crime history and the newer and older versions that run in endless loop 24/7 are ok, though… Anything but tits, do not show bare thoraxes, those are bad influence.

    1. I’ve often wondered why people thought that children have always been isolated from gore. If you’ve every visited a butchers shop in a third world country you routines see varying sizes of animals hung up where they are visible to the customers, and the locals will often send their children down to pick up “dinner”.

      Heck, for a large portion of history kids helped pluck the feathers off of dinner after watching a parent remove its head, many still do.

      Having grown up with doom and quake etc. I kind of believed the narrative myself until I had to help gut my first squirrel and about lost my lunch. Then having to eat it afterwards was another experience I think that every young man should have.

      So no, viewing and participating in gore doesn’t make you a killer. If it did there would be a lot of violent children across history and currently in underdeveloped countries having witnessed it first hand in reality at the butcher shop. The fact that it can be done virtually shouldn’t be that concerning… Just too many people with too much time on their hands trying to enforce their personal beliefs on others.

      1. The argument is that virtual violence desensitizes to real violence, which is an observable effect, so as with your squirrel example it enables people to ignore it rather than reacting with disgust or distress to the sight of someone being beaten up or killed.

        The question is, why should children be desensitized to violence if we don’t have to? We’re not requiring them to butcher their own dinners, and we’re trying to get them away from solving conflicts with fists and knives, so it kinda helps if they’re having strong reactions to the sight of blood and gore by virtue of not being immersed in them through media.

        1. @Luke: “trying to get them away from solving conflicts with fists and knives”

          I didn’t notice in my 47 years that kids solving conflicts with “fists and knives” was much of an issue!

          I’ve been an avid gamer for many of those 47 years – I can also gut and cook many animals but I still don’t like violence of any kind nor do those games I played or my gutting and skinning skills increase the chance I will commit violence. The one thing that DOES increase the risk of me committing violence is the way other people treat me!

          Strong men create good times.
          Weak men create harsh times.

        2. Virtual violence was not available before XX century. That did not disturb people to invent crucifiction, burning alive, slavery and abuse, whipping to death, impaling and many others. Most of that was done in public and treated as entertainment.
          By the way. I do my best to teach my children to solve problems by understandig the problem. But I also encourage them to train full contact martial art to be sure that if somebody wants to discuss with fists my children have strong arguments.

  2. I remember these old games – heretic, doom, rise of the triad etc.

    DOOM was banned in my country so you weren’t a true geek unless you had DOOM.

    I was selling computers at the time so I had a Cyrix 5×86 system when almost everyone else was running 386sx.

    And as you got better at the game there was always those levels where you found 9 out of 10 secrets so you would start to tear apart the WAD files and write a map renderer.

    CHOJIN forever lol.

      1. Quite likely Germany. They have a habit of banning violent computer games. Carmageddon comes to mind – they had to paint the pedestrians green to pretend they’re “zombies” to sell the game.

  3. I will never forget the day that the ‘network guys’ were in the office and asked if we’d played Doom. “No, whats that then?” The software dev dept’s output was severley disrupted for weeks and the managemant could not understand why we were all staying late all the time…

  4. They released the source code to the Linux version of DOOM. To get free DOOM on a Microsoft OS required back-porting from the Linux source. Thus was DOS DOOM and many others for DOS and Windows begat.

    The full version WAD files for DOOM and DOOM 2 have never officially been given away. In the late 90’s PC Gamer got several companies to include full copies of one of their older games on a cover disc. If the game had copy protection it was removed and things like paper maps and manuals were included as PDFs. Star Control 2 was on there, the first X-COM and a few others. All provided full, unfettered, and FREE (plus cost of the magazine).

    What did id software contribute? The shareware version of DOOM. Couldn’t even throw in a full version of Castle Wolfenstien.

    There may be an ISO of the disc somewhere here https://archive.org/details/pcgamer-cdroms

  5. I’ve actually been playing through D1 with the Brutal Doom mod in GZDoom recently, with WADs purchased through GOG. That there’s still such an active development community around this game 25+ years after release is really incredible, and definitely a testament to how influential it was.

    I really wonder how many of the games released this year will still be looked at so fondly in 15 or 20 years, and will we still see this level of devotion. As much as people are loving stuff like Red Dead 2, I somehow doubt we’ll be seeing new DLC released for it in 2043.

  6. It was a glorious day whey I managed to get an IPX network running between my two Macintoshes back in 1996 and run my first multiplayer Doom session with a buddy. Fighting cyberdemons as a team was much more fun than solo. …then there was telefragging. :-)

  7. So to make it short. 25 years after releasing Doom and all it’s copycats what we got is army of skilled developers trying to port this game to moder toasters rather than serial killers? Something went terribly right!

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