What do Master Chief and Gordon Freeman have in common? Yes, they’re both faceless heroes, but I’m thinking about the bigger picture here. If by chance you answered with ‘they both owe their existence to the now legendary first-person shooter DOOM, then step right up and claim your prize! Coincidentally, played out via another man masked in mystery, unless you count the facially deranged face at the bottom of the screen, developer id Software’s groundbreaking video game had millions storm the gates of Hell as an un-named space marine in a game which would revolutionise and tyrannise from gaming fan to foe.
It was the early ‘90s, and games were getting bloodier and darker. The Marios of yesteryear were being replaced with anti-heroes, comic mischief with anatomical animosity (which is fancy talk for blowing some guy’s head off). Some games, like Grand Theft Auto, began to explore human themes in a more cinematic way, ultimately allowing storytelling to supplant the childish simplicity of by-gone 8-bit space shooters. Others just wanted to relish in pure, unadulterated, bloody fun.
iD’s anticipated app was released as shareware in 1993 to a critical and commercial craze. Much like the misconception that fellow four-letter Pong was the first video game ever made, DOOM was not the first first-person shooter to grace the market. In both cases, they were the ones to popularise what was already established. First-person shooters like Maze War had been around since the early ‘70s, and in 1992 Wolfenstein 3D had laid the groundwork for the current FPS, but DOOM would forever become known as the game that all other shooters, from Halo to Half-Life, owed their existence to. Why? Because the game kicked ass!
The Power Of Guns Compels You
The hallmark of iD’s landmark was its absolutely awesome gameplay.
The story’s simple enough for sci-fi horror. You take control of a soldier trapped on a UAC space facility on a Martian moon which, wouldn’t you know it, has suffered a bit of a malfunction. Everyone on the base has been possessed by the forces of Hell and it’s your job to make sure they don’t find their way back to Earth. Three episodes make up a number of stages, with later versions of the game including a fourth episode that ratchets the difficulty for those so inclined. Basic jist of the plot: survive.
The hallmark of iD’s landmark was its absolutely awesome gameplay. Of course, shooting the living (or rather, unliving) f*** out of anything that moves was the principal premise, but unlike iD’s preceding Wolfenstein 3D, movement became much more articulated. You could move between different levels by walking up stairs or boarding elevator platforms that would often take you to secret areas littered with power-ups and ammo.
Your enemies were numerous and nightmarish. From possessed marines armed with shotguns, to ghoulish imps who chuck fireballs, to floating eyeballs, to those dog-like demons who make you want to defecate, the opposition was ugly and fierce. Then there were the weapons, an arsenal of armaments made trademark in every shooter since. Pistols, rifles, chain guns, rocket launchers, and of course the BFG, were enough to vary the mayhem. And if you ever ran out of ammo, you could always beat baddies with your fists… probably not the best idea. The goal of each stage was to make it to the end, marked conveniently with an exit sign, a task that was easier said than done due to the labyrinthine nature of the game’s level design. Twisting tunnels and multiple pathways were an insurance of longevity, but rats in mazes were never equipped with maps; thankfully, you were granted the luxury.
Revolutionising gameplay is one thing, but DOOM also marked a huge leap in presentational ingenuity. Far from just another typical upgrade in visuals, iD utilised lighting and shadows to increase the fear factor and kick the gamer off his expected stool of ease. You’d be walking down a corridor, pick up a keycard, and… WHOA! What happened to the lights?! Oh my God, what the hell’s going on!! The sound was just as creepy. Making use of groundbreaking stereo sound techniques, you could actually locate the grunts of a nearby monster, which made turning one more corner all the more courageous. Today, these are all commonplace principles, especially in the sci-fi horror genre. Back then, before the Resident Evils and Dead Spaces, it was completely unheard of and a leap for not only the genre, but gaming in general. As to the music, there’s nothing much to say other than it’s totally awesome.
Multi-player was another story, a revolution in its own right and one of the main reasons why the game became so popular, so fast. Remember, in the early ‘90s the Internet was just starting to pick up speed with the average consumer and, as it happens, so was gaming. Timing was everything and, upon DOOM’s release via shareware, offices worldwide became infected with disgruntled deathmatches, incidentally the first time the term was coined, and launched the proposition of online gaming from the netherworld of potential to the stratosphere of reality.
What rock ‘n’ roll was to the ‘50s, video games were to the ‘90s.
The game wasn’t without its detractors, as loyal gamers will only know too well. In the grand scheme of things, gaming was still infantile and dangerous to the conservative workforce and the morals of society. What rock ‘n’ roll was to the ‘50s, video games were to the ‘90s. Religious fanatics reviled DOOM’s satanic themes and criticised what was one of the most violent pieces of software ever coded. In retrospect, it’s easy to dismiss what was a far less tolerable climate, but hey, let’s laugh about it anyway. Advantageously connecting incidents like the tragic Columbine massacre to the escapism of video game violence insulted not only the gamer, but the human in many of us who felt and feel to this day that to deem the vast majority of sane and ethical people so morally corruptible because of an extremely convenient coincidence was, if nothing else, morbidly ridiculous and a face-slap that we all, again to this day, dodge in smug satisfaction. To hell with them! But that’s enough of the controversial. DOOM… it’s fun! My vocabulary’s a bit strained, so that’s all I’ve got. It’s fun as hell! Yeah, that’s really all I’ve got.
A Halo Of Fire
So, why has DOOM left such a legacy and why is it often referred to as one of the most important video games every made? The answer: impact. The simply titled drug of virtual destruction brought anything but doom to an industry that only ten years prior was indeed ready to collapse. The graphics and sound were used as effective tools of immersion like never before, the gameplay was brilliantly fun and quick, and social interactivity and connectivity became realised as the future of gaming. In short, yes, it bred the first-person shooter, but it also furnished more offices and homes with video games than ever before and did its part in expanding the entertainment medium to heights well beyond those possible within the game itself. Since ’93, DOOM has appeared on way too many consoles to consider, so if you haven’t yet dealt your damnation to the devil, accessibility is no excuse. Whip out your Big F***ing Gun, and have some firefighting fun!
Prefer moving pictures and sound? Then watch our video reflection here.