From Wolfenstein to the BFG: the history of Doom
- Murray Robertson
- 12 May 2016
With a new version of Doom now out, here's a comprehensive timeline of id Software's iconic FPS
For those of us who played id Software's Doom on its release 23 long years ago, it's no surprise that the latest sequel/reboot is such a big deal. The newest game in the series (released under the original title as is the trend these days), is set to take full advantage of the latest PC, Xbox and PlayStation hardware. And, with its next-generation graphics, multiplayer action and relentless gore, it's likely to win over a new generation of fans. Here we take a look back at almost a quarter of a century of Doom.
1992: Wolfenstein 3D
No it's not Doom, but this is where Doom was born. Although first-person games have been around since Maze War in 1974, it was arguably developer id's second game, Wolfenstein 3D, that popularised the first-person shooter (FPS). Framing the action through the eyes of the player, Wolf 3D was a tantalising glimpse into the future of gaming. Programmed by legendary developers John Carmack and John Romero, the software engine powering the game laid the groundwork for id Tech 1 which would feature substantial improvements just one year later. You can play it for free in your browser.
Doom was a technical revolution – the Avatar of 20th century gaming. Its explorable 3D world was groundbreaking in the early 90s: expansive, populated with enemies on multiple levels and rendered at incredible speed. These were the early days of PC gaming before dedicated graphics cards, and most gamers had to play Doom in a tiny window at the centre of their boxy CRT monitors. It pushed home PCs to their very limits. This was the genesis of modern day gaming.
But it wasn't just graphics that made the game. A hellish cacophony of demonic grunts, moans and firearms all brought the action to life, and the relative ease with which it was possible to create your own maps extended its playtime further still (something new Doom is attempting to replicate and refine). And, although the number of PC gamers was much smaller back then, almost everyone had legitimate free access to the first third of the game due to the now defunct shareware model of software distribution.
Doom also introduced the world to multiplayer gaming. Again, it wasn't the first game to do so, but it was by far the most popular way to bring players head-to-head, either using a creaky old dial-up internet connection or by linking two PCs directly via null-modem cable. Doom christened this type of combat 'deathmatch' and the name has stuck ever since.
Unfortunately, Doom was also plagued with controversy. Its (for the time) graphic violence, addictive gameplay and satanic imagery led to accusations that it encouraged real-life violence. The game was linked to several US school shootings including the Columbine High School massacre, although a number of studies have since discredited these allegations.
Doom's legacy was cemented almost instantly and the genre grew exponentially with a glut of FPS games following in its wake, such as Rise of the Triad, Duke Nukem 3D and Dark Forces. Rather than being recognised as part of a new genre movement, these games were labelled 'Doom clones'. In 1996 id created its own successor, Quake, a technically superior title which spawned a number of sequels. And in 2011 they released Rage, an ambitious open-world shooter which failed to make the same impact.
1994: Doom II: Hell on Earth
Unlike most modern sequels, Doom II featured no great upheavals over its forebear, and most people were happy just to have new maps to explore. It did contain larger levels, more enemies and the now legendary Super Shotgun. Unlike its predecessor, Doom II was released in shops as a regular game.
2004: Doom 3
Two big, technically ambitious games vied for attention in 2004. And although it trailed by three and half months, the now-legendary Half-Life 2 has very much eclipsed Doom 3 in most gamer's hearts. Despite its numerical appendage, this was a reboot for the series, again focusing on the player's efforts to battle a demonic invasion on a Martian scientific research facility, this time with a slither of plot drip-fed through discarded diary entries. The game was graphically innovative, featuring complex shadow and lighting effects, but compared with Half-Life 2's immensely varied environments and polished performances, Doom 3 came across as a bit of a relic. Each level looked much like the last, enemies spawned with irritating regularity and, thanks to its dark environments, the game was mocked for the player's inability to wield both a torch and a weapon at the same time.
The following year this expansion pack was released which added two things of note: a 'grabber' weapon which was oversold, underused and considered a pale imitation of Half-Life 2's enormously fun 'gravity gun', and a feature which temporarily slowed enemy speeds, a gimmick later popularised for a short time by FPS/horror hybrid F.E.A.R.
2012: Doom 3 BFG Edition
Eight years later, Doom 3 was remastered for this release named after its most iconic weapon: the Big F**king Gun. As well as improved audio and visuals, the game fixed the infamous torch/gun dual-wielding problem. As a bonus it contained the first two Doom releases which are surprisingly playable to this day.
Doom in other media: In 2005 Doom was adapted by original programmer John Carmack as a mobile phone RPG. Considering this was in the days before smartphones Carmack's effort worked extremely well. He programmed a sequel in 2009.
Of course, no talk of Doom would be complete without mentioning Andrzej Bartkowiak's abysmal 2005 film of the same name. Despite featuring a strong cast (Dwayne Johnson, Karl Urban and Rosamund Pike) it added itself to the overwhelming evidence that games just don't translate well into films, although it featured a novel short sequence which paid homage to its first person heritage.
Anyone interested in how video games get made should read David Kushner's Masters of Doom, which details the extraordinary story behind the making of Doom, with a focus on its creators – John Carmack and John Romero – and their difficult, ultimately destructive relationship.
Doom is out now on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.