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Chapter 5. Doom (1993): The First-Person Shooter Takes Control

Chapter 5. Doom (1993): The First-Person Shooter Takes Control

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Doom begins in a room free of

monsters to give players a chance

to master the interface.

gameplay. However, although the game did serve as the basis for a

series of novels and a movie, no one bought this game for its storyline. The game’s success was owed, in part, at least, to the developers’ marketing as well as their technical savvy. Before moving

on to the game’s technical achievements, we should reflect on id’s

unusual marketing strategy.

Doom took advantage of two revolutionary trends in software

distribution and production: shareware and user-generated content. The first of these was a well-established practice by 1993,

and id had tried it before to great success with their earlier PC

games Commander Keen (1990) and Wolfenstein 3D (1992), a vital

predecessor that we’ll discuss shortly. Then, as now, the majority

of commercial software was published by traditional publishers,

who did everything in their power to prevent others from illegally copying and distributing their products. Shareware publishers, however, encourage users to copy and share their programs,

then employed a variety of methods to generate revenue. Usually

these amount to a screen or message that displays while the program loads, asking users to send a donation to the developer.

Sometimes trivial or even crucial features are unavailable until

the user has paid a fee to receive a “registered copy” or a special

key code. In the case of the original Doom, the user received a

fully working game, but only the first part—to see the rest of the

game, users were asked to send money. However, the free version included one pivotal feature: multiplayer gameplay over a

local area network (LAN). This fact made it much easier for large

groups of gamers to organize LAN parties, as they would otherwise have had to purchase an individual copy for each machine.

The shareware method proved exceptionally successful for id,

but it took some doing to get the game uploaded to the University



of Wisconsin’s FTP server, where id had planned to release the

game.3 According to David Kushner, author of Masters of Doom,

ten thousand users swarmed to the server, generating enough

demand to crash the network.4 Fortunately for id, many users

weren’t satisfied to own just the shareware version and eagerly

sprang for the full registered version. According to estimates at

the Doom Wiki, Doom and its sequel Doom II have sold over two

million copies each.5 Kushner’s lively narrative describes in vivid

detail the hectic bliss at id when hundreds of thousands of dollars flooded into the tiny company, swelling the bank accounts

and egos of its team. id would later abandon shareware, though

they still seem committed to the open source and free software

movements, eventually releasing the full source code to Doom

and other games to the public, greatly extending the life of the

titles beyond their original platforms.

Several types of demons roam

Doom’s levels, eager to make you

an ex-soldier.

The other innovation—user-generated content—made perhaps a more significant contribution to the gaming industry.

Again, id was certainly not the first game developer to encourage and even create tools to help gamers expand or modify their

products. However, Doom’s immense popularity and the tools’

impressive capabilities drew wads of dedicated and creative


Internet usage was not yet widespread, so shareware games depended upon a

wide variety of distribution methods. These methods included individually dialed

Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) and mail order companies whose sole business

model was selling disks filled with shareware and demo software.


Kushner, David. 2004. Masters of Doom (ISBN: 0-8129-7215-5). Random House.


See http://doom.wikia.com/wiki/Sales. The figure considers other estimates

from a variety of published and online sources.



talent to the task. As a result, hundreds of gamers happily went

to work designing new levels or taking the engine in unexpected

directions. These user-built levels are called WADs, an acronym

that stands for “Where’s all the data?” id had specified in their

licensing agreement that these WADs would be distributed free;

makers were not allowed to charge for them. However, that fact

didn’t stop shady dealers from collecting WADs and selling them

at unscrupulous or ignorant outlets. id countered by offering their

own compilations via retail.

Ah, Doom’s boomstick,

one step closer to the BFG

(Big Fucking Gun).

Some of the better WAD makers eventually got involved with

commercial game development. These include Tim Willits,

later lead designer at id, and Dario Casali, whose work attracted

Valve Software. Some of the more notable WADs include Eternal

Doom, which offers 34 giant levels to explore, and Hell Revealed,

an intensely difficult WAD designed to test an expert’s prowess.

A few off-the-wall WADs include Chex Quest, a game that served

as a promotional tie-in for the cereal, and Mockery, a WAD that

Scott Cover made specifically to illustrate the errors made by novice WAD makers. However, the wad became popular enough to

inspire a subgenre of “joke mods.” There are also programs such

as SLIGE that can create randomly generated WADs.6

Before continuing the discussion of Doom, we should take

a moment to examine id’s 1992 game Wolfenstein 3D. This

game, loosely based on the much older Castle Wolfenstein (see

Chapter 2, “Castle Wolfenstein (1981): Achtung! Stealth Gaming


The top 100 WADs of all time have been collected and reviewed at Doom World,

a must-see site for anyone interested in WADs. Visit http://www.doomworld




Steps out of the Shadows”), prototyped many of the critical

graphical and gameplay elements that would show up in Doom

and later shooters, sans the familiar FPS control scheme, ability

to significantly modify and extend the game,7 and critical multiplayer components. The game puts players in control of William

“B. J.” Blazkowicz, a soldier trying to escape a Nazi stronghold.

Although its graphics are somewhat crude compared to Doom,

it still allowed gamers to experience 3D-like graphics rendered

on-the-fly with a first-person perspective. According to Kushner,

Romero and Carmack were inspired by Blue Sky’s Ultima

Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (Origin, 1992; PC, Windows

Mobile, and others), an incredibly ambitious role-playing game

doomed by its steep hardware requirements. Carmack was convinced he could achieve similar effects on lower-end PCs, and

proved it with Wolfenstein 3D.8

Blue Sky’s (later known as

Looking Glass Studios) Ultima

Underworld: The Stygian Abyss

beat id to the feature punch in

many respects, but its steep

hardware requirements and

relatively complex interface may

explain its relative obscurity.

Of course, Wolfenstein 3D’s impressive performance was not

entirely without precedent, as id’s two earlier titles, Hovertank

3D and Catacomb 3D, both from 1991, were pioneering games

in their own right and formed the foundations from which

the far-better-known shooter was built and greatly extended.9

In Hovertank 3D, the player controls Brick Sledge, a merce7

Wolfenstein 3D did allow for some modification of its graphics and maps, but not

to the extent found in Doom.


It’s important to note, however, that although Wolfenstein 3D looked great

and moved smoothly, the original Ultima Underworld still featured a far more

advanced engine, with features like floor and ceiling textures, terrain of varying height, and lighting effects that would not be realized in an id creation until



See http://www.idsoftware.com/games/vintage/hovertank/.



nary hired by an unknown organization to rescue people from

enemy-filled cities under the threat of nuclear attack. The game

used a combination of scaled sprites and rendered walls, much

like Wolfenstein 3D, but the walls in Hovertank 3D were untextured and solid in color. Catacomb 3D, where the player, as the

high wizard of Thoria, must save the troublesome but useful

Nemesis of Kelquest from his suspended animation in magical

amber, showed the character’s hands and added other, now familiar, character-based features, along with textured walls. Both of

these mostly forgotten early games—with their extremely modest

system requirements, relative to their groundbreaking features—

contributed greatly to Wolfenstein 3D’s emergence as such a

polished product and ultimately to the even greater success of


id’s Hovertank 3D (left) and

Catacomb 3D (right), could be

considered the earliest testing

grounds for technology and

concepts later used to popular

acclaim in Wolfenstein 3D

and Doom.

Now let’s turn our attention back to the actual gameplay of

Doom. At the start of the single-player campaign, the player is

presented with a view of a futuristic room (the moon base) and a

hand pointing a pistol. At this point, the player is offered a variety

of control schemes, though most will tend toward the character’s

line of sight. A combination of mouse and keyboard control that

is popular today. A typical configuration is to move with the arrow

keys (this configuration later conformed to the standard W, A, S,

and D keys) and aim and fire with the mouse. Spinning the mouse

around changes the view; holding down the Alt key allows the

arrow keys to strafe (locked in left and right movement).10 Holding

down the right shift key and the arrow keys makes the character

run—an often-vital skill. Though moving and aiming can be terribly confusing and disorienting for the novice, most gamers

will likely master the interface in a few minutes. To this end, id

placed no monsters in the first room, so players are free to experiment with the control schemes until they feel ready for their first

encounters. Other controls are for opening doors and operating switches. All of the action is depicted from “first-person perspective,” meaning that the player is seeing from the character’s


Use of the mouse often negates the need for a strafe modifier key.



point of view. This setup is intended to make players feel a more

immediate connection to the action.11

After leaving the first room, players will begin fighting demons

and possessed soldiers. These enemies are dispatched readily

with a shot or two from the pistol. However, the player must be

careful not to waste ammo—an empty gun is merely a paperweight. There are also armor pickups, radiation suits, and health

packs, a.k.a. “stimpacks,” a “booster enzyme that make[s] you

feel like a new man,” to quote from the manual. By far the most

welcome of all these powerups was a bigger and badder weapon.

Persistent players eventually replace their pistol with shotguns,

chainguns, rocket launchers, plasma rifles, and eventually the

infamous BFG 9000, which can clear an entire room of monsters.

Each weapon requires a specific type of ammo, and rationing out

the ammo is an important part of the strategy. For instance, since

pistol clips are far more plentiful than shotgun shells or rockets, it’s better to use them for wimpy demons and save the rarer

ammo for more powerful enemies. There’s also a berserker rage

powerup that greatly boosts the character’s muscles, turning his

fists into weapons of mass destruction.

Doom’s built-in automapper helps

keep players on track.

Monsters aren’t the only perils awaiting the player. Ceilings can

cave in, slime/lava is radioactive, and barrels can explode. Indeed,

the manual suggests (and any observant player will quickly discover) that these explosive barrels can be used to quickly clear a


As author Loguidice recalls, “Playing this game for the first time on a fast

Pentium 90 computer up close to a 15" flat-screen CRT monitor created one of

those ‘wow’ moments in gaming for me that are few and far between. The immersive effect was particularly stunning when walking down the game’s dimly lit interior corridors.”



room of enemies—simply wait until they are near the barrels and

shoot them from a safe distance away.

At the bottom of the screen is the character’s “mug,” an animated face that changes upon receiving damage. The face

winces when the character takes a blow, for instance, and quickly

becomes bruised and bloodied as his health declines. This feature is important, because it helps balance out the first-person

perspective; it’s a constant reminder that the player is controlling

an actual character rather than a floating camera.

In the mid-1990s, it seemed

all but a prerequisite to have

a Doom game for your system.

Back of the box for the singleplayer-only version of Doom for

the Sega 32X shown, which was

often compared to the superior

multiplayer-capable, though

music-less, Atari Jaguar version.

Doom was at home on a wide

range of computers, consoles,

and handhelds, including the 3DO,

Nintendo Game Boy Advance,

Super Nintendo, Sega Saturn, and

Sony PlayStation.

id was quick to follow the original Doom with many upgrades,

sequels, and spin-offs. Doom II: Hell on Earth appeared on



October 10, 1994, and featured the same basic gameplay as the

original, though with a larger area to explore. The critical difference was that Doom II was intended for the retail market; it was

never released as shareware. This game received official expansion packs that were based on levels designed by users, including Master Levels for Doom II (1995) and Final Doom (1996). The

retail versions of Doom were quite profitable for id, who soon

found themselves awash with cash.12

The Doom games have been

ported to an amazing array of

platforms, both popular and

obscure, like this conversion of

Doom II for the Palm OS–based

Tapwave Zodiac handheld, back

of box shown.


The Ultimate Doom (1995) was a retail version of the original Doom that featured

a new, fourth episode, “Thy Flesh Consumed.”



id has also published spin-off games that utilized their Doom

engine. These include Raven Software’s Heretic (1994) and Hexen

(1996), well-received games with a fantasy setting.13 These games

are noted for introducing a more sophisticated inventory system

and the ability to look up and down. In 1996, id released Quake,

another FPS that became a definitive series of the genre. This

tremendously successful game and its sequels again put players in command of a soldier, and the plot is also based on a

Although for many it took the

release of the Microsoft Xbox

platform to legitimize FPS gaming

on consoles as an alternative to

using a computer, the genre had

seen several strong console

releases years earlier, though often

with compromised performance

and control schemes. The Nintendo

64 was a favorite target for id’s

properties, with the release of

games like Quake and Hexen (back

of box pictured). Below Hexen

is the back of the box for Rare’s

original creation from the James

Bond film, GoldenEye 007, one

of the most popular console FPS

titles prior to 2001’s Halo: Combat

Evolved for the Xbox.


These games could be said to have taken inspiration from id’s earlier Catacomb

3D games.


similar contrivance to the Doom games: government officials

experimenting with teleportation technology (“slipgates”) have

unwittingly granted access to a race of vicious “death squad”

marauders. It’s up to the player to enter the slipgate and dispatch

“Quake,” a mysterious and powerful enemy who is responsible

for the death squads.

Quake II, released in 1997, is a much different game than its

predecessor. The game employs a science fiction setting. The

player’s character, a marine named Bitterman, is sent with a

team to the home planet of a cybernetic race called the Strogg.

Their mission is to destroy Makron, the Strogg’s leader. As we

might expect, Bitterman’s team is quickly liquidated at the start

of the game, and it’s up to him to single-handedly complete the


Perhaps id’s most radical departure from the Doom setup is

Quake III Arena (1999), which is entirely focused on multiplayer

gameplay. After the first Doom, many gamers found themselves

much more interested in playing with other humans rather than

computer-controlled opponents. Because these early games

existed in the early days of the Internet, mutiplayer sessions took

place over LANs. This setup required that gamers assemble in the

same physical location, then plug all of their computers into the

same local or private network. This activity soon became a cultural phenomenon known as “LAN parties,” and many games

besides Doom were enjoyed during these events. LAN parties

ranged from as little as two to four connected computers to the

massive DreamHack party of Jonkoping, Sweden, which holds the

Guinness Book of Records with 10,638 computers all connected

to the same network. LAN parties have contributed much lingo to

modern gaming culture, such as the term “frag” for killing one’s

opponents. The next Quake game, Quake IV (2005), returned

to the story in Quake II with a long single-player campaign. Of

course, there are also multiplayer options.

id’s Doom 3 (2005) was a highly anticipated release that pushed

the boundaries of the then-current 3D graphics technology, particularly in regard to the use of light and shading. Unlike previous

Doom games, the third lacks black humor and dark wit. Instead,

the game strives for pure horror, placing players smack in the

middle of a situation reminiscent of an Alien movie. Speaking

of movies, it was around this time that the franchise received its

first (and so far only) film treatment: Andrzej Bartkowiak’s Doom

(2005). This film, like so many games based on movies, did not

fare particularly well at the box office.

Of course, id and its licensed partners are not the only developers who have produced first-person shooters worthy of

note. Indeed, one could easily write an entire book covering

the evolution of the genre. Two of the most popular are Valve’s




Quake III Arena took a purely

multiplayer approach to its

design, allowing for lots of great

human-on-human conflict, as seen

here in a screenshot from the

Sega Dreamcast version.

Despite selling well, Doom 3

received a relatively lukewarm

reception for its focus on

improved audiovisuals over

advancing the series’ play


Half-Life (1998) and Bungie’s Halo: Combat Evolved (2001). HalfLife introduced several ambitious innovations to the genre, but is

perhaps most notable for weaving in a more sophisticated narrative. Its sequel, Half-Life 2 (2004) is even more story-focused,

with characters and a plot that rivals that of a good science fiction film. Halo: Combat Evolved is also acclaimed for its excellent

story and writing, but is also noteworthy for successfully adapting

the genre to the console market. Although there had been plenty

of earlier attempts (including many ports of Wolfenstein 3D and

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Chapter 5. Doom (1993): The First-Person Shooter Takes Control

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