Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Old game is still good! - DOOM

 Ahead, you see a blue key. Since you have already cleared the room of all enemies, you just walk forwards to pick it up, This is natural, this what you just DO whenever you see a key. If they weren't wanting you to pick it up, why would they have just left it lying around?

Suddenly, the light turns off. The previously ambient growls, so much part of the soundtrack that you stopped noticing them altogether, turn into fully-fledged roars, and you are aware of a new light-source. This new light-source is not welcome, though, as it consists of fireballs launched from the bunch of Imps that just stepped out of the previously hidden room.

There is a name for this feeling. It is commonly referred to as "Bricking it". Welcome to DOOM, the game that more or less single-handedly set all the rules for FPS in stone, as well as made the idea of Deathmatches palpable to the masses, even popular. The games you play today all come packed with some kind of adversarial multiplayer, even if it is just an afterthought addition. DOOM started that. They are all brown, all feature Space Marines, and all have shotguns, rocket launchers, and some kind of energy weapon. DOOM started that, too. It would be no understatement to say that id’s seminal title is the template that shooting games have built onto for the last coming up to 20 years.


Screenshots today just don't do this game justice. There was a reason that every PC in the world played it in 1993, and that was because up until then there had simply been nothing else like it. Moving large blocks of graphics around at high speed in a hitherto unmatched attempt to create a 3D world had never looked anywhere near this good. Today, it is blocky, pixellated, even ugly. But back then? It was BEAUTIFUL. It was poetry in motion. In the offices of the land, the working day would end with a quick shot on DOOM, even if this meant running it in a teeny-tiny window to make it smooth. And you didn't mind that the screen was 120 pixels square, because it still looked stunning! Such was the immersion factor that it literally gave people motion sickness after prolonged playing sessions, which was to say, after any playing session.

He doesn't like you.

Playing it today, when one is used to graphics that would have made us spontaneously explode in 1993, the sheer aesthetic impact is not so much lessened as it is flattened. There is no "WOW" factor at all, and it is hard not to snigger. Worse still, the game engine was only able to move on two axes, which meant that looking up and down was just not possible. (Little-known fact; there are NO rooms that are above or below other rooms due to this restriction.) This is a bigger adjustment, as all you want to do is to just AIM AT THE BASTARD UP THERE. Thankfully, the aforementioned "no rooms above other rooms" mechanic means that height is irrelevant, and however high above or below you an Imp is, you can still shoot it just by pointing your gun in the same direction as it.

This all pales, though, beside the sheer tension playing induces. The human mind's ability to be scared by the things it can't see works overtime, and every corridor becomes a home to beings from the darkest dimensions. Which isn't entirely against the flow of things, being as the plot is that the doorway to Hell has been discovered on Mars. Each growl is somehow amplified, and the creature that made it is something more monstrous than anything you have so far fought. Even when you see it, often at extremely short notice and right in your face in its pixellated glory, it remains terrifying. And when things get dark, as they frequently do, you can't help but slow to a crawl and let caution completely overtake you.

It is this, more than anything, that allows DOOM to still shine today. The game elicits pure emotion in a way that modern games with their photo-realism and high-polygon counts never seem to get close to emulating. Whilst Gears of War has a pretty spectacular Chainsaw, it doesn't even come close to the joy of picking one up and being told by the game itself to "FIND SOME MEAT". A command that you find yourself desperate to follow. You sprint, searching for ANYTHING to insert your vibrating tool into. Ex-marines, Imps, Demons; the cast are amongst the most iconic ever assembled. Show a DOOM player a Baron of Hell, and watch the involuntary twitches. Show them the Spider-demon and they may well try to destroy the image, such is the ingrained hatred.

Despite the engine being farmed out to nearly every other game made for the next 3 years, many of which made technical improvements to textures, resolution, speed, and all the other things that are so massively important to games today, none of them captured the sheer sense of terror that DOOM made its own. Play it today, and you will find that it can still not just hold its own, but could teach many modern titles a thing or two about pacing. The levels are designed with a tightness that escapes so many of today’s titles, and a pacing that doesn't rely on piling massive set-piece on top of massive set-piece.

DOOM changed gaming forever. It set standards that are still in place today, alongside qualities that are all too rarely matched. It deserves it place in history, and absolutely belongs in your collection. (Which should be easy, as it is available on every bloody format in existence!)

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