Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Why Doom (1993) is one of my favourite games


In my last favourite games video, I neglected to tell a story about the game in question. I started Loom off with a story, and it was my intention to continue that tradition with these videos. So I would have been 11 or 12 and visiting the home of an acquaintance. Not really a friend as we didn’t hang out that much, but our mothers knew each other. He had just gotten a new computer. Along with this beast (it was likely a 486 of some variety), it came with a sound blaster, and boxed copy of Doom. Now we all had shareware copies of Doom. Everyone did, but it was rare to see someone that owned the game, let alone have a brand new sound card to showcase that amazing soundtrack and those chunky sound effects. I asked to borrow his brand new copy of Doom. He, of course, declined.

So Doom is a special case when talking about my favourite games. I played Doom and Doom II from their shareware versions to full releases all through my late childhood and adolescence. In acquiring footage for this video, this is the first time I have ever played the game properly. You see, I always played the game with cheats. IDDQD for god mode, IDKFA for all the weapons and full ammo, and even IDCLIP when I couldn’t work out where a key was for a door. I would just walk through the door. What happened this time is it changed what I remember as an engaging high-speed action game into something more resembling an entry in the survival horror genre. Years later when I played Doom 3, I thought the horror aspect of that game was quite a departure from the first two, now I see it was simply a continuation of what Doom actually is… with better lighting.

When I play older games, I have an obsession with replicating the original experience. So many games have new texture and effect packs, mods to “fix” annoying gameplay systems, and patches to stop crashing and to put cut content back in the game. I have no problem with any of this, but aside from the bug fixes, I tend to keep the game as close to the released version as possible. Approaching Doom, I made two small “quality of life” changes. The first is that I fixed the mouse movement so the mouse can no longer move your character forward or backwards, only side to side. This way I can take advantage of the WSAD mouselook control scheme that has become standard in PC FPS games. When Doom came out, I used the arrow keys and didn’t strafe at all. It wasn’t until Duke Nukem 3D that I learned about mouselook and taught myself how to play that way. Returning to Doom with that control scheme really helped. Secondly, I installed a new MIDI pack for the game’s music. One of the throughlines of most of my favourite games is their soundtrack and sound design, and Doom is no different. Here're some examples of my favourite level tracks with this MIDI pack installed.

It’s a strange question to ask how a game like Doom holds up considering that this was the first time I had ever played it without cheats, but if that opinion is worth anything to you, I will say that it holds up astoundingly well. The game was incredibly tense. Dark areas really scared me as I heard the growls of monsters in the vicinity, and it always seemed like I was low on ammo for the weapons that really mattered. Even the shotgun that became the default weapon for most of the game had periods where shells were in short supply. Then there are the combinations of monsters batched together. Episode 2 and 3 introduce you to the cacodemon without the ammo needed to quickly dispatch it, and then by late episode 3, you have to fight 3 or 4 of the floating monstrosities as imps, pinkies, or lost souls need to be dealt with as well. Sometimes they’ll even throw in a baron of hell for good measure.

I’ll end with talking about surreal level design. For me, it started to get creepy and abstract during the Deimos Lab from episode 2, with its blue walls, demon head symbols, and then a change to the colour red. In episode 3 they went more experimental with large outdoor sections, or maze-like ranges where walls open up revealing a cavalcade of monsters inside. The way the levels are constructed regarding space, and how you familiarise yourself with these game spaces (especially when searching for a key) is highly memorable, and will likely be even more so on my next playthrough as I’m no longer just walking through walls.

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