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doom25-3

The first episode of id Software’s Doom was released onto the internet twenty-five years ago today. A quarter-century of our nameless marine’s steely eyes surveying the surroundings. This disembodied head is about all you ever see of the player character in the original game – a countenance reflecting back at you in the game’s heads up display, giving you an idea of what shape you’re in. Having taken a look at the cast of loathsome monsters a few years ago, I thought he would be worth attempting this time. I resisted the temptation to plonk a party hat on his head, though. I don’t think that’s his style.

Doom is one of the most important gaming releases to date, and it happens to be one of the first games beyond Sonic that I can remember really playing at length. It was quite a departure from those whimsical adventures with everyone’s favourite blue hedgehog. As I said before, it wasn’t really the gore that appealed to me – I was useless at the combat, and indeed, if you saw me play you’d probably think I’d never done so before. It was the environment – which I thought definitively 3D at the time – and ominous atmosphere that pulled me in. Mournful music playing as we trawl the infested moon base, the endless desolation of Phobos outside, the groans of monsters growing louder – it paints an obvious picture: you’re on your own, and the only way out is through. Such excellent design means the first episode is still a blast to play through, even knowing all the secrets; the sense of progression and staging, building up to the climax against the Barons of Hell, is legendary.

Everything was a step up from its predecessors. Hype for Doom was such that, at midnight on 10th December, id couldn’t even access the server for its initial release. Once a few students were kicked, they were finally able to upload the game – and it wasn’t very long before the servers crashed completely. The daddy of multiplayer was born, with players taking on the game’s campaign in teams or going hell for leather against each other. It’s said that, within weeks of its release, universities and even workplaces had to issue strict Doom-specific rules, so badly was it affecting their networks.

Once you were done with the main game or multiplayer, all was not over. Creativity was always intended to be a big part of Doom. Storyline was mostly jettisoned for action during development, and what remains is sparse, allowing you to fill in the gaps. Customisation was one of the big draws, and sure enough, user-created levels were appearing online by early 1994 and are still being made. Over the years, source ports have added fixes and greater capabilities to supplement the engine – it’s still a hugely popular resource, with a tremendous community around it. I can’t see that dying down any time soon. Total conversions such as 2010’s extra-gory Brutal Doom transform the experience whilst underscoring the power of the original. Others go for something completely different, demonstrating impressive versatility – in an unexpected meeting of two defining games, even Sonic has been given a series of games using the Doom engine.

If ever proof were needed as to just how far this community stretches, here’s what happened when an esteemed creator known as ‘The Ultimate Doomer’ turned Doom into The Crystal Maze. Of course, it’s absolute genius:

Gruesome, gory, controversial? No doubt. But Doom was a rare example of a game delivering on all that it promised and making no apologies. Though it might have been technically surpassed several times over by now, there’s still no doubting the mark it made back in December 1993, and on myself five years later. So, here’s to id Software and our nameless marine.

xerath_01bIn a quick impromptu journey back into the fantastical universe of League of Legends, we’re confronted this time by Xerath. A resurrected being of pure energy surrounded by the shards of a magical sarcophagus, this gargantuan perfectly captures the feel of uncontrollable power.

Unsurprisingly, energy is at the heart of Xerath’s attack, with orbs and bolts of the stuff managing to both stun and damage an adversary, even at long range. As if this weren’t enough, increased ability from successful strikes will be channeled into his armour, making him even more durable. As with most giants, there is the caveat that stamina and failed shots tend to have greater implications, leaving him vulnerable. This gives players the age-old quandary: conserve energy and make progress slowly, or take a risk and go all out.

As you can probably gather, I returned to Photoshop and drawing for this one. Just because, really. Another curious peek into a new world.

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At the risk of developing square eyes, another attempt at computing modelling using a computer, and moving into the eighties we have the legendary ZX Spectrum, developed by one Clive Sinclair. Released in the spring of 1982 to enormous demand, the Spectrum championed rubber-keyed home computing, and at an affordable price; the launch model sold for £125, significantly cheaper than virtually any competitor of the day. It quickly became Britain’s best-selling computer and would go on to perform just as well across Europe.

I believe the +2, a 128k revision released in 1986 which I’ve attempted to model here, was our first home computer – though, sadly, I don’t think things got off to a great start. It can’t have had a particularly impressive lifespan, as my only recollection of it was broken in a container gathering dust, while the later +2A model was wowing the family with the likes of Trap Door, OutRun and Blockbusters. This successor seemed to power on valiantly until it was thought obsolete circa 2000 and, criminally, disposed of.

I wasn’t ever allowed near it that much – I barely knew how to use it anyway – but I do have vivid memories of sitting and watching others play these games; games that weren’t on a par with visual quality to our snazzy 16-bit consoles that I could play, but were still engaging, and in some ways felt more fun. The bright colours surely helped, and perhaps being branded unworthy of touching the thing alone did, too… but I’m sure there was more to it than that, for its impact hasn’t lessened in twenty years of my time, nor thirty-five years of technological progress.

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One of the Spectrum’s biggest triumphs was melding the computing and gaming offering, going one step further and encouraging enthusiasts to create their own games, aided by bespoke software and publications. Magazines would print reams of code on a regular basis. I daresay a large number of today’s programmers cut their teeth on the Speccy, and that introductory element, tapping into the creativity of its audience in such a way surely goes some way to explain why its users remember it so fondly.

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With such enduring features on its side, the Spectrum had a long life and saw off most of its contemporaries from the early eighties. It was discontinued in 1992, after multiple refreshes and revisions, though games would continue to trickle out in some regions for a couple of years. This being said, the machine is far from dead; the community thrives, and excitingly you will find homebrew games are still being put together to this day. Proof, if ever it were needed, that there is something magic about the ZX Spectrum.

ZXSpectrumplus2_0049AI do hope you can see some visual improvements in these renders. I’ve finally figured out how to operate the depth of field tools and capabilities! It’s something I was a little daunted by, blindly changing configurations and hoping for the best, but already it’s throwing out some promising aesthetics, giving scenes a far greater physicality. The keys may be way off, but the effect is nice, so that’s okay! It’s a great tool to have at my disposal as I continue ambling through this modelling lark.

One of the games I remember very clearly from back in the day is Batman The Movie, based on Tim Burton’s first outing with the Caped Crusader. I still love its soundtrack. It’s still bloody hard!

Atarimaker-tech1

Following on from my attempt at a 3d model of the Atari 2600, in which I had spent some time looking at the console’s gameplay and graphics, I happened across a felicitous piece of software.

Atari FontMaker does as you’d likely expect; it gives you the default character map and allows you to make changes to individual glyphs, creating a custom typeface or a pallette for artwork – perhaps both! It looks as if you can even export your maps in a file that the Atari can use, though with bad memories of BASIC on the Spectrum coming back, I haven’t been compelled to try that just yet. Fortunately, you can export as images, and the program gives you a view to lay down your marks. Above and below is a very quick modification of the default set, with the view above and map below:

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Then came some attempts at making larger display faces from configurations of characters:

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Atarimaker-onward

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Then, moving on and trying to create some scenery. Sharp lines led me in an urban, industrial direction.

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The format and amount of letter spaces meant that a nighttime city skyline was quite fun to put together, even before implementing colour.

Atarimaker-trianglesI’m sure someone with a more creative and patient mind could whip up some lovely patterns in this software, because that’s one thing even the primitive visuals can’t scupper completely. This has a seafront amusement arcade look about it. It makes you wonder what Sonic’s Casino Night Zone might have looked like on the Atari…

I then tried to be a tad more ambitious, putting together a mountainous landscape replete with birds. This required pretty much the whole set to be tweaked, as can be seen below; the first is how the piece would look under the default set:

Atarimaker-mountainsPerhaps a few too many clouds, but nevertheless it’s probably one of the stronger experiments here.

Atarimaker-sonicSpeaking of Sonic earlier, the above was inspired by his 8-bit outings in the Green Hill Zone – not inspired enough to actually feature him, apparently! It is very green, though, you have to give me that.

I returned to lettering, but geared toward a more stylised finish. A simple start; I quite like its brashness, not sure about the colour:

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The shard-like nature of the above experiment gave me the obvious idea:

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As I said, the obvious progression. To my knowledge, there wasn’t a Crystal Maze game on the Atari. I wonder how it might have looked, had there been…

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…probably better than that!

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Well, if you think Channel 4’s catch-up service is slow today…! This was a must, really, as a throwback to my BASIC exploits of university, wherein I attempted to make a Channel 4 ident that could run on the ZX Spectrum. The greater colour capabilities here meant that the logo came out looking much more impressive.

And, to finish, Mr. Babbage from Family Fortunes and various motorways. Perfect for this format.

Atarimaker-mrbabbageThis was a heap of fun for me, as you might be able to gather by the sheer amount of stuff! It’s always interesting to go back and see what you can squeeze out of technology thought long out of date, attempting to turn the restrictions to your advantage. I think you’re more often than not pleasantly surprised, if not amazed. There is surely much more that can be created with just this program.

Thanks to MatoSimi for putting it together – if you’re interested in trying this for yourself, you can find it here. Have fun.

atari2600-1Now we can play Pong at home!

With another veritable brainwave, I decided to have a look at some home computers and consoles for 3D inspiration. There isn’t really a better starting point than the Atari VCS, or, as it was later known, the Atari 2600.

A response to the increasing popularity of arcade games like the aforementioned table tennis simulation, Atari invested $100 million into the development of this home system prior to its eventual release in September 1977. It was introduced at a price of $199.99, which sounds relatively reasonable, until you factor in forty years of inflation. This is equivalent to almost eight hundred dollars today! Such might explain why sales were decidedly modest to begin with. Eventually, though, the console gained momentum, and at its peak in 1982 sold over eight million units, the first machine to do such impressive business and prove demand for home gaming beyond any doubt.

atari2600-2Though there were many highlights, with a string of arcade hits improved for making the jump to cartridge and colour, complicated hardware coupled with the increasing demand and saturation of the video game market in the early eighties saw individual titles suffer, with many being rushed if not scrapped altogether. Perhaps the most notable example of such a rush job is E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, a colossal failure and regarded by many as the worst game ever made. While I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, I have played it, and can confirm it is indeed quite the experience.

All of this being said, the 2600 was incredibly resilient. It comfortably outlived many of its technically superior contemporaries – games were still being made in the early nineties, well into the 16-bit era, and of course nostalgia prevails to this day. A fitting tenure and legacy for the console that, however rough around the edges, surely started it all. Pretty fun to model, too.

atari2600-3Fancy a game? Here’s some footage of E.T. for you. You’re welcome.