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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.

cyberdemon-1We end our journey through the hellacious parade of Doom beasts with the biggest of them all – the dreaded Cyberdemon. This ghastly, skyscraper-esque, Minotaur cybernetic doesn’t have a left forearm – it has a super action rocket launcher instead. How handy.

The Cyberdemon is not actually the final boss of the game – that honour goes to the Spider Mastermind, who kicked off this little impromptu series here. He does, however, patrol the last level of the second episode, The Shores of Hell, set on Deimos. In a similar setup to the Baron of Hell face-off of episode one, the map Tower of Babel is brisk and quiet – and worryingly generous with armor, stimpacks and ammunition – until you enter a courtyard, and basically run right into this hideous creation. Once awoken, his strides make a booming impact on the ground – the sound of that getting nearer is something you really don’t want to hear.

Meet_cyberdemon

Well, that’s you over.

Needless to say, if you’re caught off guard, his rocket launcher is going to see you off immediately. I’ve always thought the Cyberdemon tougher to best than the Spider Mastermind – it moved faster, was leaner and thus harder to strike at a safe distance (at least until you discovered how to ‘circle strafe’ – basically, run rings around him firing incessantly, while avoiding the rockets) and had an attack which could seriously wound you even if he didn’t actually hit you – Doom was one of the first games to factor in blast damage for explosive weapons (though the Cyberdemon, tsk, wouldn’t you know it, is immune!) It also has health of 4000%, higher than the Spider Mastermind (3000%) and indeed most of the other enemies put together, so on meeting, be prepared for one almighty onslaught.

With the defeat of the Cyberdemon comes the end of our journey to Hell – I think these four are the most iconic characters of the game. I thought I’d throw them all on a single image, just to give you some idea of the varying scales of each of the monsters covered, as the single portraits don’t necessarily do them justice:

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It’s been a lot of fun revisiting a childhood staple of mine (even though it shouldn’t have been such, I know.) and it’s been an enjoyable challenge ‘upscaling’ masses of pixels into a smooth sketch. I might look at other games in the future, though I’m struggling to think of any with such an impressive cast as Doom.

cacodemon-0I’m sure you won’t mind me taking you back to the shores of Hell for another encounter with the loathsome Doom troupethis time, the Cacodemon. With their crown of horns, piercing green eye and mouth a perma-sadistic grin, these were indeed quite the unwelcome beast on first encounter, and every other that followed. I gave him fur, though I’m not sure he’s supposed to be furry. Oh well.

As you can probably gauge by the drawing, this beast does not amble around but instead floats, making evasion all the more difficult while also posing particular irritation if fending off others on ground level. They do not need to get close to mount an attack, either; they can take a chunk out of you with those huge gnashers, but they more often stay at long distance and belch balls of lightning in your direction. I shouldn’t imagine that’ll do you much good.

They’re by no means a ‘boss’ and as such aren’t terribly hard to best with relatively decent weapons, but that certainly doesn’t mean they should go underestimated, especially if facing a pack of them as often happens later in the game.

Caceys

You’re gonna need a bigger weapon.

In researching the development of the character, I found that the Cacodemon was basically lifted from the cover of the 1987 Dungeons & Dragons book, Manual of the Planes. Interesting to see…

AD&D_Manual_of_the_Planes

…goodness, it is the Cacodemon! Every day’s a school day. You may also be questioning the etymology of the name (though I doubt you’re much bothered). To be Susie Dent momentarily: The English word ‘cacodemon’ derives from the Greek ‘kakodaimon’, meaning ‘malevolent spirit’, which indeed is very suitable of such a monster. I’d long thought it a play on the general exclamation of the player whenever they appeared – that being, “oh, cack!” – but evidently I was wrong.

No doubt we’ll be making another plunge to the depths and meeting more hideous hellspawn soon.

baronofhell-c2We’re back in the hellish world of Doom with another of its cast of devilish demons – this time, the Baron of Hell. Known as ‘The Brusier Brothers’ for reasons that quickly become apparent on introduction, a pair of these minotaur-esque clients pose the final challenge of Doom‘s first episode, set on Phobos. If ill-equipped of ammunition or experience, they make a lethal adversary and can easily thrash you with their razor claws and green fireballs.

It was these who gave me surely the scariest moment of my Doom-ing, as I alluded to in my previous Spider Mastermind post. The level is eerily simple – at least on easier difficulties – to an extent that even a six-year old should have sensed that something dreadful was going to happen any moment. Going up a lift, you are taken to a huge star-shaped arena, immediately before a staircase and two large doors. Leave it to me to run happily up to said doors and be greeted with the wonderful consequences.

Barons_of_Hell

I’M OUTTA HERE!

The doors open and the beasts behind yell like some sort of murderous bull. That was quite enough for me; off I ran, terrified, missing their putting me out of my misery. I don’t think I’ve ever been so frightened by a video game before or since (and that includes running into the much larger Doom characters). But hey, I beat them in the next round, which was a very satisfying revenge. After that, I was happy to call it even and move on. I’m not sure the Barons feel the same way, however, as they seem to continue to attempt murder on every encounter, but I’m sure it’s just a game we play. They’re cool.

spider-mastermind-cHere we have The Spiderdemon, later known as The Spider Mastermind, the final boss of one of the biggest (and most controversial) games of 1993: id Software’s Doom. It earns the latter moniker when – spoiler! – the plot reveals this cybernetic colossus as the mastermind behind the monster invasion of the Phobos and Deimos bases you’ve had to blaze through en route to the showdown in hell itself. It’s not actually a spider at all, having only four legs and two arms, but we’re not going to argue with it.

Over the season I often get nostalgic for childhood, and a large part of that throws me back to the time I wasted in front of the TV playing games… and using said nostalgia as an excuse to do precisely that once again. In a true Christmas spirit and after chancing upon a YouTube video discussing the game, Doom was one to which we found our way back.

I was very young (too young) when I played it for the first time, at the age of about six. We were one of the four or five families in the world that owned a Sega 32X – though we got it in 1998, long after it had been discontinued! – and when my brother bought it from some second-hand shop, the vendor just chucked a Doom cartridge in without prompt or apology. He did the same with a particularly dire Star Wars game too… I guess there were a lot to be rid of.

In my innocence, my intrigue was more expended in the ‘3D’ graphics and the fact that the perilous pools of acid were animated to look like rippling liquid, than it ever was with blasting a shotgun at demons. And I was never very good at that anyway. (Playing it over the past couple of days: that hasn’t changed.) There was one time I merrily strolled up to a door, only for it to raise on me with a terrifying predatory trumpet, revealing a pair of hideous goat-esque beasts – the Barons of Hell – who promptly put me out of my misery as I’d dropped the controller in panic and ran away. But other than that one incident, and considering I found lots of kids TV puppets unnerving, I think I coped with Doom pretty well.

There are facets to the game that still impress me – things that you can observe as truly a step-up from any game that had preceded it. One I enjoy the most is the use of sound; the fact that you can hear distant enemies grunting, their increasing volume betraying an impending encounter. The sound of doors opening and closing behind you. With the clever level design, the atmosphere is still there in bucket loads – the now-dated graphics seem to add to it.

Meet_spider

Ohhhh fudge.

Our Spider Mastermind friend here wasn’t in the 32X version, so I didn’t see it until we acquired the PC version… this would have been a year or two later; the then-seven-year old game was about the most our pitiful machine could cope with without catching fire. Being the ultimate boss, you’d expect it to be one of the toughest enemies to beat – and you’d be right, even if the mountainous Cyberdemon that you meet halfway through the game is more damaging. That’s a super-action chaingun on the front of the chassis; drop the ball for a second and it will finish you off. As a child, I could never best it without cheating. Beating it on Ultra-Violence (hard) without sneaky codes was my crowning achievement of last weekend, or heck, perhaps the entire year.

The Doom monsters are an impressive and characterfully vile troupe. They were sketched and sculpted by Adrian Carmack and Gregor Punchatz (the latter of which built our subject, to the former’s designs). The sculptures were then photographed from eight different angles, scanned, coloured and mixed with hand-drawn sprites. Here’s the team playing around with the awesome Spider Mastermind model:

This was a time-consuming job, and not without its frustrations, but ultimately it was one of the most fun I think I’ve ever done for this blog, and certainly a departure from my norms. I might come back with some more Doom hellspawn later on!