CARG Laptop – Meet Your DOOM

DOSBox and DOOM

The CARG Laptop now has DOSBox installed, so it’s about time we introduced some games to it.  But what to select as the first game?  Something iconic, something legendary, something influential.  And something that tugs at the heartstrings of many a gamer.  CARG, meet DOOM.

John Carmack at the 2010 Game Developers Conference. Photo GDC.

The heritage of DOOM goes back to April 1991, when fledgling id Software released a game called Hovertank 3D.  John Carmack developed a 3D engine to render a first-person view, which was used in Hovertank 3D to put the player in the role of tank commander Brick Sledge, who is tasked with driving around a city and rescuing people.  Texture mapping was added to this engine and used to create Catacomb 3D, where the player played the role of a wizard wandering through catacombs in order to save his friend.  The engine was further developed and used in the groundbreaking Wolfenstein 3D, where John Romero suggested fast, simple game play.  This formula worked, and Wolfenstein 3D was a hit for the growing team of developers.

Here It Comes

John Romero in 2012
John Romero in 2012. Photo by Jason Scott.

While the rest of id Software wrapped up the sequel to Wolfenstein 3D (Spear of Destiny), John Carmack had developed what would become known as the Doom Engine.  Changes included full height rendering (rather then a solid pallette for each section of wall) and better handling of light.  The latter is important, as DOOM could have deep shadows where enemies could hide in, which became a standard in the “horror action” games genre.

For all of the advances in the engine, it was not a truly 3D game.  If you look carefully, there is nowhere in the game the player can stand exactly on top of themselves.  There are no bridges you can walk under that you can then cross.  There are no rooms directly above or below another.  You cannot look up or fire directly at enemies above – just point in the direction of the enemy and the elevation of the shot will look after itself.  This has led to the “2.5D” styling, where a game looks 3 dimensional without actually allowing a full 3 dimensional range of movement.

Regardless of these technical limitations, DOOM was a watershed moment in gaming.  It is so influential that first-person-shooter games released after it were named “DOOM clones”.  This was, in part, id Software’s decision to encourage modifications (or “mods”) of the game, something they had seen happen with Wolfenstein 3D.  To enable this, id Software developed a system of data files that allowed the original program to stay in tact – these data files became known as WADs after their file extension.

Expanding The Game

I mentioned in the game a couple of things, so here is a bit of an expansion on that.

Yes, fog.  Up until DOOM, 3D games had little interaction with the outside world.  The exception to this was sports simulators, especially flight simulators.  Most used trees or mountains to limit just how far a player could see towards the horizon, but flight sims solved the problem by hazing out the distance in what became known as “the fog”.  This became a standard as first person shooters proliferated, sometimes being used as part of the storyline (Silent Hill did this).  However, it was mainly a way for underpowered systems to handle objects that were far from the character and provide better graphics to the nearer objects.

American McGee in 2004
American McGee in 2004

I also mention American McGee when reading through the credits of the game.  Up until I researched this article, I thought “American McGee” was an artistic group of coders and electronic artists.  As it turns out, American is his first name, as his mother had a quite alternative lifestyle.  One of her friends named her child America, so she followed suit.

So that’s DOOM.  Basically, keep running and keep shooting.  But it has become so popular it towers over gaming.  Profile images of John Carmack, John Romero and American McGee come from Wikipedia.