How First-Person Shooter Doom Became Dallas' Most Beloved and Bloodiest Franchise
A Revenant preps to do bloody battle with a faceless, helmeted hell fighter in the new Doom game, the fourth in a video game franchise with deep roots in Dallas.
Courtesy of Bethesda Softworks
If you dedicated your free time to playing video games on a computer in the 1990s, then you remember the first time you played the groundbreaking first-person shooter Doom. It's hard to forget a formative moment that involves using a chainsaw to cut open a horned Hell minion like a Thanksgiving turkey packed with blood squibs.
Some remember Id's signature title for its technical innovations, like multiplayer and level creation modes, which are now standard in modern games.
"My brother and me had to set up two computers to connect to play Doom and we actually went out to a computer store and bought a 100-foot, 25-pin serial cable and draped it down the balcony and out the window to the other computer," says Sean Kelly, a video game collector and co-founder of the National Videogame Museum in Frisco. "The fact that you could see another player on the screen in real time, that was it for us. That was eye-opening for us."
Others just remember the rush of adrenaline that coursed through their veins the first time they mowed down a wave of monsters with a chaingun or used their entire ammo stockpile to put down a spiderdemon.
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"The original Doom was a great stress reliever at the end of a hard day," says Patrick Scott Patterson, a video game writer and historian from Denton behind the recently revamped U.S. National Video Game Team. "You're supposed to just run around and blast the bad guys and it wasn't the first first-person shooter but it was the first for a lot of people."
Twenty-three years later, a whole new generation of gamers have a Doom game they can play and fondly recall years from now, when gaming technology straight out of a Black Mirror episode will put them in a virtual world projected through their retinas.
Id Software and Bethesda Softworks, a sister studio under the same umbrella of Id's current parent company ZeniMax Media, released a new Doom game last month. It's the fourth in the top-selling franchise, ending a 12-year drought when gamers thought they'd never get to go back to Mars and bringing Doom back to its bloody roots, planted firmly in North Texas soil.
"When we knew exactly what we were making, it just made sense to call it Doom," says Marty Stratton, the executive producer of the new Doom game. "Ultimately, for both longtime fans and players completely new to the franchise, we set out to establish a new foundation for Doom, a foundation that for fans is familiar, respectful and true to its roots while for new fans it felt fresh and unlike the other shooters they are playing. For us, it just felt right to call that effort Doom."
The unnamed hero of the game Doom points his heavy assault rifle at a cluster of enemies.
Courtesy of Bethesda Softworks
Id first surfaced in the early '90s in Shreveport, Louisiana, where they started developing a game engine that would become the launching platform for the company's most famous titles before settling down in Dallas (or Mesquite if you want to get geographically specific).
"No one was in Dallas except for Apogee and we came down to Dallas because Apogee was our publisher," says John Romero, an Id co-founder, programmer and level designer who worked on the first Doom and now runs Romero Games out of Galway, Ireland, where he's returning to the first-person shooter genre with a new game in development called Blackroom.
The move would eventually attract other game studios and developers to DFW looking for ways to develop their own titles and businesses even before Id's titles started dominating the market, such as Valve, who Id's co-founders helped to set up the first person development team for their flagship title Half-Life. Romero says some developers and programmers who left the company also stayed in the area to start their own studios such as Nerve Software, the developer behind several recent additions to the Call of Duty franchise.
"We were definitely an outlier studio giving away source code and not having any protections, that sort of stuff," Romero says. "That's what we were all about, which is not what the industry was all about. We helped people even at the very beginning when we were just barely starting to get known to Apogee."
The studio found early success in the shadow of their founding with the sidescrolling Commander Keen series and the first-person shooter Wolfenstein 3D, another classic Id title that earned a similar rebirth in 2009 with Bethesda and MachineGames' Wolfenstein: The New Order. Id's co-founder and former designer Tom Hall, who now works for PlayFirst in San Francisco on titles such as Diner Dash and Cooking Mama, says Wolfenstein provided a solid foundation for Doom.
"The weapons are an evolution from Wolfenstein and that's when we were sort of choosing what basic elements of what first-person shooters are," Hall says, "what the rules are, priorities, weapons growing in strength, do we want the same ammo for everything or different ammo and so many other things."
The first Doom was destined to become a juggernaut long before any boxes were put on store shelves. Like other titles in Id's library, they first released the game as Shareware, a term for software that could be easily shared and distributed for free. Those early tastes of the game drove up demand for more episodes and sequels and wider distribution deals.
Romero says word of mouth about this cool shooter from the studio that made Wolfenstein 3D that let you cut up your enemies with a fucking chainsaw was all the marketing they needed.
"It's really rare to have a game that didn't need advertising," Romero says. "Minecraft is really the last one."
Two sequels later, an entirely new Id staff found itself trying to start a fourth Doom game, but the development period for what would become the current incarnation of Doom was rough. The company first confirmed that it would start working on the fourth game in 2008, according to IGN, but the years passed and nothing surfaced. A report published on the Gawker Media gaming blog Kotaku in 2013 reported that the project was stuck in that creative limbo land known as development hell.
Stratton says that's when Id's team decided to start over on Doom 4 and reboot their game as the first rung on the next generation of Doom.
"We did end up rebooting development for the last time at the beginning of 2013," Stratton says. "So what we've released was only really in development for a little over three years, including pre-production, so for a game of this size, it wasn't long at all. To really do what we thought gamers wanted, we had to simply learn from what had come before but generally put it behind us and focus on what we were making."
A year later, Id had an unpolished but presentable project they could show off to their hardcore fan base at QuakeCon, the annual PC gaming convention held annually in Dallas. Stratton revealed for the first time to the cheering crowds at the event that it would be called just Doom. "It's not Doom 4," Stratton said in his speech at QuakeCon, "and it's not Enemy Territory: Doom Wars."
The demo first screened in 2014 and the game released last May showed a well-balanced mix of old school features that made the first games work and some surprising additions that add new elements and challenges to the gameplay. Doom takes players through sharp environments that harken back to the first incarnations of the franchise when players navigated through wrecked, industrial corridors and hellish canyons and offers some fun features such as a new melee mechanic called "glory kills," in which players can rip, smash and tear apart enemies of all sizes after stunning them with their weapons.
"What I love about it is [Id] didn't try to reinvent the wheel," Patterson says. "The tech has changed a lot since the original Doom and it's tempting to use all that new technology until the game becomes unrecognizable, and clearly, they are using some new technology and those capabilities, but they still recognize it for what it's supposed to be."
A group of online Doom players unload their arsenal on an enemy player who has spawned into a rocket-launching demon from hell.
Courtesy of Bethesda Softworks
The new game also comes with an online multiplayer mode and brings back a level creation feature included in the first editions called "SnapMap" that lets players craft their own levels and challenges that they can upload and share through their consoles or computers for other players to test out in single and co-op modes.
"That's what gave Doom the longevity it had," Kelly says. "There was this whole scene of people who made thousands and thousands of different maps for people."
The grandest accomplishment of the new game isn't just that it revived a classic game series that some feared would become the next Duke Nukem Forever. It sticks to the core components of the original that made it so fun and builds new concepts and mechanics on top of them like always being able to move at a running speed without pressing an extra button or letting you use all of your ammo at once so you don't have to worry about reloading in the middle of a firefight.
"The biggest challenge is simply the responsibility we felt to give players a game that could rightfully wear the Doom logo — both creatively and technically," Stratton says. "This was a true labor of love and something the entire team put an enormous amount of effort into. Addressing the challenge for us came down to always walking the line between creating a Doom game that would like feel like a Doom game and feel familiar for longtime fans, but would also just feel like a great game for a player playing Doom for the first time."
Both Romero and Hall say they haven't played the newest incarnation of the game they helped create more than 20 years ago but they've heard some good buzz about it and seem encouraged about its chances from the demo videos and trailers they've watched leading up to and after its release.
"I want it to be great," Hall says. "Having worked on the first game and being on the team that worked on the first first-person shooter, I have strong opinions about the development of its fundamentals and it's interesting with all these changes so I want to see it grow. I just want it to be amazing and true to what Doom is."
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