Happy 21st Birthday, Doom!

I didn’t have a phone line in the first apartment I lived in, which cut my BBS/modeming habit when I moved in drastically down from “many hours a day” to “nothing” very quickly. In regards to computers, it was a transitional time for me. When I first moved into that apartment, my primary computer was a Commodore 64. When I moved out of the apartment and in with Susan I bought my first PC, a 386/25 PC that my friend Josh helped me assemble.

The minute I moved in with Susan and got that PC I plugged it into the phone line and pretty much monopolized it around the clock. When that became a problem, we purchased a second phone line. When I set up my own BBS, we added a third. That’s true. We had three phone lines in a mobile home. Two of them were used exclusively by computers and sometimes I used the third, too. I spent a lot of time connecting to people and things electronically (still do).

One of the big differences between the Commodore and PC worlds was that there weren’t a lot of good shareware software titles for the Commodore 64 (and for the most part, the free stuff sucked). The PC was different though. It was the era of “shareware” — try before you buy software. Most shareware titles included a few levels you could play for free with the option of buying the full version to get all the levels. This worked great for me because I was getting new games every day. I’d play the shareware versions of these games and long before I tired of playing them the next shareware game would come along and off I’d go. One of the gifts of ADD is that you’re never in the same place for long.

Doom (the original) was released on December 10, 1993 — 21 years ago, today. Computer bulletin boards didn’t operate at the speed of light like the internet does today and I’m sure it took a while for Doom to make its way across phone lines to the BBSes in Oklahoma that I called. Weeks or months, likely, but it did eventually arrive and I did eventually play it. And I was amazed.

I tend to think about first person shooters (FPS) in the following eras: there was Wolfenstein 3D, which was a game, and then there was Doom, which was a franchise. Then there was Quake, and everything else since then has been a rip off of Quake. That’s my opinion. It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of the FPS genre, partially because they give me motion sickness headaches, and partially because they all have that “been there, done that” feeling.

Around that time my friend Josh had introduced me to Laplink, a piece of software that allowed you to copy files between PCs through the use of a Laplink cable. As it turned out and as I learned at Best Buy, you could also use those same cables to connect two computers for the purpose of playing games. And that’s what we did for months. Every night after the doors closed, someone would connect the two fastest display computers via a Laplink cable, load Doom up on them, and blast away at one another until everyone else was done restocking shelves and vacuuming.

They say Doom sold over a million copies, which is an amazing number considering that most people (including myself) just played the free shareware version. I never bought Doom, but when everything in the world got released on CD-ROM in the mid-90s, I picked this up out of a bargain bin:

This CD is not special. There were a million collections of WADs (custom Doom levels), skins, graphics, sounds, maps… you name it. These were created by people all over the country (world?) and then loaded to BBSes. Every now and then some company would download them, organize them, and release them on CD. Each CD included the shareware version of Doom so that you could play all of these things. Doom was much more than just a game. It was an infrastructure that let you create your own games.

When I think back to those old ID games, I tend to think of Wolfenstein 3D as single-player, Doom as introducing player-vs-player, Doom 2 as introducing LAN (local area network) gaming, and Quake as introducing internet gaming. That’s not technically correct, but that’s how I mentally sort those games out.

In the summer of 1995, I think, I held a computer gathering in the guest area at our trailer park. Several of my friends brought their computers and, using a stack of old 10 megabit network cards and hubs, we wired them all together and played Doom, Doom II, and a bunch of other games.

The one thing that will always stick with me in regards to Doom was that feeling of “I’ve been here before” you got after playing the game for so long. In 2D games you might recognize a level you had previously encountered, but in FPS, I got the feeling that I had been to that physical place before. It was a weird feeling, to think of video game levels as real places.

So, happy birthday to Doom. Now that you’re finally 21, let’s go get a drink and talk about being Knee Deep in Hell while everyone else watches this video.

(And yes, that gave me a headache to watch.)

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4 comments to Happy 21st Birthday, Doom!

  • Maury E

    I bought my 12YO son a copy of Wolfenstein for xbox360 this year. It was a Black Friday impulse at the Microsoft store. He’s not a legacy gamer. In fact, he may laugh. I think I bought it more as nostalgia for my box. Yes, FPS was wild back then. One you posted that Doom was ported to a printer, I knew we were light years away from playing Doom with, stuck on level 1 with a handgun. I wish health kits were real and I could pick one up to cure my aging.

  • Zeno

    Ah, Doom. The game that gave me so much fun for only $6 at Best Buy to get the shareware disk, along with another $2250 of student loan money to finance building a PC capable of playing it.

  • GW

    Excellent piece, sir. And you should try to sit through Half-Life and Half-Life 2 one day as someone plays them. Those broke the wannabe Quake copy mold quite well, I’d say. Also, for fun, here’s a DOOM game you CAN probably play (it’s a top-down sprite-based turn-based RPG):

    http://www.slimesalad.com/forum/viewgame.php?t=6097&sid=5b5ff755bf1366f0edf59cfed9c48bc3

  • I remember downloading the KING OF THE HILL and SIMPSONS wads, playing them, and laughing hysterically. Those were the days.

    I still mess with the Chocolate Doom version when I have time:
    http://www.chocolate-doom.org/wiki/index.php/Main_Page