Retro recollections: Still Doom-ed after all these years

There’s something very special about iD Software’s Doom (and Doom II).
Blame sales. I usually do, because game sales are the worst. And by the worst, I mean “the worst at adding to the already ridiculously large pile of games I already have to play through, because I see a really cheap game and go, hmm… that’s less than a cup of coffee… sure, why not?”
Yeah, I have long and disjointed thoughts like that. It’s hell inside my brain, you know.

Naturally, as observed by the learned Mr Adams, a great deal of my brain is used for the storage of penguins. The rest, though...
Naturally, as observed by the learned Mr Adams, a great deal of my brain is used for the storage of penguins. The rest, though…

Anyway, Microsoft’s recent Xbox Live backwards compatibility sale saw me picking up Bomberman Live (which I can’t believe I didn’t own before) and then, on a whim, Doom and Doom II.
Yes, I’ve played Doom II before. Many, many times. I can date it all the way back to my university years, when a man I shall only call “Christian” (for lo, that was and is his name) told me that there was this game I had to check out… if I could find a PC hefty enough to play it.
Yes, it was a different time indeed, when the desire to play Doom (I think I might have actually played Doom II first, but who’s counting) led to all kinds of adventures in memory management, config.sys file editing and hoping there was just enough memory left over to actually launch the game. If you were lucky, it might even have sound! From a real Soundblaster!

Or, well, an AdLib card. If you were less lucky.
They don’t name audio chips any more. I sort of miss that, but I don’t miss the messing around with memory allocations to get games to run in any way whatsoever.

Ah, the 90s. I remember it as though it were… more than 20 years ago. Sob.
Naturally, the Xbox 360 port doesn’t need any of that malarkey, because it’s a ridiculously overpowered Doom machine. Now, I paid less than five bucks total for both games, and I’m fine with that, even though logically I probably do have a CD somewhere with the PC versions on. There’s a convenience tax there to be sure, but I don’t need much out of a game to get five bucks worth of fun from it. Plus, it had probably been ten years or more since I’d played any Doom at all. You’re probably the same.
Here’s the thing, though. There’s something (in my not-so-humble opinion) very special about Doom, because it tries to straddle several different game worlds. Of course, it’s an FPS, and you could probably fit all of the code into just one crease of the dark brown pants worn by today’s FPS protagonists and have room left over for a dozen or more WAD modifications. In many ways, while Wolfenstein 3D (and others) came before it, it was the FPS that really cracked the market in a very significant way back in the day.

Even Doom couldn’t save the Jaguar, though.
But it’s not just an FPS with simple shooting at heart. It’s also a play directly at arcade sensibilities, because Doom is fast and frantic, and focused on delivering as much fun as possible, as quickly as possible. You might only be playing it for ten minutes at a time (as I have been, because damn, but I’m busy right now), or all night long, fuelled by large scale bottles of your favourite beverage and some rapidly cooling pizza.
Hmm. I probably couldn’t get away with that kind of thing any more. Or could I?
No lengthy drama-defining cut scenes, no voiceovers (unless zombie grunts count as voiceovers, but again, when it was new you couldn’t count on the idea that a PC would have a speaker capable of doing more than beep anyway), and an entirely decent idea of how to manage “fair” within a game. Used up all your ammo? You’d better be good at punching demon spawn, then! Or good at dying. Then again, in Doom, everyone is good at dying. It’s a core feature.
I could appreciate Quake’s visual mastery, and how it kicked the genre into proper 3D, but I could never get on with that murky visual style, or quite how obviously polygonal it was. But Doom has a style that (to me) remains quite timeless.
Sure, it’s kind of boxy, and I could do all sorts of things with the PC version that the backwards-compatible 360 version never got a look into. Still, it’s just so much fun. New, old, or somewhere in-between, that’s what really matters in a game, isn’t it?
Retro recollections are just random musings on retro subjects, usually whatever I’m playing at the moment.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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