Thursday, 5 September 2013

Doom (MS-DOS)

Doom PC original title screenDoom PC original title screen
The Doom franchise is 20 years old this year so I thought it'd be a good time to take a brief look at the original Doom, id software's fifth first person shooter (but their first to have four letters in its title and end with 'm'). The anniversary is actually 10 days into December but I'm impatient so you're getting this early.

I'll admit right now that I'm not going into this one even slightly blind and I doubt I'll be able to think of anything worthwhile to say about the game that you haven't heard a thousand times already, but it's not like I've ever let that stop me before. There's a Doom shaped hole in my website and that needs fixing.

To be accurate I'll actually be playing Ultimate Doom, not the ORIGINAL version of original Doom, despite the fact I've used the original title screen here. I apologise for the unnecessary confusion. Basically Ultimate Doom is Doom with the latest patch installed and a fourth episode bolted on, but there's at least one sneaky change to an earlier level.

The game begins with our hero, disgraced marine Doomguy, arriving at a UAC research base on the Martian moon of Phobos to find out why the rest of his unit has been screaming in agony and terror for the last few hours on the radio. That's what the manual claims anyway; the game itself gives you absolutely zero explanation about where you are or what you're doing.

The scientists at the base had been experimenting with portal technology and it seems that they may have accidentally opened up a gateway to hell itself. Well it was either going to be that, a resonance cascade leaving them open to alien invasion, or the base computer going mad and killing them all with nerve gas I guess. I gotta give them kudos though for having the sense to do these experiments 140 million miles away from the rest of humanity.

Fortunately this first room is entirely safe so I'm free to look around and snap some pictures. I'm not really sure what to make of the base entrance having a staircase leading up to body armour on a plinth, though it does reveal two things:
  1. The game engine is far more advanced than Wolfenstein 3-D's tech, with different floor levels, angled walls, textured ceilings, shaded sectors, and the ability to show some mountains out of the window.
  2. The science team in this base are assholes.
I mean seriously, they've put a row of tiny helmets leading the way to the green vest, each one worth 1% of armour (up to an eventual max of 200%). But once you collect the body armour afterwards, your percent jumps to 100% exactly, totally disregarding their bonus. The only way to get any benefit from the helmets at all is to walk around them and grab the body armour first. Not that it matters at all, there's only like six of these helmets in the room anyway, but it's the principle of the thing.
Here's another thing that bothers me about the helmets: why the fuck are there creepy glowing medieval helmets all over a Martian moonbase? Was the base invaded by Ghost Vikings or something? It's really weird!

Speaking of weird, here's a switch hidden behind one of the pillars on the side of the steps leading up to the armour shrine. I've played this game a million times, but I've never once figured out what it does. Unless a switch is sitting right next to a door it's anyone's guess what it'll actually activate in this game.

Ah, a little research reveals that it actually opens up this door to the acid pool outside. And look, there's a mega armour pickup in the middle to lure passing space marines to their deaths, another cruel trick from the body armour obsessed science team no doubt.

This is the sneaky change I mentioned earlier, as the door was added for Ultimate Doom to presumably make it a better deathmatch level.

Wait, this is a door to outside? Have these people not heard of airlocks? I know it looks like quite a reasonably nice day outside, but Phobos has a radius of just 7 miles, so you can imagine just how much of an atmosphere there's going to be out there. It's damn lucky I have a helmet on really.

Sega 32X
Opening the door into the next room reveals the shocking truth about what happened to the marines sent into the base ahead of me: they became zombies. Even in 1993 I can't escape these bloody zombie games!

There's no tutorial text necessary for this lesson: my enemies have been practically lined up in my sights for me, and the incoming fire lets me know they're not friendly. Sadly there's no opportunity for one-shot head-shot kills in Doom (or even the ability to look up towards their heads), but couple of bullets in their general direction is enough to put them out of my misery regardless.

The Sega 32X version you're looking at here was the first console port of the game released (narrowly beating the Atari Jaguar version) and it seems to look, sound and play a whole lot like Doom to me. Well okay the Genesis/Mega Drive's FM synth chip doesn't exactly do the soundtrack justice but at least it actually has music, which is more than the Jaguar game can claim.

'Doom' (ZX Spectrum)
C'mon Atari, even the ZX Spectrum can display real time texture mapped 3D and play music at the same time (no seriously, check this video to see it in action). Your '64-bit' monster of a console is getting shown up by an unlicensed unfinished homemade Doom clone running on a machine with a 3.5mhz 8-bit CPU. And that's terrible.

One thing both the 32X and Jaguar have in common though, is that neither has shoulder buttons on their controller, so they have to make do with a push to strafe button. Which is a pain in the ass to be honest.

Here's the original DOS version again, just because I've never seen this room with the side wall open like that before (letting all the precious air out). I probably would've been a lot more familiar with it though if I'd ever tried the deathmatch mode.

(I did finish the game in co-op once though, so +50,000 points to Doom for letting me say that.)

This level is labelled 'E1M1: HANGAR' on the map, which doesn't entirely explain why its main distinguishing landmark is a zig-zag path over an acid pit that I have to cross to get further into the base.

I was actually planning to get a shot of me heroically dodging that imp's fireball attack at the last second, to demonstrate how incredibly easy it is to do (when you have dedicated strafe buttons that is, like the DOS game does). But the imp went and screwed that up for me when he antagonised the zombie nearby. Now the two of them are fighting each other and totally ignoring me.

Incidentally a few of the console ports are missing this monster infighting feature, simply because they're missing the frames needed for enemy sprites to turn away from the player.

Meanwhile on the SNES port, Doomguy finally makes it past the zig-zag acid pit room to the exit, only to realise that there's no airlock, monorail or lift in here, it's just a cupboard with a switch on the wall! Well that seems totally enticing, I'll just go trap myself in the tiny room marked 'EXIT', despite it obviously not having an exit in it, and then hit the big red unmarked switch shall I?

Actually I'm not going to leave just yet, as just entering this part of the base was enough to open up that room that the imp was shooting me from a few seconds ago.

So here I am back in the zig-zag room, same place as I was standing in that other screenshot earlier, only now I can go into the imp's alcove and swipe his treasure. But by crossing the sector line on the floor here, I've actually opened up a second secret room inside the first secret room. Whoever wired this place up is a lunatic. I mean it's no wonder their portal machine opens up gateways to hell, the place is so ass-backwards that I wouldn't be surprised if their vending machines opened up gateways to hell. (Good luck ever finding one though).

Oh right, this shot is from the PlayStation version by the way. Like the other ports it's very much like DOS Doom with slightly simplified levels, except this time the world is glowing with that coloured lighting effect that was all the rage at the time and the metal soundtrack has been replaced with dark atmospheric tunes. Oh plus the opening title music sounds like it's trying to be the 1989 Batman movie theme.

This is one of the faster ports, the controller suits it well, and it doesn't even have the PlayStation's typical texture warping because it's not rendering polygons, so thumbs up for this one.

Though it seems that someone forgot to tell the PlayStation cover artist that Doomguy is a space marine, as he's illustrated him assaulting the Phobos base in his jeans. Which is more than the guy on the right has on to be fair.

The PlayStation version also includes the entire second game on the disk, and Doomguy does have his Doom 2: Hell on Earth haircut in this art, so perhaps this is actually meant to be taking place amongst the purple mountains of Earth. Not that it makes much difference, as he wears the same space marine gear in-game in the sequel too. They should have totally put this outfit that in the game as an optional multiplayer costume though.

Doom 0.4 Alpha
Doom's complete lack of sanity when it comes to level design is actually a deliberate choice, as the game originally had more sensible room layouts, furniture, and some actual evidence that humans once used this place as a functioning facility. This was dropped though as some of the developers believed that it was getting in the way of it being fun.

Though they'd apparently changed their mind by the time they made Doom 3.

Doom 3: BFG Edition (PC)
Damn, the imp had himself a nice little pixelled shotgun in here in his alcove. The stubborn bastard was so determined to finally nail me with his slow moving fireballs that it never occurred to him to use this instead. In fact all the pure demons here turned have turned their noses up at using the contemptible human weaponry lying all over the place. I, on the other hand, will take anything I can get my hands on and by some miracle I can even carry it all at once. Swiped.

Hang on, there's something bothering me about this screenshot. There's something not quite right with what I'm looking at here, but I can't quite pinpoint it.

Aha, now I see what hath offended my sight.

For the new version of Doom included with Doom 3: BFG Edition the developers made a subtle tweak to the art, replacing the traditional video game red cross health symbol on the medikits with a red and white medicine pill symbol due to complaints from the Red Cross. Which kinda sucks.

This seems like a good time to mention that the game has health pick-ups instead of regenerating health. Honestly I like either system if it's done well and Doom gets it totally right, with health potions scattered around everywhere like coins in a Mario game and medikits and supercharges as a reward for finding secrets. The gameplay is absolutely not diminished when the player is low on health and creeping around desperately trying to find more.

Oh cool, I'd forgotten that Doom has a map between to show your progress around the Phobos base. Unless you're playing on one of the console ports that is, then there's a fair chance it doesn't.

Holy shit, the par time is 30 seconds? Well I find it hard to care about level records in a game without a level select, so I'm going to go and be extra slow on the next stage just to spite them. Actually the next level's set in a nuclear plant so that's probably not the best idea.


Now that new players have had a chance to acquaint themselves with the controls, the game isn't going so easy on them no more. There's as many enemies in this first room of this nuclear plant alone as there are in the entirety of the first level. I wouldn't exactly call them fast moving intelligent foes with deadly aim though. The only reason they've hit me at all is because I'm screwing around trying to lure them next to exploding barrels.

Oh look at that in the background on the left, it's a red key card door! Annoyingly it's not marked on the automap so I'll have to remember where it is for later.

Another secret door, another secret switch. Whatever could it open? The game doesn't give you a damn clue, beyond the sound of a door opening in the distance.

This is the Super Nintendo version of the game by the way, powered by the mighty Super FX 2 chip and... well the music's pretty decent at least. The game is authentically recognisably Doom, with more accurate wall textures and levels than some of the other ports, but it has no floor or ceiling textures and it doesn't exactly run at a blazing frame rate. There's even a noticeable delay between pulling the trigger and watching the gun fire. This is pushing the SNES way out of its comfort zone though and I'm impressed they got as much as they did out of it.

Though giving me separate strafe buttons and still not letting me turn and strafe at the same time is unforgivable.

Well I solved the mystery of the secret switch. It led outside to a creepy 200% health face-in-a-ball pick-up and a nice big Gatling gun, perfect for detonating barrels. Is it wise to detonate barrels of mysterious green liquid found in a nuclear plant. That cloud of red mist over there makes me think 'yes'.

Oh and look, there's that key I was looking for, just sitting on the floor in all the filth. Well if it wasn't a red key before it definitely is now that it's been showered with zombie goop.

Game Boy Advance
Interestingly the zombies in the GBA version bleed green blood instead, which is kind of hilarious to me. I mean who looks at Doom, a violent horror game about slaughtering hundreds of your former comrades after they've been possessed by pure evil, before travelling to hell itself to slaughter the demonic hordes in a twisted nightmarescape, and thinks 'hey, this game would be totally kid friendly if we just get rid of the blood!'

Also interestingly, the game has a GBA port! Is there anything that wasn't eventually ported to this system? You can even get Max Payne on it. To be honest, despite the apparently low effort HUD, this seems like a solid port. It's fast, it's got the floor and ceiling textures and it even lets me strafe and turn at the same time, giving it a big advantage over the SNES, Jaguar and 32X versions.

In fact the biggest problem I had with it is that I kept accidentally switching weapons because the developers were forced to stick multiple actions on the same few buttons.

I've often struggled to get to this secret chainsaw, because it seemed to be totally random whether the door leading to it was open or not. So this time around I decided to actually look up what triggers it. Is it a hidden floor panel on the other side of the map? Do I have to open a certain door and then run back over before it closes again? It it linked to another unlabelled lever somewhere in another secret room?

Nope, you just shoot it and it opens. Man I feel dumb.

Incidentally you might be wondering why there's a giant chainsaw sitting on a twelve foot high column surrounded by an acid pit inside a hidden room in a nuclear plant in a secret portal research base orbiting Mars, and the answer is actually fairly obvious when you think about it.

It's so I can do this with it! Rip and tear!

Don't worry, it's for his own good; no man should be forced to live with green eyebrows. Plus observe that he is unable to fight back when there is a chainsaw blade lodged in his abdomen; this also applies to my other attacks and it a pretty handy thing to keep in mind if I ever find myself in possession of a chaingun while locked in a room full of enemies scheming to end me.

Oh by the way, see that big rifle he's holding? I can never have one of my own. I can grab the shotguns from shotgun zombies, but never the rifles. It's so distressingly inconsistent. Then again if it let me carry just one extra weapon then there wouldn't be enough space to write "ARMS" underneath the numbers anymore and that'd ruin the whole HUD bar.

Doom 3: Limited Collector's Edition (Xbox)
Though hang on, in multiplayer mode everyone gets rifles, regardless of what they're actually carrying. Dammit Doom, stop messing with my mind!

Doom 3 on the Xbox does not include a bonus copy of Doom 1 and 2, but the Limited Collector's Edition shown here does. Fortunately for Xbox owners who aren't Limited Collectors, the games are also on the Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil expansion pack disc, along with Master Levels.

Xbox Doom is pretty much just the PC game, but with the wondrous inclusion of split screen local co-op and multiplayer, and it plays like a dream with dual analogue sticks.

Doom 0.2 Alpha
Interestingly the first concepts for the HUD were far more elaborate, with all kinds of info displayed on the inside of Doomguy's helmet. So the final Wolfenstein 3-D looking HUD bar that made it into the game actually a deliberate step backwards to something less distracting.

The sandwich never made it into the final build either.


Here's another secret I found, as apparently that's all I'm taking screenshots of today. I suppose that says a lot about the game though, that the gameplay is as much about navigating the levels and finding new paths as it is about shooting dudes.

Anyway this wall on the left drops down when I walk across a pressure plate in the corridor behind me. But it doesn't stay down for long so I've got to run for it.

The secret wall led to a secret passage which got me a secret supercharge power-up, but that wasn't the end of it. After grabbing the power-up, I walked back outside to this area and noticed that lowering the wall again to get out had opened up another wall across the room from me.

This secret passage leads to imps, armour and a rocket launcher! Oh plus a river of toxic slime, though I'm smart enough to stay way clear of that, seeing as it quickly eats right through my health.

Actually I'm an idiot so I ran right down the toxic river and found that it lead to another secret. The game likes to chain them together one after another.

Oh by the way, this is what the 3DO version looks like, as I don't think I've shown this one yet. It basically has to run at that screen size just to get a decent frame rate out of it. I think this shows off very clearly why the fifth console generation had such a false start, when next-gen machines like the 3DO and Jaguar didn't even have the power under the hood to comfortably play a PC game released a couple of months earlier. No one could have known where games would go from the SNES era, but they took a gamble and they guessed wrong.

The 3DO port's soundtrack on the other hand is kind of awesome. Here, check out its version of the E1M1 theme on youtube and see what you think.

Doom 64 (N64)
A few years later the next wave of fifth gen consoles were released and utterly destroyed their immediate predecessors in power and popularity. The N64 for instance was built for 3D gaming and can handle Doom effortlessly. Though, uh, this isn't Doom. I mean the enemies are basically the same, it's got the same set of weapons (plus Doom II's super shotgun) and the same philosophy of level design, but it's an entirely new game. It's like the missing link between Doom and Quake visually, but the gameplay is pure Doom.

They should have released this on PC and called it Doom 3, because this is actually pretty good.

Ah, there's a shot of me dodging a fireball finally, as I snipe those pixels in the distance with my sniper shotgun. I have to be careful here on this narrow walkway though, as SNES Doomguy is pretty sluggish and I might accidently...

Oh crap, this is exactly what I didn't want to happen! I dodged right onto the green carpet below and now it's burning Doomguy to death! His ankles are aching so bad right now that blood is pouring out of his nose, but I can't find a way out, no matter how many walls I try my activate button on. What the hell id, this is just cruel!

A lot of the other ports actually tweak the level design here to remove this issue. Tricky manoeuvring along narrow paths is less fun when the game is sluggish, not that this Sega Saturn version is that bad. It's a little slower than the PlayStation version and it's lost the coloured lighting and proper transparency effects, but otherwise it's pretty similar. Same slightly simplified levels, same replaced textures, same serious business atmospheric soundtrack. The controller's not quite as suited to it though.

I was thinking of showing off the monster closet immediately following this that opens up when you grab the blue key, but the lights go off as well so there's not much to see. It's the game's favourite trick to sneakily open up walls behind you and unleash hordes of enemies on your ass. It's not so bad when there's nothing else going on and I can hear them growling behind me, but when I'm already fighting a group of enemies and I'd very much like to step backwards to avoid a shotgun blast to the gut, it's not much fun to find they've secretly installed a wall of demons behind me.

Well I've made it all the way back to the acid pit on the SNES version, but this time I've found a more precise method to way to negotiate the walkway. The automap in Doom is fairly incredible (despite not marking the colour of locked doors) and the SNES version has an unique trick to make it a little flashier, using its Super FX magic to rotate it as I turn.

Most versions of the game restart you back at the beginning of the level armed with just a pistol if you're killed, but the SNES version is nice enough to let you restart with the gear you had. Personally I prefer the PC version's quick saves though, as I've never been a huge fan of needlessly repeating content I've already beaten, especially when the game kills me off for falling off walkway near the end of a map.


Okay, I've given this fair bit of deliberation and I've come to the conclusion that trying to play Doom without strafe buttons is like trying hammer nails in using your forehead. It's bad enough that circle strafing is impossible with the Genesis/Mega Drive controller's lack of shoulder buttons, but it's like I have to switch it into strafe-gear before I can even side-step a fireball.

I'm sorry you can't actually see what's shooting me on this screenshot, but to be fair I can't either. I'm unloading the last of my ammo on any flickery pixel in the background.

I found this map fairly easy to get through on the DOS version on default difficulty (I didn't even need my quick saves), but incredibly frustrating on this, to the point where I decided I'd had enough here and turned it off. If I wanted to get sniped at by barely visible figures in the distance I'd have played a recent Call of Duty-type of shooter.


Only a Doom game would put me in a pitch black room and then send invisible enemies after me. It's just lucky I brought my chaingun flashlight really. This thing actually fires the pistol ammo that I've been taking from the rifle zombies, weirdly; I guess cartridge calibers got a lot less complicated in the future once they switched over to space bullets.


Oh shit, this episode has two final bosses at once! I really wish I had a rocket launcher right about now... hey look at that, I do!

Honestly with circle strafing and rockets these things basically become slightly tougher versions of an imp, going down in just five hits each without even being able to touch me.

And then the level opens up to reveal a teleporter platform painted with a troubling illustration of a pentagram. I'm 95% certain it's not going to take me anywhere even near Disneyland, but there's no exit switch around and I'm not exactly blessed with an over-abundance of choice here.

Hey look, there's some actual story in the game after all!

Well crap, it turns out that the entire moon of Deimos was dragged into hell due to portal antics and that's why demons keep leaking out of the gateways. So the good news is that we've solved that mystery now and we can be pretty sure there are no survivors, so our job here is done and we can go home. But the bad news is that poor Doomguy is now literally trapped in hell and I've been kicked back to the title screen. I knew I should have just waited back in E1M1 for a pick up.

Still reading? Here, you've earned a link to the 3DO's version of the E2M1 theme to help get you through the last few paragraphs.

So what do I think about Doom then, now that I'm revisiting it at a time so far into the future that Daikatana, Prey and Duke Nukem Forever have all finally been released? Well I still wasn't sure to be honest, so I continued playing it a bit longer, through tougher levels that I wasn't so familiar with, where I didn't know all the secrets, and I have come to the conclusion that this is a good game. It's a bit of a controversial opinion I know, but that's just how I feel about it.

You're not outwitting foes in Doom, you're evading swarms of fireballs while trying not to walk backwards into a pinky demon, and it tests your reactions more than your aiming skills. Combat is all about mobility and making sure you're never pinned in, facing down predictable threats from unexpected directions. But the game is as much about exploring complicated complexes as it is gunning down ridiculous numbers of enemies, with the maps continually twisting around on themselves and bringing you back to places you've already been. The limited resources give you a good motivation to go off the obvious track and as you're hunting down health and shiny new guns instead of just grabbing Hidden Intel File 2 (of 5), you tend to appreciate the rewards you eventually earn for your initiative a whole lot more.

Here's a handy table listing all of the most essential information I've learned about the versions I just played:
SystemCircle strafingDistinguishing features
PC DOSYesMouse control and quick saves. Being practically perfect in every way.
XboxYesClose to the PC version except limited to the slow variety of saving. Local split-screen multiplayer.
PlayStationYesPasswords instead of saves, but has coloured lighting and moody music.
SaturnYesJust the passwords and moody music.
N64YesIs an entirely different game.
Game Boy AdvanceYesGreen blood and bright hallways.
3DOYesRuns in a tiny window, though the remixed soundtrack almost makes up for it.
Super NintendoNoNo floor or ceiling textures, but the level design is closer to the original DOS game than most ports. Has a spinny map.
32XNoMega Drive/Genesis controllers were not designed to play Doom with.
JaguarNopeHas no music or separate strafe buttons, but at least you can choose weapons on the number pad. Yay.
ZX SpectrumNoNot actually a real Doom game, shouldn't be on this list.

Doom wasn't the first FPS, or even the first with a deathmatch mode, or textured walls, or multiple floor levels etc. Okay it's the earliest first person shooter I can think of to have proper strafing, but it doesn't seem like the developers quite realised what they had there. So it didn't really invent the genre, but it refined it and then defined it, and after this came out there was a good reason that nobody called them Wolfenstein clones anymore.


Doom was released using the shareware model so that entire nine level episode I just played through was given away free as a extended demo to get people hooked and eager to buy the full game. In fact here's a place you can still get it from:
They've got those alpha versions I showed off earlier as well if you're curious about them.

Congratulations, you now possibly know something new about Doom, even if it's just that I like it a lot. But I'll have no clue what you people think of the game (or my article) unless you leave me a comment. Hint hint.


  1. Holy moly, I've never heard the 3DO version's music before, so thanks for that.
    Also, it's obviously not that the monsters are missing their "facing away from the player" sprite, it's just that the extra development time of the console ports was spent promoting harmony and team spirit amongst the demons so they don't start bickering murderously after every stray fireball. Obviously.

  2. The Doom community is still alive and well over at

    If anyone's interested in playing some truly fantastic levels, check out the Cacowards, which generally showcases the best maps released every year.

  3. You should definitely play Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for the Gameboy Color. It is amazing.

    1. I definitely should, especially considering that someone else has already requested it and I still haven't gotten around to it yet.

  4. The Angry Internet25 October 2013 at 04:28

    "Incidentally a few of the console ports are missing this monster infighting feature, simply because they're missing the frames needed for enemy sprites to turn away from the player."

    The SNES version of Wolfenstein had the same issue (lack of rear-facing sprites), and all the early console ports (plus the Mac version) inherited it.. It wasn't as a big a deal there since there was no infighting in Wolfenstein, but it did eliminate the occasional rare satisfaction of sneaking up behind a guard and bringing them down with a knife to the back. I think the GBA version was the first console port with all the necessary sprites.

  5. In a game about demons ransacking Moon bases where facilities had been set up to experiment with highly advanced technology, you're complaining about air-locks in a moon-base? About pickup items not appearing realistic or rational when they're BONUS items? Realism expectations in a game from 1993 that pioneered its genre is unreasonable, to say the least. Especially if you don't notice that the common theme in the early Doom games with respect to their level design is abstract.

    Only 2 ports lack infighting, 32X and SNES; both where the enemies always face you. Interestingly, it's not that infighting is impossible, as many might assume. For the former, they disabled it; the latter, they simply didn't implement it. Both for the same reason. If you want to see 1-sided enemies infight, check out Doom II's secret SS enemies and the enemies in PS1 Hexen.

    Also the article suggests this is the original Doom, but you're showing secrets that weren't present in the original, but later added to Ultimate Doom (switch on the pillar at the start that opens those walls in E1M1). Might want to specify that in your post.

    Finally, your opinion that Doom is a good game is not controversial. At all. It's very reasonable.

    1. I wasn't COMPLAINING about air-locks in a moon base, I was pointing out that it was weird not to have them. Also making fun of unrealistic pickup items in video games from 1993 is basically what my site is here for!

      You're right about the article being misleading about what version of the game I was playing (deliberately using the wrong title screen didn't help), so I've added some lines to make it clear.

      And yeah, everyone loves Doom (or at least respects it) so I was turning the sarcasm up to 11 with my controversy line. Good game is good, who knew?


Semi-Random Game Box