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Sunday, December 10, 2023

DOOM is thirty years old today!

Doom, arguably the most installed piece of software in the history of anything, today celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of its release.

It was at 12:01 AM on the morning of December 10th, 1993 that the team at id Software uploaded the first one-third of the game - the shareware version - to an FTP server at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  Within minutes wanna-be players crashed the school's system as everyone and their brother (and a few sisters) tried to get Doom.  Hours later and campuses around the world were banning the game's network play capability, it was such a resource hog.

By the end of that first day it was very obviously clear: the world was Doomed.  It wasn't long afterward that the id Software staff started getting sales of the full game to the tune of a hundred THOUSAND dollars a day.

And it wasn't just the high school and college crowd that was playing Doom: it was people from all walks of life.  Young and old.  Students and professionals.  Especially when it came to the game's revolutionary multiplayer component.  Doom was the great leveler after death itself.  In a perfect world there would be no wars: only games of Doom to prove one's skill.

My first exposure to Doom came a few months later, when a friend brought over a box containing the shareware version that he had found at K-Mart for like a dollar.  This was still a time when most homes in America didn't have Internet and consequently no FTP access, so id also distributed the shareware edition in boxes for the cost of packaging.  Johnny's own computer was having problems running it, but maybe mine would.  We were sharing rides to the community college for a history class on Tuesday nights.  After I returned home that evening I installed Doom on the 486-SX system that I had gotten for Christmas.

Doom was a little overwhelming at first.  Also plenty violent.  I didn't honestly know what to make of it when I initially cranked it up, and there was school work and my job at the nearby seafood restaurant for most of the weekend.  But on Sunday afternoon I gave Doom another shot.  It sucked me in hard and refused to let go.  I was firing at anything and everything that moved.  By the time I found the chainsaw I was grinning like a maniac.  Dad walked past my door and looked in to see what I was doing.  He saw me blasting those Imps away with the shotgun and just sort-of shook his head in disbelief.  Later on he watched me sawing into the demons and I like to think he found it pretty amusing.  Just as I was finding that killing off hordes of the undead was a GREAT stress reliever after all.

It wasn't long after that when I sent a check off to Texas.  A week or so later the full version of Doom - containing version 1.666 - arrived at my door.  By that time I had conquered "Knee Deep In The Dead" many times on the various difficulties.  Now it was time at last to wade upon "The Shores Of Hell" on my way to "Inferno".

And then came the discovery that id Software had made the game almost completely customizable!  People had figured out how to create their own levels, edit and add-in new graphics, change up the sounds and music... pretty much anything pertaining to the game's environment.  That first night I tried an add-on, when I UNZIP-ped a WAD (acronym for "Where's All the Data?") file and changed the Baron of Hell into Barney the Dinosaur... that just lit a fire under me to find and collect EVERY add-on file that I could locate.  I think my favorite custom level was "Deimos Subway": a very well-designed board imitating a train station along with a catchy tune for background music.  There was the WAD that added sounds from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  And there is also no forgetting the various WADs that added classical MIDI music to the game.  All very clever (and often very funny) stuff.  Although I kind of harbor doubts that many people these days would be comfortable with loading the COSBY.WAD before starting the game...

Wow.  Thirty years.  So much has happened both in personal time and across the realm of video/computer gaming.  But even today, that first one-third of Doom is with us as much as ever.  Ports of the game have been made for everything from calculators to refrigerator doors to home pregnancy tests to John Deere tractors.  It's become an unofficial mantra of the coding sector: "It's not a computer if it doesn't run Doom."

And I would be remiss if I did not admit that every so often I find myself playing original Doom again.  There's just something about this game that charms the player and leaves an indelible mark on one's cerebral pleasure center.  I've played a lot of so-called "Doom-clones", but it's the original game which the game-oriented part of my personal entertainment proclivity owes its allegiance to.

Time has proven that it is true: "Doom will never die.  Only its players will."

So Happy Thirtieth Birthday to Doom!  May we be playing it for another thirty!


JeffY said...

My experience is much like yours. We found Doom shareware at an office supply store a few months after getting a 486 DX with 8 megs of ram. The price was right, only a dollar. I installed Doom that night and the music of E1M1 has been stuck in my head since! Happy anniversary Doom. I don't doubt my grandchildren will be playing it.