In news that’s sure to make a lot of us who aren’t really that old feel really old (I know I sure did), iconic id Software classic DOOM turned 20 years old yesterday. For as much time as I spend around games and technology in general, it still amazes me how far things have come in what is in reality, a very short time for any creative medium. Could any of the id Software guys have predicted that their little demon shooter would spawn an entirely new genre, one of the most popular by far and that it would go from looking like this to this? I highly doubt even a technological grand master like John Carmack would have said yes. Few games throughout the history of the medium can claim the level of historical importance and relevance that DOOM can. It can proudly hold a place beside the likes of Pong, Pac-Man and Super Mario Bros. as one of the titles whose influence you can see in almost everything that’s come since. I won’t go into a lot more detail about why DOOM is amazing as many other articles have done it better. Suffice it to say, it’s one of history’s most important games.
A lot of people have been sharing their stories about playing DOOM and what it meant to them so I thought it would be fun to do that too. I can go on about all the hours I spent playing 1-on-1 deathmatches with friends over direct dial-up, installing mods to change the sprites, add levels or replace the sounds effects with ones from Terminator 2, The Simpsons or Die Hard (no seriously, that was a popular thing to do) or starting games on Nightmare mode and switching off with friends, seeing who could survive the longest. All great memories that still make me smile. But I thought I’d share something a little different and kind of funny in its own way.
Back in the early 90s, there was a short-lived chain in Canada called A-Plus Software (who despite my best efforts, I can find no info about online.) They were kind of like what EB Games is now, only focused on computer software of all kinds, though games were their biggest business. They were a pretty awesome place but grew too fast and flamed out after a few years. My Dad’s company at the time had a product on the shelves of some of their stores so we frequently visited the west end Ottawa location that was in a strip mall in the Centrepointe area. We didn’t have a ton of money (my Dad’s company was one of several he owned, all of which failed) so buying new games and frequent PC upgrades were something of a luxury. I had a PC at home that could run most things decently but few new titles very well. I was 13 or 14 at the time.
I actually hadn’t heard of DOOM prior to its release but on one visit to this store, I heard some weird demonic noises coming from the corner where the demo PCs lived. Turns out one of the clerks had downloaded the shareware episode and set it up on a roaring 486-33 they had setup with a dedicated sound card and the whole bit. My Dad was going to be chatting them up for a while so I sat down to give it a shot, playing with the keyboard only as was common at the time. I was instantly hooked and having a blast, even though this was actually a pre-v1.0 release of the game and it was a bit buggy. I had played Wolfenstein 3D before but the movement and mechanics of DOOM were a very different experience. This was the first game I’d seen with exploding barrels, enemies on multiple planes and environmental hazards. A lot of the tropes you see in every first-person shooter today were brand new to me at this moment and I was learning as I went.
Eventually, other customers in the store heard the noise and came over to see what was going on. I had a handful of people surrounding me, watching me play. Despite clearly being a kid who didn’t work there, some of them started asking me questions about the game and what I thought of it. This was super exciting for me and I was selling it pretty hard, even though I’d only spent maybe 20 minutes with it. Eventually, one of the clerks walked over. I expected he was going to kick me off the PC so other people could play and so I’d stop hogging the attention of customers who might otherwise be browsing the shelves. I kept my hands on the keyboard until the last possible minute. Instead, all he did was grin at me, turn the speakers up and go back to the counter, continuing to watch from a distance. I perked up even more and kept plugging away at Knee Deep in the Dead. The crowd kept growing until at one point, I had probably 20 people standing there, my own little cheering section.
I was a shy kid who had been bullied through his early life like a lot of nerds. I was very introverted and didn’t like the spotlight but thanks to this game and this smart, forward-thinking clerk, I felt like a rock star. I was playing a brand new, state-of-the-art game I fell in love with instantly and a bunch of other people were enthralled just watching me play it. It was like doing a Let’s Play before there was even the faintest glimmer of such a thing in existence. It’s a moment in my computing and gaming life I remember as vividly as the first time I touched a computer in 1984 or when we got our first computer at home in 1985. And it’s something intrinsically tied to DOOM.
I’d probably been playing for close to an hour when my Dad emerged from his meeting and was ready to go. Some of the crowd behind me had been there the whole time and some were audibly disappointed that I had to stop. To my Dad’s credit (and I won’t credit that man with much), he probably would have let me keep going for a while longer but we had somewhere else we had to be. On our way past the counter, the clerk from before stopped us. The version of DOOM I had been playing was just the first episode, released for free as shareware as was common in those days. The retail release of the full game with all the episodes wasn’t out yet but he thanked me, saying “At least half the crowd who was watching you asked us when we’re getting it in because they want to buy it.” Playing DOOM not only had made my day but his as well. Many other store clerks would have made me stop playing but this guy saw it as the best kind of salesmanship and let me keep having fun because it helped him too. I’ll never forget that.
Even though my PC at home couldn’t run it super well, I went and downloaded Knee Deep In the Dead as soon as we got home. It would be a while before I could afford the full DOOM experience but the hours I put into that one episode alone were immense and I loved every minute of it. Getting access to the full game was like being given a whole other universe to explore. I’ve played literally hundreds, if not thousands of games since, many of which are first-person shooters. But to this day, nothing brings an instant smile to me face and a flood of nostalgia back to my mind than DOOM does. And given that you can play it on basically anything with a screen now, I’m clearly not the only one. id Software’s future path seems uncertain right now but their place in history and how they’ve influences the first-person shooter as we know it cannot be denied or understated. It’s truly one of history’s greatest and most important games and one I’ll remember always.
Cheers to DOOM on its 20th and may its legacy live on forever!