Twenty-five years ago, id Software released DOOM, a bloody, unrelenting and challenging first-person shooter game that would change the video game industry and set a high bar for future generations of programmers and game designers.
The concept seemed simple but became far more complex after every grisly character death. Players work their way through a series of grungy, outer-world environments and shoot anything that stumbles into their weapon’s vantage point — from a simple bullet-flinging pistol to a massive plasma cannon that could reduce waves of enemies into bloody piles of useless goo.
“DOOM awoke something inside me,” Bethesda Softworks’ co-studio director Tom Mustaine said Friday in a panel discussion at the Gaylord Texan Convention Center during QuakeCon. The annual fan gathering showcased previews of the new version and celebrated the old games in Bethesda’s library, including id Software, since its parent company ZeniMax bought the Dallas game studio in 2009.
“The first time I turned a corner and saw stairs going up, I was like, I need to make things for this, and that was the beginning of my journey to make levels for DOOM,” Mustaine said. “That’s why I’m sitting here today.”
This year’s QuakeCon gathering also went by the name DOOMCon and “the Year of DOOM” in honor of the game’s 25th anniversary, that includes a fifth game for the franchise when DOOM Eternal hits retail and digital game store shelves this November.
The gathering offered demos and discussions of games in the company’s lineup, such as the release of Wolfenstein: Youngblood and its VR spinoff Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot on the first day of the gathering, and the add-ons to other violent favorites, like the post-apocalyptic punk-themed shooter Rage 2 and the fantasy adventure The Elder Scrolls. The anticipation and offerings for both the new and old DOOM games cast a bloody tarp over them all.
The four-day convention featured a number of panels with discussions from programmers and designers who worked on the original and newest version of DOOM. Some of the world’s best speed-runners raced through all of the DOOM titles such as the original PC shooter and the Nintendo 64 version, ending with the latest DOOM game released in 2016. The company offered playable demos of the new DOOM game that were so anticipated, they installed a reservation system rather than making players wait in the long lines that filled up before the afternoon during the gathering’s peak days.
“More than anything, we felt like when we thought about what we’re doing for the 25th anniversary of DOOM, we thought about doing any number of things and putting together a subsection of QuakeCon dedicated to DOOM across all the day of QuakeCon, made sense,” says Pete Hines, senior vice president of global marketing and communications for Bethesda.
“It’s not just to show DOOM Eternal but also show the old games and do competitions and speed-runs and panels. It was really that. Let’s just find the things that make sense and people would enjoy to help celebrate the community that make DOOM DOOM.”
The original DOOM, along with other massive hits from id Software such as Wolfenstein 3D and Quake, formed a community of fans all over the world who are dedicated enough to make the trek to Dallas each year for QuakeCon. The event has grown so big that Bethesda set up a second QuakeCon in London that ran concurrently with the Dallas gathering.
“It’s not just a community event,” Hines says. “It’s a community event started by people here. We’ve never considered taking it out of Dallas.”
DOOM, however, is the most recognizable of the bunch even to non-gamers. The games established gaming terms like “fragging,” “gibs” (the game’s signature term for the animated vision of an opponent’s bloody remains flying out of an explosion) and BFG, an acronym for the Big Fucking Gun that obliterates everything in a player’s path, including the player if they stand too close. Its hellscape look and bass-pounding, speed-metal soundtrack helped establish a style that stood in the friendly days of early PC computing and still stand, as the first three games have been ported to modern consoles and handheld mobile devices.
It’s a tradition developers have carried throughout the franchise to the modern era, says id Software creative director Hugo Martin.
“It means a lot to people,” Martin says. “It’s a really well-made franchise, and it’s got a huge legacy and this is something that people loved so we have to make sure we don’t mess that up and mess up something from their childhood. That’s really important to us.”
The first two DOOM games put players in the shoes and helmet of the “Doomguy,” a quiet protagonist who found beauty in big weapons with his pixelated evil grin every time he found a new weapon and dived head-first into the hell-possessed landscape of a Mars facility run by the single-minded corporate entity United Aerospace Corporation, or UAC for short. DOOM 3 added a more story-driven survival horror style that put players in control of another anonymous space marine with an actual voice to navigate constricting, darkened corridors to prevent the spread of evil.
The latest game released in 2016 and the one set for release later this year features a nameless, speechless protagonist “Doomslayer,” who only has one motive and modus operandi: seek and destroy. The Doomslayer doesn’t just shoot and explode his enemies. His “glory kills” allow players to get their hands dirty and rip a demon to shreds in increasingly creative ways; like tearing an imp’s head open by separating its jaw from its skull or using a retractable knife to shish-kabob an enemy head through the bottom of its chin.
The game’s success is thanks in part to the experience it passes to the player: that of becoming an unrelenting, immovable human force doing a dirty job by any bloody means necessary.
“The way he’s uncompromising, not only does it come across in the way he rips demons in the half to get where he’s going but the way he takes the key card from around a guy’s neck or steals a gun from a soldier,” says id Software executive producer Marty Stratton. “It is all to reinforce that power fantasy.”
DOOM has also inspired a new generation of game creators that helped keep the franchise alive and connected to its lore and roots.
“We’re big id Software fans,” said MachineGames executive producer Magnus Högdahlm in a QuakeCon panel. “They have over the years been a big inspiration for us from the very beginning. In a way, we looked up to those id Software guys so much and drew so much inspiration from the game that in a way, we’ve competed with them as well with what we’re doing, which is creating great games.”