Doom is important to we PC fans, because it’s one of the greatest games from a time when the PC was finally asserting itself as a potent gaming machine. With increasing processor power, and developers settling on VGA and soundblaster as industry standards, we no longer needed to be so jealous of other formats. For years we had been stuck with bleeping beige boxes and their 16-colour graphics, the sort of thing Amiga fans pointed and laughed at. Some of our games were sub-par ports, others brave shareware efforts that didn’t seriously challenge Mario or Sonic, still others nerd stuff like flight sims (that I enjoyed but did not impress the average 12 year old).

By about 1993 though, we had bigger and better things. VGA graphics and soundblaster sound had become standard. We had Day of the Tentacle, X-wing, and Magic Carpet. Perhaps most significantly, we had the rise of the first person shooter. The Amiga, once so superior to the beige MS-BOXES, couldn’t keep up. The SNES was still better for platform games and beat-’em ups, but when they tried to port Doom to it, the result was markedly inferior. Monsters can’t fight each other (because they only have animations facing the player). Floors and ceilings aren’t texture mapped. Enemies don’t react to sound.

I try not to go all “PC Master Race” on our readers here. But it’s natural for kids to feel competitive about their gaming system be it one they chose, or one that circumstances give them. Also I like to look back on the start of what I consider a bit of a golden age in PC gaming.

My own introduction to Doom was on our family 386, which honestly was a little short of the recommended specs. The frame rate was adequate but not silky-smooth. It was good enough, just about, to get an appreciation for what a leap forward this game was. Simply being able to freely move around a textured 3D environment of indoor and outdoor spaces was novel. Filling those spaces with raging demons turned it into the most intense, exciting action game of its time. There was nothing quite like circle strafing a horde of imps, pumping shotgun shells into them as they hissed and spat fire.

My most prominent memory is of the last level of Knee Deep in the Dead, the free shareware chapter of Doom. The preceding maps have practical names like Nuclear Plant and Toxin Refinery, but this one is labelled “Phobos Anomaly”, which is a bit unsettling because it’s so vague. The scientists out here clearly didn’t know what it was (before the rampaging demons slaughtered them all). Lack of information means the imagination fills in the gaps. Given the whole plot (thin as it was) to Doom is about teleportation experiments causing demons to spill forth into our universe, clearly whatever’s going in here is not good news.

The music, titled “Sign of Evil” is a bit different too. Much of the Doom soundtrack is a midi tribute to slayer and Pantera but this is slow, eerie, and melancholy. It conjures thoughts of a bleak, inhospitable eternity. It laments our world, reduced to an empty ruin after being devastated by ancient and inhuman evil. Humanity is gone now, and only only endless sadness remains.

Or, that’s what will happen if your heroic space marine doesn’t triumph, anyway. The level is fairly short and linear, and you soon emerge on a large star-shaped chamber. Clearly you’re not in an abandoned space-military base anymore. It feels more like some sort of space for arcane rituals. Two tomb like stone structures stand within. You’re immediately assaulted by semi-invisible spectures, but they’re just a distraction. The tombs open and a Hell Knight emerges from each, with an elephantine roar.

Thank you,

The Knights aren’t the game’s mightiest foes, but they are the largest and strongest you’ve yet encountered, far more fearsome than a regular imp. What’s more, you don’t have two of the full game’s most powerful weapons, the plasma gun and the mighty BFG. So a frantic battle begins, weaving between their green fire and firing off rockets in return.

When they finally keel over dead the chamber opens up into a larger open space, and an exit is revealed. Does it lead to safety, to sanctuary, to an escape from the legions of hell itself? When you jump in though, you find yourself in total darkness, under attack from enemies that surround you. After a few seconds panicked firing in random directions, text pops up to inform you that you can’t go home just yet. You’re now on Deimos (the other moon of Mars) and the battle goes on. Time to start the next chapter…