Plugged In

Happy 20th birthday, Doom!

Plugged In

View gallery

.

Get your ass to Mars.

Today's big game launches are massive media events. Die-hard fans brave all sorts of weather to line up, stores open at midnight, and CEOs hand out the first few copies.

But even the carnival atmosphere of today's biggest titles pales compared to the launch of the seminal, controversial first-person Doom, which made its debut 20 years ago today.

Late on Dec. 9, 1993, a small group of programmers in the id Software offices sat bleary-eyed, staring at a computer. It was almost midnight, and they had just completed a 30-hour QA session, hoping to squash the last few bugs in the game before the its official release date of Dec. 10.

A computer administrator at the University of Wisconsin, David Datta, had agreed to let id upload the game to the school's FTP site so fans could download it and share it with others. When midnight arrived and the team hit 'upload,' it should have launched a new era -- but the upload failed.

Fans, excited by the previews id had released in the months prior, were so eager to get their hands on the game that they had filled the FTP's capacity. Id couldn't log on to upload the file. Eventually, team managed to log on. It took 30 minutes to upload Doom, a half hour transfer that would indelibly change gaming.

Today, Doom still stands as one of the most influential games ever created. Without it, there would be no Call of Duty and no Halo. But just as the game opened up countless new creative doors, it also opened up the industry to a scrutiny no one could have imagined.

View gallery

.

It wasn’t the first first-person shooter -- that honor goes to id’s own Wolfenstein 3D, arguably -- but it was certainly a pioneer. It set the bar for gore in games, letting gamers blow the heads off pixelated monsters in spectacular fashion. It opened games up, winning fans over with then-unheard of co-operative and "deathmatch" modes. It popularized the concept of user-created mods (called 'WADS', short for 'Where's All the Data?). It ultimately spawned a media empire, giving birth to two sequels, four novels, and a really, really bad movie staring The Rock.

But for all the good Doom has brought to gamers, it’s also brought its share of headaches. The game’s graphic violence and satanic imagery was shocking to a world more accustomed to Sonic and Mario. Its first-person perspective fueled fears by some parties that it could be used as a training tool to simulate killing.

In 1999, the controversy resurfaced after the Columbine High School massacre, when it was discovered that the shooters were avid players of the game. (Later studies by groups, including Harvard medical school and the Greater Good Science Center, found no correlation between Doom and other violent games and real-world violence.)

John Carmack, the legendary coder who put together much of the backend of Doom, says the political furor didn't really surprise him.

"I think that it was interesting being the poster child for Congress for a decade; to get up and wave a game around, it was always Mortal Kombat and Doom until Grand Theft Auto came around and made us look pretty tame in comparison for moral outrage purposes," he told Wired.

"I understand why people do that, I understand why it happens. They’re looking for a scapegoat or even a potential cause. It seems to me just part of human nature that somebody is going to take the brunt of that. And in the end it doesn’t really hurt. It’s not like there were federal laws that came out that banned any of that. It had little actual impact on us. In many ways, it’s the theater of politics."

The success of Doom made id into one of the gaming industry's power players for years, but a string of long development delays and moderate-selling games led to the company's acquisition by Bethesda in 2009.

Though id announced plans for Doom 4 in 2007, the game is still in turnaround at the studio, which scrapped an early version of the game after deciding it "didn't have the soul" of Doom.

The company itself has suffered something of a talent bleed. Carmack left earlier this year to focus on his duties as chief technical officer at Oculus, makers of the upcoming Rift headset. Doom co-creator John Romero left long ago, and is now focusing on app games and serves as creative director of the master's program in Games & Playable Media at UCSC. Former id co-owner Jay Wilbur is currently vice president of business development at Epic Games.

But regardless of the hurdles Doom and its developer faces today, it doesn't affect the game-changing impact the shooter had on the industry -- or our social lives. Here’s to twenty years of Martian frags, Doom.

For game news, free codes and more, Like us on Facebook and follow @yahoogames on Twitter!

View Comments