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A doomed history

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Darren Blair

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Once upon a time, a very big thing in the world of video gaming was “shareware”. Basically, the first installment of a game was yours for the cost of packaging and shipping if you bought a physical copy. You would be able to play this first part without issue, but then you’d hit a dead end. If you wanted to be able to play on through, you would need to purchase the full game direct from the company.

Now, I’m not going to get into a discussion here concerning the parallels between this and DLC (downloadable content). I could probably do a whole separate article on that, and so I shan’t deviate. Plus, I could use the ideas for future articles anyway.

Well, one of the biggest games of the shareware era was the classic “Doom”. Tales of unit sales are legion, with various sources I’ve seen rating it as one of the most successful pieces of software (not just games) of the 1990s, besting even some versions of Windows. It was also, to put it bluntly, one of the most violent and one of the most controversial.

The premise was simple. You play a member of the United States Marine Corps. Your efforts to oppose your commanding officer’s illegal orders fail, leading to a tragedy. When you beat him senseless as a result, the board of inquiry decides to keep the pair of you as far apart as possible… by sending you to a duty station on Phobos. Not long after you arrive, the archaeologists you’re guarding succeed in opening a portal to the Underworld… and Satan takes the opportunity to flood the Milky Way with an army of de-mons and zombies. So it’s just you, whatever gear you can scavenge, and a limitless supply of determination against the demonic horde.

Back when I was younger, I played “Doom” and “Doom II” to such an extent that I still remember most of the cheat codes. My normal routine was to come home from school, fire up the computer, load “Ultimate Doom”, enter the invincibility cheat, play a level or two in order to unwind from the day, and then get on with my homework. If memory serves, I only stopped playing it because one of my brothers took the game disks with him to college, leaving me without a means to install things when we got a new computer.

Well, over on Citadel of Myths, the Mythbusters fan site I’m on, someone asked for ideas concerning video game-related myths. The discussion turned to “rocket jumping”, where a player uses the blast from a rocket to fly. I began searching YouTube for footage of this since a level of Doom required it to access a secret area. In the process, I found a guy who is doing a walkthrough for all of the games. And to be honest, I’ve probably spent too much time in a single day watching them.

On one hand, the games are indeed still as violent as I recall, and are littered with jump scares and other cheap tricks. The graphics are comparatively primitive, and the audio is atrocious. On the other hand, the game still holds up. It still requires a fair amount of strategy. And there’s some logic to the design of most levels. In other words, as far as video games go, it’s fun. Perhaps that’s why it’s lasted when so many competitors didn’t.

…And now that I think about it, maybe similar explanations can be offered for why knockoffs in other art forms rarely outlast the original…


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