Yesterday, December 10, 1999, was DOOMs' 6th birthday. This got me to thinking as to why I, and many others, still play DOOM. How many other computer games are still being played by more than a handful of people so long after their introduction in the marketplace?
When I first started writing about what made DOOM so good, so much fun and so long lasting, I had concentrated on what id Software had put into DOOM to make it so good; the scary monsters, the dark and demonic atmosphere, the quantum leap in game technology that DOOM brought to the realm of PC games, the fact that it plays just as well on today's super-fast computers as it did on the computers available when released (unlike many of the other games that came out that year (*cough*Wing Commander*cough*), and a whole host of other things that id did to make DOOM so good.
Then, just for grins, I played the " Press Release Version" DOOM beta and I ran across a few "treasure items", Skullchests and Satanic Bibles, items that served no purpose other than to give the player "points", then it struck me: It wasn't just what id put into DOOM that made it so good, it was also what id left out that made it so good.
When DOOM was released id had dispensed with the idea of points for treasure, which had been included in every id game up until Wolfenstein 3D, the last id game before DOOM, as well as almost every other game ever released until that time and for several years after.
Okay, but so what? id had redefined the point of playing games. Up until this time the point had been to get as many points as you could; to "win" by having more points at the end of the game than anyone else. With DOOM there were no points. You were no longer competing with other people. You were playing for your life.
The only way to compete with other players was within DOOM; in DeathMatch. Up to four people slugging it out in mortal combat within the DOOM environment. With simple scoring: one "frag" ("point") for each time a player killed another, and a negative frag for each time a player killed themselves, it was easy to determine who was better at killing who. But unlike other point based competition, this all took place within the DOOM game.
In DOOM there are no pickup items that do not help you in combat. Everything you can pickup either heals you, protects you, is a weapon, is ammo for a weapon, makes you invisible or invincible, or opens locked doors. There are no useless items.
This makes a HUGE difference in how the game is perceived by the player. Gone are the treasure chests, gold chalices, silver ankhs, gem stones and candy bars; items that remind you that you are only playing a game. The immersion is that much more complete. The game is that much better.
Another aspect of most games at the time had that DOOM did away with was a limited number of lives. This aspect of game design had come over from the arcades where the point of the games was to generate income for the arcade operators. Limited lives and limited game times forced players to keep shoving more money into the machines to keep playing.
In Section 14.2 of Tom Halls' DOOM Bible we can see references to the effect that DOOM, like all previous id games, was originally going to have a limited number of player lives, as the original purpose of the Soul Sphere was to give the player another life, not to heal the player to 200% health, as it does in the finished version of DOOM.
In DOOM you no longer had to worry about collecting enough useless items, or finding that one magic item that would give you more than your original allotment of three lives. It did not matter how many times you died. You could keep going. (If id had been real bastards they could have dispend with the idea of resurrection and could have made you start the whole game over.)
DOOM also had no real plot. Sure, it had a backstory to set the mood, but that's all it did. DOOM did not encumber you with annoying side characters or long, boring sections of Full Motion Video (like all those damned Wing Commander games, or Jedi Knight (ug, what a nightmare!)). You were dropped into the DOOM world and never pulled out until you died or won, which could be both at the same time.
To say that DOOM is good solely for what it does not have is folly. DOOM is the work of a group of very talented programmers, artists, musicians and level designers. It is true, however, that DOOM is such a good game because of what these people decided to put into DOOM as much as what they decided to leave out. It is this yin-yang that makes DOOM such a good game.
-Richard R Ward, December 11, 1999.
Addendum: If you play any modern First Person Shooter; the Quake series, Unreal, Unreal Tournament, Half-Life, Far Cry, etc... you can thank DOOM for their realism. It is, in my opinion, directly attributable to DOOM's paring down of the arcade style of game design that led to these games having such a realistic design. It is almost inconceivable to me to have treasure items and bonus lives in games like Serious Sam, Splinter Cell or any of the other FPS games that have come out since DOOM.