Lately I’ve had the flu so I’m more or less bedridden. To pass the time between two sneezes, I took the opportunity to discover some old games and I came across “Strife: Quest for the Sigil” finally I play its reissue which allows you to easily play it in HD on Steam and without tweaking his PC “Strife: Veteran Edition”.
The Steam page talks about Strife as a classic released in 1996 but for my part, I talked about it around me, no one seems to know this game even though it seems to me to have some great qualities for the time.
Strife: Precursor to Deus Ex
In addition to having been forgotten by everyone when he invented many mechanics that will have brought glory to his descendants, Strife had a complicated development.
A complicated genesis:
In 1992 Scott Host created a video game studio in Chicago called Cygnus Interactive, whose most famous game was a Shoot them up called Raptor call of the shadows in 1994. At the same time Scott and one of his colleagues are starting to work on a 3d game project called Second Sword. Upon learning this, ID Software, the creators of Wolfnstein, Doom, Quake (in short, the fps gods of the time) decided to contact them to offer them a deal which basically said:
“You’re good, Raptor was a good game. So instead of tinkering with a technically outdated thing, come join us in Texas and we’ll give you the engine of Doom.”
A difficult proposition for Scott to refuse. Unfortunately, the transition is proving difficult. The new project being much more complex than Second Sword, the studio had to hire a lot. This change of scale, coupled with the stress of the move, results in serious interpersonal problems within Cygnus. Annoyed, Scott drops the case and returns to Chicago. The other employees stay in Dallas and found Rogue Entertainment, which will continue the development of this new project: Strife. But the delay was substantial and when the game finally came out in May 1996, it was already overtaken by the competition. Duke Nukem 3D arrived earlier this year, Quake will be released a month later. A game using Doom’s engine, I guess immediately come across as cheesy.
A revolution :
However, when you play it again in 2023, you realize that Strife was a good game. Where interaction in Duke Nukem 3D boiled down to slipping bills into strippers’ underwear and, in id games, to empty magazines into the heads of the dreadful people who rushed at us (finally in the belly it also worked since there was no localization of the damage), Strife already offered a city populated by passers-by going about their business, merchants of equipment and care, NPCs giving main and secondary quests and especially enemies whose behavior depended on the context: the guards of the Order (local equivalent of the Galactic Empire, against which stands a rebellion that will join the protagonist) did not attack on sight but only when the alarm was triggered or the player entered a prohibited area. Areas that otherwise were linked to each other like those of a Half-Life, the smooth transitions between levels giving the impression of a single vast open space.
Of course, Strife wasn’t perfect. In wanting to create realistic environments with an engine as limited as that of Doom, Rogue has sometimes crashed: the sets remain very abstract (hence the omnipresence of panels which are there to remind us that such a building is a prison or a power plant) and we sometimes come across guys who seem to have chosen to take up residence in secret passages. While the game world is open, it’s also quite small, with a single village that acts as the central area. And even if the scenario contains some good ideas – in particular an unexpected twist halfway through – it remains b-movies or z-movies next to the Hollywood staging of that of Half-Life or the quality of writing of Deus Ex.
But above all, playing Strife in 2023 allows you to enjoy the aesthetic pleasure of placing it back in the history of video games, to notice how this FPS-RPG, revolutionary on many points, is a “transition game”, both very modern and filled with clichés inherited from the first FPS. There is a weapon to assemble like in Hexen, teleporters and cupboards that make enemies appear right behind the player like in the cheapest level of Doom… And all these elements, a little outdated perhaps, make also from Strife a kind of lungfish, a weird thing stuck between two stages of evolution, unique and a little farted but not devoid of charm.
I really had a good moment in front this game so I hope if you try it you will have the same!
Have a good day, take care of yourself and your loved ones and see you soon!
To draw up an exhaustive list of FPS (or rather “Doom-like”, as we said at the time) released after Doom is totally futile. Let’s try instead to make a chronological selection to understand the influence of Doom on the history of video games in general, and shooters in particular.
1994: The Clones The release of Doom had the effect of an electric shock. In the eyes of developers and enthusiasts, id Software had just pushed a frontier, creating a space for games that no one would have dared to imagine before, rich in possibilities. In the eyes of publishers, he had made first-person games the center of attention, had made them the fashionable genre, which guaranteed a good return on investment. In the twelve months following the release of Doom, taking into account only games published, distributed and tested by the specialized press, we arrive at an average of more than one shooter every two weeks.
Operation Body Count (Capstone Software, march 1994, PC MS-DOS)
As you can imagine, most of the games that have sought to capitalize on the release of Doom have turned out to be mediocre, if not to say crap. Listing them would be both tedious and pointless, so let’s just cite for the record – or rather shoot for example – the catastrophic Operation Body Count. A member of the special forces sent alone (?) to liberate the UN building which has been invaded by terrorists (??) and whose basements are invaded by giant rats (???), OBC pulls off the fine performance of to be as bad at the level of its gameplay as its engine, a doctored and incredibly slow version of that of Wolfenstein 3D. In the big poo contest, honorable mention to Corridor 7: Alien Invasion – it’s almost the same game but in space, spawned by the same developer and released in the same month. This is called wanting to saturate the market.
Alien vs. Predator (Rebellion, octobre 1994, Jaguar)
Certainly, Alien vs. Predator wasn’t very good, and its gameplay paled in comparison to Doom’s. But the FPS of Rebellion (which will transform the test with the reboot of 1999) was all the same one of the rare FPS of the post-Doom period to try something original, with its three characters with radically different gameplays. For the record, and to stay in film adaptations, let’s also note Super 3D Noah’s Ark, a Christian game using the Wolfenstein 3D engine in which players feed the animals on board Noah’s ark. What relationship with cinema? Well, the studio behind the game, Wisdom Tree, had originally acquired the rights to the horror movie Hellraiser, which they intended to adapt. But development lagged, and when Doom came out, the makers realized they couldn’t beat id Software in 3D gore. They then decided to refocus on the Christian gaming market.
Marathon (Bungie, December 1994, Macintosh)
If Doom proved to the world that the PC had a future in video games, Marathon did the same for the Macintosh – and finished making the FPS the “genre killer” that a platform had to have to be credible. Qualified at the time as “Doom of the Mac”, the very nice second FPS from Bungie, the future creators of Halo, (the first being the fun but still very limited Pathways into Darkness) has long enraged PC owners , disgusted at not being able to play one of the only worthwhile Doom clones.
Rise of the Triad (Apogee Software, December 1994, PC MS-DOS)
Fired from id Software a few months before the release of Doom, Tom Hall of course did not intend to stop there. Quickly recovered by Scott Miller, who offered him to work directly for Apogee, and now totally free, he decided to create his own FPS. The result will be called Rise of the Triad, and will use a heavily modified version of the Wolfenstein 3D engine, with outdoor passages and dynamic bullet holes on the walls (a feat that the Doom engine was incapable of). Always so whimsical, the creator of Keen, breaking with what was the norm since Wolfenstein 3D, created the first FPS-comedy, with absurd levels, full of trampolines and bonuses that turn the player into a dog or make him bounce against the walls. Curiously, if Tom Hall gave certain names imagined for his “Doom bible”, like Thi Barrett, to the protagonists of RoTT, he did not take advantage of his newfound freedom to create the scripted FPS that he would have wanted Doom to be. RoTT is a very classic shooter, with a succession of more or less abstract levels and a scenario-pretext, a dark story of a millenarian sect entrenched on an isolated island.
Heretic (Raven Software, December 1994, PC MS-DOS)
Who better than id Software to compete with id Software? As Carmack began work on what would become Quake’s engine, John Romero, who enjoyed people’s company more, took advantage of his newfound notoriety to multiply projects. Bombed producer of the new game of his old friends from Raven Software, a medieval fantasy action-RPG, he encouraged them, as before at id, to favor purity and speed rather than complexity. The result: Heretic, a medieval take on Doom that, aside from adding inventory and the ability to raise and lower its head (at the cost of a gross tech hack that Carmack would never have tolerated), looked like furiously to his model, with a magic wand as a pistol and an enchanted crossbow as a shotgun.
1995: Diversification The evolution between Heretic and its sequel Hexen, released in October 95 and full of innovative ideas in an FPS, such as non-linear levels and character classes, is a good summary of the gap between the first and the second generation of Doom-like. While the first, that of 94, was content to imitate the canonical model created by id Software, the second had understood that, in order to find a place in the sea of shooters which swept over the PC shelves of distributors, it was necessary to offer something original.
Dark Forces (LucasArts, February 1995, PC MS-DOS)
It is said to be the Star Wars mod for Doom that gave LucasArts the idea for Dark Forces. Whether that’s true or not, Dark Forces, like all games developed by LucasArts during its heyday, was close to a masterpiece. If it has remained in history above all for its graphic quality, the diversity of its levels and their fidelity to the sets of the series (and of course as ancestor of the Jedi Knight, whose first episode will be released in 97), it also offered an impressive 3D engine, including platforms and mobile structures totally out of reach of Doom’s. A remarkable performance for an engine developed internally by a company with no experience in the FPS, and which proves once again that the shooter had become the genre to explore for all developers.
The Terminator: Future Shock (Bethesda Softworks, February 1995, PC MS-DOS)
Determined to wring the Terminator license to the last drop, Bethesda has pushed the limits of the era’s technology with The Terminator: Future Shock, made in true textured 3D, with open levels and the ability to look into all the senses using the mouse. Critically acclaimed upon its release, Future Shock almost should have taken Quake’s place in video game history. But it was too slow, too poorly optimized, to deliver the kind of technical slap that made id productions legendary. Descent (Parallax Software, March 1995, PC MS-DOS) also offered real 3D levels, and exploited them in an interesting way, placing the player at the controls of a ship capable of moving and turning in all directions. .
Duke Nukem 3D (3D Realms, Jan 1996, PC MS-DOS)
The first game to exploit the full potential of Ken Silverman’s Build Engine (Witchaven and Tekwar, released the previous year, were less convincing), Duke Nukem 3D replaced Apogee (which developed it under its 3D Realms label) at the center of attention. Ken Silverman, meanwhile, was quickly presented by the press as the great rival of John Carmack. Opposition a little artificial but interesting because if the two men had in common to be young prodigies of the code (Silverman was then just 20 years old), everything else opposed them. Carmack was obsessed with purity, and refused to add a feature if it required adding a single line of inelegant code – which is why he hated the Build Engine. Silverman, on the other hand, wanted results, and stuffed his engine with crappy tinkering: hidden teleporters that give the illusion of superimposed rooms, sprites drawn parallel to the ground to create pools of blood… Show off, but show off works: the city environments of Duke Nukem 3D seem much more alive than those of Doom, the game is acclaimed and the Build Engine becomes the new fashionable engine: Blood, Redneck Rampage, Shadow Warrior and so many others will use it . This will not prevent Ken Silverman from forfeiting seeing Quake: convinced that he could never compete with Carmack, he will abandon the creation of 3D engines.
1996-1998: Hegemony The FPS triumphed. As before it, the cinema had ended up replacing the theatre, real-time subjective 3D gaming, long seen as a technical curiosity intended to have fun between two rounds of “real” games, has become the norm. In a magnificent example of convergent evolution, all the other genres are gradually starting to come close to it: the old croutons of SSI abandon the dungeon crawlers square by square in favor of real-time movement, Bethesda pushes the limits of the game of computer role with Arena and its 9 million square kilometer virtual kingdom. The catalog of Sony’s PlayStation, released in 1994, is stuffed with 3D action games, and returns the Super Nintendo and the Megadrive to the rank of children’s toys. The software even begins to bend the hardware: with the S3 ViRGE (1994), the Matrox Mystique (1995), the ATI 3D Rage and the 3Dfx Voodoo (1996), appear components exclusively dedicated to the display of universes in 3D. The FPS is so ubiquitous that little Americans are surprised to discover, instead of the traditional toy offered with their Chex cereal, a CD-Rom containing Chex Quest, a non-violent FPS created with the Doom engine.
Quake (id Software, Jun 1996, PC MS-DOS)
In the interviews he gave to the press during the development of Quake, John Romero, faithful to his character, chained bombastic remarks, such as “Quake will not be a game, it will be a cultural movement”, or “Quake will be to Doom what Doom was to Wolfenstein 3D” – so much so that the rest of id Software eventually asked him to tone it down, lest players be disappointed with the finished product. Yet, and even if it was not obvious at the time of its release, Quake was to Doom what Doom was to Wolfenstein 3D, and even more. Not necessarily in terms of gameplay: Quake wasn’t a major evolution from Doom, due to chaotic development where, after trying to move away from FPS again but unable to choose a direction, id ended up create a 1992 fashionable shooter again, without even an inventory. But on a technical level, Quake is probably one of the most important titles in history, almost the common ancestor of all modern video games. First to offer, with correct performance, a true 3D environment with believable physics, Quake has realized, certainly in the service of an ultra-simplistic gameplay, the dream of Warren Spector and other creators of immersive sims: a coherent virtual world, operating according to its own rules. The QuakeWorld update (December 1996) then laid the foundations for all modern network code, with game over TCP/IP and prediction to compensate for the latency of connections, allowing game over the Internet under good conditions. Finally, GLQuake (January 1997), a draft of what would become Quake II, took full advantage of OpenGL and early 3D accelerator cards. The posterity of the Quake engine has been considerable, and portions of its code (notably that used for collision detection) are still used today, among others in Call of Duty and Valve’s Source engine.
Unreal (Epic Games, May 1998, Windows PC, Mac)
While Apogee/3D Realms and id Software seemed to monopolize the FPS, the other shareware heavyweight of the early 1990s, Epic Megagames (more modestly renamed Epic Games), is making an impressive comeback with Unreal and its incredible engine. 3D created by Tim Sweeney. First serious competitor to that of Quake, then used by almost all FPS, it marks the beginning of the end of id Software’s monopoly on 3D engines. With the Unreal Engine and Monolith’s LithTech Engine, released a year earlier but a little less impressive, John Carmack’s technological supremacy comes to an end. Other programmers have done, and will continue to do, as well as or better than him. It is also the end of a romantic era where a single individual, equivalent to a Newton or an Einstein, is able to push back the limits of the possible. 3D engines will become more and more complex and, like scientific research during the 20th century, the work of teams and no longer of isolated geniuses. In 2010, 40 people worked full-time on the development of the Unreal Engine. They are now 250.
Half-Life (Valve Software, November 1998, Windows PC)
If Doom demonstrated the technical viability of the 3D action game, Half-Life, which used a modified version of Quake’s engine, proved that it could also tell a story. No perspective other than that of an FPS could have given Half-Life its Hollywood blockbuster vibe. Even the best cinematic platformers seemed ridiculous next to these pursuits in a laboratory overrun with monsters after a failed experiment (well, then…), this brilliant scenario which made the player bear the responsibility for the disaster, this cutting into various sequences at the amazing level design. The long hallucinatory sequence shot that constitutes a part of Doom or Quake would no longer be enough. From now on, the FPS would need a scenario, a cutting, a staging. Gradually, until the true interactive feature film that will constitute Call of Duty (2003), the FPS will become more cinematographic. Even id Software will end up giving up its obsession with pure gameplay: Doom 3, the 2004 reboot, with its NPCs and its various sections built on a very rigorous progression, resembles Half-Life much more than the game of 1993. With Half-Life, the Tom Hall approach ended up winning: players really needed “a better reason to go through the levels than a switch to find”.
Quake III and Unreal Tournament (id Software and Epic Games, November 1998, Windows PC, Mac, Linux, Dreamcast, PS2)
If the solo FPS looks more and more like a Hollywood production, its multiplayer side is gradually approaching a sport. LANs are exploding, online gaming is made possible on a large scale with the democratization of Internet connections and the increase in their speed. Definitively breaking with the custom that wanted deathmatch, like co-op, to be a secondary mode added to a product intended to be played alone, Quake III and Unreal Tournament were pure multiplayer games, only PvP, offering only bots to keep lone players busy. Against Half-Life, of which they were the perfect complement, they established the second great pillar of the modern FPS: a brief and heavily written single-player experience, a multiplayer component based solely on competition. Neither changed much over the next two decades. It will be necessary to wait until 2016 and the return to grace of the fast-FPS, of which some curiosities like Serious Sam or Painkiller seemed to be the last descendants, so that the cards are finally reshuffled.
And this is how Doom became such a social phenomenon
Doom to conquer the world | Love the cursed
Entirely self-published game, distributed in shareware (the first act was distributed free of charge and if you paid you received the rest of the game), Doom did not benefit from any advertising. But a few weeks after its release, when the first rave reviews from the specialized press are barely appearing, the game is already bringing in $100,000 a day for its creators. College and corporate computer networks are saturated with IPX packets generated by deathmatch games. It’s as if the whole world, in one voice, had begun to hum the first chords of the legendary “At Doom’s Gate”, which greets the player at the start of the first level.
Sold directly by its developer without distribution in major chains, intended for a platform, the PC, on which most users do not play (yet), Doom, unlike Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter or Super Mario, is not , in early 1994, a name known to the general public. This is, paradoxically, what will be its strength.
Cash… Commercially, first. The absence of a publisher allows id Software to keep most of the income generated by the game. The money flows into the coffers of the studio which, once its car park is completely filled with Ferraris, no longer knows what to do with it. Newly rich but aware of their origins – at best modest, at worst really difficult – the brats of id, each in their own way, do a series of good deeds. John Carmack bails out $100,000 bail for a former high school friend, a problem kid like him, who ended up in jail, and donates thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment to his old elementary school to “encourage the kids to experiment and not be satisfied with what is in the books”. Romero pays his grandparents a vacation and gives his old car to the owner of his favorite restaurant. Adrian Carmack buys a house for his mother to get her out of the rotten neighborhood where she lived for years.
Don’t imagine that the id team was made up of disinterested and naive nerds. The monstrous success of Doom is also the result of a diabolically efficient business model: not only can the first episode, shareware, be freely distributed, but shopkeepers are even encouraged to sell it in the form they want and to retain all profits. In one of the most incredible win-win deals in history, all video game shops and mail-order companies are therefore encouraged to sell for their benefit, without a penny to pay and at no cost other than the reproduction of the floppy disks and the packaging, the most prominent game of the moment – at the same time providing free publicity for id Software, from which hordes of conquered players then order two thirds of the absent game of the shareware version.
Big corporations, like IBM and Microsoft, watch in amazement as a bunch of 25-year-old kids in Metallica T-shirts succeed – they have no choice anyway: IT company executives spend their days of staging deathmatches on corporate networks instead of working, so much so that software designed to seek out and erase all copies of Doom installed on a system is beginning to appear – and wondering about its future. In a fairly correct intuition, which foreshadows the arrival of the GAFAs, in particular Google and Facebook, they wonder: are they not in danger of being overwhelmed, with their army of salespeople and their old-fashioned inventory management, in the face of to hyper-agile boxes, put together by a small group of nerds who know their customers and can directly supply digital copies of their products? Admittedly, id is in the business of desoldering monsters with virtual machine guns, but what will happen the day a company of this type offers a competing product to those of Microsoft? The day when the “information highways”, as they said then, will be able to transmit ten, a hundred, a thousand, a million times more data? While the general press largely continues to ignore the phenomenon, the economic magazine Forbes devotes a very serious article to id Software, presented as the prototype of what will be the entrepreneurial successes of the 21st century.
Trash… The specialized press, for its part, is full of praise. Compute admires an “incredible action game” that will change the idea of the PC forever. Electronic Games remarks that next to Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, released not even two years earlier, “looks like an antique”. The very serious The Guardian which, like Liberation in France, took an early interest in “digital cultures”, splits a brief article which evokes a game “not intended for children or sensitive people. As for Matt Firme of PC Gamer, he complains about a game that “stole his life” with its “hypnotically beautiful” graphics and is afraid of ending up like those people you meet on the BBS, who see their obsession with Doom cost them their marriage or their job. Some evoke the word “cyber-opiate” when they talk about the game, haloing even more with a scent of the forbidden a title already sulphurous by its violence and its theme – especially in a country like the United States, always quick to moral panics as soon as Satan rears his horns.
This is the second particularity generated by the shareware distribution of Doom, outside the traditional commercial circuits, carried only by word of mouth, almost “under the hood”: it contributes to giving the game a counter-cultural status. Like the name of metal or industrial groups, such as Nine Inch Nails (whose singer/composer/man band, Trent Reznor, is an absolute fan of Doom, to which he devotes his days between two concerts – he will also compose the Quake soundtrack), that of Doom is immediately recognized by insiders (PC gamers, hackers, nerd students who hang out on BBSs), but remains totally unknown to the rest of the population. Familiarity with the latter therefore becomes a mark of belonging to the beginnings of the Internet counter-culture, whose codes Doom takes up while helping to define them: violence, bad taste, obsession with action films and electric guitars – Doom is the synthesis, if not of the imagination of an entire generation, in any case of an emerging cultural group. The soundtrack by composer Bobby Prince, who has been widely derided for his borrowings (rumor has it that Prince, who was a lawyer before becoming staff composer for Apogee and then id Software, knew exactly how many bars of Pantera or Alice in Chains he could afford to reproduce without falling under the law), was no accident: Romero entrusted him with a stack of albums containing just about every rock hit from the 1980s and 90 for him to use as inspiration.
But Doom, above all, helps to give the kings of this new counter-culture, the video game programmers, a status close to that of rock stars. There were already famous programmers (one thinks of Richard Garriott from Origin, or Ken and Roberta Williams from Sierra), but none had played their status to such an extent. The personality of John Romero, who connects the LANs to the four corners of the country where, wearing an “I wrote it” T-shirt (“I wrote it”), he calls his opponents sons of bitches during frenzied deathmatches, has a lot to do with it – like every star since James Dean, he even has the right to a rumor claiming him dead in a car accident. The proximity of this new game to the works that monopolized the best places at the box office – action films and SF have been on the rise since the reorganization of Hollywood – contribute even more. Ivan Reitman, hyper-bankable director of the Ghostbusters, is optioning a film adaptation of Doom. The trash and metal counterculture is certainly violent, but the mainstream culture, too, is becoming more rock’n’roll, more ironic, more trashy, than it was in the past – and those who, by taste or out of prudishness, refuse to play according to the rules of the new generation, risk quickly passing for old-fashioned.
Thus, learning that the shareware version of Doom is installed on more computers than its new operating system that Microsoft wishes to make credible as a gaming platform, Bill Gates’ box has the idea of organizing a big Doom party on Halloween Day 1995. Under the impetus of Alex St. John, director of the fledgling DirectX project, and Mike Wilson, the creator of the online game platform DWANGO hired by id Software (he later co-founded Devolver Digital ), is organized an evening in total rupture with the atmosphere “light blue shirt” that we associate with Microsoft. Dozens of high-level deathmatchers are invited to face off, while the horrified club executives walk through a set created by the heavy metal band Gwar (accustomed to crazy stage performances, and commissioned by id Software for the deco) whose centerpiece is a giant plastic vulva adorned with dildos that act as teeth. Some guests wear a disguise imitating the antiheroes of Born Killers, the film at the heart of all the controversy in the mid-1990s. In the background, a trashy industrial rock band (friends of Mike Wilson), whose music was not to everyone’s taste, so much so that security ended up going on stage to disconnect the sound system, at the request of Microsoft employees. Highlight of the evening, the still famous video where Bill Gates, embedded in the decor of WinDoom (the Windows 95 port of Doom), kills an imp with a shotgun blast – a video produced at the initiative of St. John, who had all the trouble in the world to convince his boss’s public relations officers. At the end of the show, suddenly realizing what had just happened, Alex St. John is convinced that he will find a dismissal letter on his desk the next day. This will not be the case. Due to its economic weight, id Software’s teenage subculture had become tolerable.
And rock’n’roll. If the video of Bill Gates in a trenchcoat has something comical about it, other trenchcoats, very present in the news of the 1990s, quickly gave a darker connotation to the virtual shootings. Since day one, Doom has been subject to criticism. Its violence got it banned for sale in Brazil, and the presence of Nazi symbols in Doom 2’s secret levels (tributes to Wolfenstein 3D) results in it being banned in Germany, which doesn’t mess with these things- there. Even in his country of origin, Doom is not in the odor of holiness. Joseph Liberman, a Democratic senator from Connecticut who had been on a crusade for the regulation of video games since the release of Mortal Kombat and Night Trap in 1992, organized a series of hearings with the industry in 1993 which resulted in the creation of the ‘ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), responsible for assigning an age rating to games. The first PC title to be rated “mature” (not recommended for those under 17) was Doom 2. The first console title, the Super NES port of Doom. Paradoxically, finding oneself thus in the crosshairs and subject to the moral judgment of the authorities contributes to push certain publishers and developers – the most blatant example being Sony, which sees in it a means of distinguishing itself from the very politically correct Nintendo – to play thoroughly the card of provocation and violence.
This also contributes to the definition, this time negative, of the contours of the counter-culture of the 1990s, a mixture of depressive grunge played by the children of divorced people and relayed by MTV, with Satanist references and pixelated ultraviolence. Faced with this wave of black T-shirts, the concern of parents and American moral authorities, quick to see the trace of the devil in each disappearance of a child since the West Memphis Three (the nickname given to three young people wrongly accused, at the end of a botched investigation, of the ritual murder of kids in a lost corner of Arkansas in 1993), is growing throughout the decade. It reached its tragic climax on April 20, 1999, in a Colorado town called Littleton, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed thirteen high school students before turning their guns on themselves. “It’s gonna be like a fucking game of Doom!” shouts Eric Harris, author of a few WADs for Doom 2, in a video recorded shortly before the killing, where he brandishes a shotgun. When columnists and politicians search for the cause of this senseless act of violence, they find two culprits: a rockstar, Marilyn Manson, and a game, Doom. Never mind that Manson, unlike his mentor Trent Reznor, never had the slightest regard for video games, or that Harris and Klebold weren’t more “obsessive Doom players”, to use the words of the President Clinton (yes…), than the average boy of their age. It’s the same aesthetic, the same counter-culture, the same generation, necessarily dangerous. For better or for worse, the video game is no longer just a toy. He is, like jazz, rock and comics before him, one of the avatars of a new culture that will take the world by storm.
It was my dad who introduced me to video games by giving me a Nintendo DS after my accident. After that he made me discover a lot of games that made his geek culture so having wanted to talk about retro gaming from time to time I thought that “Dad’s games” would be a good choice of title for this little column . For this first edition I wanted to talk to you about Doom. I let myself go a little on the subject so I separated it into 3 parts but I promise, the next articles will surely be a little shorter!
The development of doom | Id nomine satanis
Ask any rockstar you know: the hardest part isn’t writing an album that’s going to top the charts. The most difficult thing is to write the next album. After the monumental success of Wolfenstein 3D, which made id Software the absolute star of PC development, the studio is expected to turn around and, true to its excessive ambitions, does not want to be satisfied with doing so well. Their goal, once again, is to create the impossible.
At ID Software, everything is fine. Or rather, should we write, at id Software, which has changed the spelling of its name since Tom Hall taught them that the id (the id, in French) is the instinctual part of the human soul. In any case, ID or id doesn’t matter, everything is fine. The cumulative sales of Keen and Wolfenstein 3D bring in two million a year (four million today), which these gamblers from Carmack and Romero invest in their first Ferraris, which will quickly become the symbol of the success of the studio. But even more than the financial success, the critical success of Wolfenstein exceeded all their expectations. It is rightly recognized as a major turning point in the history of video games. “More an interactive film than a game,” exclaimed the critics, while others found themselves gripped by nausea or panic attacks in the halls of Nazi castles (urban legends about gamers throwing up at game length rotate on the BBS). A Vietnam veteran writes to id to tell them how he used the game, and its striking realism, to overcome, little by little, the post-traumatic stress he has suffered since his escape from a prison camp. Players in 1992 are as fascinated, and terrified, by Wolfenstein 3D as viewers in 1896 were by L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat. For John Romero’s hefty ego, it’s a dream come true.
But the work must continue. Shareware having its limits, the team decides to publish a commercial version of Wolfenstein 3D, Spear of Destiny, for a publisher called FormGen. If the game is similar to Wolfenstein in almost every way, it is remarkable for its last level which, unlike the previous ones, does not take place in a Nazi fortress but in Hell, where the hero, B.J. Blazkowicz must snatch the spear of Longinus at the hands of a demon. The level is brief and without much ambition, but Adrian Carmack, who was getting tired of drawing Nazis, put all his twisted soul and all his talent into it, with ghosts, quirky demons and cages overflowing with debris. humans. The team’s taste for imagery and satanic references was nothing new: their passion for metal, of course, has something to do with it, but the Dungeons & Dragons campaign that John Carmack continued to be mastered since the days Softdisk had been taking an increasingly dark turn for some time, until its terrible conclusion: the invasion of the material plane by demonic hordes that the character of Romero, although equipped with a powerful Daikatana, failed to push back.
The need for speed. Although he hasn’t played D&D since this apocalypse, John Carmack continues to iterate on his 3D engine, and ends up taking home the NeXT station on which he programs so that he can work non-stop and without distraction from morning to night. In addition, he recently worked with Raven Software, a video game company with which the id team befriended during his stay in Maryland, for the simple reason that they were the only other game developers in the city. Raven was working at that time on Shadowcaster, an action-adventure game, which Carmack had agreed to collaborate on to put some of his experiments into practice. On behalf of Raven, he is developing an improved version of the Wolfenstein 3D engine, capable of displaying textured floors and ceilings, outdoor areas and still rare graphic effects, such as fog and increasing darkness with distance. From this starting point, Carmack will improve the engine, breaking in particular with the logic of orthogonal walls inherited from old 2D maze games: instead of being composed of a grid of blocks, as in a Minecraft which would have a single floor of cubes, the levels were going to be composed of polygonal “sectors” of varying heights and shapes. The result is impressive but, unfortunately, quite slow, especially when many different sectors are visible on the screen (for example those which constitute the steps of a staircase), and Carmack is not satisfied.
To make matters worse, the company id delegated to port Wolfenstein 3D to the Super NES is an absentee, and if id doesn’t deliver the prototype in time, he’ll have to pay Nintendo a hefty penalty. Heartbroken, the team decides to put the work on hold to carry out the porting itself. Despite the talents of Hall, Carmack and Romero, who pulled their old assembly manuals out of the closet to program the Super Nintendo’s processor as efficiently as possible, nothing to do, the port is too slow. The Super NES, designed for 2D scrolling, is simply not capable of displaying a game like Wolfenstein at the correct speed. Luckily, during his nights spent going through the latest research in computer science and applied math, Carmack came across a paper from the research laboratory of AT&T, the American telecommunications company, entitled “Constructing good partitioning trees” (Building good partitioning trees). partitioning), which describes the principle of binary partition, consisting of dividing space in two several times in a row, to create a tree containing only convex areas. Then simply “go up” the tree starting from one of its leaves to draw only the elements currently visible on the screen. Optimized in this way, the Super NES version of Wolfenstein finally runs at a tolerable frame rate. And Carmack is quick to use the same algorithm to improve its new engine.
Hell and purgatory. If the technical problems are solved, the same is not true of the creative problems. Tom Hall, unhappy that the team again seems to want to work on a game with dark corridors rather than a new Keen triology, pulls the face a little. For his part, Jay Wilbur, former Softdisk that id recruited to take care of administrative and commercial tasks, has an idea: to create an adaptation of Aliens. After all, the whole id team loves the James Cameron film and the rights are available. But Romero and Carmack, who value their independence more than anything, do not want to cede any creative control, which would be inevitable for a licensed game. And then John Carmack has another idea, an idea that has obsessed him since Catholic school and his role-playing games: a game where you fight demons. Romero, of course, exults. Adrian too, convinced that he will finally be able to put his unique talents to good use. That’s good, Carmack has already thought of a title, inspired by a scene from The Color of Money by Martin Scorsese: at one point in the film, Tom Cruise opens the briefcase where he stores his favorite pool cue. “What do you have in here? asks his opponent. “In here? Doom,” Cruise replies with a smile.
At the end of 92, the team already knew they had a future cardboard in their hands and, aware of its value, decided to abandon Apogee and to self-publish. Carmack’s new engine pushes all the technical limits, and the atmosphere of the game, which Romero imagines halfway between Evil Dead and Aliens, will push back those of decency, of what a video game can afford to show . For Tom Hall, such a game must also push the limits in terms of narration. He launches a draft scenario: the story will be that of scientists confronted with the demonic invasion of a lost planet, Tei Tenga. Tom Hall writes an 80-page design document, the “Doom Bible”
(which you can consult online: 5years.doomworld.com/doombible/doombible.pdf)
in which he throws all his ideas: an open-world game (Carmack told him that his new engine would no longer divide the world into levels) with four different characters, complex NPCs, cutscenes, twisted puzzles – for example a door which must be unlocked by severing a corpse’s hand and placing it on the palm reader -, six episodes plus a retail sequel, Spear of Destiny style, set on Earth… Huge ambitions, that the rest of the team doesn’t pay much attention to. Carmack thinks only of improving his engine and Romero of creating levels. As for Adrian and Kevin Cloud, they have fun with their new toy: a digital camera with which they photograph monster sculptures, which they animate in stop-motion, before retouching them in Deluxe Paint. It’s as if no one cared about the work done on his screenplay. “Tom, replies Carmack in a line that has remained famous, the story in a video game is like the story in a porn movie: we expect there to be one, but everyone don’t care. And then anyway, specifies Carmack, who discussed it with Romero, you have to drop the idea of the open world to return to a sequence of more classic levels: not only was it horrible in terms of the management of the memory, but players like the sense of progression that comes with getting to the next level. In short, all his work is good for the trash.
The Tom Hall of the Damned. Freed from the task of writing a scenario, Tom Hall is given the task of helping Romero, who is currently the only level designer (even if the word does not yet exist). True to his usual serious manner, Hall goes to the local library and accumulates documentation on military installations in order to create the most realistic levels possible. But during the meetings, where the team takes stock of the progress made, the judgment of his colleagues is not very good. The Hall levels certainly look like authentic space bases, but especially those of Wolfenstein 3D, with walls at right angles and more or less rectilinear floors. Those of Romero, on the other hand, certainly only remotely resemble buildings designed and inhabited by humans, but they are baroque, crazy, full of surprises, with quirky shapes, switches that plunge the rooms into darkness. at the player’s first misstep and the monsters that pop out of the cupboards. Much more fun to play, and most importantly, much better showcases of the war machine that is Carmack’s new engine.
In the id team, a company founded on technical innovation, code (John) and gameplay (Romero) purists have taken the upper hand, and their decision: Tom Hall is no longer useful, he must leave. . The other members unanimously vote for his departure and Romero, his old friend, reluctantly agrees to be the one to tell him the bad news. He invites him to dinner at his house but, when he confesses the reason for this invitation, does not succeed. The next day, discovering that Romero had chickened out, Carmack took matters into his own hands: “Tom, it’s obvious that we’re not on the same wavelength anymore. The team is asking for your resignation. Surprised, disappointed, but relieved to leave a team in which he no longer found his place, Tom Hall agreed to pack his boxes. That day in the summer of 1993 when he walked through the door of id Software for the last time was seemingly of crucial importance – if Hall had won, if he had succeeded in convincing the two John that players “need a better reason to traverse levels than a switch to find”, as he himself puts it, Doom would arguably have been more like Deus Ex, and the whole FPS story, not to say video game, would have been changed.
Cthulhu to the rescue. Tom Hall, the last trace of a serious spirit, being out of the game, the team is now entirely free of all childishness. Adrian and Kevin Cloud digitize everything they find, so long as it’s filthy: from plastic guns from the toy store next door (which will become futuristic weapons) to their own knee scratches (which will become the textures adorning the walls of hell). The first images shown to the public, and then the beta distributed to the press in October, were showered with praise and Doom is now one of the most anticipated games. On the BBS, the impatient pile up and joke to kill time. A little joker posts a message there explaining that we have no idea to call a game Doom, and that if it had been called “Smashing Pumpkins Into Small Piles Of Putrid Debris” (crush pumpkins into small piles of putrid debris), the hype would have been less. This makes id laugh so much that they choose IDSPISPOPD as a cheat code to walk through walls.
But time passes and id begins to wonder if the game will be released by the end of the year. However, the team has grown. John Carmack recruited Dave Taylor, a young engineer fresh out of the University of Austin, to work on secondary aspects of the engine, such as the automatic map. The designers asked Gregor Punchatz, son of illustrator Don Ivan Punchatz – who designed the cover of the game – to help them with the monster models. But it’s on the level design side that things get stuck. The departure of Tom Hall left a big void and, if Romero (also busy with game design) had time to finish a dozen levels, the account is not there at all. Miraculously, the team finds an email sent to them by Sandy Petersen, mainstay of Chaosium and creator of the role-playing game Call of Cthulhu, looking for a job in the video game. A little chilled on learning that Petersen is a Mormon, Romero lets himself be convinced by Carmack to give him a chance and quickly falls in love. Although older than the rest of the team (he was 37 at the time), Petersen had an intuitive understanding of level design and what Doom should be. Recruited in disaster ten weeks before the release of the game, Petersen will pull out of the drawers the drafts of Tom Hall’s levels and create, in record time, no less than nineteen. His taste for Lovecraft and shapeless monstrosities will also have a considerable influence on id’s future creations.
The taste of sharing. While Petersen cranks up the level, Carmack works on the last big missing feature: network play. Doom, it is in any case what was promised to the press, will have to make it possible to play several on the computers of a local network IPX (the ancestor of protocol TCP/IP). “If we manage to do that, Doom will be an incredible fucking game, the most incredible in history,” sums up Romero with his characteristic sense of proportion. To save time, it is decided that players will use the same sprites and will only be differentiated by a color change (originally planned to distinguish the different characters described in Tom Hall’s bible). After a few sleepless nights, Carmack finally created working network code. Gathered in front of the two PCs that Carmack has networked in his office, the team watches, fascinated, what no one has ever seen: two characters facing each other in a virtual 3D universe. Carmack presses a key on one of the machines and, on the other screen, the character crosses the field of vision of his companion. In front of Commander Keen, in front of Wolfenstein 3D, Romero had already had the intuition that they held a killer feature, a technical progress, a design element, which exceeded everything that had been done so far. This time, its excitement is beyond comprehension: the non-orthogonal levels, the lighting effects, the atmosphere worthy of Aliens, the gore worthy of Evil Dead, and now the online multiplayer game? Each of these elements, taken separately, would have already guaranteed the success of Doom. But the sum of all these elements? It wasn’t the PC video game that id Software was going to revolutionize, it was the video game as a whole! The history of the animated image! Popular culture! The world ! And at midnight on December 10, 1993, after having kicked some of the connected users who, having come too many, were preventing Jay Wilbur from uploading the files to the University of Wisconsin’s FTP server, id Software put the shareware version online. of Doom.