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Remember Doom? It’s one of the best shooters—nay, games—of all time. Id Software’s classic was a revolution in the early ‘90s, a “3D’ game of shooting monsters in ‘realistic’ environments (as realistic as it got back then at least). It’s primitive by today’s standards, but you might be interested to learn that Doom is still relevant today thanks to the tireless work of a decades-old community of amateur developers, otherwise known as “modders,” who are still creating custom content for the game—content anyone who owns the game can play for free.
I’ve gathered some of the best work from the last few years of modding to show you, along with the very simple steps to get them working.
GETTING STARTED: Let’s start with the obvious: if you don’t own Doom already there are around a thousand ways, reputable and otherwise, to acquire it. It’s on Steam, various “freeware” sites, more illicit corners of the internet—pick your poison, so long as you end up with copies of Doom and Doom 2 somewhere on your PC. Best of all, the base games and even the more complicated graphical enhancements should run on whatever potato you happen to have laying around the house with a monitor attached.
What you need first is a source port—that’s just a way of saying an amalgamation of patches and additions to make Doom run on a modern machine at a resolution from this millennium. Most mods will let you know which they prefer, but GZDoom is the most ubiquitous. The latest release version is a little behind, so I’d recommend getting a newer beta build and only switching to the older one if something breaks. To run “WAD” files (Doom’s proprietary file format for storing maps and data) in GZDoom, just drag and drop them or the folder they are in onto the executable (the .exe file you click on to run it).
Side note: If you just want to play a sexier version of Doom that actually lets you look around in three dimensions, go for Doomsday Engine and its various high quality texture and model packs. The effect, upgrading the game to make it look like it was made nearer 2000 than 1989, isn’t humongous, but it does put a fresh spin on things. Be warned, it won’t work with a lot of mods as it doesn’t have support for the custom elements they contain.
Now, onto the goodies.
By Paul ‘skillsaw’ Debruyne
We’ll start small. Lunatic is only five levels, set on the moon. The levels are a great combo of claustrophobic firefights requiring precisely timed movement and open spaces of dodging between criss-crossing plasma and fireballs. The finalé is a spectacular slaughter-fest set to, brilliantly, a low-bit take on “The Final Countdown” as different parts of the level open up on a timer.
Intelligent use of stronger enemies (including a new zombie type) and large hordes keeps things interesting, building to the BFG (“Big Fucking Gun,” naturally) spam-fest of the ending. There’s also a load of new art for the base and surrounding moonscape, the best of which is the Earthrise sky, which manages to look fantastic despite its ‘93 trappings. You can see a small sliver of it in the image above.
ADVENTURES OF SQUARE
By BigBrik Games
This is definitely the most different of my recommendations. Developed by a veteran team of Doomers, Adventures of Square is a more colourful, Saturday Morning Cartoon style shooter that happens to be based in the engine and use the basic mechanics of Doom. They’ve changed so much that it can be downloaded as a standalone pack that’s preconfigured and doesn’t even require base installs of Doom.
They’re planning on expanding it into a full game, but currently Adventures of Square contains one episode’s worth of levels that are massive, varied and packed with new art and weapons. Their shotgun replacement is a rapid fire spinning cannon while enemies are floating yellow biscuits firing lasers and giant purple trapezoids with miniguns.
That might make it sound silly, and it is, but the design behind it is solid. The guns are well balanced, the enemies threatening but counterable. Levels are big and packed with secrets. It feels like Doom with a significant facelift and is just as fun and difficult as you’d expect.
By Cyriak ‘mouldy’ Harris
Going Down was the WAD that started me on my spree of seeking out custom content for Doom. It just gets a lot of stuff right. There’s a quick narrative interjection played out purely through map design: the first level is spent riding a long elevator up to the top of United Aerospace Corporation HQ, where you discover something is wrong. The rest of the levels are a slow descent through the building and into total madness.
Going Down has an incredible sense of escalation, both in terms of difficulty and how batshit it steadily goes. Early maps are very small scale close combat packed with enemies spawning in and coming out of passageways. The weirdness starts simply—a map that is mirrored with a demonic version of itself, changes in one affecting the other. From there reality slowly peels away as you’re swallowed up by gigantic hellbeasts, fight through demonic disco halls and eventually face up against the walls of your own house.
It may not be a surprise that creator Cyriak Harris is YouTube semi-famous for works like this.
BY Marcos ‘Sergeant Mark IV’ Abenante
Arguably the most popular and well known mod, Brutal Doom is certainly something special. The basic tenets of Doom are that it’s fast, violent and explosive, and Brutal Doom turns all that to 11. Bullets spark off surfaces and sprites explode into gory bits and pieces. It’s a fourteen year old boy’s interpretation of a Doom he’s only had explained to him.
Despite all that, it is elegantly designed. It adds so much to playing base Doom, upgrading even the pistol to a bullet spewing, akimbo SMG combo. The Super Shotgun has so much power its kickback accelerates you backwards while the Minigun instantaneously clears rooms, ripping limbs from demons, staining every surface. It’s a bath of uber-violence and almost too much—but also incredibly therapeutic.
SUSPENDED IN DUSK
By Esa ‘Espi’ Repo
Suspended in Dusk couldn’t be further from Brutal Doom if it tried. It is constructed with nothing but the vanilla elements of the Doom 2 engine—that is, it could have been made and shipped with Doom 2 and ran on a machine in 1993. Unlike many of the entries here, it doesn’t make use of custom scripts or hacked-in enemies. It’s refined, pure Doom and it still manages to surprise.
What SiD does better than anything else is understand what Doom is and how it plays. It uses the basic elements—particularly the Shotgun and certain enemies —in a more intelligent way than even the original developers managed. Every nook and cranny feels specifically designed and there isn’t a wasted ammo canister or enemy. They all feed back into a sense of environmental storytelling I haven’t seen elsewhere in any game. SiD probably isn’t a good WAD to start on, but you’ll have newfound respect for it after trying a few others.
By Paul ‘skillsaw’ Debruyne
Valiant, our final entry and skillsaw’s second on the list is, for me, Doom perfected. Every single level of its 32-map length has something new and surprising in it that will bring a smile to your face. What’s done with layout, difficulty curve and variety is impressive enough, but custom elements are where Valiant really shines.
Few bits of Doom are left untweaked. Levels are scattered with shootable switches that open exits or secrets. They keep you looking around, appreciating the pixel-perfect architecture and design of levels. And they’re just the tip of Valiant’s extras iceberg. Redesigns have been inflicted on a large number of enemies. Arachnotrons now sometimes spit their mushy brain-head out to float around and continue to inflict ludicrously high damage. Hell Knights and Barons now come equipped with either rocket launchers or long-range flamethrowers, both of which require new tactics to fight effectively.
Perhaps the best inclusion is a new Minigun that fires at twice the speed. It brings what is something of a lacklustre weapon in comparison to its peers up to standard. Clearing rooms of even tougher enemies and finally giving you something to do with all those bullets, it’s now a wonderful compatriot to the Super Shotgun rather than a last resort.
I could go (and have gone in the past) on about Valiant for an entire article. The incredible Lunatic callback in a later level’s secret. The consistency in art and vision in each of its four episodes. Dozens of memorable moments. The slightly crap final boss fight. I won’t, but you should definitely, definitely play it.
Ben Barrett writes about video games for anywhere that will let him and manages a beard in his spare time. Follow him on Twitter @ChaosSmurf.
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