Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Making of Doom at SXSW 2013

The intro;

"Few games can match the ubiquity and legacy of Doom, the seminal first-person shooter that ushered in thousands of mods, clones, and successors. Nearly every significant FPS, from Resistance to Half-Life, Call of Duty to Halo, owes its success in part to the Id Software game. Programmer, Game Designer, Level Designer and Doom II final boss John Romero will deliver a postmortem on the game showing never-before-seen material, memorializing its immersive but nerve-wracking 3D environments, networked multiplayer deathmatches, Satanic imagery and themes, Barney WADs, exploding barrels, and BFG 9000. Romero was a co-founder of id Software, among other companies, and also worked on other significant shooters like Wolfenstein 3D and Quake...."

Presented by John Romero

What a wonderful treat, the charismatic creator of Doom and Wolfenstein 3D gave an hour's presentation on the journey to produce the game. From the evolution of earlier games, such as building an earlier game for the difficult to programme EGA to Wolfenstein 3D through to the development of the amazing (for the time 3D engine) and realisation what they could do with it.

They were playing a lot of dungeons and dragons at the time, and really wanted to create something with demons in it - which was a big inspiration for Doom. The 3D engine they developed allowed more complex environments to be created with exterior and interior, and large rooms with variable height ceilings, and non-orthogonal walls. John tells of the guy that was producing level designs initially was developing levels that looked like Wolfenstein - and an early tech demo video showed how it was looking at that point, then he was instructed to build some military looking buildings / levels but these were really boring, so John experimented with creating something much more interesting. Another really cool aspect of the engine was the lighting, and ability to get shadows to fade out the environment in the distance.

Earlier demos show how the environments and level design was developing, and they showed some of the levels with the enemy characters without AI. The UI around the game window went through many iterations, a lot of the detail was dropped. The bobbing of the gun came in which looks cool. One of the creators modelled the shot gun reload on themselves. The chainsaw was a broken chainsaw borrowed off one of their girl friends, the shotgun was a toy bought from Toys r Us! The characters were designed by a wonderful artist, initially in clay - but these were found to melt under the light, so they moved to latex and plastic. They used a Lazy-susan to rotate the characters and record them into the computer.

They talked some what about the Apple pre-cursor computer the Next - and on one of these they spent $11K! I didn't quite follow how this was used in the development... initially they were just using the hints information, but I understand they developed a lot of the graphics on this. They developed the Doom bible which was lost, but they managed to recover a copy and re-digitise it.

The day before launch there was a big press gathering around congress with complaints that video games are too violent and the next day they released Doom!

During the launch they uploaded to a university's servers which made them crash several times due to user load, and before launch they were heavily spammed on usenet from angry gamers awaiting it's launch, as the makers held back the launch due to a critical bug which they had to resolve. Basically the game over-clocked the computer somehow - I didn't quite follow this, but the tick should have been 8 times a second, and they increased this to 100 times a second, to enable them to do all the music and the animation and creating of a high frame rate. Anyway they were setting a value to FFF, and it was trying to increment, but there is not higher value - so the system would just wait and cause the whole computer to freeze. By setting the value back to 0 it would ensure the computer wouldn't hang. They resolved this and released the software. Interesting they provided it to shops for free and told them to offer it for $10 and they could keep the money.

The screenshots, graphics and video demos were wonderful, and it was nostalgic and wonderful, and what a treat to be able to attend this lecture.

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