I do believe I promised something a bit more action-packed this week, although now that I think about it Mount And Blade has plenty of action. But I meant monsters jumping out of shadows and guns firing a staccato of panicked percussion. There are almost a million games that could scratch that particular itch, the one on your trigger fingers, but with the age of Rage almost upon us, I’ve decided to take a look at some mods for Doom. Or should that be Dooms? To the past, gentlemen and ladies, to the past.
The obvious place to start a trip through Dooms is with a remake of the shareware episode of the first game in the series remade in the engine of the last game in the series. Classic Doom 3 is just such a thing, demonstrating that it is still possible to capture at least a portion of that old-fashioned Doom feeling. As well as filling your ears with music that, to gamers of a certain age, actually sounds like the maps it accompanies, Classic Doom 3 recreates those maps incredibly well. It's a bit too moody and dark for my liking but that's Doom for you, I suppose. It's easy to forget how garish the first two games could be, with glowing power armour, and shiny blue orbs littering the corridors.
As well as recreating the details of the levels, Classic Doom 3 elevates the Doom Marine back to his position of demon destroyer extraordinaire. Doom 3 reduced the number of enemies but increased their power relative to the player. This may have been for technical reasons, as a design choice or to create a more frightening atmosphere (I suspect all three played their part), but on the whole it's fair to say it wasn't a popular decision. Classic Doom 3 is not only a reminder of how good the level design in Doom 1 was, but also a study in which parts of the old design work in the new engine and which parts don't. I'd argue that it's a more enjoyable experience in deathmatch rather than as a singleplayer mod. It's a great experiment, but it makes me want to play Doom rather than a modernised remake of Doom. So let's do that.
For the purposes of these mods, let's assume I'm talking about Doom 2 because that's where most of the support is. So dust off your copy and get ready for a some very good things indeed and some very strange things indeed. If you're running through ZDoom, this thread should help you with Wad usage. If you're playing without, try this. If you still aren't having any luck, there are incredibly helpful communities here and here, and the answer should already be available.
Here's something you may not know about your PC, the one attached to the monitor that you're presumably reading these words on right now. If that happens to be your work PC in the offices of Grumpy McGrumpy, the grumpiest boss in Grumptonville, don't actually try this because what I'm talking about is computer-generated Doom levels. Let me run that by you again. Your computer can create levels for Doom. It'll just churn them out. Most of them will obviously be rubbish but Slige, the program that makes this magickery possible, does have some restrictions and parameters so the hit-to-miss ratio isn't as small as you'd think. That's not really the point though. I think there's just something terribly exciting about knowing that there are an infinite number of maps just waiting to be played. But don't Mr McGrumpy know about it. He'd just grouch up his face like a festering knuckle and tell you to get back to the spreadsheets analysing falling lint production in Stoke.
So, there you go. I've given you infinite Doom maps. My work here is done, I can hang up my hat and go and enjoy the rare warmth of this uncanny English autumn. But I won't because infinity is not enough. Before we move on from Slige though, it's well worth checking out The Proving Grounds, a Doom 2 Wad made entirely using the random generator. It's the best of its kind, which is to say it's the best collection of maps made by an unthinking, unfeeling machine for a seventeen year old game that you may not own. Don't say I never give you anything.
Cyberdemons were the first game enemy that actually caused me sleepless nights. I'd like to defy your expectations by saying that's because I was staying up until the early hours killing them, but it wasn't that at all. I was scared. It seems ridiculous now. I've braved Silent Hill 2 and Amnesia, I even played through necrophiliac point and click abomination Midnight Nowhere, an experience I'd like to share with you all one day over a very very strong drink - but I still remember with a certain spine-tingling dread the first time I saw a Cyberdemon and then heard the bastard thing stomping around, hunting me. It seemed unkillable, which is why it'd be a particular treat if I was to share a Wad that consisted entirely of puzzle-type levels all about killing Cyberdemons in imaginative ways. Imaginative doesn't mean chainsaws and BFGs though, it means telefragging and friendly fire. The Wad is Cyberdreams and it's quite the thing.
Each level is a self-contained challenge, tasking you with using the mechanics of the game to kill a Cyberdemon, or if you're particularly lucky, a group of Cyberdemons. The level design is often brilliant and it shows how flexible iD's creation was. Seeing demons turn on each other after being struck by a stray projectile was probably the first time I became aware of the possibility of that sort of emergent gameplay. It felt like I'd discovered that it could happen all by myself, as if it was an accident in the code that only I knew how to exploit. Great times. Using those tricks, among others, Cyberdreams makes Doom 2 into something else entirely.
The Sky May Be Wad has divided the Doom modding community since its release. Is it a work of abstract genius or is it the worst thing to happen in the world ever? It's an entertaining mishmash of nonsense and surrealism, which as far as I can tell doesn't make it either a work of genius or a thing worthy only of burning in a fire. I actually like it, though I suspect if it were more well known today, or had been created for a modern game in this modern era, it may well have generated a whole host of annoying memes. As it is, we are thankfully spared that, although here is the plot. Someone make some memes out of that.
The Great God Imp has shown mercy on your soul and cast you into the hellish pits of his virtual toybox. Running around the garish lego buildings, you become aware that the virtual toychest is actually running under windows 3.11. However the mouse is broken and the ALT and F4 keys have been removed. You must find a way to shut down the system and end this nightmare! Oh, and watch out for the Great God Imp. He may not be so kind next time He sees you.
Windows 3.11 and broken peripherals. I'm suddenly a penniless teenager again.
More oddness with Void, a Lovecraft meets Escher journey through some distinctly strange environments. My personal favourite of the far-too-many Wads I've played over the last fifteen years or so, Void adds all sorts to the base game and has an actual story. It doesn't go in for the comedic surreality of Sky May Be, instead delivering a cohesive yet fractured experience. It's the kind of thing I'd love to see attempted in Doom 3, which we'll be going back to after this last step on our journey into the distant past.
If you only play one of these mods, make it Void. But if you're anything like me, you'll be tempted into the sheer madness and bountiful plenty of computer-generated content and will be giving Slige a go as well. As always, do discuss other mods and Wads, great and small, in the comments below. I've intentionally missed out some of the big hitters, most of which can be found here, and many of which are still as good as anything created by a community of game fans.
Look at that, it's Doom 3, not a massively ambitious Doom 1 total modification from 1997. However, it's not just Doom 3, it's the Conscientious Objector mod, made by some of the people behind Dear Esther. Don't go thinking you're going to get Dear Esther on a space station though, instead expect Doom 3 with rubber bullets. How does a man fight back hordes of the slathering undead when he's incapable of putting them down for good? With great difficulty and shoulders buckled by despair, that's how.
Doom 3 is an unlikely game to use as a platform to investigate not-killing, being a game mostly about definitely-killing, but that's why Conscientious Objector works. Finding yourself backed into a corner, unable to defend yourself is a horrible experience, made more so when you realise you're basically in that situation because of budget cuts. Real guns and equipment cost too much money. You're going to have to make do with what your superiors found in the bargain bin.
To round us off, here's another vision of what Doom 3 could have been. Rather presumptuously calling itself Perfected Doom 3, this mod doesn't try to make Doom 3 into Doom 1, it doesn't try to query the nature of death and it certainly doesn't take place inside Windows 3.11. It's just Doom 3 as many people wanted it, with weapon balancing, monster overhauls and numerous other tweaks to completely alter the pace of the game. I wouldn't call it perfect but if you haven't visited vanilla Doom 3 for a while and have even the slightest desire to do so, I think this is a superior way to fight through iD's maps.
For the record, I enjoyed Doom 3 but it's hard for me to work out how much of that was because of the way that I played it. Doom was one of the games that made me and it was always something of a collaborative experience, a journey I undertook in the company of friends and my sister, who is also a friend. Doom 3 is one of the last games me and my sister played through together when we still lived in the same city, meeting up and using our time-honoured method of alternating control after a level or a life. In a strange way, that made it the last game of my youth and it'll always have a place in my heart, flawed as it may be. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy bringing it a little bit closer to perfection though.