Doom modding in the ’90s: My recent fascination.

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One day, I was checking out some YouTube videos, until I had stumbled upon this one by Pordontae:

I was gonna write something about that Doom level set featured in the video, but I realized there wasn’t anything particularly unique about it. Some of the levels feel bland and featureless, often with no sense of balance. E2M9 has a fight between one spider mastermind and three cyberdemons, for crying out loud! But it did give me an idea. that’s not the main reason why I liked this level set. It was the random sounds that the creator replaced.

Playing this level made me realize how amazing the Doom mod scene was during the mid-to-late ’90s. END1.WAD is the epitome of a 1994 level, according to the Doom Wiki. During the heyday of Doom modding, everybody was making their own levels to play around in Doom, in varying levels of quality. Some have held up and get universal praise from Doom veterans. Others are forgotten, an experiment often made by a teenager who didn’t pursue game development further.

Modifying an existing game wasn’t a new concept, but Doom was one of the few to openly embrace it in its early days. This lead to many creative levels, some made by people who’d later become famous in their own right.

Though this wasn’t always the case. Since the tools were fairly new, most people were making fairly dreadful levels, usually plagiarizing parts of the original Doom levels, or in some cases created tutorial levels. Such as FEAR21.WAD, which looks so obtusely designed that it’s like if Salvador Dali made Doom levels. Here’s a UV-Max (All kills, all secrets) run from Doom speedrunner ryback:


This above is an example of what most people had to offer. For 1994 standards, it was great to have another level to play, but it’s very tough to play today unless you’re like me and have a liking for crap, for sure.

Even when more powerful games came out such as Quake, Unreal, and Half-Life, Doom‘s mod scene still thrived. When the Doom source code was released in 1999, suddenly Doom modding was on a whole new level, changing the original game into something unique and extraordinary. I went into this very briefly in a blog post about Doom mods that were better than Brutal Doom, because it’s great that people took a game from 1994 and modified it to the point of it being completely unrecognizable from the game it’s based on.

One thing that was fairly common for a lot of ’90s levels was that a lot of these wads would use sound clips from TV shows like Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Simpsons, Beavis & Butt-head, the works. Most of END1 uses sounds from the Evil Dead series of movies, turning Doomguy into Ash, something Duke Nukem wished he was.

Since the sound pack for END1 is separate from the level pack, I can slap this into any Doom level set and just hear the repeated sounds of “Goddamsunuvabitch” every time Doomguy takes damage. For extra laughs, if you have a Doom source port that allows you to turn on randomized sound pitches, do that. It makes it funnier than you’d expect.

Cover courtesy of the Doom Wiki.
This makes Doom look a lot cooler than it did. I would love to see someone make a Doom mod in this art style.

That’s why I love the ’90s levels: It was a simpler time. All kinds of people were creating stuff for a game when that previously wasn’t as common. There was a phenomenon to creating stuff for Doom. Hell, there were books about making Doom levels, like The Doom Hacker’s Guide. Such a thing sounds crazy in the modern age with wikis and such dedicated to modifying games, but that stuff fascinates the hell out of me.

Thankfully the mod scene hasn’t changed a whole lot since the ’90s. In lieu of BBSes, we have dedicated mod sites and the Steam Workshop to fulfill the same purpose those places did long ago. Just like the past, there’s always the gimmick mods that people remember alongside the really good ones. If you decide to go into the world of Doom modding, take a poke around the idgames archive, grab a random level and go nuts. Preferably in vanilla Doom, but I won’t judge you too hard if you play it with mods. Unless it’s Brutal Doom, then I’ll judge you rather harshly.

I’d love to look more into these level sets, but alas I don’t have the time to dig through all of /idgames/, plus I don’t have any of the notable Doom shovelware compilations like D!Zone or Maximum Doom. If I did, I’d be playing a bunch of these random levels, as it’s a perfect snapshot of what people were making for one of the hottest action games around at the time. This stuff has always fascinated me in some way, because it’s impressive what people do with a game. A bit of nostalgia also comes into play here.

I want modding to stay alive and thriving in the modern age, as too many current games lock down their content, causing the game’s mod community to die faster. Worse, mods are being sold for real money, and while I don’t mind voluntarily chipping in a few bucks, having to pay $5-10 to play rather absurd mods just feels like the end times of gaming where it becomes more about making a quick buck than making good content.

Hopefully I’ll get back into the groove and write about more interesting things soon, but I had been kicking this idea around in my head for the past two weeks, and decided to write something about it. Nostalgia is a funny thing, isn’t it?

(The Doom Hacker’s Guide cover is courtesy of The Doom Wiki.)

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