Wolfenstein 3D Team's Freedom Paved Way for Doom's Lasting Impact

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26 Jun 2024

One thing id Software did have with Wolfenstein 3D, however, was time. Prior to this title, the team had been creating games for publishers Softdisk and Apogee, most of which were distributed in magazines or as shareware, with intensely tight turnarounds of two months. But Wolfenstein 3D “was the first time where we felt we had no limit on time,” says Romero. Because of this, the team played around with features from the 2D original like searching dead enemies and dragging corpses out of sightlines.

But they didn’t gel with “this high-speed run-and-gun gameplay… It’s violating the game whose character is now coming through as we make it. You kind of find the game while you’re making it. You have a plan, but then the game itself is kind of coming out of what we’re making. We can keep on shaping it or forcing it in a certain direction or let it go where it’s going.”

Where Wolfenstein 3D was going was huge success, with its new style of fast and brutal FPS combat something players simply hadn’t seen before. Much of what id learned would be repurposed and refined for Doom, but the scale of Wolfenstein's popularity gave the studio other lessons, and one in particular that would prove crucial to Doom's longevity.

WAD Next?

“People were trying to mod Wolfenstein, and we had no idea until we saw people do it,” says Romero. The game’s compression made this “really hard,” with id’s only focus being a small filesize on disk, “but when we saw the lengths people had to go to just to get access and make levels, it was like, we need to completely open the next game.”

Romero credits Doom's resulting WAD file format as what “lets people generate tons of content for Doom” to this day, and once again highlights the speed. “People who are content creators want to make something and see it within seconds. That’s a payoff, and Doom allowed that. In ten seconds, I can make a room in Doom and run it.”

Doom has had a thriving community around from launch to this day, and Romero himself has returned to the game and its sequel over the years. Late last year brought Sigil 2 from the designer, an experience that a breathless Robert Jones described as “the closest experience I’ve had to genuine PC gaming time travel.” Doom celebrated 30 years in December 2023 and is arguably as popular as it ever has been: in one of those moments that would warm even a zombie soldier’s heart, Romero and Carmack had their own little reunion to mark the date.

Update: 26 Jun 2024
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