[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Doom is 20

December 9th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

id Software Doom for Atari Jaguar Ad Advertisement - 1994One of the best reasons to own a Jaguar circa 1994

Twenty years ago this week, id Software launched one of the most important and influential PC games of all time: Doom. It started as a modest shareware download but grew to change the entire video game industry. To explain how, here's 2009 Benj writing about the title for a PC World slideshow:

Id's archetypical first-person shooter triggered a sea change in the PC game industry, which had formerly been dominated by slow, plodding strategy turn fests, brainy simulations, and stilted PC action titles of yore.

In contrast, Doom was the first of a new generation of fast-paced, smooth action titles that utilized new visual techniques to push PC hardware to its limits. With Doom, PC gamers could experience fluid gameplay, graphics, and sound that easily topped what was found on home game consoles of the day — an uncommon achievement at that point.

Moreover, it introduced exciting new network multiplayer options that are widely imitated to this day, coining the term "deathmatch" in the process.

From its lowly roots as a MS-DOS shareware title, Doom spread like a weed to other platforms, including game consoles, which now count first-person shooters as one of their best-selling genres.

"Doom defined the 3D shooter genre and made multiplayer gaming mainstream," says Tim Sweeney (founder of Epic Games and creator of the Unreal Engine), "And it did them with such incredible polish, artistry, and foresight that it created an industry."

Considering that Doom launched in 1993 via shareware channels, I'm not aware of when or in what publication the first advertisement for Doom appeared. (I believe GT Interactive became distributor for the full, boxed PC version of Doom much later, but I could be mistaken.)

So instead, I found this nifty November 1994 scan for the Atari Jaguar version of Doom. I received this version of the game for Christmas in 1994, and it was an amazing gift.

Pushing the PC Limits, Jaguar Relief

Most people don't remember how much horsepower Doom required in a PC at the time — at least 4 MB of RAM, a mid-range 486 CPU, and a sound card to run passably well. So I had trouble running the game on any PC up to that point.

In 1993, we had one 486 in the household with exactly 4 MB of RAM (to contrast, my personal PC sported a 16 MHz 386 and 2MB RAM), and I had to make a special 5.25″ boot disk that loaded fewer resident DOS drivers, etc. so I could run Doom on that 486 at all. If I recall correctly, I didn't have enough spare RAM to load the SoundBlaster drivers at boot, so the experience was limited. My friend had to run Doom on his mom's 486 the same way. Even then, the game didn't run at full frame rate. Doom pushed the limits.

So coming from that environment, it was an amazing convenience to just plug a Doom cartridge into the Jaguar and play, full-speed, full-screen, with glorious sound and no hiccups. My brother and I played a lot of Doom on that console well into 1996 — until I got a more powerful PC that could run Doom with ease.

Until the PlayStation port of Doom came out (late 1995), the Jaguar port was widely considered the best port of the game (in terms of screen window size, lighting effects, monster interaction, sound, controls, and frame rate) available on consoles. Its biggest drawback was lack of a soundtrack during gameplay. I think that's because John Carmack used the Jag's DSP co-processor to handle graphics routines instead of music, which was unconventional on that platform.

But I digress. What a great game. I still play Doom regularly via modern source ports on the PC — most recently on my new 1080p big screen TV set. Add on Xbox 360 controller support via ZDoom, and you've got Doom heaven. It's a game that never seems to get old for me, even 20 years on. That's the mark of a true classic in my book.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, November 1994, p.109]

Discussion Topic of the Week: How did you feel when you first played Doom? What are your memories of the occasion?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Rayman and Frustration

June 10th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Ubisoft Rayman Advertisement - Original first Rayman Game - 1995Rayman: Missing limbs since 1995

I bought Rayman for the Atari Jaguar shortly after it came out in 1995, hopeful it would bring some Mario-style platforming magic to Atari's "64-bit" machine. While lushly illustrated with a deep color palette, I found the gameplay and the controls a little kludgy, and I had trouble advancing past one of the first few stages. I gave up and moved on to other games.

Shorty thereafter, I lent Rayman and my Jaguar to my brother and his roommate to play at college, and they beat it within a few days. Determination was just as important as skill when it came to completing video games in those days, and I had no motivation to torture myself with a frustrating game.

Which brings me to a tangential point: When I was a kid, if I couldn't beat a video game, I thought it meant that I was a bad video game player. I thought it was my fault. But years later I realized that the games that frustrated me most were just poorly designed.

Not to say that all difficult games are bad games — in fact, I'd say there's a big difference between "difficult" and "frustrating." Merely difficult games are still fun even if you fail; they make you want to try again to complete a challenge. Frustrating ones feel unfair and make you want to smash your game console with a hammer.

One of my friends did that to his NES once. He also threw it off his second story apartment balcony. Ah; those were the days.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, September 1995, p.129]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever visited physical violence against a video game console or controller?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Final Four '97

April 1st, 2013 by Benj Edwards

MCA Mindscape NCAA Basketball Final Four '97 1997 Ad advertisement - 1997It's that time of year again…

I'm not a big fan of sports, and I'm not a big fan of sports games (Blades of Steel for the NES is probably my favorite — off the top of my head). But having grown up in the heart of ACC basketball country surrounded by great and once-great teams (UNC, Duke, NCSU, Wake Forest, etc.), I have a soft spot for the ACC and NCAA college basketball tournaments. I tend to watch a couple games a year.

So I can't tell you much about NCAA Basketball Final Four '97, because I've never played it. The closest I've come was NBA Live '97 for the SNES, and that was pretty fun for a basketball game.

[ From GamePro, April 1997, p.35 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite basketball video game of all time?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Final Fantasy Tactics is 15

January 28th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Final Fantasy Tactics Playstation PS1 PSX Magazine advertisement GamePro May 1998"How to Start the Mother of All Wars"

Fifteen years ago today, Square released Final Fantasy Tactics in North America for the Sony PlayStation. (It's kinda crazy, because I was going to use this scan today anyway, just by chance.)

I remember being excited when this game came out. I'm sure I read a glowing review of it in EGM and recommended it to my brother, who promptly bought it and played it on and off for the next two years. I still have Final Fantasy Tactics' music stuck in my head just from hearing him play the game so much.

The game is a strategic masterpiece, and though I have not played it to completion myself, I appreciate its depth, its music, and I absolutely love its sprite-based graphics and spell effects. The sprite-based nature of FFT alone was something to cheer at a time when most new PSX games were plagued with choppy, low-res polygonal 3D graphics.

[ From GamePro, May 1998, p.70-71 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your words, what's so great about Final Fantasy Tactics?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Sex and Violence

June 18th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Deathtrap Dungeon Playstation PC CD-ROM ad -  1998I think they have it backwards.

Amid the recent media hullabaloo that modern video games are sexist and overly fixated on violence, I give you this ad for Deathtrap Dungeon from 1998. That is all.

[ From GamePro, May 1998, p.72 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Graphics quality aside, do you think today's video games are more sexist and violent than games from earlier eras?

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