How to Play Classic Doom Today

Are you nostalgic about imps, cacodemons and arachnotrons? If so, have you accepted that one of the oldest first-person shooters in history is a thing of the past, as dead as the poor zombieman who got in the way of your BFG blast? If so, I have fantastic news for you. Doom is alive and well on the Internet. In fact, it is as alive as ever. To see what I’m talking about, just go to Youtube and search “Brutal Doom”, a gameplay modification you’ll have to see to believe. If that’s not your cup of imp juice with pulp, you can play Doom normally with a modern graphics engine, or even with the appalling resolution of the original, bugs and all. This article will show you how.

First, I need to explain the very basics about how Doom works as a program. This should spare you some of the confusion that I had in the beginning. For most intents and purposes, classic Doom consists of two fundamental components. One is, to put it simply, the program. This is what runs the game, and includes the graphics engine, the algorithms that govern movement and object interactions etc.. The other component is the IWAD. This contains much of the essential information, most prominently the level maps. The key thing to understand about the IWAD is that it literally determines which Doom game is played. The difference between Doom and Doom2, for example, is not the program, but the IWAD the program is loading. Run the program with DOOM.WAD to play Doom. Run the same program with DOOM2.WAD to play Doom2. Neat Huh? So keep in mind that when I talk about the program for Doom, the distinction between 1 and 2, Final Doom etc. is irrelevant. By the way, the “I” distinguishes these .WAD files that determine the original games from the .WAD files used on top of the IWADs to load custom levels and other game modifications. These are referred to as PWADs, and there are thousands of them.

So in order to play Doom, you need A: the program, or a program as will soon be clear, and B: the IWADs. The IWADs have not changed. They are the same damn .WAD files you used before. If you don’t still have them lying around on a disc somewhere, the orthodox way of obtaining the IWADs is to buy an official release of Doom itself. That’s right, you can still buy Doom. The official program as distributed by ID Software in past and present is referred to as ‘vanilla Doom’. You can play it if you like, but we’re not done yet. The point is to get those IWADs, so you can copy them around on your computer to your heart’s content. You can forget all about the rest.

The program is where the wonderful story begins. It all started when ID software did the righteous thing and released the source code for the program (well, most of it). The first thing people began doing with the code was porting Doom to their favorite operating systems. In this way began the emergence of Doom ‘source ports’. Then came the obvious tweaks. Modern resolution, enhanced multi-player support, and of course the ability to see your health and ammo without that bloody bar at the bottom! Source ports became the standard way of playing Doom in the post-Doom era. And they have evolved in leaps and bounds.

So once you have the IWADs, its time to choose a program to run them. In other words, just download a source port. And there’s no need to stop at one. There are many to choose from, reflecting the variety of ways that Doom can now be played. If you’re tempted to play vanilla Doom, you might want to try Chocolate Doom, which aims to imitate it as closely as possible, warts and all. If you want an acceptable resolution, but otherwise a fairly conservative adaptation, try Boom and its derivatives. If you want beautiful graphics, Doomsday is renowned for this. Risen3D has three-dimensional monsters. There’s even a source port for Doom64!

But as a start, I recommend ZDoom. Or more likely GZDoom which is graphically superior. ZDoom is a great all-rounder with all sorts of expansive features. More to the point, it’s the source port for the Brutal Doom mod, which you’ve gotta try. It’s as fun as it looks. I also have another slight motivation for endorsing ZDoom: my own Doom level was made and tested with it. If you’re so inclined, you can give that a shot too. See the Doom Level page.

The source ports are only one example of how far Doom has come and how seriously many people are still taking it. If you are not yet privy to the modern day Doom world on the web, then there is a great deal to catch up with. So check it out. And I’d like to leave you with one last tip: if you want to play that great Aliens TC mod by Justin Fisher, then 1. use Boom, 2. remember the original didn’t come with music, and 3. you run it by loading all mods files at the same time. Just select them all and drag them onto the .exe together, or the equivalent. Happy shooting.

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