Good iddance | Games / Reviews | Coagulopath

Doom didn’t receive a proper retail release for a long time. For years, the “correct” way to get the game was to log on to ftp.uwp.edu and spend all night downloading it on your 14.4k modem. This wedded the game to early internet culture: the idea of buying Doom in a store still seems fundamentally wrong, like viewing a Pre-Raphaelite work of art on an iPhone.

Nonetheless, mission packs of varying quality (and legality) eventually appeared on store shelves. Many included a DOOM.EXE executable, and were a handy way to acquire the game if you weren’t on Al Gore’s information superhighway.

Depths of Doom, from 1997, was one of the last. It contains the original games (Doom + Thy Flesh Consumed + Doom II), plus DWANGO, plus Windows executables (playing at 640×480 was cool back in the day, but now obsolete in an era of GZDoom or whatever). It also has Master Levels, a 21-level set that are generally superior to the originals in quality (aside from the shit joke level with fifty Cyberdemons shooting at you).

The second disc contains Maximum Doom, which was ~1800 fan-made levels downloaded from the internet. “Shovelware” is the term for this, I think. There’s no quality control: some levels crash, almost all suck, some are actually for different games like Heretic and Hexen, and there are graphical and audio mods containing content from the Simpsons or Monty Python. The entire release is illegal, strictly speaking.

But I still enjoy playing Doom wads. They’re like historical documents from the pre-Google (<1995) internet…or the at least the part of it frequented by teenage boys. You see their fascinations spread out like a mandala: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Beavis and Butthead, porn stars who are now old enough to be grandmothers. If there’s a soundtrack, it’s probably a midi of Metallica or Pantera.

Some of them invite you into their lives in small but touching ways: designing levels based on their house or their mall or their school (that last one didn’t age well). I’m fascinated by how many of these uploaders include text files telling you how to contact them…including their real names, and phone numbers, and street addresses.

Was the internet legitimately less nasty in 1993? Or were kids just stupider?