Monday, 24 November 2014

The Doom Wars


What are the key personality traits of writers?

I recently read a post on Rock Paper Shotgun about key gaming moments. It got me thinking, and I wrote this:

One of my key gaming memories was "Ending the Doom Wars". Nowadays I have 101 FPS games to play. Back then, an undergraduate at university with my first PC (I had to work full time at Asda for a week, sometimes 12-hour days, to get the money for my 486DX to replace my beloved Amiga 1200) I had one, and it was called Doom. I had played the free shareware episode again and again. Then a university lecturer lent me the CD with the full game on so I could install it, and I began to play in earnest. The rules I set for myself were originally that I had to play on the Ultraviolence difficulty level (the hardest one before respawning enemies appeared) and I was not allowed to reload a game if I died. Instead I pressed spacebar to respawn with just a pistol. No level in Doom was impossible - it just meant a different approach as you sneaked around, led monsters to fight each other, and gathered weapons all over again. In fact, that was often more fun than entering a level with a full loadout. It made it tense again. Scary, even. It meant your skills and knowledge of the level improved. And the feeling of satisfaction as you survived to hit the exit switch was all the better.



The exit switch. It clunked satisfyingly.

At the time I partly lived in a world of Doom. When I walked home across the golf course and through the woods I would imagine attacks by different Doom monsters, and how I would use the terrain around me plus one weapon (randomly selected by my mind) to take out the Cacodemons drifting down through the trees in a horrifyingly ominous snapping of branches, or the Imps which ambushed me and threw sizzling fireballs that exploded with searing light; how I would run from the pink Demons and try to climb up onto something high enough that they couldn't get me. Happy times.

Later I bought my own copy of Doom, with the fourth, ultra-hard Thy Flesh Consumed episode. I had completed the game a number of times so came up with the ultimate challenge:

  • Complete every level of each of the four campaigns in order.
  • Including the secret levels (so 36 levels in all).
  • Ultraviolence difficulty.
  • If I die I have to start again, E1M1.
  • No saves, no cheats. The whole game in one go without dying.

It took a year. It was tense. It was frustrating. I would sit down for a session, get to one of the levels of Thy Flesh Consumed, and die from something stupid - an acid pit, a demon ambush, a Cyberdemon rocket. I was living in a caravan at the time, the PC set up on the bottom bunk while I sat cross-legged on the floor. The caravan would rock with my yells. Then I would either resign myself to it and restart, or turn the PC off for the night, spend a few minutes getting feeling back into my dead and creaking legs, and read a book. On the bus to work I imagined an ongoing war with the demons of Mars, soldiers being sent out in transports, each armed with just a pistol, in the hopes that one would eventually win through. The fate of worlds hung in the balance. This was an epic war. The Doom War.

And when it did eventually happen, and I made a lossless run (though with many heart-pounding close escapes) I didn't cheer - I just felt a wave of satisfaction. I had done it. I had ended the Doom War.

That amount of investment couldn't happen to me now. It is not sustainable. But only with the risk of loss do you feel the joy of gain; hard work is required for reward. I felt relief, I felt I had drawn a line under the game, I could move on.

(Except I did this once more, with Hexen, completing the whole game in one run with no saves, no deaths - and despite the PC crashing on the final level once. On that day there was much howling and gnashing of teeth, but I didn't give up. Nonetheless, those times have passed and I hand the mantle to the new generation.)

What are the key personality traits of writers? Imagination, obsession, solitary hard work, and making bigger stories out of things. All the key factors for a writer were there, evidenced by The Doom Wars.
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3 comments:

Alyson said...

It's quite terrifying, knowing what goes on in your brain.

Anonymous said...

I would say interesting is a better word than terrifying here.

Karl Drinkwater said...

Thanks, you may both be right!