John Carmack Thinks the Code for a Classic Doom Game 'May Be Lost'

ID Software turned ‘Doom’ into a mobile RPG two years before the iPhone. Sixteen years later, the game is a classic that’s all but impossible to find.
May 24, 2021, 1:00pm
Doom RPG on a cell phone
Image: ID Software Promotional Art

The first mobile game I fell in love with was Doom RPG. It was 2005, the iPhone wasn’t out yet and most mobile games were even shittier than they are now. Doom RPG hit the scene, reviewed and sold well, and gave some people hope for the future of phone-based entertainment. Sixteen years later, Doom RPG is almost impossible to find. Even Doom co-creator John Carmack can’t find the original code. Thankfully, fans have spent the past few years searching old phones for the code and they’ve made progress bringing the classic and obscure RPG to modern systems.

“Before the iPhone existed, I worked on a few games for what were called "feature phones":  Doom RPG 1 & 2 , Orcs & Elves 1 & 2, and Wolfenstein RPG” Carmack said in a tweet on May 19. “Qualcomm's native-code BREW platform had better versions, but I haven't seen any emulators and archives for it, so they may be lost at this point. The J2ME (java mobile) versions are still floating around, and can be emulated.”

Doom RPG 1 & 2 were turn based dungeon crawlers that used Doom art, soundtrack, and sound effects. Rather than contract the work out, Carmack and ID Software developed the games in house. The games only exist because Carmack lost his phone in 2005. “My wife picked up a more modern one for me,” Carmack said on his personal blog at the time. “It had a nice color screen and a bunch of bad java game demos on it. The bad java games did it.”

Carmack knew he could do better than whatever awful games came pre-loaded on his new phone. “I decided to work on Doom RPG—sort of Bard’s Tale meets Doom,” he said on his blog. “Step based smooth sliding/turning tile movement and combat works out well for the phone input buttons, and exploring a 3D world through the cell phone window is pretty neat.”

Doom RPG 1 & 2 ruled. The maps looked more like Wolfenstin than Doom, but all the old demons and weapons were there. Moving through the maps at careful pace, worrying about hitpoints and healing, fending off cacodemons, and gaining levels were all a blast. It was so successful that Carmack and company gave Wolfenstien a similar treatment and developed the original titles Orcs & Elves, which also appeared on the Nintendo DS.

It’s almost impossible to play most of these games now unless you can track down an old phone that’s got a copy loaded on to it. When his son expressed an interest in Orcs & Elves, Carmack went digging for an emulator and the old code. There’s some work being done in Java to emulate the old games, but they don’t run well on modern machines.

Over on the Doomworld forums, fans have reverse engineered the BREW version of Doom RPG 1 & 2 from old LG phones. They’ve even got it working on VR headsets. The Doom RPG Remake Project is going in a different direction and rebuilding the game from the ground up within Doom’s original engine. Both groups are using bits of BREW code extracted from old phones to build the games.