Doom ripped and tore its way into the public consciousness in 1993. For more than two decades, the hellish shooter has helped define first person shooters. The music is iconic, the violence is over the top, and it has never stopped getting attention. Thanks to the open source nature of its code, programmers have ported Doom to cameras, toasters, and thermostats. Popular Doom mods are still coming out. Series co-creator John Romero recently released an unofficial sequel called Sigil and Bethesda released an official mod raising the original game’s framerate earlier this month. Hundreds of industry workers credit modding Doom with getting them started in game development.
By making it possible for anyone to tinker with, the community that loves Doom took a game that was originally 24-levels long, and made it infinite. As long as there are screens in the world, someone will be playing Doom on them. Sadly, that was not the case for the game's rebirth in 2016, nor is it for the sequel, Doom Eternal.
“Games have gotten a lot more complicated as far as how you make them. We had snap mapping in Doom 2016," Marty Stratton, Executive Producer at id Software—the company behind Doom—told me at a recent preview event, referring to Doom 2016’s level editor. “People enjoyed that, but it took a lot of effort and didn’t deliver on the true nature of mods. The way we developed this technology makes it pretty complicated to have mods in the traditional sense. We’re not doing snap mapping and, out of the box, we’re not going to support mods. [But] that’s always something we want to do.”
“The traditional U.S. PC game development custom of supporting mod and map-makers, at companies like id Software and Blizzard is one of the best, most influential forces in the history of video games,” Frank Lantz, Director of the New York University Game Center, said in an email. “So much important creative work came out of this legacy. It's disappointing to imagine leaving this tradition behind .”
In an August interview with Joe Rogan, id founder and Doom creator John Carmack told Rogan that Doom will live forever because he pushed for it to be open source. “As you can imagine, that was a tough sell,” Carmack told Rogan. “It’s great with Doom and Quake now, especially Doom, where anything that has a processor runs Doom. If it’s got a 32-bit processor and can conceivably display an image, people have ported Doom to it. And that code will live forever.”
Carmack said that Doom’s predecessor, Castle Wolfenstein, wasn’t designed to be modded but fans found a way. He realized that people loved Castle Wolfenstein so much that they wanted to remix it to keep playing in new ways. “By the time we were working on Doom, it was an explicit top-line technical goal for me...to make game modding a top level feature.”
With Quake, Carmack pushed to open up the game’s code even more. “That’s how Quake got a QuakeC extension language,” he said. “And that led to all of the things like capture the flag and Team Fortress.” As id Software released a new game, it’d make the source code for the previous game available for free. “That worked out remarkably well.”
Stratton agreed with Carmack. “I would attribute some of [Doom's] success to its openness. The mod scene is still fantastic for Doom,” he said. “Half of our development team credits Doom’s open source and mod scene for joining the industry. I think it was hugely influential, not just in Doom’s success but the industry’s success.”
This doesn’t mean that Doom Eternal won’t have mods. Just as with the original Castle Wolfenstein, industrious players will pour over the code, rip apart, and do what they want with it. It’ll just be harder than it was when Carmack was running the show. But making a game hard to mod does affect the scene. Just look at the pitiful showing for Doom 2016.
I’ve played the first three hours of Doom Eternal and it’s exactly what I want from a Doom sequel. More of the same, but perfected. The loop of tearing through demons while managing resources and juggling a few upgrade systems feels even better than it did in 2016’s excellent franchise reboot. Stratton and fellow creative director Hugo Martin told me that they’d focused their energies on refining and expanding the game, creating a campaign they said would last 20 to 30 hours.
I’m looking forward to playing more of it, but I can’t help but think that I’ll probably put it down once the campaign is done. id Software might make post-release content I could buy down the line, but without a constant stream of user-generated levels to play, there's going to be a finite amount of game. Doom can’t be eternal without a strong community and won’t have one if it’s “too complicated” to make mods for.