DOOM was a nightmare to play in the UK 25 years ago.

Tommy Thompson
Dec 12, 2018 · 5 min read

I’m at that age in life when the things you remember fondly in your formative years could be married, have kids, a mortgage and a mountain of student debt already. Such is the case with DOOM: the first-person shooter that defined a genre. This year there is still much to be excited about, with continued updates to existing DOOM mods and the impending release of DOOM: Eternal in 2019. Plus for me I had a great time working on what became one of my more popular YouTube videos over on AI and Games as I explained the AI behind DOOM (2016).

My AI and Games video on explaining how the works AI in DOOM (2016)

The 2016 reboot has rekindled the gaming communities passion for this franchise, including my own. It’s the first game in around 15 years where I opted to take the day off work to play it at launch. Hell, I even bought the game at launch digitally such that I could boot it up that morning to play — after running the gauntlet of launch day/week patches of course. And with the 25th anniversary this week, I was reminded of how easy I had it in 2016 versus the 1990’s when I played the original growing up in Scotland.

Original promotional art for DOOM (1993)

Shareware Shooter

Back in 1994 I was in early high school in the small town of Linwood not far from Glasgow. The year prior I was given my first-ever PC, the Intel i486DX2, as a gift from my parents — the machine that many an aspiring PC gamer ran games on. I had only just got into playing games on the machine after initially using it for some really simple programming stuff as well as school work. Of course DOOM was originally launched in 1993, with the ‘final’ complete version being v1.9 which came out in early 1995. I had discovered DOOM through a demo disc attached to a PC magazine that my Dad subscribed to and lost a significant amount of time to completing it again, and again and again.

Ran down these corridors and shot these guys more times than I’d care to admit.

Problem was, I had only completed the first episode. DOOM like its predecessor Heretic was intially released as shareware. Developers id Software self-published their titles in an effort to bypass games media and marketing to sell directly to customers and maximise profits. To achieve this, they worked with magazines and retailers where they provided free shareware copies of the game that they could charge whatever they wanted. This meant that the free copy of the game with the magazine was only the first full episode — ‘Knee Deep in the Dead’ —comprised of nine levels. That’s only one third of the original game. If you wanted to play the rest you had to purchase it via mail order. This meant contacting id software themselves via the telephone number they provided in the shareware demo to order the remaining episodes on floppy disc.

An original DOOM shareware disc [SOURCE]

Given they were a small company and their dsitribution models were not built to accomodate overseas, folks here in the UK had to go the same route as in the US. Telecommunications — and their incurred costs overseas — being what they were, plus the reality of trying to buy anything from the US and get it shipped to the UK in 1994/95 meant that was simply not going to happen. So it became a thing of high school gossip — who knew where to get a copy of the full version of DOOM? When someone told you they were playing ‘Shores of Hell’ (the second episode) where they telling the truth? Or was it like that other time they told you their uncle works for Nintendo? We had one of those.

“Yeah ah’m playing episode 2 back at the hoose because my uncle goat me a copy. BUT AH’M NO’ ALLOWED TAE SHOW YEES IT!”

DOOMed to Failure

Given the shareware distribution model, it seemed that very few people I spoke to were even aware of the full-games existence — something id software addressed for DOOM II by changing to a full retail release. The only evidence that DOOM existed outside of magazines and internet sites was that games stores such as Electronics Boutique —the UK version of the American games store which was subsequently bought up by GAME —sold boxed copies of the shareware for price of anything from £4.99 to £9.99! I distinctly remember one evening the rollercoaster of emotions after my Dad had found a boxed copy during his lunch break at work, bringing it home only to discover it was the exact same copy of the game you’d received for free on that months CD with PC Pro Magazine.

The retail box for Ultimate DOOM

Salvation finally arose in the form of Ultimate DOOM: Thy Flesh Consumed — the CD copy of DOOM that included the all three of the original episodes, plus a bonus one: ‘Thy Flesh Consumed’. It was the first retail copy of the full game and wasn’t released until 1995. While elated, this was a year after the original schoolground excitement — I’ll concede time was rather fluid as a child and for all I know my suffering could’ve been a mere three months. Although funnily enough thanks to DOOM II’s retail launch, we only had to wait another six months or so before we started seeing it appear in local games stores. Our biggest issue now? Convincing our parents to ignore those pesky 15 ratings the BBFC had put on the box.

Hell on Earth?

It’s a funny thing to consider that the shareware model that helped popularise DOOM and helped it become as successful as it was subsequently made it impossible to get your hands on it outside of the United States. Perhaps I could’ve found it online if I was a little more internet savvy (and wasn’t worried about upsetting my parents). But hey, I would’ve been 11 years old at that time, what did I know? All that said, happy birthday DOOM, time to get a real job and start paying your mortgage.

Tommy Thompson

Written by

Director of @AIandGames: providing consultancy in AI technologies as well as producing our YouTube series. Indie developer with @TableFlipGames.

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