So You Want To Play: Doom

A Modern Guide to Slaying the Demons of Yore

A game that has been a personal favorite of mine for going on twenty something years, Doom still has an incredibly active modding scene to this very day. Creators have made Things as “simple” as level packs and mega-wads to entire conversions of the game itself, sometimes to the point of making Doom look and feel like a completely different experience or game. All of this is just dandy, but what if you’re wanting to explore this world of modding, or are just breaking in to classic Doom for the first time? I’ll go over everything you need to get started.

What You Need to Start

Several things are required to enjoy Doom in the best way possible. They are (in no particular order):

  • A copy of Doom and Doom II in WAD format
  • A source port to run the game
  • Mods and/or custom levels, also in WAD format
  • A launcher (optional, but it makes organizing everything a breeze once you set it up)
  • 20 or so minutes for initial set up for a near endless amount of content

The Game Itself

One of the things you need for running doom mods is an actual copy of the game. The game, however, must be in the “WAD” format. WAD is (supposedly) short for “Where’s All the Data.” This was a file type created by John Carmack as a way for players to easily mod Doom after its release. Carmack realized that people attempted to mod Wolfenstein 3D, but the way the game was programed made it quite difficult. WADs come in two flavors: IWADs (Inital WADs, or the base game files) and PWADs (Patch WADs). The reason the WAD format is important is that some releases of Doom don’t actually come in said format. Examples of this are the Doom and Doom II files in Doom 3 BFG Edition, and the recent releases of Doom and Doom II on the Nintendo Switch (which were created in Unity for some ungodly reason). The original Doom and Doom 2 can be bought on either Steam or GOG. Alternatively, they can also be found all over the internet via a quick Google search. If you feel bad about pirating the game, don’t; both John Romero and John Carmack released the source code for both games years ago, and whole heatedly support downloading the game for free.

However, if you must buy one, the most important one by far is Doom II. Most Doom mods run using Doom II’s expanded roster of weapons, textures and enemies, so that’s the safest bet. Still, there are some mods out there that only run on the first Doom.

The Source Port

The next thing to grab is a source port. You could always play the game in its native form via DOS Box, but for convenience sake, a source port is way better. Now, when it comes to source ports, there are a ton of options out there. In my experience, you can’t go wrong with GZDoom. Built off of the ZDoom source code, it has the most compatibility with all of the Doom mods out there, with advanced mapping features and the usage of the ZScript language. As an added bonus, if you’re into tweaking Doom to be more “modern feeling,” GZDoom has OpenGL rendering, which can allow for a whole host of modernizing to Doom’s look. Personally, I don’t like what the OpenGL mode does to the game, but GZDoom also includes original software rendering, and some other interesting options to make everyone happy. If you want to dive into the world of source ports to find the right one for you, the Doom Wiki has a full list and comparison chart to all of the popular source ports. This chart also contains all of the links to their respective websites, so its worth looking into.

Custom Levels and Mods

Now that we’re past the technical stuff (for now), we get to dive into some mods and custom maps. When starting off, you usually want to keep things simple; there’s no point in grabbing a bunch of mods or total conversions right from the get go. Doom is a game that’s meant to be changed slowly, especially if you’re new; small things at first like a level pack or a small game change are more than enough to create a fresh experience. For a starter level pack, I’d suggest something like UAC Ultra; its 11 levels of new content, with some new textures, a new monster and some custom music. Small packs like this are a perfect way to start exploring the vast depths of Doom custom levels.

As for a mod that changes game-play, something simple like Smooth Doom is a great place to get started. The mod adds new animation frames to all of the weapons and enemies, making the animations butter smooth. It also comes with its own gore system, ammo casings and particle effects if you so choose to use them. Its a neat little visual change that doesn’t do a whole lot to alter the core experience of Doom.

Okay, so you really want to try out a total conversion mod. It’s hard to suggest a starter mod for conversions, mostly because they operate off of the idea that you’ve played a lot of Doom and you’re looking to change things up. However, if you must try a total conversion of the game outright, I suggest either A Fistful of Doom or Pirate Doom. Both of these wads change the textures, guns, sounds and enemies to some degree. They are self contained, so there’s no fooling around with load order or any of that nonsense. Speaking of which, there’s one more thing I suggest you grab before you start playing.

ZDL: The Best Way to Launch Multiple Mods

See, when using GZDoom with anything other than the base game, you have to use your mouse and drag mod files on to the GZDoom executable. Initially, this works fine, but once you start combining mods together and running multiple files, it gets a tad tricky. Personally, I use something called ZDL. ZDL is an open source framework for launching multiple mods at once, without you having to find your GZDoom executable every time. You just select the wads you want, and the program loads them up with the proper source port and IWAD.

Setting up ZDL can be a little work to set up in the beginning, but it lessens the amount headaches down the road. All you need to do is head over to the settings tab and point your “Source ports/Engine” tab to GZDoom. Then, associate your “IWADs” on the right hand table and there you go. To make sure its working, select an IWAD from the menu and boot it to test out the launcher.

Now that everything is properly configured, you should just have to select your source port, IWAD and mod files, and you’re (finally) ready to play! Keep in mind when playing multiple mods, the load order is important. PK3 files are often found as an alternative extension in mods. These files always get loaded first, and should be at the very top of your load order. If GZDoom boots up with an error, chances are there’s a PK3 file somewhere in the middle of your load order. Below is a picture explaining this in more detail.

Now that you’ve tested ZDL and made sure it boots Doom, try plugging in a mod. Congratulations, you’ve taken the first step into playing and enjoying Doom mods. But, where to go from here?

Where to Find Mods

Playing around with Doom mods is kind of like starting a journey of sorts; once you crack open the lid, you’ve started down a road that really has no end. Once you have a grasp of loading up custom mods, there are several places you can explore to find more mods that may interest you. Doomworld is one of the best places to find tons of WADs, either through the forums or their “top 10” lists for every year since the release of Doom. Better still, Doomworld hosts the “Cacowards;” a yearly event in which the community recognizes creators, mods and conversions of particular note. The site archives everything Doom related (and when I say everything, I mean everything). Another great source is the ZDoom Forums, where a lot of creators provide constant updates on their projects. Finding content requires a little more digging, but there’s plenty there to keep anyone busy.

To Wrap Up

From this point forward, the (Doom) world is your oyster. Go out, find mods, test them out, and mix them together. There are some really wonderful projects out there; a few of them worthy of praise saved for AAA games. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some slaying to do; those demons aren’t going to exercise themselves.

I write stuff about movies, games and music (but mostly games).

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