PtitSeb released a port a Zdoom not too long ago, and I was actually curious as to what one could do with it. Actually Zdoom is not just another Doom engine, it supports a lot of mods and I thought it was a good idea to check if there’s anything worth looking at. Of course, most people already know about Brutal Doom, but let’s see if there’s anything else there that’s interesting AND runs well on Pandora, which is unfortunately not the case for Brutal Doom at this stage.
First, a disclaimer: I am new to the world of Doom mods (and ZDoom mods) so don’t expect me to bring here a very educated opinion in this topic, but I’m always willing to try out new things. Doom Mods have a long history and I was actually surprised to see that there is still quite a lot of activity in the Mod world even in 2013! It’s been a loooooong time since Doom was released (1994, guys! check out the Masters of Doom book if you want to know more about how id software started it all), yet the community support is far from dead. And actually there’s a good number of cool mods to try out. If you are like me, and did not know much about that world of Doom Modding, well you’re in for a treat and this will open up some more gaming opportunities for your Pandora! Did you really need that? 🙂
The Types of Mods
First, you need to know there are several kinds of mods for Doom. There are usually the ones which re-use the current levels but introduce changes in the weapons, enemies and bosses, while the maps stay mostly the same. Brutal Doom is usually seen as one of the best incarnations of that style of mods, because it’s so violent it makes the original Doom look like a children’s game. John Romero jokingly said that if the original Doom had been like that back in the days, it would have killed the Games Industry. That’s probably exaggerated, but Doom did have a lot of struggle at the time with the media as it was seen as a game encouraging violence (and murder, yes). But time has passed since then…
Besides the weapons mods, you have the full fledged mods which basically look like new games, with different levels and enemies and new weapons. Action Doom, for example, gives a totally different look to the game and it barely looks like Doom anymore, and neither does it play like it.
Before I delve into mods, I think it’s worth focusing a little as to what improvement the ZDoom engine brings over the original (also referred as vanilla) Doom engine:
- Blood splattering on the walls
- Free Mouse look
- Support of scripting
- Support of mods created with many editors out there
PtitSeb packaged ZDoom with Enyo front end, since it was apparently the only portable one, and it does the job. PtitSeb actually added some additional Pandora specific options inside the GUI (for example, setting up the omap driver or the X11 one as default).
To start anything in Zdoom, you’ll need to specify the location of your main WAD executable. That means either Doom1.wad or Doom2.wad, for most mods out there. If you simply want to play the regular Doom 1 or Doom 2, you could stop there and just click on Run and you would be done with the config. For Mods, you need one extra step, which is to specify the location of the Mod Wad. Most Mods are not standalone Wads and require either the original Doom 1 OR Doom 2 wad on top of their own Wad to run. You can even combine mods. For example, run a map mod together with a weapons mod (like Brutal Doom) together.
You do not have to uncompress a .zip archived wad, since this is something ZDoom will do for you anyway. So you can keep your mods as single file archives in a specified folder for convenience. It works well this way.
if you use Zdoom for the first time, you also need to configure the controls directly in the engine. Yeah, that’s a little annoying but get over it. Here’s a couple of things you need to do on top of the actual controls:
- Music support: make sure you select OpenAL and OPSynth if my memory is correct…
- Controls: you have to map the controls yourself the first time you start the game.
- Gamma: adjust the gamma of your screen in the option since Doom can sometimes be a bit dark.
I’m all out of Gum
Truth is, there are TONS of mods out there, and it’s nearly impossible to spend quality time to test them all. So my technique was to go through recommendations I have found online in various places and try some of them out. It’s nowhere going to be exhaustive, but I found some nice ones that are definitely worth trying. By the way, there are a number of mods which are too demanding for the Pandora hardware. Yeah, I know what you are thinking for f&^%’s sake, the Doom engine is 20 years old!, but some mods are very creative when it comes to using complex geometries and larger textures. The Pandora is a fine piece of hardware, but some mods will put it on its knees. Nevertheless, fear not! There are still many recent mods that work just fine on Pandora.
Let’s however be VERY clear: while it can be quite fun to play Doom mods on the go with the Pandora, there are several mods which focus on making your life Hell by throwing dozens of enemies at you, shooting in all directions, at the same time. And that’s where you will reach the limits of the Pandora controls, unfortunately.
No matter if you use the D-pad or the nubs, you won’t be nearly as fast nor as precise as you need to be to handle such situations. The obvious solution would therefore be to use a mouse with the Pandora, but it’s not nearly as portable anymore. Or then, you’ll have to put the difficulty setting at the lowest, but it changes how the mod feels in the end. So, you have to be choiceful for the mods you want to play on Pandora. And one more thing. Even for the more accessible mods, most of them are harder than the vanilla Doom levels. So if you’re just an average Doom player like me, you are going to have a hard time anyway. Get some training on the original Doom levels before you try mods, my friend.
In terms of controls configuration, I am using this scheme:
- Left nub: Mouse look
- Left shoulder button: Strafing ON when pressed
- Right shoulder button: movement forward
- A button: Fire
- Dpad: movement for forward/backward and left/right turn
- Space bar: Use/Open
Note that it’s preferable to use the X11 driver in Zdoom if you intend to use the nubs as is – while they can work with the Omap drivers as well as long as you set up the nubs as joysticks in the Pandora Nub Settings menu. While the Omap driver is little bit faster in my experience, you won’t see much difference, so I’d recommend the X11 driver.
For the controls, I have decided not to use the shoulder button as a fire button since the finger you use for that purpose is not as reactive as your thumbs. At least in my experience. I usually use the left nub to move around, but in certain situation, when things get hairy and quick action is needed, I use the D-pad instead because the Pandora nub can take a while to react properly when you want to turn around on yourself. You may have your own preferences and they may be different than mine – it’s fine. The good thing with Zdoom is that you can customize the controls exactly to what you want.
PtitSeb has recently included GZDoom in his ZDoom port (hopefully by the time you read this, it’s on the repo :)). GZDoom is significant as it replaces the software rendering by an OpenGL rendering mode. Since Doom was using what we usually refer as a 2.5D engine (not real 3D), GZDoom fixes the perspective when you actually look up and down in Doom. Besides, since it’s hardware accelerated, the textures have anti-aliasing and the animation is smoother overall. While some prefer the original look of Doom, GZDoom can also be a very good alternative to make the ancient Doom look a bit more modern. On top of that, there are a number of mods that run ONLY with GZDoom, while I have not had the time to try them specifically for this article. Note that several of the mods mentioned below do not work with GZDoom on Pandora (somehow) and I am not sure why. Anyway, you can try playing the original Doom 1 & 2 levels with GZDoom and see for yourself if you like it!
Here’s a few mods I tried.
Doom the way Id Did
This is a MegaWAD mod made to emulate the look and feel of the original Doom levels from id. As if they could give the impression they could have been included in the original game. They reuse the same graphics and weapons but provide a lot of new maps/levels to try out. I have played a few levels and the levels are indeed excellent and play very similarly to the original Doom. . DIfficulty-wise, it’s relatively approachable. Definitely more than some hard core mods out there. It requires the original Doom.wad.
Doom 2 the way id Did
Similar as the previous one, except that it’s an attempt to do the same thing with Doom 2. I felt it was a little bit harder than the previous mod with the same name, though.
Another excellent Doom wad which changes the textures and brings a ton of new levels. It has a lot of wide spaces (arenas) in certain parts of the levels and that’s when sweat will run on your forehead while you try to survive. But still in the manageable level of difficulty on Pandora.
Back to Saturn X
This was is another extension taking place on Saturn or something like that. Requires Doom 2 wad. This mod’s visual work is splendid and manages to bring a completely different atmosphere vs the original Doom levels. More metallic, if I should say. It really feels like a different world, and they even made original music for it. It’s a tad dark at times, and the action is very often unforgiving, but it’s manageable and fun to play on Pandora. And it runs well.
Another ruthless mod, with large areas, tons of enemies, and not much ammo to make it alive. This one is really, really tough. Needs Doom2.
Another mad mod, probably not ever made to be playable on a machine like the Pandora, because of the pace of the action. In the first level you already get huge monsters with some kind of big ass flame throwers to fry you in no time. Not for me. Too bad because visually speaking it looked very nice. Needs Doom2.
A Fistful of Doom
An interesting take on Doom, by turning it into a Western shooter, with custom weapons and sounds and sprites for the enemies. It does not make it any easier though, but it’s very successful at making it look like a different game! Needs Doom2.
This is one of Eric Harris’ mods. Yeah, the Eric Harris who was one of the guys behind the students murders at Columbine High School. He was an avid Doom player and modder. I just thought I should mention that his mods are still out there, available to play – not that they’re great or anything. Building itself on the existing Doom assets, this mod acts as a big map pack. And it’s hard. Very hard. Dozens of enemies to fight at once, neverending fireballs in your head. That’s not the right mod to relax on a sunday afternoon. Needs Doom2.
Unplayable. It seems to take place on the moon and it could be looking great if it was not for the extra low fps on Pandora. The geometry of the levels is quite complex and unfortunately it impacts the overall performance. So, you’d better skip that one. You need Doom2 in case you still want to give it a try.
It starts with a nice, relaxing tree in front of you, but don’t let yourself be deceived. This is another hellish mod, with tons of enemies waiting in each corner spilling like cockroaches across the levels. You even get high class enemies right from the start. Too bad the ammo is so limited. It needs Doom2.
It’s a spoof wad for Doom. Well, a parody, where you are asked to go a fix a faulty computer infested by monsters at the processor level. The execution is pretty cool, though, and the music is funny. In some parts of the level, the textures make the Pandora lag severely though… and that’s when there are tons of enemies jumping at you as well. Very, very hard. Needs Doom2.
Another very cool mod, changing the appearance of the game completely. This one takes place in some kind of egyptian catacomb, Tomb Raider-Like. Textures are mostly original, and enemies have been modified and added as well. It’s not full speed action, so it’s a good choice of mod to play on the Pandora. And it looks great. Needs Doom2.
Memento Mori (1996)
The maps are very original and it certainly does not look like your standard Doom game. On top of that, the action is fast paced and enemies keep coming, while the mod is well balanced. So it’s not impossible to progress, as long as you take your time and aim well when firing. A very fun mod, and one of the best. Needs Doom 2.
The focus of this mod is on recreating realistic environments. It’s not easy with the Doom engine, but this mod is quite successful at creating believable places even though the geometry is still limited. The only drawback is that the environments are usually HUGE. Needs Doom 2.
A fun take on Batman, but personally I find it lacking visually, and it’s not as appealing as I expected it to be.
Twilight warrior (1999)
This mod removes all monsters from Doom and makes you fight against regular human opponents. While the idea is interesting, I did not find it very fun to play. I actually like monsters spitting fireballs at you !
The Darkest Hour (2001)
This mod was heavily inspired by Dark Forces from Lucas Arts, and borrowed a few of the weapons designs. The work made on this mod is impressive: it does not look like Doom anymore, and definitely has the Star Wars feel to it (including music and voices!). Enemies are Storm Troopers, drones and others from the series. On top of that, it’s quite hard, so on Pandora you may as well go with a lower difficulty setting if you want to survive. An excellent mod that shows that you can almost do anything with the Doom engine. Needs Doom 2.
A very impressive mod, with extremely beautiful environments that look straight out of science fiction movies. The maps are well designed, large, and challenging while not too hard. The monsters are still the same as in Doom, but some of the sounds are modified. Needs Doom 2. Highly recommended.
Alien Vendetta (2001)
This mod’s levels are very atmospheric, starting with a medieval like environment. The levels are relatively large, well designed, but very hard, and the last episode is basically on hellish difficulty. Tough to beat on Pandora!
Dark 7 and its mission pack (2002) – excellent snow levels
I did not try the mission pack yet, but Dark 7 is excellent. I like how the ensured the levels would end up in one place and then start from there in the next level. Very clever. It has very nice snow levels as well, while they can be extremely hard…
Nimrod (2002) almost like adventure game
This mod plays more like an adventure game than a Doom game. There’s voice overs and an actual story in it. Enemies and environments were all remade for this mod and it looks really different from Doom. The maps are huge, but devoid of enemies. If you like puzzles more than shooters, this may be an interesting mod for you.
This mod uses Doom2 has a base, and does not boast huge levels. All of them are rather small yet well designed, usually using a bunch of switches to lead to the exit. On top of that, it’s fun and not too hard, which makes it a very relaxing Doom mod 🙂 Highly recommended if you don’t want to spend more than 5 minutes per level.
There’s more… I will come back in a week to update this post about Rtc-3057 (2003), Space Station Omega (2003), Caverns of Darkness (2003), Sunder, The Darkening, Gothic DM (1997), Requiem (1997) and maybe a few more…
So… is it worth it ?
A short answer: Definitely ! I, like many others, have tremendously enjoyed Doom when it came out, and I like to go through the original levels once in while. But let’s face it: when you are too familiar with a level, it does not feel as exciting as it used to, no matter how well designed it is. But playing with new levels, sometimes more challenging or unlike the original game is certainly a great motivator to spend more time on Doom again. And at its core, Doom was, and remains an excellent game. There’s few shooters out there that can reproduce the same kick of adrenaline when swarmed by monsters in a room, with only a few percents of health left.
20 years later, Doom still rocks.