Great moments in PC gaming: Making your own Doom levels
Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.
Developer: id Software
Doom 2 was my favorite game in the ’90s, but I didn’t really love playing it. I played with cheats, primarily IDCLIP, which granted Doomguy the ability to walk through walls and thus explore the boundaries of maps, and was so blown away by the 3D worlds of id Software’s classic that battling monsters and collecting keys seemed boring by comparison.
I’d sit in a dark room, listen to Cradle of Filth, and soak in the weird atmosphere of Doom’s hellscapes from inside their walls, taking in the uncanny rhythms of the enemies’ idle animations, and gaining some sense of how all those rooms, halls and courtyards connected together.
I didn’t have the internet for most of the ’90s, so I wasn’t aware of what was going on in the Doom mapping community. My uncle gave me a few disks of some fanmade .wads he’d downloaded and, crucially, a janky Doom map editor called WADED. That program changed the course of my teenage years. Instead of being a normal kid who rode his bike around town and spent time with friends, I was a normal kid who stayed alone inside and listened to black metal while making Doom levels. Which is much cooler.
I’ve since learned that WADED wasn’t the most widely used mapping tool in the ’90s, and the version I used was pretty buggy. It would frequently crash, and building worlds was always shadowed by the threat of lost work. From memory it didn’t play nice with overly large sectors (basically, the discrete blocks of a level with their own elevations, and floor and ceiling textures). But I was a teenager and so it didn’t matter: I had all the time and patience in the world for WADED, though others clearly didn’t. “Rofl WADED,” reads one review on Doomworld. “Are you serious, get a real editor.”
WADED didn’t have a steep learning curve, but it took me a while to figure out. Once I learned lines needed to form enclosed shapes, and then needed to be turned into sectors to form a room, my excitement knew no bounds. I could create anything I wanted! Small problem, though—turning a closed shape into a sector would, at least 30% of the time, cause the program to crash. Oh, well! I had nothing better to do than try again.
The first level I made was a big outdoor area with about 40 single-sprite trees and, uh, somewhere around 50 mancubi (opens in new tab). It was pretty crappy, but I played it heaps because I made it. I probably made a dozen similarly straightforward and artless levels before I learned how to make stairs (a series of long and thin sectors of ascending height, pressed together), doors (a sector with a line that raises that sector upward), and all the other features I once took for granted in Doom levels.
I was pretty keen on making levels that resembled real urban spaces. My specialty was levels with lots of outdoor environments, riddled with rectangular buildings decorated in elaborate tryhard facades. Enemy placement was mostly an afterthought. I didn’t build my levels with a player in mind because there weren’t any other players. I couldn’t upload them anywhere, and the few friends I had weren’t big on Doom. I would sometimes show my mum, and she would say she was proud. And then she would say that maybe I should go outside. Sorry, Mum, I’m busy building a recreation of the local petrol station (don’t mind the blood red sky).
I made maybe 20 levels I was happy with, dozens more I didn’t like, and probably hundreds of aborted projects. I’ve lost them all, but here’s the weird thing—sometimes my dreams take place in the Doom levels I made. They’re not heroic dreams where I’m slaying hundreds of imps with a BFG in one fell swoop: they’re just regular dreams that take place in these weird videogame areas I’m intimately familiar with.
If I was born a little later I probably would have played Minecraft in creative mode instead. Freeform experimentation is key to Minecraft, as it was in WADED, but I think it has to hit you when you’re young and have a ton of time to spare. Nowadays, I just play shooters the boring way.