Doom turns 25. I celebrate in virtual reality.

From Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Doom turned 25 this week. I feel kinda… old. Just saying.

I tried desperately to download it via FTP (I think) over a modem the first day it was available (or was it the following day?), without much success. Fortunately, a friend of mine the next day had been more successful, so I copied his downloads. Unfortunately, I had very little time to play it, because we had to leave the next day to visit my wife’s parents for Christmas. But I did manage to get it running on my father-in-law’s computer. I could only play it in a little tiny window, but it worked.

Doom took the gaming world by storm, and not just on the PC. It was a significant technological leap over its predecessor, Wolfenstein 3D, and pretty much left everyone else in the dust for a good couple of years.

A big dream for me was to play Doom in Virtual Reality. The two always coincided in my mind, because about the same time as Doom‘s release, I was studying the latest developments in virtual reality technology and coming to grips with “VRML” and a couple of VR-ready libraries intended for use as soon as the technology was ready, which would be… any day now.

Any. Day.

Okay, yes, honestly, there were some VR systems released around the same time or not long after, but they weren’t really there yet.  Sega had just announced a VR headset. There were virtual reality arcades. A couple of years later I played with something called the “iGlasses” or something (before Apple took over the ‘i’ prefix?) which I think were shutter-based glasses that displayed 320 x 200 per eye. And of course, there was the “Virtual Boy” about to be released, which was certain to be as big of a hit as the GameBoy, right? So I imagined that soon, I’d be able to play Doom in full-on Virtual Reality, rushing down hallways and chainsawing demons in a full 3D world.

Well… decent, consumer-ready VR took a little longer to get here. But my big dream is finally reality. I didn’t realize it was the eve of the game’s birthday when I felt the sudden urge to play it in VR. Not the new Doom, but the original classic, the one that blew everyone away in December of 1993. Fortunately, there are many ways to play Doom in VR today.

First… and simplest… is to simply play Doom while you are “in” VR, via one of several packages that will project your screen into a 3D virtual environment, like BigScreen or Virtual Desktop. You are still playing the flat-screen version of the game, but you get to be in virtual reality while you are doing it. Silly, but fun.

Perhaps the coolest way, but one which I haven’t tried, is inside Doom VFR. This is the optimized-for-VR version of the reboot, and it features a couple of bonus levels from the original game. The monsters and gameplay are from the new game, but the visuals and some of the sound effects seem to come right out of 1993. Of course, Doom VFR works pretty well on its own.

The one I tried Sunday night was through the use of a beta, fan-made mod to GZDoom informally called “ViveDoom“. There are a couple of them out there, actually. The one I tried was a gzdoom vive mod. It was driven with mouse + keyboard, and I couldn’t aim worth crap, but it was really cool going through E1M1. That’s about as far as I got before I started feeling a little queasy and had to stop, but it was cool.

There’s an even better one from Fishbiter called “GZDoomOpenVR” which works with the motion controllers in OpenVR. This one uses the controllers to create a boxy version of the weapons that you can aim independently from your movement. It’s pretty dang cool and requires less effort to get running than the older gzdoom vive experiment. It automatically recognized and worked with the Doom versions I own via Steam. I haven’t had much time to play with it, but … it works. I didn’t have time to really figure how well it plays, but from what little I tried (enough to get some screenshots), it’s pretty cool.

Sadly, the screenshots do not do the game justice. But that’s true of all VR games. Even videos do not convey what it really feels like.

Maybe it’s just me, and I’m getting old (how the freak is Doom 25 years old anyway?!?!?). While it’s clearly dated, and a couple of the mechanics are super-clunky today (mainly the 2D shooting scheme, with elevation determined by potential target), the game otherwise holds up reasonably well today. Yeah, graphically, it shows its age, but the gameplay isn’t too far removed from the latest first-person shooters. The experience in VR is…. something else. Maybe it is not the most comfortable experience available in VR for those of us prone to VR sickness, but it’s a cool and different way to enjoy the classic all over again.

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