This week marks id Software’s 19th birthday, and what a long, magnificent trip it’s been. I’m not going to attempt a history of the makers of Doom and Quake: you can see that here. What I’m going to do is talk about my own fondness for the company.
My first experience of id (that’s id as in part of the psyche, not short for identification) was Commander Keen, a series of platform games that saw the player take control of Billy Blaze, whose football helmet doubled as a space helmet and who had a spaceship in his garden. It was just fun and colourful, and a little bit barmy (although I hated Keen Dreams), and for me it marks a ‘golden’ era in games, partly because of the series’ association with Apogee (the now troubled 3D Realms), which produced games like Xenon 2 and others that formulated my childhood (I was seven when the first Commander Keen game was released, although it was a couple of years later before I played them).
And how could we forget Wolfenstein 3D, the game whose model went on to spawn the Doom series? This was my first first-person-shooter and I don’t even remember thinking of it as particularly violent, although I can see why people might think so. It was too cartoony violence to make an impact, I suppose, or at least one detrimental to my well-being. And at the end of the day, you got to battle Hitler (albeit Hitler in a robot suit).
DOOM. It’s easily one of my top five games of all time, a game that was at turns adrenaline pumping and fascinating. The mixture of science fiction and occultism caught my imagination, particularly the idea that you got to actually battle the forces of Hell itself. Of course, half of the fun was making sure you got the enemy soldiers near barrels so you could reduce them all to puddles of gore thanks to one well-placed rocket. Born in the days of episodic games, it spawned a sequel series of episodes and was rebooted a few years back with glorious updated graphics and a fairly similar storyline (although you’re no longer connected to the Martian moons). But for all the charm of the latest graphics and character movement, it still doesn’t have the je ne sais quoi of seeing your sprite grin evilly at picking up the shotgun or chainsaw.
Somewhat eclipsed and jumbled with Doom in my mind is Quake. I don’t really remember the first Quake game, which had more to do with an occult invasion of the Earth, but I know I played it. I preferred Quake 2 though. It was gripping and compelling, and I’ve gone back to play it time after time. Quake IV is the only game I’ve ever upgrade my computer to play, and the visual effect was worth it, although as it’s built on the Doom 3 engine it looks quite similar. I did like the grand size of the narrative and how it placed itself within a longer sequence of events, most of which are only hinted at.
As far as I’m concerned, id Software is one of the great gaming companies. Its products have been with me for as long as I’ve been using computers, and it will take something special to eclipse games like Doom in my internal ‘best ever’ lists. As for their upcoming projects, Doom 4 and Rage, we shall have to wait and see. Here’s a trailer from a few months back for Rage: