People have been anticipating the big patch to the latest console ports of the classic Doom games for a while, and they’re here now, but the patch notes also out of nowhere announced the release of what are essentially new PC ports of these games. I started to ask myself why this was necessary, but now I think it might be a boon to people who are new to Doom but want to play it on PC.
It all has to do with simply getting the games up and running. Playing old school Doom on modern PCs can a somewhat complex process. The amount of freedom in what you can do with the game is like an ocean, but jumping in can be daunting. Bethesda’s latest move may or may not change that.
Modern PC game stores like Steam and Good Old Games have a lot of games from before the era of Windows dominance — MS-DOS games and the like. For most of these those stores will just toss them into emulators like DOSBOX. They mostly get the job done, but with many of them you can’t get an optimal experience unless you dig deep into customization. Doom’s popularity and longevity has created a lot of options for customization.
Running Doom on Steam or GOG through DOSBOX out of the box (no pun intended) probably works I guess. But to play it the way it was intended or get an enhanced experience you need to look up source ports to install, put them into the game files, drag and drop them onto the right executable, and so-on. Even then, if you use the source port GZDoom like a lot of guides tell you to, the default settings aren’t great either, so you might want to go into the options menu to turn off texture filtering or change the resolution and then fiddle with the OpenGL renderer versus the software render among several pages of other settings.
I myself have worked out a process where after installing a Doom source port I make a shortcut with a command line argument linking the source port executable to the WAD (basically a map pack file) I want to use. If I’m trying to make Steam detect it as my playing Doom, then I switch out Steam’s executable and rename the source port executable to whatever that was so Steam launches it when press play through Steam. All this works very well, but I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone just getting started with Doom or who isn’t familiar with PC game modding.
The new patch for the console ports is mostly getting buzz for the performance improvements and the ability to download more map packs on consoles, and those are indeed probably the most important things. The Doom community has spent over two decades building countless new maps that are pretty much all only available to PC users willing to really tinker with the game. Being able to just plug-and-play some of them on consoles is a dream come true for many.
I think there’s value in bringing that accessibility back over to PC too. I personally don’t need it, but now if someone asks me how to buy classic Doom on PC, I might just tell them to grab the Bethesda launcher version which gives them 60fps high-resolution gameplay out of the box. The patch notes confirm if you buy Bethesda’s new PC port through the publisher’s own launcher, you can already drop in any “vanilla-compatible” WADs. This might be the new method I’d suggest for more casual players.
Before this, I’d actually have suggested Chocolate Doom. It’s a source port specifically designed to play Doom the way it played in the 90’s. I like it not only for its authentic retro feel, but also because it’s relatively simple to set up. Yeah, you still have to unpack the install files into the file folder of your currently installed Doom game, but after that there aren’t a whole lot of in-game settings to mess with. It has the bare essentials like controls and window size, but it’s an easy way to get classic Doom running the way it’s supposed to run without any fiddling.
It’s nice that Bethesda has essentially released an “official” source port for Doom for consoles and PC (and even mobile). There’s some debate in the modding community that it might not offer enough features, but I’d never expect it to be as extensive as something like Brutal Doom or even GZDoom. It gets the job done and is more accessible than the alternative.
In any case, if the Bethesda launcher version of Doom doesn’t satisfy you, it still comes with the DOSBOX versions which contain the files you’d need for other source ports.
By the way, the original Quake has this same problem. You can’t even play Quake on a console outside the Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn versions. Buying it on Steam or GOG brings you into the same complex customization environment as Doom.
- Oh, and if you’re playing Sigil for the first time, I don’t suggest starting it on Ultra Violence, even if you play vanilla Doom on Ultra Violence.
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