It is hard to believe that nearly a decade has passed since Doom was initially released. It is harder still to believe that the name Doom has permeated in our culture to mean senseless and bombastic fun. On NBC’s television show Friends, Chandler is composing a list for Ross on his laptop and then suddenly asks the guys whether they’d like to play Doom – long after anyone serious in gaming was still playing it. And up until the mid 1990s, when ZDNet’s many magazines floundered because of a lack of direction and the inability to ride on the wave of new internet technologies, Doom .WAD filled CDs were what they called value-added subscription services.
Thus, Doom holds a place in most, if not every PC gamer’s heart, just as anyone who owned the storied NES system was charmed by Super Mario Brothers, Duck Hunt or Punchout. Doom, believe it or not, was ported to the PDA format before Microsoft decided to convert the unwieldy name of Windows CE to Pocket PC. This was done by one of the forerunners in the PDA gaming space, Jimmy Software. Other ports have followed, but Machineworks Northwest has the license to bring everything, including the levels from the registered version in one compact package to the Pocket PC format. Before, if you wanted to play Doom, as you would on the Linux distributions, anything more than the initial nine levels of the shareware package would have to be provided by you. These are getting tough to locate, especially since the original Doom came out in a time when floppy diskette installations were the norm. CD-ROM was seen as a luxury.
Unfortunately, the Machineworks Northwest port is the most depressing one out there. It gets the technical execution right. After all, the Doom source code itself is open now, so there isn’t any excuse for not getting that right. On the other hand, the control scheme is plain awful and this is one of the first handheld titles where customizable controls don’t really let you customize much at all. Working across Toshiba, HP and Viewsonic handhelds, none of the controls really feel right. There are too many useful functions left to the virtual keyboard.
Another drawback of the Machineworks Northwest port is the inability to load customized .WAD files. This means, for all intents and purposes, you’re stuck playing the initial registered version. None of these expansion packs, including the excellent levels found in Ultimate Doom, can be imported into the game. I guess customization wasn’t the order of the day when id Software chose this port; strange considering John Carmack’s passion for making his graphics engines open to others. But considering the amount they charge for the fast aging Quake III engine (in the order of $250,000 plus a cut of the royalties), it’s not too hard to imagine how Machineworks Northwest got the license.
Finally, Doom lacks the ability for multiplayer, which is more understandable as Doom in its day did not run on the commonly accepted TCP/IP standards. Freely available ports of Quake, however, do support multiplayer which taints the arrival of Doom on the Pocket PC.
The Game Boy Advance version supported deathmatch and co-operative flavors of Doom. While that title featured green-toned blood, missing Cyber Demon and Spider Mastermind bosses, performance problems and scaled down levels, this game has its drawbacks as well. And it’s difficult to conceive why this version couldn’t be modified, as in the open source version of Doom and on the Game Boy Advance to support more than one player. Sure you will be catering to a small niche of Doom and wired/wireless capable PDAs, but so would the Game Boy Advance and their link cables, which seem furthest away from the PC networking standards.
All in all, if you wanted Doom in all of its glory on your PDA, this is one of the versions to get. It’s not the version to get. It’s all the more a pity because it ought to be since it has the official blessing of id Software plus the increasingly obscure retail levels. Lacking an effective customized control scheme, multiplayer and support for third party levels, it’s hard to recommend Doom, even if it is Doom. Hopefully some open source movement will pick this one up and improve upon it for the Pocket PC. As it stands now, it wouldn’t take much to one up this attempt at cashing in on the Doom franchise.
[03/10] Program Size
[12/15] Learning Curve