Doom Is All Around Us

Perhaps you've had an experience similar to this at the office recently: Wounded badly, you scurry across a stone platform surrounded by green-glowing radioactive slime pits. Suddenly, 50 yards ahead, trouble appears. Hovering a few feet off the ground, a grotesque, 10-foot spherical blob of red flesh with horns and a single eye fixes on you with its goofy but sinister smile. The Cacodemon belches a streaking, white-hot fireball at you. "Take that," you shout, letting off a shotgun blast. The bloated monster just grins a lead-eating grin and belches fire again. You crumple to the ground, dead.

Sound familiar? Then obviously you're part of the Doom boom, a computer-game phenomenon that has spread to as many as 5 million computers worldwide since its release last December. With remarkable 3-D graphics, nonstop action, and the ability to be played solo or against other players across phone lines or mffice networks, "Doom is the next step up in PC games. It's the shape of things to come," says Bruce Ryon, chief multimedia analyst at market researcher Dataquest Inc.

Doom is proving so addictive that it has been partially banned at New York multimedia developer Flow Research Inc., a University of Texas campus, and parts of Intel Corp. Flow Research President Daniel Gross says he played Doom for 18 hours straight when he first got it. "It's stultifying," he says. "You can't do anything productive afterwards."

HUNT FOR HELLSPAWN. But Doom, one of the fastest-selling programs in use today, is anything but stultifying for id Software Inc., the Mesquite (Tex.) developer of the game. Doomers, ranging from children to senior citizens, are up all night hunting specters, imps, and other hellspawn, battling each other in so-called Deathmatch tournaments, and checking out the latest Doom lore by conversing with the game's developers over computer chat lines.

The Doom boom has quickly made id Software an important player in computer games--and potentially a comer in multimedia. It also proves the amazing power of marketing in cyberspace. As it did with an earlier game called Wolfenstein 3D, id has promoted Doom by giving away copies for free--as so-called shareware. Id encourages people to grab Doom from an Internet computer or Apogee Software Inc.'s shareware bulletin board, or to reproduce a friend's shareware disks.

BODY ENGLISH. So far, close to 100,000 people have gone on to pay $40 for the complete Doom package, says id Chief Executive Jay Wilbur. It provides two extra "levels," or episodes, to play. Because the 10-person, privately held id sells directly over the phone, profits are rolling in. Now, two of the three programmers who founded the company in 1991--John Romero, 26, and John Carmack, 23--can be seen around town in their Ferrari Testarossas. Co-founder and artist Adrian Carmack, 27 but no relation, drives an Infiniti. Id's 1994 revenues: $6 million to $10 million.

What's the allure of Doom? While it lacks the sophisticated plot of many CD-ROM-based games, it makes up for that with unmatched intensity. Id's proprietary graphics software lets players move fluidly in a 3-D world. With stereo sound, the illusion gets so convincing that players often try body English to avoid their demon foes. And long Doom sessions can lead to strong aftereffects: Players report seeing real walls move and wondering what beast is lurking around the next street corner.

Doom also has spawned worldwide collaboration over the Internet. By releasing technical details of its program, id has enabled Doom fans to write hundreds of extensions to the game. Most, including a popular episode that lets players chain saw their way through dozens of purple Barney dinosaurs, are available on the net.

What's ahead for Doomers? Id has authorized a company called Austin Virtual Gaming to license an eight-screen Doom arcade setup around the country. It also has hired an agent to shop Doom movie and literary rights. And gunsights everywhere are trained on Oct. 10--Doomsday--when id plans to ship Doom 2. Wilbur says it will be "bigger, badder, and better"--new levels, new weapons, and new demons. With promotion and distribution to be handled by New York-based video distributor Good Times Entertainment, id is looking for sales to approach 1 million units. If that happens, id may develop an ego.

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