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Id won’t do it, so hobbyists ported Carmack’s final Doom game to PC

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The game has been locked to old mobile APIs for 17 years.

Doom RPG is one of those odd side-stories in videogame history, a project born from id Software co-founder John Carmack’s relentlessly tinkering nature. It was a mobile game from the pre-smartphone era, and the game’s origins are as simple as Carmack’s wife buying him a slightly better phone: which naturally set our boy to thinking.

“Getting into this was really a sort of random event,” Carmack told Eurogamer in 2006. “A year ago, I rarely carried a cell phone, and it was just an old black-and-white clunker. When my wife gave me a new mid-range phone with a decent colour display and some bad game demos on it, I had my curiosity piqued a little about the platform. It turned out to be really easy to develop Java applications for the phone, so I played around a little bit and started thinking about what elements would make a good game for the platform.”

(Image credit: id Software)

Those elements were obviously Doom, but turn-based and with more focus on RPG elements (for example, talking to scientists and accessing terminals is a big part of the game). Carmack essentially built the bare bones of what would become Doom RPG himself: “I wrote a proof-of-concept demo of the basic rendering and play style, and then turned it over to Fountainhead Entertainment to develop into a full game.”

The game was released in September 2005 on phones that supported BREW, Java ME, or J2ME. It was a decent success and garnered several ‘mobile game of the year’ awards, because it was fundamentally a decent game: indeed, Carmack and Fountainhead were pleased enough that they’d go on to build a separate RPG series on this foundation, Orcs & Elves, as well as Wolfenstein RPG and Doom II RPG.

As is the case with many early mobile titles, Doom RPG was essentially locked to those platforms and left behind as they became obsolete. You haven’t been able to play it anywhere for at least a decade. And that for some Doom fans, and especially considering the Carmack-led provenance of this title, would simply never do.

The coding wizards at GEC.Inc are dedicated to Doom history and all the various weird versions of the game, at various points doing things like reverse-engineering the source code for the PlayStation port, or digging out unused monsters from Doom 64.

(Image credit: id Software)
(Image credit: id Software)

Now comes their greatest achievement, which has been in the works for a good while: “As we promised, the Doom RPG port for PC is finally here,” writes Erick194 (thanks, Ars Technica). “Created using SDL2 and BREW version doomrpg.mod original file reverse-engineering […] You need to get the original files to be converted into a friendly format for the port.”

This is one of the kinks of the port: you’ll need your own copy of Doom RPG in order to get this running, in order that the project cannot be copyright claimed. Naturally I am going to suggest that you go buy a 2005 phone on eBay with the game installed and somehow get the files onto your PC, like all good people should. Should you have other thoughts on how such things may be obtained, Erick basically gives the game away in the above link.

Gec.Inc are the heroes we need, but the bigger question is surely why id Software hasn’t done something like this itself. This is one of the funniest Doom spinoffs there is, and arguably stands as the last entry in the series almost wholly designed by John Carmack (he ended up being credited as director, producer, and programmer). Co-creator John Romero had long left id at this point and had no involvement in Doom RPG, while Carmack would leave id in 2013 before Doom was rebooted.

Doom RPG is a curio for sure, but one with a hell of a pedigree. The higher-ups at id Software should be looking at this project and, rather than thinking about the lawyers, wondering why such a proudly tech-focused developer needs hobbyists to save such things from obsolescence.

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