The Roots of Doom Mapping: An Evolution of Level Design Through the Most Influential WADs Ever Made
Fan-made Doom maps have a ton of history—26 years of it now. Legions of mappers have come and gone, each with their own ideas about what makes Doom great and what new things they can do with it. Style tropes have soared to popularity and faded into obscurity. People have inspired each other, making waves with each great project, and their ideas are copied and respun by new people with their own distinct voices. If you’re new to this scene, you probably can’t keep track of all the namedrops, much less make sense of the timeline. This author is influential, that author is influential, here are the 10 greatest WADs according to one person and a completely different 10 according to the next. Hell, I started writing about Doom and hanging out with veteran mappers, modders, and reviewers after 13 years of playing every great release I could get my hands on, and there was still a ton of knowledge that had slipped past my radar. The people who’ve been active since the 1990s have seen the rise and fall of modding empires; the amount of communal memory is insane.
The thing is, nobody’s ever written it all down. Most of it exists in scraps of conversation somewhere or other, whether it’s on forums or chat servers or in award write-ups and readme files, but nobody’s tried to pin down the overall narrative.
As we worked on 25 Years of Doom, we tossed around all kinds of ideas for historical articles: a history of gameplay modding, histories of specific mapping styles, histories of memes. There was even some half-joking discussion about a history of Doom maps featuring helipads with a giant letter H on them. You could probably write that article if you wanted to. There’s been plenty of material. But a history of all Doom mapping…well, that’d be an entire book’s worth of content.
Lay out the most influential releases in chronological order, and the narrative appears – schisms, rebellions, counteractions, reconciliations, and fusions
Then last spring, somebody on Discord started up a random discussion to brainstorm the 10 most influential WADs of all time—which, frankly, is probably not worth writing about in and of itself. It’s too simplistic a view of Doom history, and it tells you very little without more context. But suddenly the historical perspective made sense. The mappers whose ideas took off like wildfire are a lens on what was important to people, and why. Lay out the most influential releases in chronological order, and suddenly the narrative appears, just like that. Take the zoomed-out view, and you see schisms, rebellions, counteractions, reconciliations, and fusions, all in such a natural order that you’d think somebody planned it out. I guess that’s what history always looks like, probably.
Ancient Aliens (2016)
This article is far from a comprehensive look at everything that’s ever happened. I like to think it’s more than just the tip of the iceberg, though—it’s long enough that it could probably be bound in hardcover, though it would certainly be no War and Peace. It’s a start, a way to make sense of how we’ve evolved as a community. And hopefully it will help keep some of our communal memory alive in the years to come.