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Documentary looking for help with old school Doom visuals

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Hey all! First time posting here, so please be patient with me. I'm the director of a speedrunning docu-series currently in post-production called Running with Speed. We are currently crafting a section in the edit where we discuss the early days of speedrunning forums and more specifically the revolutionary demo file system that came with the original version of Doom when it was released. Since this was back in 1993/1994, we are having a hard time trying to find visuals/screenshots that actually show what the forums looked like back then. We also are trying to come up with a visual of what an actual demo file looked like from back then as well. I'm guessing that hasn't changed much, but the process of how people shared demo files and then played them back from that time is what we are trying to recreate. If anyone could share anything that you think would help with this it would be much appreciated!




If you are interested you can see more about the project on our twitter account; @runningwspeed


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I imagine you have seen https://readonlymemory.vg/a-brief-history-of-speedrunning/ but I will paste a relevant section:



Usenet, according to the fan created Doom Wiki, was the ‘online birthplace of the Doom community in 1993.’ Doom’s popularity in other groups on the site necessitated its own subgroups, among which was alt.games.doom. This was also, incidentally, at the height of Usenet: the September before Doom’s release, the internet provider America Online moved away from exclusively offering access to Usenet to university students, and they began providing the forums to a larger section of its users. As more users found their way to the forums, so did more Doom players. Anyone who was anyone playing Doom, until the creation of a dedicated forum site in 1998 called Doomworld, was on Usenet.


Usenet offered the chance for people who loved Doom to find like-minded people – they shared anything from tips and tricks to experiences dreaming about the game, each post tinged with a sense of communal familiarity. ‘Man, I had the weirdest dream,’ wrote one user. ‘The layout in this dream had a similar floor plan to the first high school I went to, Vancouver Technical … for those of you familiar with its floor plan, you’ll understand how suitable it is for a level in Doom.’


As for visualizations, Google Groups is about the only thing still around that still has conversations from that time period. Here is a post announcing the Doom Honorific Titles: https://groups.google.com/g/alt.games.doom/c/tlTGtnpCR1A/m/ENuiCMxGnoUJ although the presentation would have looked somewhat different as there were dedicated newsreader programs for reading and posting on Usenet.



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Opulent's A Brief DOOM Demo History, written for the 10th anniversary of the game, is a great retelling of the early days. It includes some valuable links (and tons upon tons of dead ones), including some extremely old archived pages of Stajano's DHT. Original Compet-N was simply a FTP site hosted by university students on their school accounts, but I don't know if their frontends are archived anywhere. The iconic green look of the Compet-N site only came later (~1998?).

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The link dew posted above to the Compet-N website has all the old archived news items, but the green design dates to 2001 or so. The very earliest Compet-N page was much plainer, and only hosted the current best times on each map and an overall leaderboard. There was an interim design around 1999-2000 with a main page for news items, but I wasn't able to find it within the archive.org copies.

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On 3/18/2021 at 3:10 AM, runningwspeed said:

We also are trying to come up with a visual of what an actual demo file looked like from back then as well.

Probably the best way to do that would be to show a disassembled demo file. Utilities have existed since the mid 90s to take a demo file and convert it to a readable text format, such as LMPC. This is the LMPC output of Thomas Pilger's 5 second nightmare run on LV01 of Doom 2:


# DOOM LMP file:            nm01-005.lmp
# Number of players:        1
# Total play time:          15.25s
# Number of game tics:      534

 Game:         DOOM
 Version:      1.9
 Skill:        5
 Episode:      1
 Map:          1

GF50 SL40 TR28          #     1 (0.02s)
GF50 SL40               #     2 (0.05s)
GF50 SL40               #     3 (0.08s)
GF50 SL40               #     4 (0.11s)
GF50 SL40               #     5 (0.14s)
GF50 SL40               #     6 (0.17s)
GF50 SL40               #     7 (0.20s)
GF50 SL40               #     8 (0.22s)
GF50 SL40 TR1           #     9 (0.25s)
GF50 SL40               #    10 (0.28s)

Each line of the file corresponds to a single frame within the game, and records player input. Three bytes of which are used for movement, and a fourth for special actions (eg shooting, activating a door). With 35 frames a second, this means the demo format takes only 8400 bytes to store a minute of speedrunning action. This made it easy to share these files with others on slow dial-up connections.


Recording a file like the above would be done from the DOS command line, with Doom's built in record feature:


doom2 -warp 01 -skill 5 -record nm01-005

And played back the same way.


doom2 -playdemo nm01-005


The downside of LMP demo files is they're not strictly video files, and there's no ability to seek through the file, rewind, replay etc. So by convention people would record a separate file for each attempt, and only publish the successful attempts. This is contrast to more modern platforms like Twitch which will host a multi-hour session and if there's a record breaking run it's likely at the end of the session.


As Linguica says above, there were no speedrunning forums at the time. People would sometimes post their demos to Usenet (alt.games.doom or rec.computer.games.doom.misc), but these were frowned upon by others who had no interest in watching demos and didn't want to download large binary blobs. So FTP sites became the main place where people shared their demos. You would upload your speedrun to the FTP site using an FTP client, and download other runs you might be interested in the same way. The two biggest FTP sites for demo sharing were the DHT and Compet-N.


DHT (Doom Honorific Titles) allowed players to send in demos for specific categories (Maxkill, pacifist, Tyson etc) but with no competition element. Compet-N was designed from the start as a "Competition" site, and only accepted demos if they were new records. It also maintained a leaderboard, a list of current fastest times, and current active players.


New demos and updates would generally be announced by the site owners themselves. Eg here are some posts from Simon Widlake, original Compet-N administrator, to the rec.games.computer.doom.misc group giving the latest updates, times and leaderboard status:


https://groups.google.com/g/rec.games.computer.doom.misc/c/PSWNKf8jVAY/m/04XL2jwwtqAJ (1995-04-05)
https://groups.google.com/g/rec.games.computer.doom.misc/c/bUJIPevOn04/m/YG7dcvzOOjwJ (1995-04-27)
https://groups.google.com/g/rec.games.computer.doom.misc/c/YgzcSjS8jYc/m/9AXjg8q75HUJ (1995-11-01)
https://groups.google.com/g/rec.games.computer.doom.misc/c/erSn1vPyyIg/m/sd6wAXY4xEsJ (1995-12-06)
https://groups.google.com/g/rec.games.computer.doom.misc/c/D_W5hP3a_mA/m/4gF-EZ0kNqQJ (1996-03-20)


This didn't give the speedrunners many platforms to talk about their own work, but the above two sites both encouraged players to include a text file with a description of their demo, and here players could talk about what was challenging about their run, what went well, etc. This tradition stuck, even in the moddern day when people can just post a demo description in a forum like this, or talk about it in their twitch channel. That's why if you download a demo file even today, it's almost certainly a zip containing two files - the actual demo .lmp, and a .txt file with information about the run.

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This is incredibly helpful! Thank you Ryback.


So, how exactly did the process work with the original Doom? Was it like this-


You loaded the game on your PC, then before you played a level you put in the input command to record it like you mentioned above - doom2 -warp 01 -skill 5 -record nm01-005

Then after you completed it, you had a .lmp file you could share or put in a command to play it back for yourself?


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Sort of. The game didn't have any options for you to record a demo from within the game, these were all passed as parameters when you ran the game for the first time.


Say you wanted to do a speedrun of level 15 of Doom 2. You'd invoke the game from the DOS command line with the following command:


doom2 -warp 15 -skill 4 -record try

This would launch the game, skip the main menu, and immediately start the player in level 15, on skill level Ultra-Violence (-skill 4). As soon as the screen wipes and the level appears the player can begin to play and all their keyboard and mouse inputs will be written to the file try.lmp. Suppose it's an unsuccessful attempt and the player dies 30 seconds in. At this point they'll hit 'Q', which quits the game and writes try.lmp to disk.


To play back this file, the player can use this command:


doom2 -playdemo try

Specifying the level and skill is not required as this information is retained in the demo file header.


If on the other hand it was a successful speedrun, then the player may want to publish it. So they'll rename the file to something that tells other speedrunners what sort of run it was (and fits in the 8 character limit of DOS filenames), eg lv15-124.lmp. This filename tells players it's a speedrun of level 15 of Doom 2 and the time is 1:24. A list of the Compet-N naming conventions can be found here. They'll also create a text file with the name lv15-124.txt which would usually be generated from a standard template, and add to it some info about the run, what was special about it, their thoughts etc.


These two files will be zipped together, and lv15-124.zip would be uploaded to an FTP site like the Compet-N incoming site. A site admin would review the run and if all was fine, include it in the latest update. Although the /incoming site was public to other runners, so they could see what the latest times were even before they had been verified, and download to view on their computers.


So now if anyone else wants to view the lv15-124 speedrun, they download the .zip file to their computer, copy it into their Doom 2 directory, and unzip it. Then the command to playback is now


doom2 -playdemo lv15-124

Playing demo files back is a lot easier with source ports, as the .lmp filename extension can be associated with a source port like prboom-plus. So usually just doubleclicking on a demo file is enough to launch prboom-plus and run Doom with all the correct settings for playback.


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Ahh ok, I understand. One thing though.- In your examples you keep using doom2. Any reason for this? Based on my research, demo recordings were possible in the original Doom and sharable as well, correct?


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Hey, so we have the clip we want to use to show what it looked like to record a demo file: 



Prior to it loading we have the command prompt as you can see in the vid in red (will be changed to white and properly resized for the final version). Is this the correct command prompt for this? The segment is from this speedrun (5:28):



Based on the splits it looks like this is the 6th level so we assumed warp 6 is the right command? Are we missing anything in the command prompt? Thanks!






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The command for the included video would be:


doom -warp 1 8 -skill 4 -record try

"-warp 1 8" starts the player on Episode 1, Map 8, and "-skill 4" sets the skill level to Ultra-Violence (standard skill level used in speedruns).


Also if you started the game with the above prompt you'd start the map with the pistol, rather than the shotgun, but I don't suppose that too many people are going to mind that.

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It might also be worth mentioning that when recording demos in doom, the game will limit your turning values to less precision automatically. (-shorttics)
To accommodate the resulting .lmp format itself.  As opposed to when playing normally without -record, meaning you will have a higher turning precision. (-longtics)


Making the line-up and execution for many tricks easier than if you were to attempt them with -longtics, or non-record play. 

Many viewers of speedruns will try and do tricks themselves after seeing in a speedrun. Without understanding there can be a significant difference in 

trying to do them with -shorttics (-record play), versus -longtics (non-record play). 

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Great. Thanks for the responses on this! Ryback, if we wanted to be completely accurate is there a way to include loading the shotgun in the command prompt as well or no?

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No, when you launch the game it's as if you're starting a new game, i.e. pistol start. (technically you can load a game with the -loadgame parameter along with a number corresponding to the save slot, but this is not valid for recording a demo)

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