9 July 2009

Doomed to Go Paddy

Doom. The most legendary of all FPS games. And even after 16 years it still manages to entertain me. In fact, it's one of the very few FPS games I've ever had any real interest in. Obviously I don't play it all year round, but I enjoy returning to it every now and then, in one form or another.

A year ago I wrote about playing the Doomsday Engine version of the game, with updated graphics and modern, Quake style mouse controls. This summer I'm trying something a little different. As you might know, earlier this year I switched from Mac OS X back to Debian GNU/Linux. I discovered the only Doom port available in Debian's package repositories was PrBoom. Worth a try, I thought, before I try my hands at compiling another port.

PrBoom takes a fairly different approach from Doomsday Engine. While there are numerous bug fixes and improvements to the engine, on the surface it looks and feels much more like the original game. Only the original sprites are used (although there are options for smoothing the graphics) and there are no modern control features like jumping or free aiming with the mouse. I briefly tried the mouse control it has, and couldn't really play with it (I'm not a 100% sure it couldn't be tweaked to behave better, though, I didn't really spend much time looking into it). While back in the 90's when I first played Doom I naturally used the keyboard controls, I found them impossible to return to after growing accustomed to the agility of mouse control.

So I decided to look into a possible third option: a game pad. The first try was disappointing. While PrBoom, like the original Doom, supports joysticks, the controls aren't really configurable, and no more agile than keyboard control. I would need something more akin to modern console FPS games: using one thumb for moving forwards and backwards, and strafing left and right, while using another thumb for aiming (turning) and a shoulder trigger for firing. (I use PlayStation controllers with a USB adapter.) I wasn't hopeful at first, but after a little digging I discovered a little application that converts joystick input into keyboard input (called joy2key). And, a little to my surprise, it worked perfectly, allowing me to freely configure my game pad controls.

And I must say, while I've always been somewhat sceptical about console FPS games, this control scheme works quite well with Doom. It's simple, fairly agile, and fun to play. I don't mind the old school graphics. Quite the contrary, in fact. Doom was an awesome game for its time and there's really no reason to mess with it any more than is necessary.

I've also been trying out some of the many mods available for the first time. I might write more about them in another post.

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