Everything with a screen should run Doom.
Statement offered without qualification or disclaimer. On December 23rd, 1997, Christmas came early, as John Carmack released the source code for the original Doom engine, free for non-commercial use. The game assets (textures, sprites, levels) weren’t released into the public
The “It runs Doom” demi-meme is well documented in other places, and I’m not looking to rehash all that, but I think it’s important to establish why, in 2007, it was so important to me that my Samsung SCH-A930 clamshell phone ran Doom (because A: everything with a screen should run Doom, and B: it had a screen).
That phone was maybe
But could it run Doom? The answer is “yes, of course”, because everything (besides a Super Nintendo, somewhat ironically) can run Doom. But here’s the seedy underbelly of “It runs Doom” – the part nobody talks about – playing Doom on most things besides a PC kind of, well, sucks. If we’re being really candid here (and if you can’t be candid on the internet, where can you be?), even on a PC, playing Doom the 1997 way (no WASD, no mouselook) is
clunky and awful challenging, taking that experience and porting it to unintended hardware usually veers off into unplayable. In most cases, making the thing run Doom is easy in comparison to actually playing Doom on it once it’s working. As much as I loved my Samsung clamshell, it was no exception – the ticky little keypad just wasn’t made for circle-strafing hellspawn while raining down shotgun blasts.
As part of the marketing for 2005’s Doom 3, id Software teamed up with mobile software developer Fountainhead Entertainment to create a Doom-like experience tailored to mobile phones. An interesting bit of trivia, Fountainhead Entertainment’s founder and CEO was one Katherine Anna Kang – former Director of Business Development for id, and wife of aforementioned Doom developer and id OG John Carmack. id eventually absorbed Fountainhead entirely, renaming it id Mobile, and Kang took the role of President of the newly-
Even now, mobile is viewed as kind of the red-headed stepchild of gaming, but in 2007 it wasn’t even part of the family yet; we were still a couple of years off from Angry Birds and Candy Crush. There had been some attempts to get people to replace their handheld gaming devices with phones, most notably the ill-fated Nokia N-Gage, but for the most part, ‘mobile games’ meant Snake. A ‘real’ game from a ‘real’ developer coming to phones was a novelty. It had a trailer and everything.
I was never much for paying for things like ringtones or wallpapers (I always kind of enjoyed making my own – I could probably do a whole other post on converting MIDIs to RTTTL to load on my Nokia 3210 around the turn of the century), so Doom RPG may well have been my first mobile purchase. Sitting bored in the
Doom RPG was critically well-received and for good reason. It felt Doom-y enough to scratch the nostalgia itch and provide the gratification of fragging-on-the-go, but the RPG-inspired elements like tile-based maps and movement with turn-based combat made it a lot more suitable to a mobile phone’s less-responsive inputs. I played it in the terminal, I played it on the airplane (remember when they used to make you keep your electronic devices completely off for what seemed like an eternity after take-off?), I kept playing it after I got home. What I’d originally thought would be a fun little diversion for an afternoon turned into a recurring fixture of my gaming time.
My Samsung clamshell was put out to pasture sometime in 2009, and with it went Doom RPG. That was the last time I ever played it. Until now.
It turns out there is an active emulation scene for the Java Micro Edition (J2ME) platform those 00’s mobile games ran on, and Doom RPG itself is currently living in that twilight zone of abandonware – it’s technically still copyrighted material but there’s no fiscal impetus for anyone to actively enforce it – so it’s not that hard to come by. I grabbed a copy of the open-source J2ME Loader for my current Galaxy S7 from Google Play, and away I went – it was surprisingly easy to get running, I spent more time tweaking settings for aesthetic reasons than compatibility ones.
If you’d like to crib my settings, I took a screenshot of them; it runs great, and, all things considered, looks pretty good. You may have better luck using the “Phone” keyboard layout (not “Phone (arrows)”) for punching in terminal key codes, though. It’s been nice to have Doom RPG in my pocket again, graphically it was intentionally retro even at the time, so it’s aged pretty well, and the gameplay is as solid as it ever was. It’s also refreshing to play a mobile game from before they were all about time-gating, ad impressions, and herding you towards microtransactions. Plus, now I can not only say my phone runs Doom – it runs Doom RPG, too.
* I know, it’s not really running on the toaster, but I still felt like it deserved an honorable mention.