Closer Look: Doom

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Closer Look: Doom

March 21, 2017, 8:18 p.m.

Where can I get Doom?

Doom is available on z2 as well as playable in browser via
You can also explore the world yourself on the Museum of ZZT Public Beta.



By: Robojim
Released: Aug. 12, 1995

Each month the Worlds of ZZT patrons pledging $2 or more are invited to vote on one of the worlds to receive a closer look article the next month. There's also an incentive for those donating $20 each month to choose one of the games that appears on each poll until it's either selected, or they opt to change it.

Doom for ZZT is the first time a patron selected choice has finally won! And it did so thanks to a mighty 4-way tie in the votes with ties being biased towards patron choices.

I've definitely played Doom for ZZT in the past (and I'm likely going to keep clarifying "for ZZT" throughout this article), and it was a very forgettable experience. If you're looking for a faithful fan adaption of the revolutionary FPS game, ZZT is not the medium you'll find it in.

Growing up myself, Doom was always one of my favorite games, and probably only falls behind ZZT in terms of time sunk in a computer game as a child.

There's not a lot that can be said about Doom for ZZT itself, but there's definitely some discussion to be had when it comes to game creation tools and creating a ZZT world versus creating a custom Doom wad. For now though, let's get rid into Robojim's attempts to capture Doom in ZZT.


The title screen opens with an impressive rendition of the game's logo, and done without the use of any colors that can't be produced in ZZT's default editor.

A series of bombs that have been pre-armed are scattered on the screen, creating their colorful explosions, and on occasion the screen's black background flashes a bright white. Doom for ZZT manages to have some great graphics, and some hideous looking rooms as well. It's a mixed bag.


The game opens with a difficulty selection and an overview on the enemies the player will be fighting. "Troopers" and "Sargeants" make up the former humans seen in the original and barons of hell represented as green (an odd choice) smiley faces.

The rest of the game's roster of hellspawn hasn't fared as well, being replaced with tigers, lions, and ruffians, but at the same time the behavior of these ZZT creatures matches up approximately enough. The ZZT imps will still shoot at the player, the demons will only have melee attacks, and the lost souls will have staggered movement and frequently charge at the player.

There are also various powerups, ZZT has no viable alternative to Doom's armor system, so the small health and armor pickups are both gems which will give health. While Doom had eight weapons, each with their own situational uses, ZZT has "gun", and thus no ammo specialization. You pick up bullets and shoot bullets. There's no stunlocking cacodemons with rapid chaingun fire, no worry about splash damage from a rocket fired too close, or liquefying a room with a concentrated blast of plasma from a BFG9000.


Although there are ZZT fan games for all sorts of video games, Sonic, Mario, Final Fantasy, Duke Nukem, Pokemon, King's Quest, and dozens more, Doom for ZZT is the only one I'm aware of which explicitly offers the player to purchase the source game that inspired their ZZT world.

I don't think anybody played this game and called 1-800-IDGAMES.

There's also a warning about possibly buggy code, but it all looks straightforward enough that I can't see any way for the game's enemies to break.


Lastly, there's the difficulty selection. This isn't something you see in most ZZT games, and usually when you do it's just free starting health and ammo on easier difficulties. While Doom for ZZT doesn't have dynamic enemy spawns that change based on the selected difficulty, it does incorporate object based monsters moving faster on harder skill levels.

NIGHTMARE! difficulty is also unique in that it attempts to emulate Doom's respawning monsters as well. On this difficulty when an object based enemy is killed, they become invisible, stop moving, and wait a bit before reappearing with their health restored to create the illusion of an infinite supply of monsters.

It's a cool idea, but falls apart since only some enemies are objects, so many enemies will die permanently instead. Additionally, a "dead" monster still takes up space on the board, blocking the player and their bullets as if there was a wall in the way


The game begins in earnest with the player plopped down into the game's first and only level. Doom for ZZT is not a long game. Immediately the enemies begin moving and shooting haphazardly as the player makes their way across the room, shooting anything that gets in their way, and picking up the few resources available.


A backpack in the corner offers some extra ammo, but the player honestly doesn't need to do all that much shooting. Infighting in Doom is pretty iconic. If the player could trick one monster into hitting another, they'd begin to fight each other. This makes large firefights a lot easier to get through or can aid a player that's low on ammo to conserve what little they have.

The good news is that ZZT can sort of replicate this! Objects can shoot other objects! The bad news is that as has been seen in several other games previously looked at, friendly fire means that enemies have a much easier time taking out each other than the player.

There's not much that can be done about this, and it's a huge hurdle to overcome when creating an action game in ZZT. AI is at best a mixture of moving and shooting randomly as well as towards the player, but in practice objects will get stuck against walls with the player on the other side, and have no self-preservation when it comes to not stepping in the way of a bullet. The lack of hitscan combined with haphazard movement puts Doom in a tight spot.


The first board was a messy mixture of blue and cyan, hardly pretty, but not too painful on the eyes. This next board opts for a more blinding mixture of green and purple.

This green room opts to use ZZT's built in creatures rather than objects, and while it certainly doesn't feel like Doom, it's much more palatable as a ZZT board. And let's be honest, the first board didn't feel like Doom either.

Doom's architecture and ZZT's have their similarities. Neither are capable of presenting realistic spaces, but both games have had countless authors make valiant attempts, sometimes with surprising results. Both games prioritize action and exploration of space over story and sensibility. I don't think any spaceport hangar's in the future will have jagged walkways over pools of toxic slime, but Doom's e1m1 hangar would rather the player have a fun experience over the experience of entering an actual space colony.


Robojim does capture Doom's secret passages however. A conspicuous arrow points towards a wall, a straightforward secret further hinted at by the otherwise inaccessible room.


Pressing against the wall opens the path inside, and also summons a bunch of demons, a traditional Doom monster closet.


Hitting the switch within this hidden room opens up a second path to the room below.


This leads to another otherwise inaccessible area on the next board. There are some health pickups here, but most importantly is a yellow key that's necessary to complete the game. It also gives a safe vantage point from which to observe the other enemies on the screen.


Which is good since the rest of the board is the next place to go. The enemies here move in pretty quickly and it's easy to lose a lot of health like I did. The health provided in Doom here is a little less than I'd prefer, but the game is very much beatable without using cheats. Ammo meanwhile is much more abundant, and just as in id's Doom, the former human enemies drop ammo when killed.


In the corner are some imps shooting over water which I'm only just now realizing is meant to be an open window. Doom for ZZT does use STK colors here and there, and I think using some specially colored water could probably make for a decent illusion of a window compared to ZZT's default water. There's an open gap on the left, and some visible powerups implying there's a way to get in.


Sure enough, the switch on the board opens up a path to the west, but there's still something suspicious about those walls on the bottom. One of them has a dark purple frame around it...


And here we have our first actual secret. It's entirely optional and only gives the player some powerups as a reward for their thorough investigation.

The skull is cool and there are some upsidedown crosses. Now it's looking like Doom.


Back on the main path, the west room opened up by the switch also contains nothing more than some more powerups, but with some enemies to fight against rather than just leaving them for the player's taking. Also visible is another section of the room with some items. Assuming the game's map is euclidean (ZZT can have boards connect arbitrarily in any direction), it looks like there's a secret in the starting room that hasn't been found yet.

There's also some satanic upsidedown cross with 6-6-6 written across its points! Spooky stuff.


A short backtrack to the first room, and the secret entrance is obvious in hindsight.


Walking into it even erases the fake walls marking the path for the player. A single fake gets left behind due to the player standing on top of it when the #change command erases the rest.


Oh no, I missed taking a screenshot of the player in the opening room's secret. It looks just like it did from this earlier screenshot.

After collecting the extra health and ammo, the only place left to proceed is through the yellow door in the second room that leads north.


The player gets to see some more cool art, with this neat looking rendition of a demon's face. Doom for ZZT is pretty easily forgotten, but its artwork like this does stand out. It's pretty impressive looking! The various faces and skulls are the high point of the game honestly.

This board also features the player's first encounter with two barons of hell, perhaps as a reference for the pair of barons dubbed the bruiser brothers that the player fights at end of id's Doom at the end of the first episode.

The barons are notably difficult to deal with in Robojim's version of Doom, but not for the same reasons as in id's. Since all projectiles in ZZT so the same amount of damage, in order to make them more of a threat these barons move very fast. Their speed matches that of the player and they alternate between moving towards the player and moving randomly. This 50/50 ratio in movement leads to them being significantly harder to hit at range, and if they get close to the player they're very difficult to dodge.

In ZZT, the player can't shoot an object directly adjacent to them, but objects can shoot an adjacent player. In practice this means a baron that gets too close will have a large advantage over the player. The barons throughout the game thankfully don't really appear with other enemies which makes them a bit more manageable.

They're not accurate to the barons of Doom itself, but they are a scary threat, definitely matching the boss monster status of their id counterparts.


In an act of kindness towards the player, they don't actually need to be defeated. The passage to the north is always open and the player can just run right past them in a panic if they choose. However, defeating the two of them opens up a secret passage to the east.


The player is rewarded with more cool art, and a lot of tigers/imps.


There's also a fully functional river of slime! Stepping into it causes the player to take damage over time by having some hidden objects check that the player is aligned with them, and thus the columns of green that make up the river. It's a pretty neat idea, and it makes good use of ZZT's flashing colors.

At the bottom of the river is another secret passage, hinted at by the wall texture changing. In my live playthrough of the game I managed to not find this because I assumed the fake walls were the objects check for player alignment!


The slime river continues, with a gap to get out and back onto safe ground. It does continue to some locked doors, but there's no reason for the player to ever head the long way down that path since they can see they won't be able to proceed. In an actual Doom map an unknowing player would be more likely to follow the river and take extra damage.

Speaking of actual Doom, this is the one board in the game which feels most like something that you would see in it. The geometry of alternating crosses is definitely something I could see being in an official Doom map.


Here the player has to make their way through the crosses, fighting off several enemies, and collecting the two keys within. The keys blink in and out due the selected colors, but aren't exactly hard to find.


Once the second door is opened, a new enemy is summoned. The object is just named demon, and isn't listed on the game's difficulty selection, but it turns out to be a pain elemental from Doom 2. It moves around the room, not attacking directly, but instead by summoning lost souls. Just like in Doom 2, it's a very annoying enemy to fight, and even turns into a ruffian itself when destroyed


Taking the passage out of the room teleports the player back to the beginning of the slime river. It places the player where they were last in the room, which means in the middle of the river where they'll immediately begin taking damage again. Rude.


On the other side of the river are more scattered powerups, and a passage that leads to the exit switch marking the end of the level. Previously the game has been nice enough to group its items together, but here they're really just dropped all over the place.

With this branch of secrets explored, the only place left to explore is north of the baron room.


The board is split up into three different rooms, to the west is a baron and some passages, the center contains a few paltry demons, and the right is full of lost souls. On the player's first trip they can just breeze right through the middle.


Up next is a board with some pillars(?) in the middle of the room. Lots of enemies to fight, and all from ZZT's own library of creatures. Perhaps Robojim noticed the issues with large quantities of object based enemies.

The blue and red of this room gives it a look that stands out and looks kind of nice in my opinion. Surprisingly, despite the circular objects on each pillar, there are no secrets in this room like the player might expect.


Up ahead is this weird looking room. Object based enemies are back, but in far smaller numbers than seen previously which gives them much more of a chance to actually do their thing rather than immediately shoot their comrades.

It's really difficult to tell what this geometry is supposed to be, weird patterns of line walls strewn about, but there individual squares of line walls lead me to believe they're supposed to be crates. I've got no explanation for why some of them have dark red backgrounds in portions. Bloodstains?


Walking against the one square of whatever these things are supposed to be reveals a hidden switch, hinted at by the rectangle being solid purple rather than made of line walls like all the others.


Hitting the switch causes the corner to open up, exposing the entrance to the last secret room.


Which makes me think of Starbursts. This room only has a few medkits for the player, and another crucifix. Maybe with a face on it? I can't really tell what is going on here. There's also an energizer the player can pick up which gives them enough time to grab the medkits and leave. There isn't really any need for the player to stick around and shoot everything here.


Back on the main path is this purple room with a large wall dividing it into two halves. There's a pile of objects on the right who promptly shoot each other to pieces while I work on shooting the lions on the left.


Half of them are dead before I even start shooting in their direction. They just don't work well as enemies. Several of the enemies in the lower half of the room have begun working up into the top half as well, making it wise to just head through the left exist rather than working my way through them.


As expected, the game's map connects properly and I'm back here. There are some lost souls to be shot, and a switch to hit, but that's all there is to it.

Hitting the switch opens up the purple normals in the leftmost room on the board.


One advantage of wrapping around the boards like this is that if the player isn't on a board, it's frozen in time, making it easy to flank with from the other passageway. It's easy to hug the wall and get enemies to do the same making them easy targets.

Once most of the enemies have been defeated, I head into the passage in the corner, which I suppose would be a teleporter within the context of Doom.


Unfortunately, the teleporter puts the player in a nasty position, directly next to a baron of hell. Since the baron tries to get to the player regardless of which area on the board they're in, they'll likely make their way to this corner when the player moves to press the switch in the green room.

There's a frantic chase as I try to get enough space to begin fighting this last baron.


Ultimately, I do so, but at the cost of all my remaining ammo. To be fair to Robojim, there's lot of ammo I just plain skipped by being lazy, and having done a live playthrough earlier I was expecting to be able to get away with being a bit wasteful with my ammo.


Of course, having that earlier playthrough means I know there's no need to turn around for more as the last passage leads to the exit!


Hitting the final switch ends the game, and reveals that your torches represent the percentage of secret rooms visited. As mentioned earlier, level one is the final level.

Final Thoughts

Doom for ZZT feels like the definition of mediocre. It feels incredibly by the numbers and generic. Making a ZZT game that feels like Doom may be an impossible task, so it's no surprise that this game doesn't feel like Doom. It doesn't feel like much of anything.

There are plenty of games out there based on a license that don't do anything with the source material, but put on a coat of paint with the source material's branding and call it a day. ZZT's text graphics mean that a lot of times, even doing that little is beyond its reach. Doom for ZZT captures Doom just as well as it would capture Quake or Call of Duty.

At the same time unlike other ZZT games that are conversions or reinterpretations of other media, I can't really fault it for doing a poor job. The Zem games covered months ago took the concept of Lemmings and worked it into ZZT's limits because ZZT's limits can still handle something like Lemmings. Doom for ZZT bites off more than it can chew and has to compromise so much that it doesn't feel like the game it's trying to be.

One of the stranger things about this, when thinking about it, is realizing that ZZT would actually be better at replicating more complex FPS titles like Valve's Half-Life series. All the issues with a lack of hitscan, enemies shooting each other constantly, and a lack of varied weaponry would still remain, but later FPS games do include story through gameplay, and if there's one thing ZZT can do, it's handle some expository text. At the very least, talking to a scientist who says "You need to open a portal to Xen!" in a ZZT Half-Life would be able to give the player something they can point at to say what makes the game a Half-Life game. Doom's lack of a focus on its story works for it just fine when there's quality level design and excellent action. ZZT's Doom takes out too much and offers no real replacement or innovation of its own.

It has some nice artwork, the title screen is a very good rendition of the logo, and while doing the live stream everybody was excited to see a new drawing of a demon face show up, but nobody was clamoring for more rooms with ruffians and tigers running around.

It's hard to say how to fix Doom for ZZT. Tightly constrained rooms could make encounters a bit more tense, and prevent the player from idly waiting for enemies to kill each other sure, but that wouldn't be enough to make Robojim's Doom rise above being a bland action game. It's easy to imagine Doom for ZZT being much worse, but it's really difficult to find a way to make it that much better.

The Closer Looks series is a part of the Worlds of ZZT project, committed to the preservation of ZZT and its history.
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