CORECURSIVE #083

DOOMed to Fail: A Horror Story

With Rebecca Heineman (Burger Becky)

DOOMed to Fail: A Horror Story

Today Rebecca Burger Becky Heineman shares the tale of porting Doom to the 3DO console under extreme conditions. There is an engine to tweak, deadlines to hit, hardware acceleration to get working, and dramatic rock anthems to record.

We also learn about how game piracy led her to game development and what it was like to do game development in the mania of the mid-nineties. Finally, we close with Becky’s advice on learning bare metal development skills.

Transcript

Note: This podcast is designed to be heard. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emphasis that’s not on the page

Introduction

Adam: Hi. This is CoRecursive, and I’m Adam Gordon Bell. Each episode is the story of a piece of software being built. Why don’t you tell me what you do and who you are?

Becky: Okay. Yeah. I’m Rebecca Ann Heineman. I’ve been in the video game industry since the beginning of time. I started by winning the Atari 2600 Space Invaders tournament in November of 1980. Since then, went to work at companies like Avalon Hill, and then Boone Corporation until Boone imploded, and then we formed Interplay out of the ashes of Boone.

Adam: Becky’s a bit famous, she’s worked on hundreds of games. And her specialty was porting games from one platform to another. Today is about a game port that went sideways, porting a little game called Doom, and the struggles involved.

Becky: And I said, “Okay, see this golden master I’ve got right here? I just encrypted, ready to go for duplication. Where’s my other $20,000?” “Where’s the new weapons?” It’s like, “Didn’t have enough space, didn’t have enough time.” And he’s like, “Oh, but I promised people knew weapons.” Like, “Can’t do it. Don’t have time.” “But I gave you JPEGs.” “I put them in the trash. Sorry.” He was mad. Oh gosh, he was mad.

Childhood

Adam: So that’s today’s story. The story of Burger Becky porting Doom to the 3DO. It’s kind of a retro software story, but it’s also a story about project management and software development going a little bit sideways. There’s engines to tweak, there’s deadlines to hit, hardware acceleration to get working. And dramatic rock anthems to record.

The path that led Burger Becky into video game development, which he’s still doing today, it started back when she was a young teen. This was the late 70s, the Atari 2600 had recently come out, and so had the Apple II. And Becky’s childhood set her on a path that eventually led her right towards that port. But even so, she wouldn’t wish her early years on anyone.

Becky: If I was in my 20s, I would basically not even bring it up. In my 30s, I would probably burst into tears halfway through any of this. By the time I was in my 40s, my parents have already passed away. I’m like, okay, the people who caused this are gone. And now I could finally set myself free and no longer have to have nightmares of my dad bursting in the door to beat the crap out of me because he was drunk again. Which is one of the reasons why I don’t smoke or drink, because it reminds me of my shitty parents.

Adam: Becky normally doesn’t talk about this stuff because, well, the specifics are hard to hear.

Becky: My mom and dad married because my mom was already pregnant, and they couldn’t have a child out of wedlock. And my dad was not my dad, it was someone else. Then in time, they had two more children, two sons. I was the eldest. My dad would favor my two brothers, and he would treat them like princes. Whereas, I was being treated as the help. And so I was always having to clean the dishes, do this. And every time my dad got mad, which every other day, I would be the one he would beat the crap out of. And then when we had dinner with the family, I was the one serving the meals while everybody else was eating around there. And of course I didn’t get a plate. And then by the time it was all done, I would eat the leftovers. And of course if they saw me eating the leftovers, I would get punished.

Adam: As an adult, she’s never totally gotten past this food insecurity. Coworkers would spread rumors about her hiding burgers in her desks to nibble on when no one was looking.

Becky: Honestly, there’s truth to that. I was not picky about the condition of the food I was eating because I was conditioned from my earliest memory to the time I got out of that hell hole that food is life. Don’t be picky about it, because otherwise starving is your only other option.

Adam: Her nickname came from her food insecurities and from a rough childhood. And eventually it was all too much for her.

Homeless

Becky: Somewhere when I was 15-ish I just had it. And I went to school and I just didn’t go home. And to put it in perspective, my family never sent out a missing persons report, or anything like that. That’s how much they cared. I then lived behind a dumpster of a store, I think was called Market Basket at the time. But I just lived either in the dumpster when it was raining or behind it, because they had blankets and stuff like that.

Adam: Becky got a job at JC Penny.

Becky: I just went in there and just said, “Hey, I’m 18.” And they didn’t bother checking anything, because back then we weren’t so anal about immigration status and shit like that. Then Christmas was done, then they had me transfer to their warehouse, but I was just in there moving boxes around, moving shit around. And that was it until finally I ended up at a video game contest.

Atari Space Invaders

Adam: The video game contest ends up being her entry into the industry, and it went like this. Space Invaders was pretty big at the time, and Atari decided as a publicity stunt to have a national tournament. It was the first eSport tournament in North America.

Becky: They had people come into five different cities. It was San Jose, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, and New York. And then each of the winners were then flown to New York City, and then that contest was televised.

Adam: Becky’s friend convinced her to compete in the LA contest, and she won, and was flown off to New York for the championship.

Becky: It was more terrifying than exciting because I didn’t really understand what the heck was going on, I was just a kid. And I was there without my parents. They didn’t factor in that kids would be winning these contests, so they lucked out in which the parents of the other four contestants actually paid their own way and came to the nationals. I went by myself to which Atari, to their horror was like, “Where’s your parents?” “You only gave me one ticket.” There was a comedy of errors, but it was back to the fact that it was never been done before. And hence, when it was the first contest, yeah, you can imagine some growing pains.

Adam: All of a sudden they have a moment where they’re like, wait, are we just paying to fly minors across state lines without…

Becky: Oh, I’m certain their liability attorneys were just crapping their pants in the other room going like, oh, please don’t fall down the stairs. Please don’t stub her toe. Please don’t get food poisoning. Please don’t get in an accident, the liability, because we are taking care of a minor.

Adam: Becky won, and she became the first championship competitive gamer in the US.

Becky: They had people from the news all behind us, like 200 people from different newspapers. And CNN, which was just brand new. I think CNN was only three months old at the time. And then ABC, NBC, CBS, et cetera. And of course they recorded it. And then once the contest was over, then I had microphones shoved in my face and they interviewed me, and then sent it off.

Arcade Repair

Adam: Back at home, after the tournament, Becky’s a bit famous and she gets some opportunities thrown in her lap. She gets a job at an arcade where she’s making change and repairing machines because they thought it would be pretty cool to be able to say they had the national champ there.

Becky: But then I found I had a talent for fixing video games, and I met a friend there who taught me the fine art of video game logic board repair. Which then, now that’s why I learned all my TTL logic and stuff like that, which helped me design boards that would allow me to copy Atari 2600 cartridges. But yeah, I was homeless not that long. It was maybe three or four months, because every now and then I would go back to my old house. But then one day I went there and I saw a moving van. And, that’s weird. And then I saw my mom and she was like, “Oh, where have you been?” It’s like, “Been away.” And she’s like, “Well, we’re getting a divorce. I’m moving to this place.” And says, “Oh, so dad’s not going to be with you.” It’s like, “No, he’s staying here.” “Okay. Then, can I move in with you?” And at that point, moved back in. And that was my home base until I moved to Towson, Maryland.

The Apple II and The 2600

Adam: At home with her mom, Becky had an Apple II she was tinkering around with, and she kept working at the arcade repairing video game boards. And this gave her some familiarity with game hardware. And meanwhile, the video game industry is exploding.

Becky: The Quaker Oats company formed a video game company. Milton Bradley had game company. 20th Century Fox made a game company. Of course, you know the big players, Imagic and Activision. And even Mattel making Atari cartridges. It’s like, this is also at a time when every video game console, the Atari, the Intellivision, and the Coleco, they were closely guarding how their machines worked because they did not license their technology to anyone because it had not been heard of. And you may remember when a bunch of Atari employees left to form Activision, Atari immediately sued them. And the grounds was, you can’t make cartridges for our player, the Atari 2600, because it’s covered under patent, covered under all this other copyright and other gobbledygook.

Adam: But the lawsuit failed, and the market for third party games opened up on the 2600. If you could hire an Atari game maker, you could boot up a game company and make a bunch of money. It was a bubble. And while all this was happening, Becky was using her arcade repair knowledge to pirate Atari cartridges. And then she starts figuring out how video game software works through an odd coincidence.

The 6502

Becky: The Apple II uses a 6502 processor. The Atari 2600 uses a 6502 processor. Now, in the Apple II, if you put data in your memory, go into what’s called the monitor, which allows you to disassemble 6502 code. I was constantly looking at the ROMs of the Apple II, and disassemble it and saw all this instructions, and figured out how the instructions worked. And so I can write my own little Apple II programs. Well, when I was piloting Atari 2600 cartridges, I put them in memory. I said, let’s take a look what’s in there. And I saw code, and it all made sense. It was 6502.

So I was disassembling I was like, what does this code do? What does this do? Then I would, let’s say, okay, it loaded value in this register. Let’s change that value, upload the game into an Atari 2600, see what happens. And eventually I found, oh, this register changes the background color. This changes the left Sprite, this changes the right Sprite. And then just through iteration, iteration, iteration, trial and error, I was able to figure out how to generate an Atari 2600 screen. And of course, yeah, there was a couple of registers I didn’t know what they did, but over time I figured them all out.

Avalon Games

Adam: She mentions this, that she’s creating her own cartridges to someone who works in the industry.

Becky: And he’s like, “You reversed the Atari 2600?” Says, “Yeah, I did.” And he goes, “I’ve got a company to talk to.” And he introduced me to the owners of a company called the Avalon Hill Game Company, who called me up. And I told him, “Yeah, I know how to program the 2600. I got demo carts and everything.”

Adam: Avalon Games was a maker of board games, and they had produced some computer games as well. But they were small players, they couldn’t afford to get some Atari employee to work there and port their games to cartridges. But now they didn’t have to, they had their own cartridge expert in teenage Becky.

Becky: They hired me right there on the phone. And then a couple of days later I had a plane ticket and everything, and I relocated to Towson, Maryland from Whittier, California. And that was my first paid programming job. And I had never had any training whatsoever, it was just me learning on my own.

The Port Master

Adam: And so Becky’s career took off from there, she became the go-to person for porting games. And eventually masters not just the Apple II, but the 2600 and the Commodore, and PCs, and much more. She was on the founding team of the company Interplay, and was their go-to person for ports and everything Apple. And then a new console came out.

Becky: This was around 1994, and I’d already gotten a reputation at Interplay that I can assimilate a new console or a new platform within weeks, and already start generating code on it. Everything from the Super Nintendo, the 8 bit Nintendo, the Game Boy. And of course, I already had an affection for Macintosh’s, because I had written so many games for Mac Play. But that aside, what happened was that a new console was coming out called the 3DO.

Adam: The 3DO was a gaming console proposed by EA founder Trip Hawkins, and produced by Panasonic among others. It was competing with the Atari Jaguar and the Sega Saturn. But it was the one with all the buzz. It had such a huge buzz that Time Magazine called it 1993’s Product of the Year.

Becky: Since it acquired a Mac for development, I was of course the logical choice. So I got a 3DO dev kit, got the software, and started just testing stuff to see what in the world I could do on this new console.

Adam: What does the dev kit look like? How does it work? What am I seeing?

3DO Dev Kit

Becky: The dev kit looks like a big PC. It literally is in a PC case, vertical orientation, popular among the 90s PCs. The only thing that you’ll notice is different is that in the front just below where the CD is, is a little panel which just says Reset, Debug, and has a 3DO logo on it, and a little switch that says Encrypted and Not. And the whole idea behind that is if you turn on encrypted, then you could put encrypted retail discs inside of it and run the game. But if you turn non-encrypted, then you don’t need to be encrypted. And then you could also use the debugging feature. There was a NuBus card made by 3DO that plugs into your 68K Mac on a NuBus card. And then you had a fiber optic cable, which goes from the 3DO into the Macintosh.

Adam: You did the development for the 3DO using your Mac over that cable using MPW, the Macintosh programmer’s workshop.

Becky: It essentially is their idea of an IDE/command line. In which you have text editors, you have a command line, and you could go ahead and issue commands and so forth, but it’s all hybrided. You could be in the middle of editing text, but if you hit command return or something like that, that line would execute it as a command line. It’s kind of weird. But I think VS code is now doing something like this these days. But what goes on is that you have a bunch of command lines, much like you do with a modern operating system, where you have a shell and a bunch of tools and so forth. Except of course the tools here you have is the Norcroft C compiler, which just compiles into ARM. Because it was like, as far as I know, the 3DO was the first console that used an ARM CPU.

Adam: So you wrote C code, compiled it on the 3DO operating system, and then you generate art using Electronic Arts 3D Studio.

Becky: And they had plugins specifically for 3DO. So you draw some art, when it’s all done, the plugin would convert it to 3DO cell format, which is the hardware blitters format.

Adam: A blitter is a graphics co-processor. It’s sort of an early version of a GPU.

Becky: And then you just take these files and put them in your game, and you’d run your game.

Wolfenstien For the 3DO

Adam: The first game Becky ported to the 3DO was a personal favorite of mine, it was Wolfenstein.

Becky: And I just simply took the source code I had for Wolfenstein. At the time, it was the Mac. Put that here, built it for 3DO. Made a 3DO shell, added a console-like control panel. Because the Macintosh used a mouse and keyboard. The 3DO uses exclusively the console controller. Wrote that all together, put it out there, and the game shift. And then, yeah, it was very easy. And the 3DO really worked well with what Wolfenstein 3D wanted. The game ran at 30 frames per second, and it was perfect for the platform. And then I did games like Battle Chess, Siberia, Casper, Shadowland, Kingdom of Far Reaches. There’s games I’m even forgetting that I did on the 3DO. Out of This World, that’s another one. The 3DO version of Out of This World, we took all the backgrounds, sent them to an animation studio who does backgrounds for cartoons. And then they drew paintings of each background. We then scanned them, and then that is what was used in the video game.

Adam: In an upcoming Supporters episode, Becky’s going to go deep on this Out of the World port. It’s a wild story. But yeah, Becky becomes the 3DO expert, and so more of this work keeps coming her way.

The DOOM Project

Becky: The guys at 3DO were very impressed with the port, because it was something that was really showcasing the 3DO. We sold a lot of copies on that platform. Well, then they told me that, “Hey, you’re still doing in software conversions?” “Yeah, I still do that.” They said they had a company that has the rights to Doom for the 3DO. The problem was that they were having a hard time getting a copy of this game from 3DO, despite the fact that they’ve been telling people that it’s 90% complete. And that it’s going to have new weapons, new stuff, whatever. And the latest excuse they’re getting from them is that the game is 90% complete, but their developer flaked on them. So now they need someone to help them finish the game. They said, “Can you handle this?” And I go, “Yeah, if the game’s 90% complete, no problem.”

Adam: This seems like it would be a pretty sweet gig. The game had to be ready for Christmas, but it’s August and there’s only 10% left. Plus then Becky would be able to say she worked on the Doom port. It seems like a great deal. The thing was, Becky had been around in the industry and she knew a lot of the players, but she had never heard of Art Data. That actually wasn’t that surprising, considering what was going on in the industry at that time. The thing was, Becky knew a lot of the players in the industry, and she had never heard of Art Data. But that actually wasn’t that surprising considering what was going on at the industry at that time.

CD Multimedia Hype

Becky: 3DO was so hyped as they’re becoming the next wave of multimedia. Because in addition to being a new video game console, they were bragging about how the 3DO could play movie DVDs. It was actually not a DVD, it was a CD format, but it was called a CDV or something like that. So you could buy movies, put them on the 3DO and watch a movie on it. They had the idea that was going to be streaming, they were going to have some sort of add-on that allows you to connect to your cable TV box. There was going to be an add-on lets you have ethernet so you can go ahead and get on the web. So it was going to be like this all-in-one set-top box. That in addition to playing games, it was supposed to be the center of your entertainment center. And that the Trip Hawkins behind it, they were already putting in millions of dollars and Electronic Arts was devoting a large percentage of their game development into 3DO titles.

That’s why 3DO titles, there’s so many EA games. And then of course you had Samsung, Panasonic, et cetera, all making 3DO consoles. And there was plans that you’re going to buy a TV that had a 3DO built-in. And then eventually everything was going to have 3DO in it. So with that kind of hype, a lot of companies started coming out of the woodwork and say, “We got to get into CD multimedia.” And much like today where you say, “We’re based on the blockchain,” that’s all an investor has to know in order to start dumping money in your company. Despite the fact that you’re going to say, “Well, what we really do is we milk cows, but we’re based on the blockchain.” But it shows you exactly how people who just love buzzwords jump into the market. Well, that’s what happened with the CEO of Art Data.

Art Data

Becky: He was a guy who lived up in Simi Valley, or something like that. He somehow convinced his friends and congregants at a church, and they gave him something like $250,000 or some God awful lot of money to form Art Data. And the first game they did was called Chess Wars, a Medieval fantasy which is essentially a ripoff of Battle Chess, but done very poorly. And then they licensed the game, which became Rise of the Robots, I believe. But then later on, the word got out that the rights to Doom for 3DO were up for grabs. But since ID Software wasn’t really that enthused about the 3DO platform, they just put an insane price. It was like $250,000.

Which in that year, $250,000 for the rights to Doom was a lot of money. And the 3DO wasn’t really selling that well. So to sell enough copies to recoup that amount of money, you’d have to either have the best version of Doom ever, or you just simply want Doom in your catalog as a loss leader and are trying to push for other titles. But Randy believed that if he got Doom, he would put his company on the map, and then he was going to have this game with new levels, new maps, new stuff like that.

Adam: So Randy raised the money, and Art Data bought the rights to Doom on the 3DO. And Doom at this time was huge. People were dragging their computers to each other’s houses to play Doom multiplayer. It was the birth of LAN parties. And Randy knew a good press opportunity when he saw one, so he started doing interviews.

Becky: There are videos and magazine articles of him, mostly in Japanese magazines, of him showing off mock-up screens with new weapons and new monsters and things like that. And then somewhere around April, there’s this video I saw him in April of ‘95 of him holding a CD that says Doom 3DO on it.

The Development Plan

Adam: That Doom that’s on that CD in the photo shoot is what Becky’s going to polish up for release. And she’s been doing this for a while. She’s worked with the Doom code base before, so she immediately knows how she would tackle a port. The trick is to get the game engine simplified so it can run on the lower memory constraints of a console, and then optimizing it to get a good frame rate because resources are more constrained.

Becky: I would’ve allocated at least three people and at least six months to maybe nine months to do the actual port. One person writing, there’s nothing but a brand new game engine designed to run a Doom-like game on the 3DO. And the walls would be the perfect 3D walls, because that’s what I did with Wolfenstein. It was perfect 3D. But the floor and ceilings would be sliding textures and stuff like that with some error correction to get it to work somewhat nicely on the 3DO. But then we would actually do some new weapons, new players. We would plan them out because we’d actually have to make an editor, taking the Jaguar levels, planting new objects in them, and probably even making a few more new levels specifically to highlight the new weapons and add some more storyline or something like that.

And lastly, I would’ve had to hire a musician to do a kicking soundtrack, because that was something that I really would’ve wanted to do on the 3DO no matter what happened. But it would’ve come out in which the game would’ve been running at 30 frames per second. And with that, we would’ve shipped a pretty decent game, and it probably would’ve sold 20,000 units.

90% Complete

Adam: Becky assumes the Art Data people are doing something similar to her plan, and she’s pretty excited to help them finish. And also help the 3DO people, because they’ve been pumping up this game as well. So she reaches out to Art Data.

Becky: They kept with the story. They said the game was 90% done. They needed me to add in a couple of new weapons and a couple of new maps. So I asked him, “Great, do you have the maps?” He says, “Yes, we do.” “Do you have the new weapons?” “Yes we do.” “Can I have the source code?” “Eventually. Once you sign.” I was like, “But I need to do a code review before I sign.” And they’re like, “Well, it’s 90% done. You don’t need to really do that.” I should have taken that red flag, but I didn’t, because I was excited to bring Doom to the 3DO. And if the game was already 90% complete, then yeah, I could put my credit on there even though I only worked on 10% of it. We negotiated a price for doing the project and then I said, “Okay, let’s get going.”

Adam: How much were they going to pay you?

Becky: They were going to pay me $10,000 to do the conversion at 90%, just to finish the game. Which is fine, $10,000 to finish a game, that’s reasonable. Well then I then waited, and waited, and waited. And said, “Where is the source code?” So I said, “Oh, okay, I thought you already had it.” It’s like, “No, you’re supposed to give me the game. You say it’s 90% complete.” So they gave me a copy of Doom two on a CD. It was a copy of the game for the PC.

Adam: They gave her a retail version of the game for the PC, a CD-ROM. The compiled final version of the game, compiled for a completely different platform with a different architecture, but it’s on a CD and the 3DO has a CD drive.

Becky: Said it runs on the PC, so we just say that’s 90% complete. And I’m like, “That’s not how this works.” So I then ask, “Who is the developer that you said flaked on you?” And they gave me radio silence. “Oh, the developer doesn’t want to talk to us. The developer can’t be reached because we owe them money.” “You owe them money? Okay. At least give me the name of the developer so I will speak to them directly.” Chirp, chirp, chirp.

Payment Issue

Adam: Okay, so maybe it’s just a payment issue. Not great, but maybe they didn’t pay the developer and so he didn’t hand over the new version of the game that has the new engine that works on the 3DO and the new levels and the new maps and all that. Maybe Becky can talk to them, get them paid, get the game, and start working on that final 10% of optimization and polish. Get the frame rate up and so on. But nope, that wasn’t the case.

Becky: An employee at Art Data came to me privately and said, “We don’t have anything. There is no developer, there’s nothing.” At this point I’m in a panic and I then call 3DO. It’s like, “Project canceled. We’re done. We’re not doing this because the tenants of the contract is that 90% complete. Get the source code, finish it. If you want me to do a full port, we’re going to talk something different.”

Adam: That doesn’t sound good to 3DO though. They want to pump up this release. They thought Doom could sell some consoles. And now the deadline to get something in stores for Christmas is getting closer. There’s only 10 weeks of development left if the game needs to be handed off to 3DO in time to get in shelves for Christmas. But 3DO and Art Data aren’t the only parties here. Remember, ID Software had licensed the game to Art Data for the 3DO, and they were probably pretty motivated to keep their big check.

Becky: So then I contacted ID Software, and after a small discussion with John, he then suggested, “Why don’t we just use the Jaguar version and base it off that?” Says, “Okay.” So he send me a CD with the complete assets of everything for the Jaguar version of Doom, which was perfect. The levels are already made for low memory, the code’s been simplified, networking’s been taken out, all this stuff going on. A lot of the work that I would’ve need to have done has already been done in the Jaguar version. So I then told 3DO, “Okay, let’s go get with Art Data and I’m just going to do a port, and it’s going to cost you $40,000 now.” So at that point, Art Data reluctantly said yes and says, “Great.” “I need to check for 20,000 right now. I’m not starting until I see $20,000.” So I got a check.

So okay, let’s go. Started the work. Unfortunately, the CEO of Art Data, who honestly believed that because the game was on a CD and the 3DO has a CD player, that the game will run on the 3DO because it’s a CD. That was his interpretation of 90% complete, because the game already runs. So when I realized that I was working with Einstein here, I decided, okay, just ignore him. I’m going to focus it. Because after working on this for a little bit and having him incessantly ask me for progress on stuff because he wanted to do demos and press tours, and I’m like, “I haven’t even gotten the graphics up for this game on the 3DO yet, and you’re asking me for this crap?”

The Band

Becky: Well, the CEO guy at Art Data was bragging about all those things that he did, and he also bragged he had a band. Oh really? I had a cassette made of all the PC music, just had the PC music, started the game, let the music play into a cassette. Went to another level, did it again, did another level, did it again. I think it was, we gave him six or seven cassettes. Each one had three songs on it or something like that. Because after we record three songs, we give them the tape, another three songs, give them the tape, and so forth. I said, “Okay, take this cassette. It’s got an hour’s worth of music on it. Do covers.” Because once you gave him a tape he was off to the races. And then he went ahead and made these really kicking music tracks, which I then converted to 3DO format and put them in the game. And it gave him a feeling of he’s contributing to Doom, which technically he was, but it got him off my back.

Adam: What I picture is that Randy was in a church band at the same church he raised his money at, or maybe he had a old high school band. And he called them up and he put the band to work doing covers of these Doom midi tracks.

I’m not sure what actually happened, but one thing’s for sure, the music rocks. It’s probably going to be the best thing about this game. That music, it could be played because the 3DO with its CD format had more space for rich assets. It was easy to include and play high quality music and even videos, which means that if you wanted to make Doom the definitive game for the 3DO, you needed not just rocking music, but you needed live action.

Becky: He didn’t even notify me of it, he just did it. What had happened was that I told you about the chess game called Chess Wars. He hired an actual film crew with stunts, everything. So it was expensive. And they filmed all these scenes. Well, he then asked some of the people, says, “Hey, could you also do some scenes for a game based on Doom?” And they’re like, “Cool. Doom. We like Doom.” I understand that the director had an idea for a film in which the scenes would be shot in a way that it would actually tell a cohesive story.

Adam: But that didn’t happen, it was all a last minute scramble. But depending on how you feel about full motion video inside of video games, what they ended up with was pretty cool looking.

Live Action Doom

Becky: So a Hollywood costume designer had an ogre outfit for some other event, some other film shoot or whatever it was. So from the neck down it was just literally an ogre, but from the head up, it’s more like an orc from Lord of the Rings. That wasn’t going to do, so they custom made this demon bull head, which is modeled after the Baron of Hell. And the guy says, “Yeah, it would’ve been a $10,000 job had I actually charged him for it.” Now of course this is 1994 dollars. But it was awesome. The head looked great.

And then they put that on. The guy who actually designed the costume actually put on the suit and everything. And then they had a couple of people dress up in Marine uniforms. They have a man and a woman dress up as Marines, they have prop guns, and they just did a bunch of poses. And then they took an ice cooler and put a red cross on it to mimic the health pack. They put it there and they just did a bunch of poses in front of her pictures. But then they did a bunch of scenes in which the woman and the guy would say some lines and then the monster would roar in. The monster would hold this guy… Like that.

Adam: There was originally a plan for how the scenes would fit together with the game.

Becky: The soldier’s going to run off away from his people and then he is going to open a door and then it’s going to be E1M1. And you start the game. And then after you get to the end of the level and you pull the switch, there’s going to be a cut scene of the soldier pulling the switch and then movie, movie, movie. Then it’ll introduce him going to the next level, which of course is reasonable. That’s actually thought out. But to do that you would have to first go through all the levels we had, which he had no knowledge because he didn’t know we switched from the PC levels to the Jaguar levels, which are different levels.

And secondly, is that’s a lot of footage. We’re talking about at least maybe 45 minutes to a full hour worth of footage. And on a CD, that’s pushing it on what we can fit with all the music and all the other stuff in there too. Because you got to put the game in there too. It’s doable. It is doable. But the amount of time to actually script, build sets, film, add visual effects, you’re talking at least for about an hour of footage of that type, it’d be about a million dollars. And our data was squawking about 20K.

Adam: Of course, Becky was oblivious to all this at the time because she was just heads down trying to get the game port working.

Becky: And of course there was a day, I do remember that Randy came by with me with a disc saying, “Here are all the cut scenes.” I’m like, “I can’t use any cut scene.” So I didn’t even take the disc from him. Now I look back and I regret it because those would’ve been great on YouTube right now. I have no idea where that disc is. And I’ve been asking around, it’s been almost 25 years since that. And to this date, I haven’t found anybody who would fess up to having the actual raw footage.

Christmas Deadline

Adam: Also, there was a deadline, right? Remember this game was supposed to be ready for Christmas. There was PR events and interviews where the game was being shown on a CD. Expectations were high.

Becky: But there was only so much I could do without actually rewriting extensive parts of the Doom engine, which was beyond the amount of time. Because 3DO made it very, very clear they needed this game in the stores by Christmas because they wanted to do an ad campaign saying that Doom was on the 3DO. Saying the 3DO is so powerful, it runs Doom.

Adam: But here’s the thing, the 3DO has a 12 megahertz processor. It really can’t run the Jaguar version of Doom without extensive work. The Jaguar had three CPUs, two of which ran at 25 megahertz, twice the speed.

Becky: So after all this stuff, it turned out I just lived at the office, worked like a dog. Because halfway through the development process I’m like, how in the hell am I going to finish this? Because the game’s going to be buggy, the game’s going to have issues. I already knew the framer, it’s going to be probably laggy. And John’s going to hate my guts over at ID. Because he was still very touchy about the quality of Doom.

Adam: But Becky gets Doom up and actually running on the 3DO, and it’s a small miracle, but it only runs at three frames per second. For comparison, the Wolfenstein port she did earlier was running on the same 3DO software at 30 frames per second, 10 times as fast. Three frames per second is totally unplayable. So Becky phones John Carmack, and instead of being unhappy with her, he suggests just making the screen smaller. So now there’s less to draw. That helps. And then with some more optimizing, she gets the frame rate up to 10 frames per second, which is a bit choppy, but playable.

Becky: It shows that it was a 10 week port under extreme circumstances. Because while the game plays from beginning to end bug free, which is a miracle in itself, it only runs in a small window because I still had to render some of the walls, like the floor and ceiling still had to render in software. I couldn’t use the hardware blitter because I didn’t have time to make the code changes for that. But it ran, it was Doom. Doom on 3DO. But it had a kicking soundtrack.

The Confrontation

Adam: The problem with working with someone who doesn’t understand the industry is that they don’t understand when you’ve pulled off a miracle. Without the Jaguar version, without Becky working day and night, they wouldn’t have had anything. But Randy didn’t see it that way. He thought building games was a simpler proposition.

Becky: “Well, where’s all the new weapons, and where’s the new maps as well? Look at the maps, they’re different.” It’s true, because the maps that were used in the Jaguar version are different from the PC version. “Where’s the new weapons?” Nevermind you have to place the new weapon in spawn points around the map and then also code in the weapon’s usage, what’s firing, and it’s effects. No, no, no, let’s not factor any of that in. All you had to do is draw a JPEG of a new weapon at the bottom of the screen and just put it into the directory of Doom and it automatically gives you the new weapon. Just put the JPEG in, it’s magic. It’s like, didn’t have enough space, didn’t have enough time.

Adam: By this point, Becky had enough. She hadn’t handed over the completed game, and so she had him at her mercy. She demanded the rest of the money.

Becky: He was mad. Oh gosh, he was mad. But I got the check. And after that gave the disc. And I think we did one revision after that. But then that was the revision that actually went out to the stores and was sold.

Adam: Now Becky wasn’t exactly happy with the end result of the game, but the game was bug free and could be played, which left her with one thought.

Becky: Mission accomplished. Not necessarily a game I’m going to be proud of as a game, but the very fact that I was able to deliver a title at that kind of insane deadline said I did it. I still got it.

The Business of Gaming

Adam: That’s awesome. You got it out. Did Art Data make their money back do you think?

Becky: Oh, hell no. He made the next mistake. After the game was golden mastered, he then went and had 50,000 copies pressed because he thought the game was going to just sell because it’s Doom. It’s the adage of, hey, if you put Harry Potter on a box and put cow poop in it, it’s going to sell. So he thought that. In which, hey, the game is Doom. It plays from start to finish. It is actually a decent version of the game for the 3DO, and it’s got a kicking soundtrack. But Doom was not a game that everybody was going to buy. So he had 50,000 units pressed, which meant that he had to give a check for about $300,000 to 3DO. So he was owing that much money. And then he sold maybe about, I don’t know, 3,000, 4,000 copies.

Adam: Oh, wow.

Becky: Yeah.

Adam: So there’s a warehouse somewhere Indiana Jones style?

Becky: Oh, I’m certain there’s a landfill somewhere. But let’s just say that he didn’t do any more 3DO games after that. Art Data folded not that much longer.

Adam: Maybe him and his band, they have a practice space, and the walls are just stacked up with all these boxes of the-

Becky: Yeah, he could use it to layer a wall with it and use that for the soundproof acoustics.

How to Learn Low Level Programming

Adam: That’s the story of porting Doom. Doom fans know it as one of the lowest frame rate ports, but it’s playable, and it has a rocking soundtrack. Not bad for a 10 week port. The thing Becky’s story brings to mind for me is that I could never do this. You couldn’t throw me at some new hardware and get me to port a game or anything to run on it. I feel like my development skills just don’t go down that close to the metal. But Becky says it’s a trainable skill.

Becky: Yeah. What I would advise a lot of people these days, if you really want to understand computers, first start off with one of the old classic machines. And you could do it with an emulator, but of course you could buy the real thing. Learn how to program an Apple II. Learn how to program an Atari 100 or a Commodore 64, because you have to learn a similar language. You learn the hardware, you learn how it all interacts. It takes away a lot of the magic that’s been given to modern computers. Because modern computers, they think that programming a webpage in JavaScript is programming a computer, that’s the furthest from the truth. Or writing code in Python is writing code directly to the metal. No, it’s an interpreted language. And even when you’re writing code in C++ and so forth, especially the most modern ones with their template bonanzas. When you look at the actual assembly code it generates, you see all the stuff it’s doing for the overhead and go, what the hell?

I miss the elegance and simplicity of writing 6502 code. The code, you enter it, it just does one task, leaves. Next function does the same thing. Whereas in C++, you can write code that actually still maintains that paradigm and it works just fine. But it’s so easy if you don’t really know what’s going on to write what you think is three lines of code, this’ll do everything. But when you look at the output of the compiler, it’s a novel. That’s my main takeaway. Is that when you truly understand the instruction sets, how the stack works, how memory management works, how the hardware works, how it all interacts, then you have a true understanding of the limitations of computers.

Adam: I think there’s a big divide between the programming that you have done and the people who never leave Java, JVM, or Python, or whatever. I wouldn’t know where to start exactly.

Becky: Oh, there are plenty of books out there. One I would recommend highly is a book called Assembly Lines, by Roger Wagner. It’s a great investment. Just look up Roger Wagner, Assembly Lines. It’s a book about maybe 200 pages long, and it is a beginner’s guide to assembly language, programming the Apple II, and all the fundamentals. In fact, in most cases, if you read the book cover to cover, you may not even have to start up an Apple II, you will get a very good fundamental grasp of how a computer operates. And then if what you’ve read intrigues you, then pull up an Apple II emulator or the real thing. You can buy one on eBay, it’s not that expensive, and go to town and see what’s going on.

But the end result is not for you to make a brand new Apple II video game. You could if you want, there’s still a market for them. Granted, you’ll sell a couple hundred copies instead of thousands. But what goes on is that you will truly understand how a computer works because there’s very little difference fundamentally from how an Apple II, a 1977 computer versus a modern computer. Yeah, there’s more stuff on it like memory protection, multi CPUs, and protected IO ports. But still fundamentally the same thing. A processor registers a stack, memory IO registers, and a memory map and firmware. Those exist in modern computers. They haven’t changed. So there you go.

Outro

Adam: So there you go, that was the show. Learning the Apple II as a path towards bare metal programming sounds fun. If you attempt it, let me know on Twitter or on our Slack channel.

And thank you so much to Becky. You could find her on Twitter @BurgerBecky, and on Twitch as Burger Becky as well.

In an upcoming bonus episode for supporters, she’ll be sharing the porting of another game that I mentioned earlier, Out of this World for the Super Nintendo. And in this case, it’s a totally different story. It’s about a porting going very well under a different type of stress.

And you’ll get to hear some of the background behind this interview, and me chatting with Becky. I’m up to 13 bonus episodes now for supporters, 14 once that one’s out. So I recommend that you check it out. That’s at corecursive.com/supporters.

And until next time, enjoy this rocking Doom inspired rock anthems. I couldn’t actually include the real Doom music, because I don’t really know who owns them. But yeah, until next time, thank you so much for listening.

Support CoRecursive

Hello,
I make CoRecursive because I love it when someone shares the details behind some project, some bug, or some incident with me.

No other podcast was telling stories quite like I wanted to hear.

Right now this is all done by just me and I love doing it, but it's also exhausting.

Recommending the show to others and contributing to this patreon are the biggest things you can do to help out.

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Thanks! Adam Gordon Bell

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DOOMed to Fail: A Horror Story