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How lost classic Doom 64 was revived for modern platforms

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‘The heart of Doom is very much still there’

As if there weren’t enough doom in the world right now, this week sees the release of not one but two new Doom games. Doom Eternal is the flashy AAA sequel with incredible graphics and accurately modeled viscera, of course, but you shouldn’t sleep on the other: the first rerelease of Doom 64, an underappreciated entry in the series’s history.

Doom 64, as the name suggests, was originally designed for the Nintendo 64. It came out in 1997 and, unlike id Software’s previous two Doom titles, it was developed by Midway Games. It was the first Doom game to offer any sort of significant graphical upgrade on the original, had all-new levels, and — depending on your perspective — could easily have been considered a “Doom 3” had id not released its own game with that name in 2004.

Given its original platform, Doom 64 is also a pretty unusual game. Nintendo strongly promoted “real” 3D titles on its 64-bit console, and Doom 64 is only kind of-sort of one of those. The environments are constructed of polygons, and the textures are filtered. But just like the original Doom, you’re still limited to movement on a flat plane without the ability to look around you. Next to something like GoldenEye 007, you could have been forgiven for considering Doom 64 a little archaic at the time.

Today, though, I think Doom 64 has aged far better than GoldenEye, and that’s even more the case with this new version that’s out today on several platforms. It’s the work of Nightdive Studios, a team that specializes in reviving ’90s games. If you’ve recently played a rereleased PC first-person shooter that’s more than 20 years old, it was probably from Nightdive. The studio has put out excellent remasters of games like Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Blood, and Forsaken, with new versions of SiN and System Shock on the horizon.

Nightdive’s releases tend to fall on the side of providing a best-case scenario on modern hardware for older games, as opposed to completely overhauling the assets or art. “In general, we try to retain a game’s artistic vision and essence,” says senior developer James Haley. “Though we are looking at doing some projects in the future that provide features such as high-resolution textures, probably as an option to toggle at the user’s discretion.”

With Doom 64, this means rendering the game at modern resolutions, with support for widescreen aspect ratios as well as a higher frame rate. Like many games of its day, Doom 64’s logic was originally programmed to run at 30Hz, forcing Nightdive’s developers to find alternative solutions. “The game’s drawing logic was split off into the render thread and every moving object in the game’s level would be interpolated to achieve smoother movement while keeping the game logic running at 30Hz,” explains lead engine developer Samuel Villarreal.

Villarreal has a history with Doom 64, having reverse-engineered the game as a multiplatform hobby project called Doom64 EX. As such, he describes it as the easiest remastering project to date for Nightdive. “Though like with every project I’ve worked on, I always tend to try something new from a technical point of view,” he adds. “With Turok 2, I experimented with deferred rendering; with Forsaken, a game thread / render thread system; and with Doom 64, I incorporated a texture management system that would allow me to batch everything in a scene together and render that scene as a single draw call. A lot of these things I learn from and further adapt them for future projects.”

Elsewhere, the PC version of Doom 64 has received mouse and keyboard support that works more or less the same as other Doom games. The PS4 and Switch versions, meanwhile, work with gyro controls, though you’re still essentially rotating your character on a flat surface. The game’s unusual visual style stands out even more in HD, though there’s only so much Nightdive could do with the characteristically blurry N64 objects. Villarreal wrote a tool to extract assets from the N64 ROM, then reverse-engineered the decompression algorithm to recover as much detail as possible.

As for Doom 64 itself, it’s a unique title that’s well worth playing for anyone with an interest in the series. It’s a throwback to a time when individual consoles got their own completely bespoke versions of major games, and this is one of the better examples. “Doom 64 is an interesting case; in terms of where it lies in the series it feels most like a natural extension to the PlayStation Doom ports,” says developer Max Waine. “The heart of Doom is very much still there. Most elements from Doom II are present, though the game holds some new surprises for fans of the originals.”

Waine points out that while the game plays similarly to early Doom titles, the vibe is altogether different. “Things like Aubrey Hodges’ sound design and music, new sprites digitized from models by Gregor Punchatz, and darker levels with colored lighting make Doom 64 a far moodier experience with an unbeatable atmosphere — placing itself somewhere between the DOS originals and Doom 3.

“I’d have to sum it up as an overlooked and neglected, but important, part of the series that is seeing a second chance at life,” says Haley. Since it’s out today for just $4.99 on every modern platform, I would strongly concur. Nightdive’s work on Doom 64 is the kind of thing I love to see: a somewhat niche project that wouldn’t happen without a great deal of skill, passion, and respect for the source material.