Apocalypse #18: Final Doom

From mod to market, Team TNT proved that Doom is eternal

june gloom
9 min readApr 9, 2024

Initial release: June 17, 1996
Platform: PC, PlayStation (sort of)
Developer: id Software, Team TNT

The summer of 1996 was an important season for the quickly-growing video game industry. The Sony PlayStation had just released in North America the year before and was already seeing an explosion in quality games, led by Resident Evil. Nintendo’s N64 console was looming large, with a North American release set for September. Duke Nukem 3D had released in April, chock full of irreverent humor and adult themes relatively foreign to an industry still reeling from the 1994 congressional hearings on video game violence. And id Software’s latest technical masterpiece, Quake, was just around the corner, promising a major leap forward for what 3D engines were capable of. At this point, Doom — a game that had pushed the envelope, technically and culturally — was pretty much forgotten by the world at large, even if people were still playing deathmatch. But Doom is eternal, and a mere five days before Quake’s release, a little title called Final Doom hit store shelves.

Obviously, with such big steps forward in video game graphics happening, some reviewers were less than kind to Final Doom. GameSpot called it a waste of money, citing the thousands of maps already available for free online. And sure, the engine seemed outdated by 1996 standards, especially with everyone eagerly anticipating Quake. And maybe all that’s true… but who cares, it’s more fuckin’ Doom! More to the point, it’s one of the first game mods to go commercial, long before Counter-Strike. Let me tell you a story about a bunch of nerds who wound up reshaping the course of a community and without whom it might not exist today.

It goes back to the winter of 1994/1995, when the Doom community lived, as most online communities did, on BBSes and mailing lists, the precursor to dedicated forums. A group of mappers, led by Ty Halderman, banded together to coordinate on projects, choosing the moniker Team TNT, standing for “The New Technology.” At this point, Doom II was just a few months old, but was already supplanting the original in terms of popularity among modders — after all, those new monsters were great additions to any mapper’s toolset. 1995 would prove to be a banner year for Doom mapping, with the emergence of megawads, complete or nearly-complete level replacements for either Doom game, and by the end of the year, there were several in development, all promising to prove what a dedicated team could do working together: the Innocent Crew’s Memento Mori, the Christmas-themed H2H-XMas, and Team TNT’s TNT: Evilution.

Memento Mori would release first, on December 10th, 1995, but it got first place in this little arms race through an absurdly unlikely happenstance: hours before Evilution was due to release, Team TNT announced on the BBS: “We made TNT too cool.” The team had been offered a publication deal, and after some deliberation, they took it, starting the first really big controversy in a community that in the years since has remained intimately familiar with controversy. That the buyer turned out to be id Software — with John Romero being the initial point of contact — did nothing to tamp down the flames.

But it’s not like id Software hadn’t done this sort of thing already. The Ultimate Doom already featured contributions from a few prominent community members, most notably John “Dr. Sleep” Anderson, and The Master Levels, released December 1995, would showcase even more. id Software, having given up on trying to control the community, embraced it instead, with John Romero and American McGee in particular apparently spearheading this community outreach. Outright buying a prominent mod in development — one that the team had been hyping in the community for some time — wasn’t that unusual, when you think about it, considering id Software’s increasing involvement in the community (much to the consternation of John Carmack, who thought Romero et al. were spending more time being a rock star to an adoring audience than working.)

The result of this sudden purchase in late October of 1995 was that, rather than release as-is, Evilution went back into development for an extended period of several months. id Software had a lot of changes they wanted to make to get the mod up to their standards; several maps were outright rejected (including a few by Dario Casali, which were considered too large for target machines at the time.) But an added consequence of this delay was that Dario and his brother Milo — whose mother was a famous comic strip artist and early recipient of artificial insemination — sent an eight-level map set that they had made together to American McGee. id Software was so impressed they immediately commissioned a full 32-level mapset to be included with Evilution. The Casalis cranked it out over the course of four months and the resulting package became known as Final Doom.

If you’re looking for something new, Final Doom ain’t it. Neither of the two games included in the package offer any new enemies or gameplay — it’s still the same ol’ Doom II as we know it. At best, we get some new textures, and a few new music tracks for Evilution (but, famously, none for Plutonia, just some recycled tracks from Doom 1 and II.) Even the stories are pretty cursory and, some might argue, mutually exclusive — both having to do with a revived UAC rebuilding in the aftermath of Doom II and continuing with teleportation experiments, with an eye towards safety. Evilution kicks off when, after an invasion fails in the face of withering fire from a heavily armed and prepared marine garrison, the denizens of Hell simply send a twisted ship to the research lab on the Jovian moon of Io and dumps an invasion’s worth of monsters onto it. Plutonia involves a MacGuffin that can close portals at will but the prototype fails to contain an invasion and falls into enemy hands.

But if you like Doom, it’s okay that Final Doom isn’t a brand new experience. Both halves of the package offer plenty of the kind of action that made Doom so popular in the first place, and no upstart like Quake can take that away. (Even John Romero had teased Team TNT about making maps for Doom when Quake was just around the corner, solemnly pronouncing that everyone would leave Doom for Quake, which generally didn’t happen — rather, the community lifted a lot of ideas from Quake and brought it right back to Doom. We can see the results in everything from Gothic Deathmatch to The Darkening.) What’s more important is that Final Doom is a showcase of modder talent; Team TNT was at the time a very large group, and many of them had experience on other teams. The Casalis, Tom Mustaine and Jimmy Sieben all worked on Memento Mori with the two-man team (another pair of brothers) who called themselves The Innocent Crew. Tom Mustaine also had a contribution in Master Levels and also was working on Perdition’s Gate, a would-be third expansion for Final Doom that missed the deadline. If you play Final Doom and Master Levels back to back, you get a snapshot of where the community was in 1996. It’s been 28 years since and the community has only grown and expanded and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, especially with the franchise thrown back in the limelight in recent years.

What’s more is the influence Final Doom has had on the community, especially Plutonia. Evilution generally seems to be seen by the community as — well, it’s fine, I guess? It has its dedicated fans, of course, and there’s something to be said about the sense of adventure these maps present, even if the overall product is a mixed bag. Plutonia in contrast has had a much greater impact — its clean aesthetics and sharp, tricky gameplay both seemed to anticipate Quake and laid down a new standard for mappers to follow in terms of combat scenarios and ways to trap and surprise the player. We can see that influence in the likes of Back To Saturn X — with its consistent theming and relatively flat difficulty curve — and in TNT 2: Devilution, a modern mapset dedicated to presenting a thematic sequel to Evilution but in practice plays much more like Plutonia writ large, combining the two mapsets’ most obvious qualities into one 18–20 hour odyssey.

Like Doom and Doom II before it, Final Doom did have a PlayStation version. This seemed to be more haphazardly put together than its predecessor, with more technical issues, including a lot more slowdown as the levels — already typically more detailed than the id Software classics — weren’t amended for the hardware as drastically as before. The odd thing about it is that while PSX Final Doom boasts over 30 levels, the actual level count is 30 exactly. The majority of the game consists of levels from TNT: Evilution; a mere six levels come from Plutonia, and the first half of the game is made up of selections from The Master Levels! Just an odd product all around.

Of course, talking about Team TNT means I have to talk about their greatest contribution: Boom. It starts with the official Linux port of Doom in 1994, coded by Dave Taylor; when id Software released the Doom source code in 1997, they used the Linux source — which had no sound code — to get around copyright issues with the original sound system. (The original DOS source code remained unavailable until it was leaked in September 2023.) Within hours of its release, it was backported to DOS by an enterprising coder, the result being DOSDoom, the very first “source port” — an open-source (usually) version of an existing game engine, something that has kept many old games alive for decades. It was a pretty straightforward port, replicating all of the old bugs, but it served the basis for Boom, Team TNT’s own official source port. Boom was a very conservative port by today’s standards (especially compared to the modern GZDoom) but it served to sort of fulfill a long-standing wishlist among modders: fix bugs, remove mapping limits, add several modding extensions like moving floors and (fake) deep water effects, and custom colormaps (for a very limited implementation of colored sectors.) It was just a small thing, to be sure, and Boom itself ceased development pretty early, but it set a new standard for Doom mapping that continues to be respected today, with many new releases targeting Boom compatibility if not broader limit-removing ports (a group which Boom and its successors are only part of.) It has lived on both in its genealogical successors like MBF and prBoom and their successors Eternity Engine, MBF21 and DSDA-Doom, as well as the extensive ZDoom family of ports (itself derived from Linux Doom) explicitly adding Boom compatibility. There’s also the fact that Ty Halderman for many years was the maintainer of /idgames, the canonical repository for Doom wads and mods — if you’ve made it to /idgames, you’ve made it, period. Let’s face it: Team TNT — and what remnants of it remained faithful all these years — is directly responsible for the community being what it is today.

After all, when it comes to Doom, nothing is final.

Final Doom is included with Doom II on Steam and gog.com.

This review has been crossposted, along with individual reviews of both wads and level reviews, to my boomer shooter blog.



june gloom

Media critic, retired streamer, furry. I love you. [she/her]