Simon Howard the man behind Chocolate Doom
If you enjoy playing Doom with as few bells and whistles as possible. If you like a pure experience, an old school look and feel then read on for an interview with Fraggle the man behind Chocolate Doom
Claws: How did the nickname Fraggle come about?
Simon: I’ve had it for such a long time that it’s hard to remember the exact origin. I think I read a magazine article about Doom where players were using screen names with “frag” in them, and chose this as a humorous play on the idea.
Claws: What do you do when you’re not hacking Doom?
Simon: I have various other projects I work on http://www.soulsphere.org/projects/ among other things. Recently I’ve been experimenting with a helicopter-mounted camera http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkplHHangr8
Claws: You are currently working on Chocolate Doom, a Doom source port that aims to recreate the behavior found in the original release – how come? Almost all the other source ports out there “enhance” the Doom engine in one way or the other.
Simon: There were a number of reasons why I started the project. There are obviously a number of great source ports out there that add useful new features to the Doom engine and do it very well. However, I was concerned that some of the older WADs didn’t play properly (UAC_DEAD.WAD is one example). Given the historical significance of Doom and the huge collection of levels and mods in the /idgames repository, it seemed important to have a source port that was historically accurate.
Andrey Budko (entryway) has done a great job with PrBoom+ of making it behave like Vanilla Doom so that it can play back classic demos, but I wanted something simpler. I was partially inspired by Havoc Pennington’s essay on user interface preferences http://ometer.com/free-software-ui.html and my dislike of the vast options menu found in Boom.
There were other reasons why it seemed like a plain port would be attractive to some people. Various people still use Vanilla Doom for different reasons: Compet-N only accepts Vanilla demos, for example, and I know that there are old-school deathmatch players who still play with Vanilla. Some people just prefer the look and feel to that of modern source ports. Given that after Windows XP came out, Vanilla Doom would no longer run properly, I thought that a “conservative” source port might be attractive.
Claws: When and how did you come in contact with Doom?
Simon: Probably around 1994-5.
Claws: What is it that keeps you tinkering with it?
Simon: It’s hard to say, really. Even before the Doom source code was released I was always fascinated by the Doom engine and how it works. I guess this is just my way of continuing a long-running obsession.
Claws: Many source ports add a lot of different features (capture the flag, more than 4 player deathmatch, mouse look etc ) do you think there is any interest in online play that mimics the way Doom was played in the mid 90s?
Simon: I must admit that I don’t know very much about the Doom multiplayer scene. I’m actually a pretty terrible player! I do know that there are quite a few people who like to play Doom as it originally was, even though they’re probably a minority within the multiplayer community as a whole.
Claws: Fragorama.se was created with the intent to have an online tournament or a LAN tournament once a year – is that feasible using your port or is there something that might not behave as the DOS release did?
Simon: Sure! I actually put quite a bit of work into Chocolate Doom’s networking engine. My aim was that it should play exactly the same as the original, although under the hood, things are a bit different. If it doesn’t behave like Vanilla Doom, I certainly want to know about it.
Claws: What other features do you have in mind for Chocolate Doom?
Simon: The biggest thing still under development is support for Heretic and Hexen http://www.chocolatedoom.org/wiki/index.php/Raven-branch. Meanwhile, Quasar and Kaiser are working on Strife support http://www.chocolate-doom.org/wiki/index.php/Strife-branch.
Meanwhile the TODO file http://chocolatedoom.svn.sourceforge.net/viewvc/chocolate-doom/trunk/chocolate-doom/TODO has a list of other ideas for features I might like to add in the future.
Claws: Why do you think the community around Doom still play or talk about the game?
Simon: There’s such a variety of reasons why people still play Doom. In terms of game play, I think some things are balanced in a unique way that is different to modern games – things like the speed of the player and the selection of weapons. I’ve seen comments to the effect that no other first person shooter is as fast-paced for deathmatch as Doom is. For single player, while modern games have moved on to one-on-one battles with intelligent AI opponents, the Doom gameplay remains enjoyable – slaughtering your way through hundreds of (comparatively dumb) monsters to reach the exit.
For level authors, Doom is attractive because it’s so easy to create levels for. A decent Doom level can be put together in a couple of
days or less, while for modern games the same level might take weeks. Of course it’s not as flexible because the engine doesn’t support ”true 3D”, but nonetheless you have a balance between freedom and speed that makes it very useful. With the features available in modern ports (scripting etc.) it becomes even more attractive, and mods like Urban Brawl http://action.mancubus.net/ are a testament to just how advanced these ports have become.
Claws: What would you like to see in Doom 4? Gameplay-wise, graphics-wise…
Simon: To be honest I haven’t really paid much attention to it. I played through Doom 3 and while it was fun, it wasn’t the original. Both Classic Doom and Doom 3 were ground-breaking games, but interest in Doom 3 certainly seems to have dropped off pretty quickly in comparison to the original. I guess I’d like to see something compelling and memorable that will keep people coming back to play it in the same way that they have for Classic Doom.
Claws: What other games do you play?
Simon: There’s another old PC game called Sopwith that I’m quite passionate about. I developed a modern source port of this as well http://sdl-sopwith.sourceforge.net/.
In terms of modern games, I’ve been enjoying playing through the Half Life 2 series. Recently I’ve been playing through New Super Mario Bros Wii.
Claws: What kind of hardware & software do you use to develop Chocolate Doom?
Simon: My desktop machine is an Athlon 64 that is actually quite old now. I do a lot of the work on my laptop, an ASUS EeePC 901. Finally, I have an old Macintosh Performa 6400 that I use for portability testing (as it’s a different CPU architecture / endianness to PCs). Linux is the main operating system on all of these (Debian and Ubuntu).
I also have a couple of HP iPAQ palmtops that I use for testing the Windows CE port.
Claws: Do you ever get tired of people requesting features?
Simon: I don’t get a lot of people requesting features, to be honest. I try to keep an open mind and consider whether those features might fit within the philosophy of the project. I can’t help but feel slightly bad when telling someone that I won’t implement their feature, but I deliberately set out a clear goal when I started the project and made the decision to refuse any feature requests that didn’t fit with it.
Claws: When will you consider Chocolate to have gone gold so to speak? When will you stop developing it?
Simon: It’s difficult to tell, really. Unlike other source ports that are constantly seeking to add new features, Chocolate Doom more of a continual process of refinement, so it’s possible I may eventually reach a point where there aren’t any more features to add. I’m sure there will always be bugs to fix, though
Claws: Any last comments you’d like to add?
Simon: I wish you the best of luck with the new site.
Thanks alot Simon “Fraggle” Howard for the detailed answers and good luck with Chocolate Doom and your other projects. Check out Simons website at http://www.soulsphere.org/