BftP – School DOOM

It’s another Blast from the Past – a PWAD which you definitely couldn’t make today…

Most of you reading this probably know who Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are. If, for some odd reason, you don’t – they’re the Columbine High School shooters. Both are infamous for playing Doom – and Eric Harris even made his own Doom PWADs. They’re mostly awful, but there you have it. At the time, the media were claiming that Harris made a PWAD of Columbine High School as some sort of training simulator. So far as anybody has been able to determine, this was likely bullshit. No such PWAD has ever been found, and nothing released in the mountains of evidence lists over the years suggests the police actually saw one either. I guess it’s possible Harris just never uploaded to the idgames archive, but it seems unlikely given he seemed to have a colossal ego over his Doom mapping capabilities.

What some of you may not know is that in 1996, the Pupils of the Cyberdemon actually did make Doom maps of their school – and populated it with a bunch of students, and let you roll through the maps killing everything that moved. And it was called School Doom (more specifically: School Doom 2).

Yes. That’s not a joke.

The Premise

I remember picking up School Doom 2 somewhere around the late 90s – a while after it was released. I was fascinated by it. Not because it was school violence on my PC, but because it was unusual to see Doom maps attempting to replicate a real place. Remember this was the era of sector-based engines (with Quake just starting to emerge) where detail tended to be hard to create, leading to more surreal spaces and parodies of real life, rather than attempting to recreate an actual place.

The idea behind the PWAD is pretty simple – you’re the angry anti-social kid who gets bullied, and you snap and punch this girl who says mean things to you. And now everyone wants to kill you so you kill them first. The very first level starts out with the bloodied body of the girl who attacked you in the backstory.

Most enemies have been changed to some sort of school student stereotype. The zombies are regular students, the imps are now female students, the shotgun guys are skinheads, the chaingunner is a gym junkie, pinkies are teaches with canes, you get the idea. There’s still a good element of fantasy – apart from the shotgun guys and the base enemy, everyone else is armed with energy weapons. There are also UFOs for some reason. The player’s loadout is hardly changed – the plasma gun is now a flamethrower, and the BFG shoots out a weird demon head thing with googly eyes, but that’s about it. Health bonus pickups are now beer.

Maps 1 and 4 are the ‘school’ levels, representing something like high schools. Map 2 is a sewer level (more on that later), while map 3 is just a big arena map in the shape of a park. Map 5 initially looks like a really shitty shop, but quickly devolves into a typical hell-style Doom 2 map. Map 6 is a boss fight with the ‘Flying Hyperdemon’ – a Cyberdemon that can fly. No, really.

Was it any good?

This is really a mixed bag of a WAD. Firstly, the graphics are okay I guess. Some of them are very flat and poorly detailed, but the sprites are reasonably good, and nothing looks outright awful given the time period. It doesn’t hold a candle to the modern sprites you’d see in newer Doom PWADs, but it’s okay for what it’s supposed to do.

The maps themselves are sort of mixed. The two school maps (MAP01 and MAP04) are by far the stars of the show, and really do feel like actual school buildings. The textures, though simple, definitely work to place you within the school. There are book cases, blackboards, lockers, bathrooms, and a bunch of clutter items to make it look like a place of learning. The maps aren’t set out like traditional Doom maps but conform to an actual general idea of a building the map is set in – but the flow of movement is controlled by switches and keycards. Sometimes it can feel like a bit of a maze but it’s not hard to navigate these levels. Monster placement is fun, there’s usually enough supplies to keep the action flowing, and they’re just a blast to play through. MAP01 (Gymnasium Nilu) is probably the best of the lot, and shows off some great techniques including ‘silent teleporters’ used as staircases, giving the illusion of multiple floors. MAP04 (Gymnasium J-Norssi) is like a smaller version of MAP01, and while it’s pretty good, it’s still mostly a switch and key hunt. I really like both of these maps though, they’re fun to play.

Everything else is… well, it’s not good. Let’s start with the Sewer map (MAP02). I’ve never completed it. It’s awful. It’s by far the worst of the entire set. For a start, it’s pitch black for most of the time. Secondly, there’s no automap – the authors deliberately disabled it. So not only are you wandering around the dark, you haven’t got a map either. Thirdly, there’s a stupid amount of monsters. In some areas of the map, there’s just loads of Spider Mastermind bosses. Why? No idea. The texture work is crap, the enemy placement is crap, it’s just one colossal maze in the dark, and I’ve never managed to finish it. It’s awful, and it’s the second map.

Map 3 is one big open park – with a tree in the centre and a bunch of enemies that spawn in. It isn’t even really that many that turn up – just a stream of annoyances. There are two super long elevators that take forever to move, so a lot of the map is spent waiting for them to turn up. Then the map is over. It isn’t detailed, it isn’t particularly fun to play, and it’s just not a great map. The authors note that it was built for co-op games “where one must be sacrificed for many” but really, it wouldn’t be any fun for that either.

MAP05 (Voutilainen’s – whatever that means) is supposed to be a shop that students buy beer from. The initial opening of the map is a low detail shop front – with a ‘basement’ that contains a teleporter. From here, the map turns to shit. It’s a generic, poorly detailed Hell-style Doom 2 map. The only mildly inventive thing is that you shoot Duke Nukem and trigger a Icon of Sin sort of event (with no ability to stop it), but you don’t actually have to do anything except run away from it to the exit. There’s nothing fun about this map at all – it’s a total waste of space.

MAP06 is equally awful. It’s a low detail boss fight. You start off ‘in jail’ with some Skinheads, and then go outside to fight the Flying Hyperdemon – which is just a really squashed Cyberdemon that can fly for some reason. Except I’ve noticed that the AI sort of glitches a bit and doesn’t shoot back very often while it descends, so it’s possible to kill it without taking much damage. And then that’s it! The series is over! MAP06 also has a few Deathmatch starts hidden in a separate area of the map – and it’s just as uninspired as the other non-school levels.

Yes, someone made this…

To be honest, looking back on the PWAD today, it’s not that great. I’m sure that somebody used to more modern WADs would go “Wait, that’s it?” and lose interest fairly quickly. Which is fair – like I said, most of the levels are absolutely awful, and the graphics aren’t good either.

But it’s astounding that something like this was made, and flew under the radar for the most part. While rumours surrounded Eric Harris building maps in Doom, these guys actually did it, and uploaded it, and it’s still on the idgames archive to this day. They made a school, put students in it, and you kill them. That’s the entire PWAD. The attention to detail on the school maps is great – but that said, they’re still square empty rooms, just like real life. But in the 90s, this was pretty damn cool to see. It’s also kind of scary that a few short years later, somebody would do this for real – and video games would be a controversial footnote in the entire ordeal.

School DOOM is an anomaly of modding – the kind of thing lots of people probably tried their hands at, and then stopped short of releasing it (or even showing it to anyone). But the POCD boys, being Finnish and crazy, still released it. And we downloaded it and played it. I don’t know what that says about us or them.

Speaking of them, what happened to them? I vaguely remember years ago that I found the personal website of one of the members, who was still publicly admitting to being part of School DOOM – but from what I remember, that site was old at the time, and I can’t find it again. Maybe they went on to bigger and better things. Maybe they peaked with School DOOM. Who can say? I certainly can’t, because I have no idea. Whatever their status, School DOOM lives on in infamy as the PWAD where you actually shot up a school for laughs. God damn, life is strange.

 

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