A Cash-Strapped Corps Once Tried Training Marines With ‘Doom’
‘Marine Doom’ is all guns, gore and gung ho!
In the mid ‘90s the Marine Corps decided Doom II might make for an excellent training supplement. It did so for two reasons—a forward-thinking commandant and a budgetary shortfall.
The Marines have always had to make due with little financial support compared to the other military branches. The USMC budget often lands somewhere around four percent of the Defense Department total. In 2010, that budget was about $40 billion. Back in the ’90s, it hovered around $10 billion.
The Corps also needs to train all its troops with limited cash. Regardless of their specialization, every Marine is a trained rifleman.
“With budget cuts, we don’t have the money to pay for the ammo and field time we need to keep ourselves in practice,” Lt. Scott Barnett—one of Marine Doom’s creators—told Wired back in 1997.
So the Corps got creative. Marine leadership tasked the Marine Corps Modeling and Simulation Management Office with finding cheap, off-the-shelf alternatives to some of their live-fire training exercises.
MCMSMO assigned Barnett and Sgt. Dan Snyder the enviable task of finding the right game for the job. The two spent hours playing every video game available that might fit the bill. They even blogged about it, maintaining reviews of every game they played under the “Personal Computer Based Wargames Catalog” at the MCMSMO website.
The pair settled on Doom II. Which may seem like an odd choice.
Doom and its sequel Doom II are blood-soaked first-person shooters that Id Software developed in 1993 and 1994. The player controls—appropriately—a Marine defending Mars from the ferocious fiends of Hell.
The game is iconic. Doom cemented Id Software as a rock star in the world of video game development, led to several sequels and even spawned an ill-conceived Hollywood not-buster starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
The Doom games still are a lot of fun. They’re scary, fast paced and extremely violent. Snyder and Barnett needed a quick, twitchy game to encourage Marines to think fast in the face of danger. It was also one of the few games that supported networked multiplayer and allowed for easy modification.
The gore-soaked viciousness of Doom II wasn’t perfect, but it was better than nothing. It just needed a face-lift.
Snyder spent the next six months modding Doom II to fit the Marine Corps’ goals. He created maps filled with bunkers, buildings and trees. He replaced the models for the weapons, giving every player a rough approximation of a U.S. infantry weapon. He scanned G.I. Joe action figures into his computer and used them as the basis for new bad guys.
He even recorded new sounds for the weapons and villains. Gone were the guttural growls and sinister yelps of Hell’s minions. Snyder substituted them with his own voice. In 1996, Snyder showed the modified game to his command.
Total cost? Just $50 for the game and the salary of the Marines involved. Marine leadership loved the game. It was exactly what they had asked for.
Marine Doom was a fast and fun training exercise. Four Marines networked together as a fire team and took on the game’s challenges. It was completely unrealistic, true, but it didn’t need to be.
The point of the simulation was to think on your feet, practice teamwork and make decisions in stressful situations. It was popular, too. Marines loved Marine Doom. It was an excuse to play games and call it training. By all accounts, Snyder and Barnett had succeeded.
Marine Doom never became an official training tool, but the commandant of the Marines did encourage Marines to play it. In 1997, Gen. Charles Krulak issued a directive on the subject of military thinking and decision-making exercises.
In the directive, Krulak name checks the MCMSMO and its list of video games. He then went on to relax restrictions against playing video games on government computers.
Krulak saw that “[PC]-based wargames, provide great potential for Marines to develop decision making skills, particularly when live training time and opportunities are limited.”
Marine Doom remained popular for a few years. The Marines asked Snyder and Barnett to develop levels based on embassies and other military assets. The goal was to familiarize Marines with locations before they ever needed to set foot there.
But computing technology moves fast. Newer, better games came along and knocked Doom and its sequels out of favor. But development of new military video games continued.
The Army released America’s Army in 2002. It’s working on the fourth version now. The Marines also collaborated on the Virtual Battlespace series of training programs with ARMA developer Bohemia Interactive.
Snyder and Barnett left the Marines soon after completing work on Marine Doom. They wanted to work in video games. The pair developed a mod for Id Software’s Quake called Battlesight Zero.
Snyder and Barnett sold the mod to GT Interactive, the publisher of Doom and Quake. They took a million-dollar investment in Battlesight Zero’s future, rather than a one-time payout. Which was a mistake. GT Interactive floundered and died in the late 1999, just a few years after Snyder and Barnett’s risky venture.
If you’ve still got a copy of Doom II, you can pick up the Marine Doom here.