David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults, as well as numerous nonfiction books documenting videogame development and culture, including the bestselling Stay Awhile and Listen series, Shovel Knight by Boss Fight Books, and Long Live Mortal Kombat. Follow him online at www.DavidLCraddock.com, and on Twitter @davidlcraddock.

David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults, as well as numerous nonfiction books documenting videogame development and culture, including the bestselling Stay Awhile and Listen series, Shovel Knight by Boss Fight Books, and Long Live Mortal Kombat. Follow him online at www.DavidLCraddock.com, and on Twitter @davidlcraddock.

Stairway to Badass - Stories of Doom by David L. Craddock

From the landmark original title to 2020's modern sequel, id Software's Doom games have ground productivity and personal relationships to a halt since the Texas-based studio opened the floodgates to hell in December 1993.

Stairway to Badass: Stories of Doom reveals the pitfalls and triumphs involved in reimagining id Software's groundbreaking shooter, the tightly focused design of Doom Eternal, the making of John Romero's SIGIL map pack for the original Doom, and the exquisite map design, weapon balance, and community of one of gaming's most beloved franchises.


The original Stairway to Badass—one of my favorite titles—focused on Doom 2016. For this re-release, I wanted to expand it to collect more of the long reads originally published on Shacknews, including my thorough interview with John Romero on the making of his SIGIL expansion for Doom. Including more information on Doom games modern and classic shows how connected their designs really are, and gives you, dear reader, more Doom stories to enjoy. -David L Craddock, curator, StoryBundle




Marty Stratton knew a good sound when he heard it. He had studied commercial music composition at University of Denver and, with bachelor's degree in hand, had headed out west in 1995 determined to land a job in the entertainment industry. Writing jingles had seemed a good place to start. Stratton understood musical theory and knew his way around plenty of professional recording hardware and software.

For all his education and ability to generate dulcet sounds, none quite moved Stratton like the rush of quarters racing down the metal chute of a change machine and flooding into its tray. "I loved the arcade. Getting those quarters was the greatest thing ever," he remembered.1

Stratton had set gaming aside to devote himself to his studies in college. After he picked up stakes and moved out to Los Angeles, serendipity guided him back to his childhood hobby.

"You're young, you're looking for any opportunity you can get," he explained. "I was friends with a guy who knew somebody at Activision, and introduced me. I think when I started, there were 120 people or something like that. They were smaller than id is now. I started in QA there, just trying to get my foot in the door."

Stratton stepped through Activision's door and entered a land of opportunity. Although most resources were diverted toward internal production, management had recently minted a smaller division focused on publishing games in development at external studios. Stratton cut his teeth on quality assurance for a year, then transferred to the group responsible for scouting outside teams. Three of their most promising were Raven Software, Ritual Entertainment, and id Software.

All three studios produced first-person shooters and were helmed by some of the still-nascent genre's biggest names: Mark Dochtermann, Jim Dosé, and Richard 'Levelord' Gray, had worked together at Apogee and 3D Realms before co-founding Ritual. None were more prominent than id Software, pioneers following the back-to-back-to-back global successes of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake.

"I was the producer assigned to their stuff, so the Quake Mission Packs was my first experience with id, coming down to Mesquite when they were still in the famous black building," Stratton said, recalling early work on the original Quake's expansion packs. "So right around '96 I started working on id games, working with them from Activision on Quake 2, the mission packs, console versions, then Quake 3."

It didn't take long for Stratton to form an attachment to the id team. They were a fun, creative bunch, and he immediately took a liking to their penchant for moving game technology forward in leaps instead of baby steps. In 2000, id Software made him an offer to leave Activision and join their ranks full-time.

"I was just loving working with them, and jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the team," he said.

Stratton stepped into the role of id's director of business development. His job entailed managing relationships with publishers—a responsibility for which he was well-suited—and evangelizing the studio's games at trade shows. Following 1999's Quake 3: Arena, id's next big project was Doom 3, a retelling of the first two games rather than a direct sequel.

"I'm proud to say that I think we always do gun combat well, and I think Doom 3 was another example of that," Stratton said. "The gunplay was very good; the guns felt great. But stylistically, it was just a different take on [Doom]."

Published under Activision's label, Doom 3 released in August 2004 to high praise from venerable critical outlets such as PC Gamer. Long-time fans were more divided. In Doom and Doom 2: Hell on Earth, players moved at ridiculously high velocities through sprawling maps and mowed down demons using chainguns and rocket launchers and space-age lasers. While select maps featured corridors draped in shadows and eerie soundtracks designed to unnerve players, the majority had been crafted as high-octane shooting galleries.

Doom 3 blanketed every cave and corridor in darkness. Zombies moaned and shambled with hands outstretched. Drawing near candles and streaks of blood arranged in glowing pentagrams triggered bouts of maniacal, echoing laughter from the game's mad scientist-type villain. Monsters leaped out of dark pockets to lunge at players, attacking in packs of three or four instead of swarms of dozens.

Players inched through shadowy corridors rather than raced forward, dependent on the narrow beam of their flashlight to scan ahead of them. Weapons had to be held separately from the flashlight, forcing players to use their torch while exploring and then swap over to their weapon of choice when a monster came hissing or shambling or lunging out of its hiding place. PDAs scattered around maps functioned like key cards, able to be scanned to access gated areas, but the devices also contained emails and voice memos that players occasionally had to sift through to find passwords, bringing the pace to a halt.

In many ways, Doom 3 was ahead of its time. Its blend of action and survival horror predated Resident Evil 4 by nearly six months, and provided a template for Dead Space years later in 2008. Still, although many players took a liking to Doom 3's creative deviations, even developers at id acknowledged the dissonance between the title's slower pace and the legacy of the name on its box.

"If we would have made Doom 2016 as a direct sequel to Doom 3, I think it would have been a little confusing to people," Stratton explained, "or even felt more like it was trying to move things in a different direction because we didn't like [Doom 3]. That just wasn't the case. There are few of us left who actually worked on Doom 3, but we were all really proud of it and still are."

Shipping Doom 3 off to stores marked the perfect occasion for id's team to reflect on what they had made, and ponder their next steps. When Stratton had joined in 2000, the studio had employed just over a dozen developers. By the time Doom 3 launched in the summer of 2004, the team had grown to around 19. While the bulk of the staff laid the foundation for a brand-new id property called Rage, in mid-2006, Stratton and other managers at id shopped around for external teams to write new chapters in the Wolfenstein, Quake, and Doom sagas.

"We had started working on Rage at that point and were very excited about that," said Stratton, "so we felt like, 'We have these great brands. Is it worth looking outside [of id Software]?' We'd done that successfully with Wolfenstein. Return to Castle Wolfenstein was a fantastic game, and we'd worked on Quake 4 with Raven. We'd developed a good relationship with Raven, so it was like, let's kind of test the waters and see what else is out there."

Of id's holy trinity of brands, only Doom lacked a home. Stratton, along with artist-turned-executive-producer Kevin Cloud and then-president Todd Hollenshead, traveled to several studios to gauge their candidature for sending players back to hell. Over months of flights and road trips, Stratton and the others agreed: There was only one team equipped to do justice to Doom.

"It came down to we thought we would do a better job growing our team and doing another Doom than another team would do with it," Stratton explained. "Or, if they were in a position to have to grow their team, we thought we'd be more successful hiring top-notch people than some other developer would be, just based on who we are and the people we had working here. If we were going to do it, we'd do it internally and grow a team around building it here."

The time had come to divide and conquer. While the bulk of id developed Rage, management filled out a second team to make Doom.

"It was two teams, and it was challenging," Stratton remembered. "It's challenging for any business to grow like that. I actually don't remember how many people were on each team, but we had definitely grown as a studio into multiple teams.