AmsterDoom is a first-person shooter developed by Davilex and published on March 14, 2000. Davilex was a developer of video games, computer games, and computer software from the Netherlands. The game takes place in the city of Amsterdam, which has been invaded by aliens. The player must liberate the city from these aliens. All levels in the game take place in various well-known locations such as Central Station, the Red Light District, and Schiphol Airport. The game was officially released only in the Netherlands.
In this article we discuss:
- the development of the game, from the concept phase to the final product;
- the release of the game, including marketing activities and reviews;
- the controversy that arose around parking attendants in the game;
- spin-offs based on AmsterDoom.
Before AmsterDoom: Amsterdam IRT
Before Davilex began the development of a first-person shooter, the development of another concept had begun in the first half of 1998: Amsterdam IRT. Amsterdam IRT (working title) was to be a beat’em up/adventure game that, like AmsterDoom, would be set entirely in well-known locations in Amsterdam.
Rudolf Wolterbeek Muller, a co-founder of Davilex and manager of the entertainment division, described the concept as follows in an interview in the June 1998 issue of magazine Power Unlimited: “The player is a cop at Bureau Warmoestraat who is given a mission every day. By completing the missions well, you can move up in the ranks of the police. So that means chasing junkies in the Red Light District, catching a dealer in the Roxy club, and chasing a murderer on the Rokin.”
When I asked Milan Pollé (graphical lead of AmsterDoom) about Amsterdam IRT he gave some more details about the work done on it: “I sat in a brainstorming group for several weeks or months working out a script. I had to monitor graphical feasibility. The original idea was much more scripted, movie-like. This all turned out to be too much work. It wasn’t generic enough to make efficiently”.
Amsterdam IRT did not get beyond a script and an estimate of the work required. However, AmsterDoom did emerge from this concept, but it took a long time before the development of AmsterDoom began. This created a lot of uncertainty among the development team.
“The problem was that we had nothing to do for a long time (because the people higher up who came up with the ideas took a long time to decide what it should be),” says Pollé. “But we had the idea that it could start at any moment. So then you are left with that adrenaline for a very long time. I got sleep problems because of that”. Several team members were overworked during this period as a result.
The concept of the game that guided its design and development was described by Lambert Wolterbeek Muller (leader of the technical design):
- Localized for the Dutch market: recognizable locations and ingredients from Amsterdam;
- No gore (no blood or flying limbs);
- Simple entry-level gameplay for casual, non-hardcore gamers;
- Interesting opponents (Grøbbers) with plenty of marketing potential.
The game was developed for more than a year by a team of around 30 people. It used the Genesis3D engine, an existing open 3d engine that could also be licensed for commercial use. The level editor that came with the Genesis3D engine was used to build the levels. The engine was further modified by Davilex to make it suitable for the game. Changes were made, for example, to the functionality for lighting, destructible objects, a scripting system added for interactivity with the game world, and special effects.
Because the game’s target audience was mainstream – rather than traditional PC gamers with powerful hardware – time was spent optimizing the Genesis3D engine. For example, taking into account how the game brought the graphics to the screen when using popular (but, according to the developers, inferior) 3D cards such as the ATI Rage video card. They also developed a complementary game engine that aimed to gain maximum control over the game’s code, while maintaining flexibility.
Milan Pollé created the animations of the characters in AmsterDoom and also worked on the logo design. In an interview with Tweakers.net, Pollé spoke about unused logo designs for the game which were inspired by the lambda symbol on the cover of Half-Life. One of the unused designs was used in several locations within the game itself, showcased below.
This logo also shows that the spelling of the title is different: Amsterdoem instead of AmsterDoom. “I made a logo with the three crosses of Amsterdam’s coat of arms in the shape of an A.” Pollé says. “That symbolized snowflakes. The idea was that aliens in the game would freeze the city, but that became too much work so the idea was dropped. My logo was not used on the cover because it had to be recognizable. Our level designers thought it was a cool logo though, they incorporated it into some levels.”
In April 1999, Rudolf Wolterbeek Muller stated in the Dutch computer entertainment trade magazine CTW Benelux that the game would be released in November 1999. That date was not met. He also stated that there would be a level based on a famous football stadium. By this, he implied the Amsterdam ArenA in which the club Ajax plays; the stadium did not make it into the final product.
For those who want to know more in detail about the technical background of AmsterDoom, the webpage that Lambert Wolterbeek Muller (made around the time of the game’s release) about the development of the game is highly recommended.
Release and reception
The game was released on March 14, 2000, for fl 49.95. This made AmsterDoom about half the price compared to large, international PC titles. Marketing around the launch included advertisements on radio (Radio 3, Radio 538) and TV (TMF, Veronica, RTL4, SBS6), cinema advertisements, advertisements in (among others) the Telegraaf and Voetbal International, posters and displays in front of stores, and through call-in games on radio and TV.
AmsterDoom promo material and the game in the store Max Software @ Games on the Coolsingel in Rotterdam. From: DTN, 6th volume, number 4, April 2000.
Reviews were mixed: comparisons were made with other shooters on the market with which AmsterDoom was comparatively simpler. AmsterDoom also had no multiplayer mode. Still, many reviewers also included in their assessment that the game was probably not meant for them.
“The idea remains fun but again it is not well developed by Davilex. The graphics still suck but the sound is nice. The gameplay is just absolutely nothing. The game is clearly meant for the somewhat younger kids who have never played FPSs before (well, I already played Wolfenstein 3D and Doom at that age).”
Review from Gamers.nl, March 24, 2000
“AmsterDoom is Davilex in its optimal form: not too difficult, suitable for the whole family, and made with care. The absence of flying limbs and the lack of multiplayer options will make diehards scorn it again, but of course, the publisher’s target audience doesn’t care about that. For they are now running en masse, encouraged by the clever marketing campaign, to the store to confirm Davilex in its vision and thus pave the way for AmsterDoom 2.”
Review from Gamez.nl, March 3, 2000
“Amsterdoom is kind of a fun game if you like Doom, Duke Nukem, etc. as well. Personally, I prefer to play Quake 3 Arena or something because it does have a bit more blood in it. But like I said, do you like Doom or Duke Nukem? Then of course you can give this a try!”
Review from Game Place, Aug. 4, 2000
The popular game magazine Power Unlimited reviewed the game in May 2000. The idea of the game was great, according to reviewer Jan-Johan Belderok, but the game would be “hardly interesting for the hardcore gamer”. Those were better off ignoring the game. “I finished the game within six hours. For example, you can never go the wrong way, the game immediately corrects you and in addition, the A.I. is deliberately kept very moderate. Deliberately, because otherwise, Grandma won’t be able to mow down the Grobbers”. The game received a 6 out of 10 rating.
“Amsterdoom is too easy for the hardcore gamer. This results in painful scenes if you get this game as a gift from your aunt. “You liked shooters, right?” “Yes, real shooters auntie. – J.J”
Review from Power Unlimited, May 2000
Davilex wanted to emulate the success of A2 Racer with AmsterDoom. However, the game did not become the hoped-for success for Davilex. Around October 2001, the game was re-released with a greatly reduced price and with a new name and box design: Amsterdam Monster Madness.
Davilex explained that this was a business decision: the game was not reaching its intended audience in the numbers hoped for. With the change, Davilex wanted to make the game even more appealing to a more general audience, rather than the traditional gaming audience that played titles such as Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament.
By the way, the changes only applied to the box design and the name on it. No other changes were made to the game itself; when the game is launched, the old name AmsterDoom appears.
Before its release, the game caused controversy due to an alleged ability to kill parking attendants in a virtual re-creation of Amsterdam and destroy landmarks of the city. In the level near Amsterdam’s Central Station, some of the alien creatures wear parking attendant suits. Articles appeared in newspapers, and TV programs such as NOVA and Afternoon Edition had reports about it. The news also managed to reach the media in Flanders (Belgium), with reports in Het Belang van Limburg and Het Nieuwsblad. A spokesman for the Amsterdam City Guard called the game “disgusting.”
The scene with the parking attendants was also featured in the TV commercial for AmsterDoom, and the back of the original big box packaging features the character. There is also a reference to parking attendants in the text on the back.
In a recent interview with the BeeldBeak podcast, graphic designer Milan Pollé stated that the parking attendants were only added to the game two weeks before development was finished. It is not common to add new features to a game this late. The team was tasked with adding the parking attendants. Pollé stated that the reason was that no one liked parking guards and it would be fun to shoot them. Pollé designed the alien with the parking attendant suit.
In an interview with Tweakers.net, Pollé recounted his memories of what happened next: “A marketing message was spread about that and then it went completely wrong. News programs and newspapers asked parking attendants what they thought about it. They thought it was a very bad thing. For a day we had all kinds of camera crews inside. They asked who had made the parking attendant, which of course was me. I was on TV in the news to show how I had done that in 3D Studio Max.”
Davilex tried to nuance the story surrounding parking attendants. The game’s marketing manager reported the following in an article about the game in Trouw on March 18, 2000: “There is no shooting at people, there is no blood flowing like in some other games of this kind. That a couple of Grøbbers in front of Central Station wear a cap of the parking management service is just a joke that lasts less than twenty seconds.” When asked by a journalist from NOVA whether this game might not incite violence against parking attendants, David Brons, co-founder of Davilex, replied that he thought that was precisely not the case. “On the contrary, it is an outlet for daily irritations and things like that.”
In the review of game magazine Power Unlimited, reviewer Jan-Johan Belderok commented on the situation, “Several daily newspapers wrote indignantly about the parking attendants you could shoot in the game. Duh! It’s not even parking attendants you finish, but Grobbers wearing parking attendant suits, and there’s no blood involved. Amsterdoom is as violent as a Disney movie. They should check out Soldier of Fortune.”
After the game’s release, media discussion of AmsterDoom quickly disappeared. The controversy earned AmsterDoom publicity, at least around its launch. When asked if this had an impact on sales, Hans van Marsbergen, public relations officer at Davilex at the time, answered in May 2000 in the trade magazine CTW Benelux: “The game is running reasonably well. We have not noticed any negative impact on sales from the discussion. Maybe there is a certain sensationalist audience that likes to buy games that make a lot of fuss, but in any case, that is not our target group.”
However, according to the graphical lead of the game Milan Pollé, the controversy did affect sales: “The idea was to make it a family game, but many parents stopped buying the game. People in their twenties liked it, but those were mostly poor students who gleefully copied the game. So it didn’t become as successful as A2 Racer.”
Over the years, there have been several speculations that Davilex would have been sued by id software for unauthorized use of the word “Doom” in the title. However, there is no evidence of this. Both in the coverage at the time, nothing can be found about it, and the developers of the game have no recollection of this having ever happened.
Davilex’s game Invasion Deutschland uses some of the same components, designs, and enemies of AmsterDoom. The game was released in Germany on October 30, 2000. It built on work already done and included more advanced animations and new level designs. The levels were set in various locations in Germany, in cities such as Berlin and Cologne.
Invasion Deutschland was in line with the same strategy Davilex followed with some of its previous games: accessible games set in recognizable locations. For example, the Dutch-focused racing game A2 Racer was also adapted and localized for countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany.
I have posted a comprehensive list of all the sources I used to create this article here:
This article originally appeared in Dutch here on gamegeschiedenis.nl.