The cover for the original Doom is one of the most iconic pieces of videogame box art ever created. It’s simple, stark, and perfectly evocative of the game experience: One man, unbowed and heavily armed, fighting off a horde of rampaging demons. But who is he? That’s a question that, to be perfectly honest, I had never even considered before now. After all, it’s just a drawing, right?
Wrong. John Romero, one of the original Masters of Doom, revealed today on his blog that the cover art was actually based on a “male body model” who was photographed as a reference by illustrator Don Punchatz. And it’s someone you know—and if you don’t want the mystery spoiled forever, I suggest you stop reading now.
“This scene took place in the art room where Adrian and Kevin spent their days creating the STARTAN tech base texture set, clay modeling characters, digitizing them with the NeXTCube workstation, scanning hospital slides for bloody walls, and listening to the screams from the dentist’s office next door,” Romero wrote. “The body model took his shirt off and started posing with our plasma gun toy. Don asked us for suggestions so I started telling him that the Marine was going to be attacked by an infinite amount of demons. It would be cool if he was on a hill and firing down into them. The model was holding the gun in various positions and none of them were interesting to me.”
This went on for about ten minutes, but nothing cool enough for the cover leapt out. Romero said he kept telling the model what he wanted, but the model “couldn’t see the scene in his mind,” and so he couldn’t get the look they wanted. Finally, Romero had enough!
“Frustrated, I threw my shirt off and told him to give me the gun and get on the floor – grab my arm as one of the demons! Defeated, he deferred. I aimed the gun in a slightly different direction and told Don, ‘This is what I’m talking about!’ Don took several pictures. I moved the gun some, the demon grabbed my leg, other arm, etc,” he wrote. “At the end of it we all decided the arm-grabbing pose was going to be the best.”
“I AM THE DOOMGUY. (at least on the cover)”
It’s just a guess, but my bet is that the massive biceps and six-pack abs are a bit of what you might call an artistic exaggeration.
Romero (part of him, anyway) also made an Easter Egg appearance in Doom 2, although it’s a well-known bit of Doom trivia by now: “Romero’s Head” is the hidden boss in the game’s 30th and final map, Icon of Sin.