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How Doom was licensed and reskinned to create Chex Quest

"It really wasn't very long. I probably spent, boy it couldn't have been more than four months," Chex Quest artist Charles Jacobi tells Zam in a chat about the game, released via cereal box prize CD.

"Because it was kind of the first of its kind, something that to a lot of people they felt like had a lot of value compared to what they would normally get for a little prize in a cereal box. They were getting this whole video game."

- Video game artist Charles Jacobi remembers the response to the 1996 advergame Chex Quest.

20 years ago, Digital Cafe's Chex Quest became the first PC game to ever be released via cereal box prize CD.

It's a fun footnote in the history of the game industry, and to mark the occasion Zam has published a brief interview with Chex Quest artist Charles Jacobi that's worth reading for anyone curious about how, exactly, id Software's seminal first-person demon shooter Doom was licensed and rebranded to promote cereal to kids.

Jacobi tells Zam that the project was borne out of a seemingly failed internal pitch at Digital Cafe to license Doom from id to make a promotional Chex game. He and a friend had already been messing around with modding Doom (a not-uncommon route into the game industry), and though their pitch was inititially shot down internally it wound up getting greenlit when id (which released Quake in 1996) cut Digital Cafe a surprisingly low rate.

"They were totally willing to drop the rate for something that wasn't a commercial title, since it wasn't going to follow a traditional gaming revenue model. There wasn't going to be a royalty or anything like that. So, they were willing to cut a special deal," Jacobi said. "And also the fact that, by then, Quake had already come out, so Doom was kind of already old tech, so they weren't protecting it that much. So, we ended up getting it for -- I don't know what the actual dollar amount was -- but it was a very reasonable amount."

So how could Chex Quest come out in '96, the same year as Quake, if the game wasn't even in development by the time Quake hit shelves? According to Jacobi, the whole project took less than half a year to crank out a Chex-themed Doom total conversion.

"It really wasn't very long. I probably spent, boy it couldn't have been more than four months. And that was just for making the mod itself. I know there was another group that did all the stuff that appears on the CD," Jacobi told Zam. "I think that took a little extra time. But the whole thing start to finish was no more than six months. And that's why it's so short."

Jacobi, of course, went on to contribute to multiple Chex Quest followups before embarking on a game industry career that includes stints working on Close CombatKohan II and multiple Command & Conquer games. 

The Doom modding community, for its part, is still going strong more than two decades after the game's release. And while id's 2016 Doom isn't quite as mod-friendly as the original, it's also giving rise to some creative user-generated content.

For more of Jacobi's thoughts on the development and impact of Chex Quest, as well as an aside about how he's playing around with doing an HD remake in UE4, check out the full interview over on Zam

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