I wrote this over several sessions over two, maybe three weeks. I don’t know why I took so long writing what was first an impressions of DOOM (2016), but then I started comparing it to DOOM (1993) and Brutal DOOM (a mod of the 1993 game). I end with a conversation of level design, and how the new DOOM got its level design right. I guess I could have, at that time, compared the level design of new DOOM to Doom 3, which largely got the spirit of DOOM wrong, but I didn’t do that at all.
What this is I don’t know, but I wrote it, and it probably bares reading. This semi-stream-of-consciousness isn’t bad: it’s my thoughts on video games, which is the primary purpose of this blog to begin with. I just wanted to preface this piece with an explanation that it isn’t really a piece. It’s a true reaction. A pure impression, if you will. The new DOOM, as you have no doubt heard by now, is something truly, truly special. I intend to one day write a real piece about DOOM, and all the ways I can compare it to its contemporary competitors in the FPS landscape, yet that this is not. This is more a mental foot into that direction. I may even pull ideas from this block of writing when writing that intended piece. I also may never write that piece, because fuck you, and fuck me.
Okay enough with that here’s what I thought about DOOM.
Another sequel to another one of my favorite games of all time has come back. Only this one is perhaps more important as far as the general landscape of the video games industry. It went off and on my radar, my trust lost after the multiplayer beta, but upon its release the positive buzz convinced me to give it a shot. And I’m glad I did.
DOOM is history. The first game gave life to the genre of FPS, and since doing so, no other FPS game has topped it. For in its origins the games were simply about violence: explosive, bloody, metal, visceral violence. And fun weapons. And good level design. And killer music. And viscous monster design. Because DOOM was a fucking masterpiece.
Since its release DOOMspawned several sequels and imitators. Doom II was another massive success. Doom 3 was too, but the game was lost from its original intention. It was more of a survival horror experience that attempted narrative plot then a game about pure violence. It was cool to see all the aspects of DOOM expressed this way, but it was quite a bummer for enthusiasts who enjoyed the originals. I mean, the games may look archaic, but they’re fucking timeless. I gained my love of the games in fucking 2006, when I played the ports included with the Doom 3 Resurrection of Evil disc on the very first Xbox. In a time where I was frustrated with the way FPS games were going, (I have always hated Halo. You know, just for context) the original DOOM games were a breath of fresh air, and a stark reminder of what the genre could have been.
Make this gameplay. But with new graphics and effects. That’s all you need to do.
It was such a seemingly simple solution that never quite got accomplished. Until now, we’ve seen full series that sought out to capture what the original DOOM brought to the gaming world. There’s Serious Sam and Rise of the Triad. There’s Painkiller, and the studio’s later release Bulletstorm. There was Turok and Duke Nukem in the 90’s. There was also Quake, made by id themselves. Countless other games exist that attempt to capture the same focus on violence, arcady shooting, and brilliant level design, but I don’t play, or want to play, any of the games anymore.
I want to play DOOM!
Finally it’s 2016 and we can rest assured that classic FPS is back. We’ve seen id come out with a new Wolfenstein that kicked ass, albeit in a different way than the original, and now they’ve done it again with Doom. Will they do a Quake? That’s not the point of my writing. What is the point of my writing?
So before I begin gushing about DOOM, I’m going to spend a bit of time talking about Brutal Doom. Brutal Doom is a mod developed by some guy named whatever and it’s about taking DOOM, implementing modern mechanics, and upping the gore to ludicrous levels. I mean blasting the upper-half of an Imp’s body with an up-close blast of shotgun. I mean physically ripping a possessed soldier in half with blood pouring all over the walls and ceiling. I mean death animations of a demon suffering extended pain during their last moments just to give the player enough time for them to walk up and kick their bloody body apart into a puddle of meaty gibs. Brutal Doom is the most metal thing I’ve ever experienced and I sang for several metal bands in high school.
Brutal Doom changes the weapons so that they perform differently than they did in the original game. Certain guns have iron sites. There’s an assault rifle instead of the pistol. Head shots count. The chain gun is brutally useful. Most guns, chain gun not included, actually use magazines, meaning you have to reload. The game includes a dodge roll that I never use, meaning its purely optional, as well as a revamped melee option that makes fighting with your fists somewhat more viable than it was in the original game. There’s also new weapons, such as grenades. I’m not sure if there are more than that, since I’ve only completed the first episode, but damn they are useful.
Some of these aspects do get away from what original doom was all about, yet these are also additions I think everyone who called themselves fans of the original doom games wanted in the first place. They are modern advancements in FPS gameplay injected into old school DOOM. Not a bad narrative forced down players’ throats. Not cheesy tactics employed to “immerse” the player in another world. We don’t need that. We just need a bombastic experience where we must fight and think on our feet to survive. We wanna play DOOM, not the bastard child of Half Life and DOOM. Just. DOOM.
We also need a ton of good secrets.
I get more frustrated when I search for secrets in DOOM 2016. There’s something about the map that confuses me: even though its design is extremely well done, I can’t rightly figure out what location is which while its in 3D mode. The map in Ultimate DOOM isn’t much better than how DOOM 2016’s map is presented. But while looking up where secrets are located, I can find them more easily in Ultimate DOOM as opposed to DOOM 2016. I spent about thirty, maybe forty minutes searching the first level just so I could unlock the damn secret level. The guide I was using to find this level didn’t explain the location clearly enough, but it was also pretty well hidden in the generally bland muddy look of the level’s textures and graphics. The secret is located outside, where behind a chain link wall (that looks as if you can’t explore behind) there’s a lever you must pull to open the secret. Then in the level selection you can select the first classic map, which is Hanger–the first level in DOOM 2. It felt too strange playing the classic map with DOOM 2016’s weapons and physics. Kinda like it didn’t work. The way healing works in this game doesn’t necessarily allow for gameplay on these classic maps, because as fast as I can move, I can move much faster in the older games. Not to mention you start out with the pistol, which is the worst pistol in video game history, compared to old DOOM pistols which are decent and do the job just fine on the first few levels. I think while playing through this game, I’m going to focus more on getting out of the level, picking up secrets I can find along the way, without focusing on finding every single on on every single level. I’d rather have fun, and searching for secrets in this game just isn’t that fun to me.
What is fun is the action. Levels are meant to corridor players from arena to arena. When I say that it probably sounds bad, but the design makes a lot of sense, and the developers made sure to dress this design so that you can’t really tell that you’re being courted from arena to arena. This isn’t Painkiller, for instance, which was literally just a bunch of interconnected arenas. But it’s also not what old Doom was. In those games, you saw enemies littered around the map, because the game was trying to build levels that were fun to explore. In this new game you have plenty of opportunities to explore, especially with the secrets, and levels also feature a verticality unheard of in Doom’s past. However the action takes place in arenas, which are carefully designed with the action in mind. This creates fights that feel more cinematic because the designers want to give you options while subtly telling you how to go about a confrontation. Does that make sense? It doesn’t? When does my writing make sense?
You’re given the tools for the confrontation. You get your weapons, your ammo, health, armor. In the center of the arena, you get a powerup, like quad damage or haste. You also start a level with a list of challenges that provide meaningful rewards in the way of weapon upgrades. These challenges include weapon performance as well as stunts tied to the game’s movement, and the arenas are often designed with those challenges in mind. For instance, one challenge asks players to perform a certain kill move, the curbstomp, a set number of times. I think five times. During this level, I kept noticing that the arenas were laid out in a way that provided players the opportunity to perform these curbstomps. You would see more elevated ledges, for instance. More floors, and leveled areas, that allow players to climb, and then jump off onto demons. The developers obviously want you to play the game how you want to play the game. At the same time, they want you to do something that would make you feel good. And this is a game about making you feel like a badass, so all of this really makes sense in a way most video games do wrong. Most games treat cinematic as a word associated with cutscenes and shoehorned plot beats. DOOM is about handing your player a double barreled shotgun purely to make paste out of a demon’s face. It’s a game that hands you a chainsaw that’s only purpose is to cause demon’s to spew ammo like a volcano whenever the player needs more ammo in the middle of a gun fight.
Everything has its place, with just enough exploration provided for the player to possess the ability to experiment and play the way they want to play.
That’s an advantage this new DOOM has over old DOOM. Old DOOM possesses chance for experimentation, sure. But when I play old DOOM, I don’t feel like a doctor of death. I feel more like an animal trying to survive, on the grips of death all the while dishing whatever damage I can. Old DOOM does not have decades of level design to dig up. It’s the originator, sure. This new DOOM has developers who design with the taste of old DOOM in their mouths. Seasoned on that steak of DOOM are the mentioned decades of video game level design, especially when it comes to the level design. They knew what to do, what not to do, to make DOOM work in a modern world.
I still prefer the level design in the old DOOM, but that doesn’t really take away from the new one. The major difference is that old DOOM levels weren’t designed to appear realistic in any way. They were just designed to be fun. The new one, by nature of being a video game released in 2016, is stuck in the realm of realism that the old DOOM never visited. The new one is focused in delivering a DOOM experience that would somewhat make sense in the real world. And it does it better than anything else that has come before it. Yet, when level design in focused on delivering fun…they tend to deliver more fun than level design focused on delivering realism.
Fun is funner than realism. That’s the lesson I want you to take away. Remember that, teach your kids that. KNOW THAT.