Texas Gunfire

Doom is very different in philosophy and design from modern FP shooters.

Doom is built like a console game. Heck, Romero idolizes Miyamoto. Commander Keen came out of a demo that he and Carmack whipped up for Nintendo, showing how to implement the scrolling from Super Mario Bros. on a PC (which, I guess, was a feat at the time). Howard Lincoln yawned. The Texans made their own game.

Quake is, indeed, more the prototype for the modern shooter. It’s also kind of boring in comparison — at least, for me. Here they paid less attention to actual design; more to just getting a 3D engine up. That, and getting Trent Reznor involved. I mean, they already had a template with Wolf3D and Doom. Quake was just technology. They filled in the blanks with gray textures and asinine Lovecraft references. It feels like they were bored, doing it — as well they should have been, I guess, since that’s not what they cared about anymore. And this was about where Romero started to flake out, too. Whether the rise of Superprogrammer was the cause or result of this, I don’t know.

Doom isn’t concerned with being a first-person shooter as-such, since the genre didn’t exist at the time. Instead, it is an attempt to rework the rather barren Wolf3D into as vibrant a design as possible. To do something substantial with the concept, if you will. It’s kind of the same leap as from Quake to Half-Life, because it’s the same mentality at work.

Doom’s console sensibility extends from its controls (as with Wolf3D, it’s made to be played without a mouse; the mouse only really enters when you have a Z axis to worry about) to its level design and (as someone noted) pacing, to its monster designs, to its set pieces and its idea of secret areas and items.

For one, the game just drools charisma. We all can rattle off most of the monsters in Super Mario Bros. and Zelda. We know Brinstar like the backs of our hands. There is a certain iconography even to the level design: even if on a cursory glance it might not stand out as anything special, it bores into the consciousness just as well as a cheep-cheep or a zoomer. Everything is placed preciously, exactly because there is no template to fall back on.

And, as we know, there is a certain subconscious pacing built in, for how the game introduces concepts. You run to the right, jump up and hit the flashing object overhead. It makes a chime sound and a coin pops out. You’ve clearly done something well. You hit another block and a mushroom appears. It must not be harmful, unlike the enemy you either ran into, jumped on, or jumped over a moment before, as it comes out of a block like the one which rewarded you with a chime a moment before. When you touch it, you grow. Since you’re bigger, you can more easily reach the platforms above you. You try jumping and can break the bricks. Keep going right and you hit a pipe. Then two enemies. Eventually a pit. Then a fire flower. Then a koopa troopa.

And. So on. It all sounds simple, yet so few people get it right. And since it’s supposed to be invisible, so few people notice on a conscious level when it’s missing.

Doom does this, yes, on a mechanical level. Yet it does something else, too. It paces the atmosphere. I maintain that the best part of Doom is episode one (the Shareware episode) of Doom 1. After you leave the manmade environments, where something has gone really awfully wrong, and enter the abstract flesh-tents of Hell, the game has pretty much blown its wad (pun very much intended). Then the game just becomes about shooting, and I don’t much care for it. Episode one has a certain stress to it, however. You wander the station, looking for something to restore your ailing health. The lights go out. You hear snarls in the distance. You know something’s out there — but where?

And then there are just so many hidden passages. You never know what wall might open, and how. Or what you might find (like the Chainsaw). It’s kind of like Zelda, again. Often you can see things in the distance, or through windows, that you just plain can’t access through normal means. This gets you exploring.

The whole mindset that the game creates, with all of this — the mindset that it asks for — is different. It’s more introverted. More careful. The game is as much about exploration and generally owning the gameworld as it is about blowing shit up.

There’s a certain balance here, from level to level. Just study how things are laid out. It’s no mistake that the shareware episode is the best; after all, it’s the one that id needed to be good, if anyone was going to register.

>How would you say the modern FPS has deviated from this Doom mindset? And starting where, exactly? Doom II? Duke Nukem 3D? Quake?

I don’t know. I became disgusted with the whole degenre around the time of Q3 and UT. I like what I’ve seen about HL2, from this distance. It reminds me of, uh, Myst.

Quake’s probably a good place to start. Or maybe you could begin with all of the knockoffs of Wolf3D and Doom, which used the same engine yet didn’t do anything interesting with it. They helped to pollute the mindspace a bit, I bet, and distract from the reasons why Doom was as excellent as it was.

Quake’s the landmark, though, for all the obvious reasons. I mean, it led the way, from Quake to Quake II to Quake III, to a technology-oriented philosophy. It doesn’t matter what you do with the engine; it just matters what the engine does. Throw in a few rules and some network code, and you have a game.

I’m oversimplifying to an insulting degree, I realize. On the one hand, the whole multiplayer thing, although it appeals to me in NEGATIVE INCREMENTS, meaning a piece of me dies every time the subject comes up, has attained something of the same distinction that a versus fighter has in comparison to a sidescrolling brawler. It’s a place to show skill and piss on other people (even more so than with a fighter, for various reasons), and if that’s your kind of thing, there are a lot of excellent games to help you vent that testosterone.

On the other, you have the Half-Life-inspired movement toward using the form for a more holistic experience — expanding on exactly the part of Doom that the Quake thread gave up on. Halo sits on this end, mostly — though a little more to the right, toward Quake, than HL. If you were to count Metroid Prime as a FPS, it would be about as far to the left as possible.

>Masters of Doom says that Quake’s formative years were sort of the epitome of development hell. […] Carmack was going off into his abstract, workaholic computer world and Romero was becoming increasingly arrogant and was slacking off more than usual. The end result, then, was a Doom clone where the engine was designed independently of the levels, which were designed independently of each other, which is why they’re so goddamned bizzare and incongruous.

Yeah! I remember that, now. I guess that’s whence came Daikatana.

For my part, I did enjoy Quake at the time. It’s not half-bad. It’s just — it leaves me empty.

Author: Azure

It's me!

17 thoughts on “Texas Gunfire”

  1. Very apt observations. Half-Life made it clear to me that id should never create games. They make stellar engines that become great games in the hands of others. Early on in the development of Doom III, they announced that there would be no “use” key in the game. Coming off of Half-Life, this seemed like a silly and regressive choice, completely walling off the idea of interacting with the world on a non-destructive level. To their credit, they actually implemented a rather elegant and technologically impressive use system, where a computer screen or keypad panel was completely usable with the gunsight, which became a normal arrow cursor to show that it’s interactive, as opposed to having to switch to a different windowed interface for such things, but in the end, it didn’t matter. The cute exploratory and expository elements this created were utterly wasted. No One Lives Forever did it brilliantly – the intelligence objects (mimiced as e-mails and audio notes in Doom III) didn’t just advance the story, they fleshed out the world and also played into the game’s inherent in-joke about spy thrillers. They added a bit of heart. Doom III was utterly without heart, and even with this whiz-bang interaction system, you were still stuck reading stale e-mails that either gave you a door code or filled in some utterly obvious surface detail about the story.

    Half-Life 2 is interesting, mainly because Valve continues to care about the universe it takes place in. The continuum from Half-Life, through its expansions, and to the current game is carefully constructed. Again, early on we learned that Doom III was a “retelling” of the original story. This is basically a cop-out, a dodge of trying to continue in a living, breathing universe, and the game was exactly the kind of let-down I expected it to be.

    Carmack is a very talented engine programmer, and he deserves credit for making leaps that pushed us toward the Half-Lifes, the Halos, and the Metroid Primes, but he’s not a great storyteller. Romero is… it’s best I leave my thoughts about Romero out of this.

    My apologies, I’m babbling…

  2. At E3. It ran at… maybe 1/4 speed. It looked like it might be interesting, when complete. Somewhere between the arcade and the Pocket series. The most recent illustrations are kind of nice, too.

  3. Now that I have a computer which can run things made since 1998, I guess it’s about time to look up what I’ve been missing. Which… isn’t a lot. System Shock 2 and Deus Ex might be okay places to start.

    I think the id thing has wound down. The scene is changing. I’m not sure where it’s going.

  4. What I always loved about Doom was this feeling of anger, hate and despair it could project on to me. It’s raw and… it works its magic everytime I play it. I can’t think of any other games that can evoke this aggressiveness and at the same time satisfy it like Doom does.

    Many games can make me laugh. Many games can give me a certain sense of fear or even loneliness. But if I get angry while playing then it’s probably because of bad level design or unbalanced gameplay. This is anger I can’t live out through the game. It gets me mad and throws me out of the whole experience. Doom on the other hand utilizes this emotion to keep me going.

    I’m looking forward to Killer 7 to do the same.

  5. “Doom’s console sensibility extends from its controls (as with Wolf3D, it’s made to be played without a mouse; the mouse only really enters when you have a Z axis to worry about) to its level design and (as someone noted) pacing, to its monster designs, to its set pieces and its idea of secret areas and items.

    For one, the game just drools charisma. We all can rattle off most of the monsters in Super Mario Bros. and Zelda. We know Brinstar like the backs of our hands. There is a certain iconography even to the level design: even if on a cursory glance it might not stand out as anything special, it bores into the consciousness just as well as a cheep-cheep or a zoomer. Everything is placed preciously, exactly because there is no template to fall back on.”

    Right about here you start to loose focus of the subject. I think I followed you though it, and then the paragraph after, but some clearifycation my be in order for subject… and just what the hell cheep-cheeps have to do with hellspawn.

    You also never discuss Heretic or Hexen.

  6. I haven’t played either of the System Shock games, but I’ve heard great things. Deus Ex just didn’t grab me the right way. I admire what they were trying to do, but somehow it just didn’t gel for me. The Thief series is worth a look, too.

  7. DOOM was also one of the most stylistic PC games ever. For some reason, and part of me thinks it has to do with the fact that we still suck at modeling polygons, and part of me thinks it has to do with the fact that stylistic charisma (like you mention) just doesn’t fit in with the US PC game environment for some reason, DOOM just oozes with style. I miss that style, and it makes me wonder what the hell id was thinking with DOOM 3.

    Exhibit A:) The Shotgun.

    The Shotgun is what pulled me into DOOM. The standard-looking barrel emits a powerful white-and-red blast with a thud you can feel in your subwoofer, then the most ass-kicking sprite of the hand comes up, takes up about 1/5 of the screen, and cocks the gun with a satisfying cha-CHINK! Playing the gba version of DOOM II the other day, and the shotgun still makes me smile. It is every bit as memorable as anything in a Nintendo game.

    The shotgun in DOOM 3 has no style. In fact, the guns, starting with Quake, just started sucking. I mean, the Quake guns don’t even *look* like weapons.

    Apparently it is easier to implement style into 2d weapons. DOOM, Duke 3d, Marathon, Quarantine, and even PO’ed have some of the most memorable weapons in shooter history, even when the graphic technology at the time left much to the imagination.

    The double barrel shotgun has a nice animation as well.

    3d FPS designers – I say cut the polys of the gun in half and make the damn hands so you can inject some life into your weapons. They’ve been dead since 1996.

    Exhibit B.) The DOOM Guy’s face:

    As you stare through his eyes, he stares back at you. Sure it was a little holdover from Wolf 3d, but id’s generic characters have never been cooler than the DOOM guy.

    From the way he starts to purple and bleed when damaged to the sadistic sneer as he fires round after chaingun round to the pupil-less glowing yellow eyes of God Mode, the DOOM Guy was the literal face of DOOM.

    So, now FPSs are too realistic to have unnecessary HUD items like a character portrait. They also have lost some character, even when focusing on a “real plot” and “development.”

    I’d follow Retro’s example from Metroid Prime. Have the character’s portrait reflect off of his/her visor in certain conditions. I about jumped out of my chair the first time I saw that in Prime. Let players turn the option on or off.

    In half-life, you *are* Gordan Freeman. Id seems to confuse *being the character* with *the character being you*. I want to be a character. I don’t want the main character in a game to be me. I’m just a dork playing a game afterall.

  8. I don’t know about style and 2D weapons versus 3D weapons.

    The tactical 12-gauge in Timesplitters 2 has plenty of style with its reload. There is just something about firing six or seven shells, hitting reload, listening to the ka-chunk ka-chunk ka-chunk, and never breaking stride in your walk across the battlefield for the whole process. Though you can skip the whole process (the game has an automatic instant reload when you switch weapons), it is still something to do. You can even treat it as a taunt when playing splitscreen.

    Things like the TS2 TNT and the mines from Perfect Dark have a kind of style when you stick them to someone’s head. :) (Note, the other explosives in TS2 don’t have that style with wimpy explosions and poor design.)

    Shogo had some style, even if it could have used some more work. Then again, how can you not have style when you are actually in a giant robot, fighting both robots and people in power armor.

    I think some of the 2D feeling of style is in part the nostalgia. The first FPS chainguns, shotguns, pistols, chainsaws, time bombs, etc. If you put a chainsaw in a modern FPS, it will be compared to the memories and feelings of the first game or two where a player had a chainsaw. If it doesn’t clearly trump that experience, then people will see it as “yet another chainsaw.” And basic weapon ideas have been done plenty of times already, so anything remotely sane will be facing pre-existing competition. Everything from blunt objects through BFGs has been covered.

    Then there is the insane. Take things too far, and people will realize you are just stretching for ideas, or went a bit loopy. Alien/futuristic weapons in FPS fall into this area, where developers try to make something that looks new and players just see something that looks weird or has a silly design. Also, the attempts at mega-uber weapons fall into this area, like if you were to make a 10 foot chainsaw of hot flaming death.

  9. Hell yeah. I love the shotguns in Doom 1&2 as if they were my brothers.

    The problem with FPSs, and in fact lots of other games too, is that most developers just don’t know what they want to do with their games. What is this game all about? They should ask themselves that question and then think hard how you’re actually going to do it. Don’t be afraid to follow through with it. And pay some goddamn attention to the details while you’re at it.

    Take Max Payne for example. They dared to make a game that was technically a 3rd person shooter but felt just like an FPS. Remedy did what they had to do. If that makes a multiplayer mode impossible, fine. That’s not the prime objective anyway. (And they also made a 3rd person camera systems that never got in the way and, no, doesn’t suck.)

    Serious Sam is another fine example for game design pulled off right.

    System Shock 2 as well.

    No One Lives Forever.

    These games have their own style. A style that makes sense. They are brought to live by it. They use polygons. It can’t be the fault of the polygons alone that we have so many lifeless and uninspired games to wade through.

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    On Friday (10.Dec.) it’s Doom’s 11th birthday.

  10. Hi, Inmatarian of the #neocesspool journal.

    Inmate: ABSORB, THEN RETURN FEEDBACK!
    Megas: I personally liked Doom more then most other FPSii. And for the same reason that Half Life is a good game. The Issue of “Do you assume the role, or are you the role in of itself?” I never liked games that put the player in the game, in as close to the literal sense as technically possible. I liked to play the nameless Doom Marine, with that short blond hair and vicious smile. FPSii suffer because they forget that there is a person behind that point of view. Now, as for the game itself, most FPSii forget that the environment is a character also. Doom gave those levels some character. Being able to look out a window and see some Imp demons wandering around down on the courtyard, looking around to see where that sound came from.
    Inny: Doom did have some charm to it.
    Megas: So, yes, I agree with Aderack.
    Inny: Okay. Take what you’ve said and dump it on his LJ. XD

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