Texas Gunfire

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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.