I was looking at Bethesda’s 2015 E3 presentation of the new Doom and I had some thoughts. Mainly they were about how what we were seeing WASN’T a Doom game and how modern developers either don’t understand what made Doom fun or don’t care. I mean, they don’t have to care because the brand name sells itself, but still.
One of the things that Doom was praised for was the speed of its gameplay and quantity of monsters to kill. Doom 3 was later derided for its lack of speed and lack of monsters. And now New Doom/Doom4 also looks pretty slow and pretty absent of hordes of monsters.
What developers like Bethesda and New id may not realize is that the speed of the the original Doom wasn’t just about the physical speed of the player.
There’s certain prerequisites that you need to meet before you can have a fast paced game with tons of monsters to kill: the visual communication of the playspace must be clear to the player; the types of monsters must be visually distinct from each other and from the environment; the playspace must be large and conducive to a range of movement; and the monsters have to actually be slower than the player.
A lot of that has to do with communicating to the player quickly and clearly. The more clear your visual design and enemy design happens to be, the faster the player can interpret the playspace, and the faster he can make decisions, leading to a faster gameplay.
But let’s take a look.
1) Visual design of levels.
The original Doom wasn’t dark. Sure, it had dark areas, but most of the levels were really, really bright and colorful. The walls, floors, ceilings, and doors all had unique textures that clearly and instantly communicated to the player what was what. Often the texturing and lighting were used to dramatically delineated different areas of the map.
All of this worked to communicate to the player the nature of the playspace in a fast and efficient manner. The player’s brain could instantly process everything he was seeing and immediately make decisions based on that.
However, looking at the E3 Doom demo, the first thing I noticed was that there’s something off about the visual design.
I think it’s that everything kind of blends together, everything kind of looks the same. The first single player level they showed was washed out in oranges and yellows, and the only change of pace was when everything was super dark. And even when everything was bathed in a molten yellow glow it still FELT dark for some reason.
Having this kind of visual homogeneity (in addition to looking boring) forces the pace of the game to slow down because the player’s brain has to spend a little extra time making sense of the environment; it takes longer to notice the differences between two similar things than between two very different things. And even if he’s slowed down by only one tenth of a second that still adds up over the course of the game and slows down the gameplay in general.
2) Visual design of enemies
The original Doom had enemies that were all very visually distinct from each other. Aside from the evil marines, each demon looked different than every other demon in terms of color scheme, shape, and general visual design. The enemies also stood out because they were visually distinct from their environment and didn’t blend in with the floors and walls (usually).
As soon as the player saw a group of enemies he instantly knew what kind of attacks to expect and what way he wanted to engage the enemies. And because the environment was so visually well communicated the player instantly knew where he could move and where the monsters could move.
Now in Doom 4 the monsters kind of blend in with the environment. To some degree this must be because of the lighting engine. If your engine bathes everything in yellow light then all of it is going to look the same to a degree. Even without the lighting though, the enemies look like they’re using the same color and texture as the environment.
Not only that, a lot of the monsters just look the same. They’re slightly different sizes, they use different attacks, but it’s sometimes hard (at least for me) to easily tell them apart. (A lot of them seem to have a dome for a face, and look a lot like Hive Thrall from Destiny.) Even when they look different in terms of their shape (so it’s easy to distinguish them) their similar color scheme and texturing makes them look similar to each other (so the visuals are just boring to look at).
There was one point in the demo when the player is walking down a narrow corridor towards three standing enemies and then another enemy teleports right in front of them. Now I think the teleporting monsters is a different enemy type than the three standing monsters, but I’m not really sure because everything looks the same.
Similarly to the environmental design, if the enemy design is homogeneous then it slows down the pace of the game because the player will unconsciously take longer to make sense of what he’s seeing before deciding what to do.
3) Speed of enemies
In Doom, it was the player who was fast and the monsters that were slow. The player was empowered, not the enemies.
Looking at the E3 demo of New Doom you can see that the player is relatively slow compared to the monsters. A lot of the monsters are running around, climbing up ledges and what not.
The problem is this. The slower the monsters are, the faster the player can play because it’s easier to aim and shoot a slow target. The faster the monsters happen to be, the more the player has to slow down to assist his aiming.
So speeding up the monsters unintentionally slows down the gameplay.
4) Combat spaces and number of enemies
The most fun portions of Doom were the ones with interconnecting play spaces that offered a lot of room for maneuverability and for taking cover. Usually this maneuvering space was restricted in order to create tension or add difficulty, but also sometimes just due to bad map design.
The point is that the open combat spaces gave the player more options and more freedom to move around however he saw fit (this was also helped by how he could outrun all the enemies). This made for a more fun and engaging game.
Looking at the E3 presentation of Doom 4 it’s clear that the playspaces are small and narrow. Most of the areas are linear corridors. Even the bridges over lava which look like they’re in an open visual space are actually in a very narrow playspace that only gives the player the option of going forward or backward.
And in addition to being less fun and engaging, one of the side effects when you create such small areas is that you naturally have to reduce the number of enemies the player encounters in each space.
Throughout the E3 demo the player only fought, at most, 3-4 enemies at a time and often it was just one enemy at a time. Compare that to the original Doom where you could face around 10 enemies at a time on a regular basis.
All of that works to slow down the game and make it less engaging. If your monsters are fast, then the player needs to slow down to deal with them. If your playspaces are small and narrow, then you need to reduce the number of monsters, and the player isn’t as engaged. If the monsters all look the same and the environment all looks the same, then this increases the time the player needs to process everything that’s taking place on screen which slows down the player’s gameplay style as well.
So, basically, most of what made the original Doom work as a fun, fast, visceral was game ignored for the E3 demo of Doom 4. Bethesda/id went in favor of making a generic “next gen” corridor shooter. There is none of the exhilarating “flow” from the original.
And I didn’t even talk about how the kills in Doom 4 don’t look nearly as satisfying as the kills in the original Doom.
The point is, this new Doom that Bethesda showed off at E3, it’s not Doom. Just like Doom 3 that came before it, it’s a very different game than Doom but with the same branding, that’s all.