Not Doom, E3 2015: how Bethesda fails to understand Doom

doom shotgun hallway

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.

doom lighting monster

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.

doom imp

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.

2015 hell

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.

2015 foundry 2

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

doom shotgun hallway

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.

2015 enemies blending in

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).

2015 more enemies blending in

doom lotsa monsters

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

doom big green room

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.

doom big battle

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.

2015 monster walkway

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.

doom brown room

CONCLUSION

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.

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10 comments

    • Philtron

      You obviously don’t know what “nerdbait” means. It’s when someone makes a deliberate error to incite argument; it’s an inherently valueless act meant to create artificial controversy.

      Kind of like your comment.

      Like

  1. yosef yonin

    i completely agree with this article

    i have 0 expectations from the new doom. the new title just shows how stagnant and soulless the games industry has become.

    people need to wake up and avoid this game untill it gets positive reviews

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hectrix

    Pretty much my thoughts. Generic cartoony monster design (despite that Doom 3 was different, I was fascinated by the monsters, especially Pinky), narrow corridors, slow gameplay, not many enemies on the screen, bad damage model (if it was good, there wouldn’t be need for these fatality animations), etc.

    Honestly, Shadow Warrior 2 looks better than the new Doom, and we’re talking about a small (nearly indie-size) polish studio. What happened to id Software…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Philtron

      Your comment makes no sense. First of all you’re telling me to relax, except I don’t come off as angry or worried, so that doesn’t make sense. You mention that I have like three readers, but what is that supposed to have to do with anything; nothing, apparently. And then there’s the fact that your personal enjoyment of playing a game has nothing to do with understanding that game from an analytical perspective. Or are you trying to tell me to relax because you’ll enjoy the game, so I shouldn’t worry about anything because you’ll enjoy the new Doom? Either way what you’re saying makes no sense and you’re basically just wasting time saying things that have nothing to do with what I wrote.

      Like

  3. Pingback: Doom creators get together to make a more classic Doom game “Blackroom” using UE4. – Evocca Brisbane Games
  4. Clint Hobson

    This is a very thoughtful, well written article and says more than I ever hoped to about the new Doom compared to the old. I’ve been sharing it around (eg. at work,as I’m a tutor in a game dev course at Evocca college) as an example of good game design. In fact I shared it in a newsletter I write for the college!
    https://evoccagames.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/doom-creators-get-together-to-make-a-more-classic-doom-game-blackroom-using-ue4/

    Let’s not be misunderstood as being hardcore fanatics that will never be pleased with any remake, but take the time to make an objective analysis and improve our game design abilities.

    Everyone is enjoying Doom 4 though – I’ve yet to play it myself, but I will. I’m sure it’s a frantic fun shooter. And kudos to them for creating that feel. But I feel your analysis will still hold out in a direct comparison.

    Classic Doom is what you get when some people get together to make a fun new idea and put their heart and soul into it. Doom 4 is what you get when… well, I wouldn’t say the team had no fun and weren’t excited at all, but it’s heavily influenced by modern FPS standards. They are too afraid to deviate too far and do things like; scale back the graphic quality or level complexity to allow for more enemies on screen at once, and experiment with the art style enough to allow for a more variety of interesting colours and character designs.

    And this can be done – it’s done well in Ziggurat, which is a homage to Hexen (same engine as classic Doom). It’s fast, chaotic, and everything is varied and easily readable, and the levels are colourful and beautiful. But it’s an indie game and they aren’t as afraid to break the mould. And there are other games that also re-create this feel – Tower of Guns, Hard Reset, etc. all indie games.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Philtron

      Thank you for sharing this article with people you know. I’m glad you found it so interesting and informative. I hope other people feel the same way.

      I also have not had a chance to play Doom 4. From everything I’ve heard, however, the game was made by two completely separate teams and this results in the multiplayer being a boring knock off of every other modern shooter, but that the single player actually feels “classic” with no fall damage, no iron sights, no reloading, etc. This makes me a little optimistic, but I’m not completely sold. Everything I’ve seen since the release suggests the visual clarity of playspaces still isn’t great, the playspaces are still cramped and narrow, and you only fight 3 enemies at a time AT MOST.

      I agree with you that their refusal to scale back the graphics to appeal to the lowest common denominator of modern gamers is an issue. The high graphics means they have to have smaller visual areas and fewer enemies on screen, and it doesn’t even look that great. With something like Doom you’d think they’d go for more stylized visual design, but whatever.

      I’m also intrigued by John Romero’s and Adrian Carmack’s new project. Hopefully it’ll be something to write home about.

      Like

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