From Hell

We break out a dou­ble-bar­relled shot­gun and find out how Doom’s fu­ture is be­ing guided g ded by its past

EDGE - - SECTIONS - BY BEN MAXWELL

On step­ping into Id Soft­ware’s Richard­son of­fices we’re warmly wel­comed by Donna Jack­son, the com­pany’s larger than life – and thor­oughly Texan – of­fice man­ager. Bet­ter known as Miss Donna or Id Mom, she sits be­hind a re­cep­tion desk that’s po­si­tioned in front of a wall-to-wall glass cab­i­net stuffed full of tro­phies and Id his­tory. “How y’all do­ing?” she asks, elated that we could make it all the way from Eng­land to visit. She joined the com­pany 24 years ago, back when John Car­mack was still wrestling with the task of re­pur­pos­ing the Hover­tank 3D and Cat­a­comb 3-D en­gine for what would be­come Wolfen­stein 3D. Car­mack, along with the rest of the com­pany’s founders, has long since left, which makes Miss Donna – fit­tingly sat in front of a dis­play that in­cludes mint-con­di­tion game pack­ag­ing and model Cy­berdemons – Id’s long­est-serv­ing mem­ber of staff. She’s the stu­dio’s last link to its for­ma­tive era. We smile back, just as happy to be here as she is, but it’s a sober­ing re­al­i­sa­tion.

Now un­der the aus­pices of ZeniMax Me­dia, Id is a very dif­fer­ent com­pany to the one that spawned an en­tire genre from a lake house over two decades ago. More re­cently, Rage saw a stu­dio strug­gling to find its place in an in­dus­try it helped to bol­ster, while the lat­est Doom’s pro­tracted de­vel­op­ment ini­tially put the com­pany on the back foot. Now, emerg­ing from years of de­vel­op­ment hell, the game is the first ev­i­dence of the com­pany get­ting back on track af­ter a tu­mul­tuous stretch. But given that the in­dus­try celebri­ties who used to per­son­ify Id have de­parted, who’s driv­ing the com­pany? Who is Id to­day?

“It’s in­ter­est­ing that you say, ‘Who is id?’ as I think that gets to part of the an­swer,” ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Marty Strat­ton tells us. “Id has al­ways been a rel­a­tively small com­pany and the peo­ple, his­tor­i­cally, who’ve been here are pretty big per­son­al­i­ties. I’d say that Id was pre­vi­ously kind of a ‘who’ and now I feel like we’re more of a team in what we’re do­ing. We re­ally try to put it all into the game and let the game speak for it­self. There are def­i­nitely ‘whos’ – we’ve got ex­tra­or­di­nary peo­ple, ex­tra­or­di­nary tal­ent, like we’ve al­ways had – but the im­por­tant thing is what we do as a unit, not nec­es­sar­ily as in­di­vid­u­als. Doom is big­ger than any one of us.”

That weight of ex­pec­ta­tion was felt keenly back in 2011, when three years of work on a new Doom pro­ject was deemed un­wor­thy of the se­ries’ name and ef­fec­tively scrapped. Two years later, de­spite the fresh start, the pro­ject was still mired in de­vel­op­ment dif­fi­cul­ties and ten­sion be­tween stu­dio man­age­ment and ZeniMax. Fur­ther pres­sure was placed on the stu­dio by the rel­a­tive com­mer­cial fail­ure of Rage and the sub­se­quent pub­lisher-en­forced can­cel­la­tion of Rage 2. But, hav­ing now re­or­gan­ised the way it works and re­fo­cused its ef­forts on what it does best, Id is bounc­ing back. And this change of ap­proach has re­sulted in a game that ap­pears to be ab­so­lutely wor­thy of car­ry­ing the iconic Doom logo.

“Top to bot­tom, ev­ery per­son here makes sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to the game,” Strat­ton con­tin­ues. “We’re lucky we’re still the size that ev­ery­body knows each oth­ers’ names and can fit in the kitchen for birth­day cel­e­bra­tions. I think that ca­ma­raderie and our re­spect for the fran­chise are what’s most ex­cit­ing. For any­body who’s been a part of Doom or had a Doom story over the past 22 years, I think they’re go­ing to play this game and be like, ‘OK, this is what I would ex­pect a mod­ern Doom ex­pe­ri­ence to feel like.’”

One of the el­e­ments that de­fined the orig­i­nal Doom was the tech­nol­ogy that brought it to life on the screen. Car­mack’s as­ton­ish­ing cod­ing pro­fi­ciency en­abled Id to cre­ate a game that looked, and moved, like noth­ing else. De­spite his ab­sence, the new Doom is built on a Car­mack-au­thored en­gine, too – a re­worked ver­sion of Id Tech 5, the tech that un­der­pins Rage and Car­mack’s part­ing gift to the stu­dio. And even with­out Car­mack’s in­volve­ment at the com­pany nowa­days, Id re­mains ded­i­cated to push­ing tech­no­log­i­cal bound­aries.

“John was hugely in­flu­en­tial, ob­vi­ously,” Strat­ton says. “His fin­ger­prints were a big part of ev­ery­thing that Doom was, and you can’t make a [new] Doom game that’s in­spired by an orig­i­nal Doom with­out say­ing that Car­mack is a part of it, be­cause it would be silly to deny years and years of tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise and in­flu­ence. But when he left, we ba­si­cally just said, ‘OK, let’s move on.’ John was a very well-known part of Id – to a lot of peo­ple he was Id. But there are a lot of peo­ple here who worked along­side John who were less well-known but learned a lot from him and were a mas­sive part of build­ing the tech­nolo­gies that we’re known for. They’re now lead­ing our new tech­nol­ogy team, which I think is as strong as ever, frankly.”

Along with the (rel­a­tively) old guard, Strat­ton also points out the stu­dio “got lucky” with a num­ber of hires around the time of Car­mack’s de­par­ture and, as a re­sult, along with open­ing a tech stu­dio in Ger­many, now has a truly in­ter­na­tional pool of tal­ent to draw from. “We’ve evolved. We’ve adapted, and I think we’re hon­estly bet­ter for it,” he says. “It’s al­ways been our mantra that we’re go­ing to be the best-look­ing FPS on the mar­ket. Peo­ple will make their own de­ter­mi­na­tions, but I’m re­ally happy with where we’re at.”

An ap­peal­ingly dis­cor­dant rush of metal­lic sur­faces, gothic ar­chi­tec­ture and chunky weapons that is at once fa­mil­iar and fresh, it cer­tainly looks the part. And the whole lot thun­ders along at an un­wa­ver­ing 60fps in 1080p, ex­ud­ing the kind of con­fi­dent so­lid­ity that so many of its peers lack. Ev­ery­thing is rooted in the aes­thetic of the first two games, but mod­ernised with a self-dep­re­cat­ing rev­er­ence that’s in keep­ing with the spirit of those pi­o­neer­ing orig­i­nals. The Ca­codemons

still look patently ridicu­lous, for ex­am­ple, but the bi­o­log­i­cal plau­si­bil­ity born of the in­crease in de­tail and res­o­lu­tion makes their ap­pear­ance all the more grotesque and their pres­ence gen­uinely dis­qui­et­ing.

When we sit down with the game, an­other more strik­ing dif­fer­ence in the en­e­mies be­comes ap­par­ent: they’ve gained a ter­ri­fy­ing turn of speed. As a re­sult, there’s no time to stand still, much less at­tempt to strike up a con­ver­sa­tion. Spi­dery Imps climb the walls to cut off our es­cape route as we back away from the out­pour­ing of a Man­cubus’s flamethrower; Revenants bom­bard us with plumes of fast-mov­ing rock­ets while an ar­moured pink De­mon charges straight for our po­si­tion; and now a pair of mus­cu­lar Barons has en­tered the fray, one of them catch­ing us off guard as it leaps a cou­ple of storeys from ground level to reach the plat­form that will im­mi­nently serve as our fi­nal rest­ing place. “If you stop mov­ing,” we’re warned prior to tack­ling the sec­tion on Ul­tra Vi­o­lence dif­fi­culty, “you’re dead”. We heed the ad­vice, but ex­pire any­way.

It’s en­tirely our fault. We’ve been fur­nished with a dou­ble jump, the abil­ity to man­tle up sur­faces, and the newly ac­ro­batic Doomguy’s no slouch when run­ning ei­ther. We sim­ply weren’t pre­pared for the fe­roc­ity of our en­e­mies’ re­sponse in kind.

“You can’t give the player all th­ese tra­ver­sal abil­i­ties, but not give the en­e­mies more at­tack abil­i­ties to bal­ance that out – it au­to­mat­i­cally ups the ante,” ex­plains a grin­ning Hugo Martin, Id Soft­ware’s art di­rec­tor, as we reel from the on­slaught. “We wanted it to be as fast and as fun and as fluid as it could be, so we just kept push­ing that bar up higher and higher un­til we felt like it was as high as we could go. We didn’t nec­es­sar­ily set out and say, ‘This is how fast we want the game to be.’ We just nat­u­rally let it land where it wanted to land.”

The flow­ing com­bat is fur­ther sup­ported by the game’s elab­o­rate Glory Kill sys­tem. In­flict enough dam­age on an en­emy and you’ll put them into a stag­gered state, in which they flash blue from a dis­tance, and or­ange when you move into range. Click the right thumb stick or hit E and you’ll per­form a con­textsen­si­tive take­down that varies ac­cord­ing to your an­gle of ap­proach. You’ll get ex­tra ammo and some health for your ef­fort, along with a quick, amus­ingly grue­some an­i­ma­tion. It’s not just a ser­vice to gore­hounds: the setup also pro­vides an ef­fec­tive way to man­age the large num­bers of fast-mov­ing en­e­mies, al­low­ing for tough foes to be rapidly ex­punged from a fra­cas or tem­po­rar­ily taken out of the equa­tion while stag­gered.

Mar­ried to the glory kills is an­other layer of depth in the form of player char­ac­ter con­fig­u­ra­tions. We’re only given a brief look at this as­pect, since the stu­dio isn’t yet ready to show its en­tire hand, but the cur­rency you earn from glory kills can be spent on al­ter­na­tive weapon fir­ing modes and game­play mod­i­fiers. If you pre­fer a safety net, for in­stance, you could boost the amount of ammo and health you re­ceive from kills, and even have an op­por­tu­nity to come back from the dead. More ag­gres­sive play­ers can sate their blood­lust with faster glory kill an­i­ma­tions and a re­sul­tant speed boost that pro­pels you across the room to­wards your next tar­gets.

The al­ter­na­tive fir­ing modes, mean­while, are mapped to the left trig­ger in place of ADS (al­though one weapon, the Light­ning Gun, does al­low you to scope with its alt mode), and each weapon can have two mods at­tached at any one time, al­ter­nated us­ing up on the D-pad. The shot­gun can fire a triple-burst shot for fin­ish­ing off sticky op­po­nents, while the plasma ri­fle is ca­pa­ble of stun­ning en­e­mies. Then there’s the for­mi­da­ble triple tur­ret mode on the mini­gun (use­ful for tak­ing down a lum­ber­ing Man­cubus) and the rocket launcher’s pro­jec­tiles can be det­o­nated prior to im­pact, al­low­ing you to get cre­ative with your splash dam­age.

Al­though it sounds com­plex on pa­per, in prac­tice all of this quickly hangs to­gether in­tu­itively, but that doesn’t mean bal­anc­ing it has been an easy task. “Ev­ery time we’d get to­gether to talk about adding fea­tures to the game, it was tricky. I mean, ev­ery­thing is new,” Martin ex­plains. “That’s why it was crit­i­cal for us to set up fil­ters – what we felt was the tone of our game. So when­ever some­thing new came in, of course we’d playtest it and eval­u­ate it and all that usual stuff, but we also made sure that tone-wise it fit­ted our game. We want to make sure we’re clear on the type of ex­pe­ri­ence we’re try­ing to make – a game that’s all about push­for­ward com­bat. That com­bat is king in our game.”

That same line of think­ing has driven a mas­ter­ful in­ter­weav­ing of en­e­mies’ com­plex, ag­gres­sive be­hav­iours. The stu­dio sees its bes­tiary of hellspawn as chess pieces, de­signed to in­flu­ence play­ers’ de­ci­sions on the fly. “Each time we added a new en­emy, we’d ask, ‘Does it make you move? Does it make you think?’ Martin ex­plains. “We didn’t want mind­less bul­let sponges – each char­ac­ter pro­motes a cer­tain type of move­ment in the player. And they all work to­gether – you can’t have ev­ery guy be a pres­sure unit, be­cause then all of a sud­den you get pushed into a cor­ner and start kit­ing guys, and all you’re do­ing is run­ning back­wards and shoot­ing.”

De­spite the bloody shower of new ideas and me­chan­ics, then, Id’s lat­est is a thun­der­ous call­back to the first two games. Faster and more ag­gres­sive, granted, and cer­tainly smarter than be­fore, but the lin­eage is clear. Id Soft­ware has left the creep­ing dread of Doom 3’s wind­ing dark cor­ri­dors be­hind and fo­cused once again on the joy of mov­ing quickly through an en­vi­ron­ment while us­ing a ridicu­lously over­sized shot­gun to splat­ter its sur­faces with de­mon en­trails. And for this rea­son, Doom feels like, well, Doom.

64

Game Doom

De­vel­oper Id Soft­ware Pub­lisher Bethesda Soft­works For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Ori­gin US

Re­lease 2016

FROM TOP Stu­dio art di­rec­tor Hugo Martin; ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Marty Strat­ton

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