The Mak­ing Of…


EDGE - - SECTIONS - BY ED­WARD SMITH De­vel­oper Id Soft­ware Pub­lisher Bethesda For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Ori­gin US Re­lease 2016

Why Id Soft­ware threw out its old iden­tity, and the game de­sign rule­book, to rein­vent Doom

How Id threw out its old iden­tity, years of work and the game de­sign rule­book to rein­vent a clas­sic

Doom. Marty Strat­ton had thought he’d known the mean­ing of the word. But only now, look­ing back at three years of hard de­vel­op­ment work and re­al­is­ing it would all have to be thrown out, did he truly un­der­stand. Bin­ning dozens of your de­sign­ers’ lev­els and con­cepts, telling the pub­lisher you were aban­don­ing a project and would need the money to start from scratch – this was doom. Strat­ton and Id had made Hell for them­selves. It just wasn’t the kind they’d in­tended. Pro­duc­tion on what was orig­i­nally called

Doom 4 had started back in 2008. Strat­ton had over­seen cre­ative di­rec­tion; John Car­mack, the last of Id’s four orig­i­nal founders to re­main at the stu­dio, had de­signed and it­er­ated Id Tech, the game’s en­gine. Doom was not only Id’s flag­ship se­ries but one of the most fa­mous names in all of videogames, so Strat­ton and his team had wanted to make the new it­er­a­tion the best it could be. Which was why, come the be­gin­ning of 2012, all of their work had to be scrapped.

“It’s not that it was bad,” Strat­ton ex­plains. “I’ve worked at Id for al­most 20 years and it doesn’t do any­thing bad. But we changed di­rec­tion be­cause, when we got to the point when the game was tan­gi­ble and we were fo­cus­ing on it prop­erly, we started to ques­tion whether this was re­ally the fu­ture of Doom.

Doom 4 had a real-world set­ting. You were play­ing along with mul­ti­ple char­ac­ters, it took place in a US city and there were big set-pieces. It was very cin­e­matic, very grand. In two words, it was a ‘more se­ri­ous’ ver­sion of Doom.”

Strat­ton knew the game had to go, but af­ter three years in de­vel­op­ment – and with many more now needed – he was doubt­ful about

Doom’s fu­ture. ZeniMax Me­dia had ac­quired Id in 2009; its sub­sidiary, Bethesda, was now the stu­dio’s fi­nancier. If the pub­lisher wasn’t sold on

Doom’s to­tal change of di­rec­tion, it would likely pull the plug. But Bethesda signed off on pro­duc­tion of a new, reimag­ined Doom.

“I give Bethesda a lot of credit for stick­ing with us through that pe­riod,” Strat­ton says. “A lot of pub­lish­ers wouldn’t have sup­ported such a big change, es­pe­cially at that level of in­vest­ment. It was tough. It’s one of those things, as a game de­vel­oper, you never want to do.”

With years of aban­doned con­cepts be­hind them, Strat­ton and team had a good idea of what the game was not. It wasn’t set in the real world. It wasn’t lin­ear or scripted, and it wasn’t filled with dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters. The ac­cepted model for con­tem­po­rary shoot­ers didn’t ap­ply to

Doom – it wasn’t Call Of Duty or Bat­tle­field. So what was it? When mod­ern videogame play­ers thought the word ‘doom’, what was in their minds? Hugo Martin had the an­swer. A free­lance char­ac­ter artist who’d pre­vi­ously worked at Naughty Dog and on the movie


Pa­cific Rim, he ar­rived at Id in 2013 and quickly gave Doom its unique iden­tity.

“I spent a lot of time in in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty de­vel­op­ment in LA,” Martin tells us. “Ev­ery­one there has some­thing they’re try­ing to de­velop. They want it to be a brand that has legs, so they can have an an­i­mated se­ries and a comic book and so on. Work­ing there, I’d picked up a lot. So the first night I ar­rived at Id, Marty and I started talk­ing about the Doom brand. We wanted Doom to be a sig­nif­i­cant mo­ment in pop cul­ture, for peo­ple to look back at 2016 and think about Doom. We had hours of con­ver­sa­tions try­ing to fig­ure out what made

Doom cool. We did lots of lit­tle ex­er­cises. For ex­am­ple, we’d go to Google, type in ‘Doom’ and see what came up. That was a great lit­mus test to see what con­sumers thought of the brand.

“The orig­i­nal Doom had a punk rock spirit. It was some­thing you played in your base­ment

and it felt a bit wrong. You didn’t get a trickle of blood – you got a foun­tain. But it wasn’t mean­spir­ited. When you watched peo­ple play­ing the early Doom games, they were smil­ing. That’s some­thing games to­day have stopped try­ing to do – make you smile. So we tapped into that re­ac­tion as early as we could.”

By now, it wasn’t just the new Doom that was chang­ing; Id Soft­ware it­self was, too. In April 2013, 22 years af­ter co-found­ing it, John Car­mack left the stu­dio to join Ocu­lus VR. Martin was el­e­vated from con­cept artist to art di­rec­tor and fi­nally cre­ative di­rec­tor of what was now sim­ply called Doom, while Strat­ton was hir­ing in dozens of new de­sign­ers and pro­gram­mers to help the game take shape. What was once a top-down pro­duc­tion – fronted by Car­mack, the last re­main­ing face of Id – be­came flat­ter and more col­lab­o­ra­tive. The ini­tial panic fol­low­ing

Doom 4’ s can­cel­la­tion was turn­ing to co­op­er­a­tion and pro­duc­tiv­ity.

“Taken on the sur­face, John’s de­par­ture felt like it was go­ing to be a chal­lenge,” Strat­ton says. “You can’t work with some­one like John for as long as most of us had by that point and not have a tinge of worry. But soon af­ter he left, I said to my­self, ‘There are a lot of games out there made with­out John Car­mack’. John, like any­one of his ilk, wanted to do things his way. His leav­ing let us try other ideas. Peo­ple who had worked un­der John were able to come for­ward and sug­gest dif­fer­ent things.

“Plus, we were al­ready talk­ing to a lot of tal­ented de­vel­op­ers and hir­ing across the board. Shortly af­ter John left, we hired Ti­ago Sousa from Cry­tek, a su­per-tal­ented engi­neer. And we had en­gi­neers here al­ready who were amaz­ing, peo­ple who had been work­ing on Id Tech for ten or 15 years. When I started work­ing here, I had blink­ers on and thought John and peo­ple like him were ma­gi­cians. But his leav­ing Id cre­ated a new cul­ture, a ral­ly­ing-around, team men­tal­ity. We had a whole new vi­sion about how we could ap­proach tech­nol­ogy.”

One thing, how­ever, re­mained a con­stant. Like its 1993 name­sake, when Doom launched, it had to stand at the cut­ting edge of graph­ics per­for­mance. Con­se­quently, Id Tech 6, the lat­est ver­sion of John Car­mack’s bench­mark-set­ting game en­gine, was con­stantly be­ing it­er­ated upon and im­proved. Over the course of Doom’s de­vel­op­ment, Id’s tech­nol­ogy team cre­ated

dozens of new tools for the level and game­play de­sign­ers. Tex­tures be­came more de­tailed, an­i­ma­tions faster and smoother. Where typ­i­cally a game de­vel­oper builds or li­censes an en­gine, then sticks to it through­out pro­duc­tion, Id was un­lock­ing the power of its tech as it went.

“There were a lot of times – and this speaks to the pas­sion of the whole team – where a tech­nol­ogy change would mean go­ing back over old lev­els and up­dat­ing them,” Strat­ton says. “We ar­rived at phys­i­cally based tex­ture ren­der­ing part way through de­vel­op­ment, and that re­quired the artists to go back and redo a lot of tex­tures. Again, it was one of the things, as a game de­vel­oper, that you didn’t want to do. But when peo­ple saw what the tech­nol­ogy would let them do, they put in the ex­tra hours and tried to push it as hard as they could.”

This type of col­lab­o­ra­tion was a cor­ner­stone of the new Id Soft­ware. Strat­ton, Martin and the other direc­tors asked for – and re­ceived – a lot of hard work. In kind, ev­ery­one on the Doom team, re­gard­less of role or se­nior­ity, was given a voice at cre­ative meet­ings. “If you had good ideas and could make good con­tri­bu­tions, we were go­ing to have you in the meet­ings,” Martin says. “We’d go around the of­fice, find all the peo­ple do­ing good work and make sure their work got el­e­vated. I pulled in so many peo­ple to the stake­holder meet­ings, it was crazy.”

“I don’t know that Doom would have felt as uni­fied if we’d had a for­mula and a mas­sive pre-pro­duc­tion schedule,” Strat­ton adds. “The way

Doom came about, ba­si­cally, was a lot of peo­ple be­ing sud­denly pushed to­gether. And as long as the stu­dio cul­ture stayed like this – ideas can come from any­where; best idea wins – these things kept com­ing. It wouldn’t have worked if we’d all been mak­ing as­sets in­di­vid­u­ally and just throw­ing them over the wall.”

But even with the tech­nol­ogy hum­ming and the team work­ing in uni­son, there was some­thing about Doom that still wasn’t com­ing to­gether. Look­ing at the orig­i­nal game, Martin and Strat­ton knew the re­boot needed colour, mo­men­tum and brio. Analysing the cur­rent shooter scene, it was clear that scale, cus­tomi­sa­tion op­tions and at least a mod­icum of story were also im­por­tant. Ty­ing it all to­gether, how­ever, was far from sim­ple. De­scribed by Martin as “like spend­ing three years giv­ing birth”, per­fect­ing the pac­ing and com­bat in

Doom – es­sen­tially the game’s heart and brain – re­quired a long time, ex­haus­tive amounts of it­er­a­tion, and sev­eral un­con­ven­tional so­lu­tions.

“We got to a point, about a year and a half into de­vel­op­ment, where none of the com­bat was feel­ing right,” Strat­ton re­calls. “We were con­struct­ing lev­els that were very open, very flat, and you’d just have en­e­mies who were charg­ing at you – the maps didn’t open up lots of strat­egy. How­ever, early in de­vel­op­ment, one of our de­sign­ers cre­ated a pro­to­type, just a grey box level, which we’d called the ‘move­ment map’. Orig­i­nally it was to try out the dou­ble jump and the mantling sys­tems. But we’d con­tin­ued to use it through­out de­vel­op­ment. If we brought a new en­emy on­line, he’d get dumped in there. If we had a new gun, it’d go in there. It ended up as this kind of zoo, full of ideas. So we went back into that move­ment map, where en­e­mies would spawn con­stantly and all around, and hon­estly, you couldn’t stop play­ing. The dis­tance of the en­coun­ters, the mul­ti­ple paths you al­ways had and the way you could im­pro­vise and break line of sight with en­e­mies, it was so fun.”

“There was a lot of at­tack and evade,” Martin tells us. “You could use the ge­og­ra­phy to get into space for a brief mo­ment, or move around to flank en­e­mies. The move­ment map cap­tured that sense of an arena. You felt like a skater in a skate park, ex­cept you had a shot­gun.” The move­ment map was a rev­e­la­tion. Now, the ideas, the de­signs and the lev­els for Doom were com­ing thick and fast.

“We’d found the fun,” Strat­ton says. “Pretty soon we were cre­at­ing spa­ces. The con­cept work got into the hands of de­sign­ers pretty fast and we had the guns and a lot of the en­e­mies al­ready in mind. There were some for­mu­las, re­lat­ing to de­sign­ing are­nas and break­ing line of sight. And ev­ery level would have an owner, who would work on it from start to fin­ish and give it their own stamp. But re­ally, we just started to build it.”

“We de­vel­oped a cou­ple of mot­tos,” Martin adds. “‘Don’t take our­selves too se­ri­ously’ and ‘Let the game tell you what it wants’. We played the game con­stantly. Felt the nu­ances. Let it tell us what it did and didn’t need. The minute the story got se­ri­ous, it wasn’t fun, so we changed it. The minute the player got slowed down by a me­chanic that felt like it had to be there be­cause other shoot­ers had it, it wasn’t fun and we took it out. It be­came a con­test be­tween de­sign­ers to see who could make the cra­zi­est things.”

By the time it launched, Doom was bloody, ac­tion-packed and on the bleed­ing edge of game-mak­ing tech­nol­ogy – every­thing for which Id had hoped. Thanks to the stream­ing ser­vice Twitch, Martin and Strat­ton were able to watch, live, as play­ers around the world tried Doom for the first time. All of them were smil­ing.

“They say in game de­vel­op­ment if you’re go­ing to fail, you should fail fast,” Martin says. “Well, we failed fast and hard, and many times. We made a lot of dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions on this game and com­mit­ted to it all the way. But watch­ing peo­ple play Doom, es­pe­cially on that first night, and see­ing them get­ting it, know­ing we’d killed our­selves to make it work, that was amaz­ing.”

In the orig­i­nal de­signs for the new Doom, en­e­mies would at­tack from a dis­tance, in large spa­ces. It was half­way through de­vel­op­ment that the game changed pace

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