ALL THAT MATTERS IS THE USER EXPERIENCE.
Get ready for the tough love. Ready? Here it is: No one cares about all the hard work you put in, or how damn long it took you to do this or that, or how that problem was a real challenge to overcome and how pleased you are with the results. When you release your game, or put anything out into the world, it will be standing on its own. You won’t be there to explain or describe it, and like a baby bird leaving the nest it’s either going to fly or.. well this paragraph has been depressing enough, so I might avoid finishing that thought. While the laws of physics determine the baby bird’s success, it is the experience of the user and the entertainment or value they derive that determines your game’s success.
Don’t let any of that get you down. My views on this have changed a lot, and if I read the above statement when I was younger, I’d probably have rolled my eyes. That doesn’t sound fun. I wanted to make games for me. If someone else played it and didn’t “get it”, they were wrong.
But ultimately design is about solving problems, and it’s a far more interesting problem, and a far more valuable skill to be practicing, to be designing for others. In the case of my Doom map, the problem I want to solve is how to deliver an entertaining experience that makes the best use of the engine and assets. I get to decide the problem, I get to decide the solutions to explore, but I don’t get to decide whether it’s successful - that’s up to the user.
Now, of course it’s fine (and fun) to make things for yourself. My advice in this case, broaden your framing. There are seven billion people on the planet. Even if you’re one in a million, then there’s still seven thousand of you!
Rather than think about making “a game that you want to play”, spend a bit of time thinking about how you can generalise that statement. What type of games do you like? Maybe it’s a particular genre? Maybe it’s a type of gameplay - maybe you don’t care if it’s Cuphead, or Dark Souls, or Flappy Birds - you just want to be punished? Awesome! Now instead of making “a game for myself”, you’re now making “a game for fans of punishing gameplay”. Even that small shift in thinking will help you make design decisions, make it easier to communicate your game to others, and make you more comfortable seeking and responding to feedback.
SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?
I wanted to answer the question of whether design skills are related, and how far they can be generalised. The way I’d find out was whether or not I could make a compelling Doom map. If you’ve been following along you’ll know that it isn’t up to me to answer that! Personally, I think my Doom level is great, I think it’s coming together beautifully and I’m really enjoying making, and playing it. But it doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what you, the player thinks.
Regardless of the outcome, it has been a wonderful experience returning to Doom after these years with a new mindset and a new perspective. I’m appreciating and understanding the game in new ways.
I’m convinced that Doom is timeless. I’ve come to see it as an indie game - after all it was made by a small group of friends, and by today’s standards it’s simple and a little quaint. As far as player interaction goes, you can walk, run, shoot, and push buttons. There’s no jumping, there’s no taking cover, there isn’t even looking up or down.
And this became the real revelation for me. Anyone can pick up and understand Doom. I’ve leant into that and have scaffolded the experience so that someone new to Doom (or even first-person shooters) is able to build confidence and competency (and then get torn apart by demons). The level opens with non-threatening
enemies positioned in view of the player, giving players experience shooting, then the opportunity to come to terms with movement. As the player leaves this safe area they are met with an arena battle, providing the opportunity to both practice, and demonstrate competency in their newly acquired skills.
The enemy AI also lends itself really well to incidental gameplay - where being quieter or louder or faster or slower through an encounter may impact how it plays out, and how future encounters may play out. This impact is subtle, and takes the form of enemies often not being where you expect them; it’s an absolute joy that even having designed the level, I’m able to be surprised by it.
I’ve attempted to maximise these moments by adding more paths, offering new ways for the player to approach problems, and more opportunities for demons to get the slip on you. This in turn gave me confidence to add some tough battles and real spikes in difficulty, as a player who hits a challenging area is able to approach it differently, return later with more firepower, or circumvent it entirely.
Overall the game feels like a real survival experience. You don’t beat the level as much as you survive and escape it. It plays similar to a rogue-like as you experiment with different methods of carving your way through the level, with the enemy AI making sure that even your favourite path is never predictable. It’s a clichéd comparison but with multiple boss fights, and your survival reliant on understanding and seeking out specific weapons and items, it gives off real Dark Souls vibes. I’m starting to see what I’m creating as a love letter to Doom. In attempting to remain true to the game, work within its constraints, employ a particular set of skills, and inject two decades of shifting game design zeitgeist - I feel like I’ve created something new, that plays the way Doom feels in my nostalgia riddled mind. Brutal, punishing, disorientating, and at times truly scary. But please don’t take my word for it - after all I’m just one player, and a guy who spends his time organising teams and creating educational games. I invite you to download and play the work in progress - find it on twitter @dllDooM - and let me know what you think.
The starting area eases players in with non-threatening enemies