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Doom

Doom

We visited the headquarters of id Software to see how a modernised Doom has risen from the flames of (development) hell.

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In the year 2013 id Software had already been developing Doom 4 for years. According to executive producer Marty Stratton the state of the game and the direction it was heading in just wasn't right. The team made a bold choice to start the whole process from scratch. Researching fan expectations, id Software made an effort to build a nostalgic first-person shooter similar to the games that once made the genre popular. The game is a combination of remake and reboot, and thus is now simply called Doom. It includes all the best elements from the original games; intensive single-player campaign, fast multiplayer action, and versatile tools for players to create their own content.

The story of the game wasn't revealed in detail. Stratton mentions that the gates of hell have opened and before all hope among the living is lost the player has to find a solution and shut the gate. Stratton also says that Doom has never been so much about the story, but simply about guns versus demons. New Doom doesn't appear to stray from this premise.

We got to try two different levels in single-player mode. The first of these was set at the beginning of the game, where we need to complete simple tasks like powering up systems on a space station on Mars. We also have to clean the station of zombie-like creatures using a hand gun and a shotgun. And oh yeah, the iconic chainsaw is back! The number of monsters grows after a while, from an easy start up to the point where the player really needs to fight for their life. Getting familiar with the game mechanics and understanding the clear rhythm of the combat teaches you how to survive even in the more difficult situations, so the game really isn't unfair.

Between our single-player sessions art director Hugo Martin showed us what kind of damage a skilled player can do in Doom, and what executive producer Marty Stratton meant when he said that you need to move all the time. The level Martin played was based on some sort of laboratory where hell had literally broken loose. Even though various sized monsters were attacking simultaneously from left and right, Martin didn't even slow down as he danced through the level utilising walls and platforms and shooting everything in his way. He used different gadgets to get, for example, super speed or teleport himself from one place to another. In addition to the gadgets he carried a seriously heavy arsenal which he picked with ease thanks to game's new gun wheel. While activated it puts the game into (a very cool looking) slow motion that helps the player survive a tough moment while selecting the right gun for the situation at hand. But for a player as good as Martin the positions of the guns in the radial menu are imprinted so deep into his reflexes, that we only saw a flash of the wheel before the new gun had already dropped a monster or two in front of him. There are several slots so the player doesn't need to worry about compromising.

The second section of our single player session took us to the surface of the planet where a walk through an ungodly huge skull of a monster dropped you below the surface. To our relief the gun wheel was now stuffed with a wide range weapons from shotguns to machine guns, from ray guns to rocket launchers. All these weapons came pretty handy when the monsters started to pour in from every direction and in significantly larger groups. Among other things we were faced with recognisable characters from earlier Doom titles like Cacodemon, Hell Knight, and Lost Soul. The meeting with our double barrelled steel shotgun and its chunky muzzle blast raised a smile. Along with shooting, we were encouraged to try the gun's special abilities which were activated via button press. Each weapon has several special abilities which can be selected from the settings. For example, you can shoot three shots at the same time with the shotgun and the rocket can be detonated in mid-air at the time of your choosing, or you can even add another barrel to a machine gun. Sure many of these special abilities included disadvantages like faster ammo depletion or slower gun usage, but the main idea was to make them more fun.

After the intense and bloody single-player session we moved to an even faster multiplayer tournament. We were pitted against id Software's multiplayer team and played 6 vs. 6 matches in two different maps with two different game modes, where in one of them you had to conquer and protect certain areas. This game mode had a nice surprise where you have two options to select an inner demon which will be activated when you pick up a particular item on the map. We opted for a hairy demon with horns, four times larger than an average soldier, tearing enemies in half without having to care about their puny weapons. An item that activates the demon mode won't be found very often in each level and all the crucial fights were settled with normal guns. In multiplayer the player only has two guns and a special gadget, and can either select gear from several default packages or choose them. Another multiplayer game mode was more of a typical team deathmatch mode, but where the player only has one life. When a player dies they can continue watching the match in the spectator mode up to the point where one of the teams has been destroyed. Doom's multiplayer sessions reminded of Quake and that game's heated battles. The fast tempo, the combination of jumping and shooting, and the strong team spirit all coalesced to create a nice atmosphere.

After the speedy game sessions we were introduced to Doom's editor, SnapMap. The presenter was Tom Mustaine, the founder of Escalation Studios that cooperated with id Software to make the feature. Mustaine says that he started to make levels for Doom in the early nineties. Laughing he promises those years of experience and listening to fans have helped them to make sure that making levels with SnapMap is way easier than 20 years ago. Also sharing the levels is very simple since the levels can be shared freely, ignoring any platform restrictions. Mustaine emphasises that id Software hasn't made their levels with this tool and you can't open the game's levels with it because they are too complex and large for it. SnapMap is a tool to make simpler levels, but in Doom that still allows for plenty of diversity.

SnapMap includes clear tutorials dealing with how to move around in the program, how to add items and how to make them interactive. Levels can be examined in 2D and 3D, item and environmental details can be added with surprisingly freedom. Distinct tools and controller buttons become very familiar in tutorials thanks to frequent recaps. One of SnapMap's most effective tools, called Conductor, fills the level randomly with monsters and items so the player can try out the dynamics of the level.

SnapMap also contains versatile GUI based "programming" actions where by dragging item actions to another item, you can accomplish surprisingly diverse actions and function chains. A good example would be where the player needs to prevent waves of monsters from reaching a certain gate. The catch is that by shooting a monster, the player will get certain amount of money which they can use to buy better guns to fight against tougher monsters. The developers admit that they were astonished by how much their test subjects have gotten out of SnapMap. We were positively surprised about how accessible the tools are and how impressive the end results can be.

In terms of visuals, Doom looks very stylish, but at the preview event it didn't bring anything ground breaking to the table. Id Software's id Tech 6 game engine is focused on delivering quality visuals in full HD at 60 frames per second. On the present day platforms a promise this huge takes its toll so it's nice to see that in Doom the fluent action is filled with detail. It's easy to see why it's id Software's goal to be the best-looking gaming experience within the current platform specs.

Doom is a modernised nostalgia trip, a happy skirmishes against hell's evils. The dark hallways of Doom 3 are left behind and the game gets its appearance from the lighter and clearer style of the first two games in the iconic series. Along with excessive violence and familiar monsters there are also other small details like the big blue key cards. All these are a nod to the good old days that easily illicit a big , but at the same time the polished dynamic action offers something new compared to the original. In the times of Call of Duty and Battlefield, Doom's fast-paced fantasy finds its own spot and style which has the potential to stand out from the crowd. It's time to remind the gamers where it all began and so far it seems that id Software has succeeded in this.

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