We shared a word or two with Marty Stratton, game director of the upcoming Doom reboot.
Since all the major people behind the original Doom have left id Software, Marty Stratton is now one of the veterans. He began working there in 1997 and has thus spent almost spent two decades with the company. He is the game director for the upcoming Doot reboot, which is supposed to return the series to its roots. We had a nice chat about the game, and about the reaction it's had so far from the community.
Gamereactor: What was the reason behind rebooting Doom instead of making Doom 4?
Marty Stratton: It's pretty well-known that the project was 'rebooted.' We call it a reboot but we also kind of rebooted the project in 2013, and when we did that we went back and tried to really put our finger on what we felt like the essence of Doom was, what kind of game it needed to be, what fans expected, what we as developers wanted to work on for the next several years. We put a bunch of things up on the whiteboard, and it kind of came down to what we thought was the essence of Doom, and when we got to the bottom of it, it was some pretty fundamental things, like the guns and the overall feel of combat was particularly important. The way the enemies looked and felt, and the level of personality that they had; the movement, the speed of the game and the style, no reloading, no taking cover, fighting against enemies that use primarily projectiles or melee, and the way that feels from a combat perspective. It all came down to this feel that we really identified was much closer to Doom, the original, than kind of what Doom 3 represented, and what would be a continuation.
At the same time, we know there is a whole new audience that will pick this game up, and this will be their first engagement with Doom. We just decided to call it Doom because it represented to us what Doom in 2016 is and what we hope Doom is moving forward and what people identify with Doom.
Some people have been worried that the new Doom looks a little bit too modern. What is your view of this?
Looks too modern? I think people need to play it. It's one of those things that we focused - as I just mentioned, the DNA or essence of Doom is very much a feel, and that's what we've focused on. You really get that experience when you play it. It doesn't play like a lot of other games on the market right now, for all those reasons I've mentioned. When you're in combat in Doom there's kind of a free-flowing, improvisational, enemies all around you, stuff flying at you from every angle.
Although we've added things like verticality and mantling, and other stuff like upgrades for your weapons, we focused on fun. We did things that we felt kept the essence of Doom but were fun. We all play games all the time, and as much as we love Doom and are inspired by what Doom has been and is to all of us, we have to make a game that we feel is fun today. Every step of the way we made decisions that were guided by fun first. The things that we've infused into the game is what we felt was fun to play. The different components here are different, what people have had their hands on to this point is multiplayer, and multiplayer was actually even a little different of an approach for us because, fundamentally, old-school classic Doom Deathmatch is super super simple. You were basically playing 4-player Deathmatch what were effectively single-player levels, very mazey.
As we approached it we looked at it with not an entirely blank slate, but we really felt like we could infuse a lot of things that we thought would be really fun to add to the experience. In some areas, that is something I think gamers expect in games today. Everything has been guided by a principle of 'is it fun? Is it fun to play, do we enjoy playing it?' We play the game constantly, and it's rare that you still enjoy playing the game as much as we do after playing it for hundreds and hundreds of hours, and we think fans, once they get their hands on all components of it, single-player, multiplayer, SnapMap, will have the same experience. It's very addictive, much like the original Doom was.
How important is the campaign in Doom, and how long is it?
Doom is very well-known for its campaign, and the way that single-player Doom feels is the heart and crux of everything that we've done. All of development for us, the seed of it, was born out of the development of the campaign.
It's a pretty good length, we do a lot of internal focus testing and have new people come in and play the game. It always depends on how much searching around you do and how much of a completionist you are. And how much you challenge yourself with the difficulty; difficulty settings are a big deal in Doom. We expect most players who are doing a moderate level of exploration and finding secrets and upgrades and that kind of stuff, we've seen most players get through it in a 13-16 hour range but if you're challenging yourself at one of the higher difficulties it can take longer, or if you are trying to find all of the secrets. The game is just full of secrets and opportunities for exploration, and if you are looking for all of those and challenging yourself to get everything it can definitely take quite a bit longer.
If a 40-year-old gamer who loved the originals played, what can they expect from the campaign, will they appreciate it?
I'm one of those, I'm 44, so I put myself in that group of someone who played the original and has been a fan for a long time. Take it for what it's worth coming from a developer of the game, but I love playing this game more than I like playing any other game. It's because of the way it feels, and the combat. Every time you play it, you get a little something different, and once you get good at it you actually begin to want to play it better and better. I've said this before, but we have these competitions internally in the office when doing demos, and with the way the internet has become the place of streaming and a bit of showmanship in how you play through a game - doing run-throughs, or run-throughs with a single weapon - all the different types of things that people do online on Twitch, YouTube or other services.
I think people will find Doom is really a great game for that kind of thing as well. It's fun to play, it's a fun ramp to start at the beginning of the game and begin to get good at it. There is a bit of skill in the game, so you develop your skill, you begin to understand how the enemies work - we always refer to it like playing chess - once you learn what the enemies do and how to react to them, what guns to use against them; first it's a challenge and then it becomes almost like this dance that you do with them. Trying to do that dance better and better really becomes a very addictive quality. And then showing off, like I mentioned with the streaming and recording, posting of gameplay. We always refer to it as very improvisational, the way that you can use the weapons. You carry all of them that you have with you, you have multiple ways - on any platform you can use the weapon wheel, but the weapon wheel is designed to make it very easy with the controller - with keyboard and mouse its always really easy to get access to any gun through the weapon wheel or the number keys - so you get in these really awesome situations that are just fun to play and fun to replay, they're fun to play at a harder difficulty level. I have more fun playing our game than I do any other game, and I like playing lots of types for all different reasons
I think people will really get into that aspect of it. And that's to say nothing of SnapMap, where you can create all kinds of different gameplay experiences. If you're a 40-year-old gamer, not quite the twitch guy that you were when you were 20, there's a million different ways to play SnapMap from co-op, to playing game-modes that almost have nothing to do with shooting whatsoever. There's a huge amount of content that's packed into Doom, there's a lot of value and a lot of different ways to play for a huge broad spectrum of gamers.
You mentioned the weapons in the game which is obviously an important part of Doom. Which one is the favourite in the office right now?
It's so funny you asked that. I can tell you what my favourites are, my combos, but like I was saying people go back and replay so many different times, and particularly as we've pushed into playing nightmare and ultra-nightmare, you find people using different combinations and the favourite in the office changes depending on what one of the better players is doing and how they've figured out how to use a gun or use a collection of upgrades to make a gun particularly effective. As an example, we've been doing a lot of Ultra-Nightmare testing - Ultra-Nightmare is our highest difficulty that you have to unlock by playing partway through the game, it's the Nightmare setting but if you die, your game is over and a little marker, a helmet, drops in the world to denote where you died that you can see and your friends can see in their world. It's really really hard, nobody internally has actually made it all the way through Ultra-Nightmare yet, basically playing through the entire game on Nightmare without dying.
As people are doing that and getting further and further, you see these different guns emerge as their favourites. For a while, it was somebody using the plasma gun with what's called the heatwave mod, and that was really effective, and then a bunch of people started using the heavy assault rifle with the micro missile mod. The upgrades really play into how effective that gun is, and how you can use it in Ultra-Nightmare in really cool ways. There's this evolving list of favourites. What I love the most is the super shotgun and the mods - I have three favourites - I have the super shotgun, which is just classic and it's really powerful, when you get into a fight with like a baron or a hellknight with the super shotgun, you feel like you are in a boxing match and punching back and forth, dodging around their attacks, and you just and swing around and punch, basically shoot them up close, and back away, it's really fun. I love the regular combat shotgun with a mod called bombburst. It's a gun mod that shoots a little explosive projectile out, and it's really effective in combination with its primary fire of just being a shotgun.
And then there's the rocket launcher - it has a mod that is a remote detonate, it's kind of like the functionality of it in multiplayer where you shoot the rocket launcher and you can remote detonate the rocket using the left trigger at any point during its flight path - that is amazing in single-player, I love using that, because there is a lot of verticality. When there are imps on the walls or up on catwalks, you can shoot it up next to them or a few of them, and detonate it in the air. Once you've upgraded it it's pretty powerful, and it just gibs them and their body parts are almost like fireworks going off in the air. Those are some of my favourites and the moments I love creating with those guns.
John Carmack was on board when the development for this game started, has id Software changed and the game development changed? And how?
Yeah, I think we've always evolved and changed. John was a big part of the company for a long time, obviously, and when he moved on we absolutely had to evolve. We've been in a pretty awesome hiring mode, and we've really been very fortunate to find some of the best talent in the world over the last couple years. We've had engineers that have come from some of the other top first-person development companies and engine companies. Our technology, idTech 6, has made incredible strides since John left, and we're continuing to move that forward. We kind of looked at is as, he's been a big part of the company, we wish him well in all of the work that he wants to do, but we really took the opportunity to bolster our tech team. We have guys that have been here for 15-16 years on the tech side, and have been involve in idTech, and id games, since the very beginning. We've pretty much just moved right along and I'm really thrilled with idTech. People will be very impressed.
How do you think the latest idTech compares versus Frostbite, Cryengine, Unreal Engine 4 and so forth?
Ultimately, our consumers decide. I try not to be overly boastful but it is a very modern engine. We've built it around the types of things we wanted to do from a development perspective; so, dynamic lighting is a big part of it, realism in the materials, it's a very modern rendering engine. I think, when people see what we do with lighting and shadows, and reflections, and then do it all at the high frame-rate and high fidelity that we do - both on consoles and even with some of the additional features that we offer on the PC for guys that really like to tweak their settings. I think it will speak for itself.
Doom is heading to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on May 13.