Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Game that Changed Everything

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 30, 2014

DoomHQI spent a little bit of time playing Doom this weekend. Yes, twenty-year old Doom. Updated a little bit with some new technology to take advantage of modern hardware and to make it nicely mouse-playable and everything, but it was still the same game. Running in Doomsday with a fan-made high-quality texture pack. There are some other add-ons which I haven’t installed, like higher-quality audio, 3D models for the enemies, etc. Pretty cool stuff for an old game.

Who needs a remake?

Oh, I guess we do:


Ah, well. I can’t say I’m not a little excited about what Bethesday might come up with.

I’d recently finished a somewhat more recent first-person shooter, Spec-Ops: The Line, which I thought was a pretty decent game. Okay the game part was pretty straightforward to the point of being generic. At times it felt like one of those old arcade shooters like Time Crisis. Shoot, duck, reload. Face bad guys with different weaponry appearing in surprise directions in a cover-based shooting gallery in a highly scripted combat.  To distinguish the game from the pack of “modern combat shooters,” the developers incorporated a pretty decent storyline, which redeems things.

Going from that to playing the original Doom a little bit this weekend, I was struck by the purity of the game. After all, it was designed like a 2D game, with some tried-and-true mechanics transposed into a 3D (well, 2.5D) world. It felt a lot less scripted – partly because there wasn’t much by the way of scripting mechanics for the game.

But that wasn’t the only reason. I went and played a bit of Final Doom. I grabbed it from the Steam sale, since I’d never played it before. Final Doom – created by third parties and sold by id Software – feels a lot more like the modern shooters. In lieu of true scripting, there are environmental constraints and triggers everywhere to make the game more challenging – a twisted shooting gallery of pain without much margin for error.  Maybe I just suck too much, but after a couple of levels I went back to the original (or Ultimate Doom).  It was more fun and more interesting.

After Doom, everything changed. It was the Star Wars of the gaming biz. Even though the original shareware release didn’t post the kinds of numbers to compete with the best-selling mainstream games of the era, its popularity shook up the industry. After Doom, games industry attracted a lot of people from other sectors, including a non-insignificant infusion of people from television and the movie industry, who sadly sometimes saw games as movies with a little bit of troublesome player interaction.  That trend didn’t go away with the death of “FMV games.” A few years ago this amusing comparison of FPS maps went viral:



The map on the left is from Doom, of course.  To be fair, with the keys and switches limiting access, the actual progression through a level is a bit more linear than it appears. And the picture on the right only applies to single-player levels. But it’s still funny.

Going back and playing a somewhat souped-up Doom really did feel refreshing, though. Maybe it was nostalgia for the days when I was less jaded as a gamer, and it reconnected me to old memories when Doom was absolutely revolutionary and stunning. Maybe it reminded me of an era before the games industry had changed so much – changed in part due to this game. Back to an era where Doom conked the gaming industry on the head and made gamers and game developers alike believe that anything was possible.

But maybe it’s just that there’s something to be said for simple, visceral gameplay. You couldn’t just imitate Doom today, of course.  That well has been drained pretty dry. But it was all about combining basic elements – the building blocks of the game – into lovingly elaborate, deadly self-contained challenges with plenty of leeway for the player to work things out his own way. The behaviors of the monsters weren’t necessarily realistic, but they were predictable, and could be used against them. Some of the best solutions involved getting monsters to fight each other in wild melees of infighting. Or clever use of exploding barrels. These were not complex, specially-scripted “solutions” – they were simply the tools at both the designers’ and the players’ disposal.

And seriously,within its own self-contained world, it ends up feeling far more realistic and believable than the carefully orchestrated, cinematic, advanced AI of the modern era. To me, that’s putting on a show for my benefit.

Sure, post-Doom, almost anything seems possible today. But sometimes its questionable as to whether or not all that is truly more fun and enjoyable than what’s been possible for 20+ years.

Filed Under: Design, Retro - Comments: 10 Comments to Read

  • Tesh said,

    Too many modern game developers want to make movies. From the plague of Quick Time Events to the overly scripted… everything… the whole point of an interactive medium is all too often lost. I think this is why Minecraft struck a chord. It says “here, go play” instead of “now do this”.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Very good point. I was commenting on FB that modern game design – particularly in the AAA realm – seems more geared towards making the player react rather than allowing them to act. Because, of course, the latter might allow them to make some smart, careful decisions that spoil the drama or something. I mean, if you set the T-Rex loose and run to safety in a concrete bunker before he arrives, where’s the big YouTube-worthy scene?

  • Felix said,

    Funny, I just posted my newsletter with a rant about Bioshock Infinite. (Late to the party, I know.) As for Doom, it’s a game I was still playing now and then a few years ago — in its original version, courtesy of DosBox. It’s really that good.

    At the core, it’s the same problem you were mentioning last time, about RPGs turning into theme parks. Is it the developers’ desire for control clashing with the fundamentally interactive nature of games? Are they afraid that if players aren’t coddled and guided they might miss most of that overly expensive artwork? Or is it just that they actually want to make movies, but make games instead because games sell for three times as much?

    I suspect it’s a little of all three. But most importantly, you simply can’t make as much art when everything has to be super-detailed and complex. There’s only so much money and time you can sink into making a game — and it’s no longer enough for large non-linear levels. A serious case of misplaced priorities… frankly, it’s a wonder the industry hasn’t crashed again already. But there’s still time.

  • Anon said,

    > “Are they afraid that if players aren’t coddled and guided they might miss most of that overly expensive artwork? Or is it just that they actually want to make movies, but make games instead because games sell for three times as much?”

    Could be a bit of both. There have been people in the games industry who were always after the movie-like experience like Chris Roberts back in the day, for example.
    The difference is that most of these still tried to provide actual gameplay with their games.

    Today all bigger productions are about maximizing money. You see that in the size of their marketing departments.
    I don’t have a problem with AAA games in general as they are often very pretty and polished with great music etc. but they are also quite boring to me.

    That’s why I like indie productions and programmers who need to do the marketing themselves (even if it’s a bit clumsy at times).

    Some guys I’ve grown to like, for example, are the ones behind the ‘Elysian Shadows’ RPG, who have made astounding progress in the last few months and how possess an entertaining stubborness to support many platforms including the venerable Dreamcast.
    A few years back they needed money for a new video camera for better video quality on Youtube – but they not only asked for the money but offered to do something in return: The result was a hilarious video where they slapped each other and jumped from a roof.
    While those antics aren’t necessarily a sign of the quality of their game it looks like they will deliver in that department, too. Check it out if you like action-RPGs like the Zelda series!

    > “A serious case of misplaced priorities… frankly, it’s a wonder the industry hasn’t crashed again already. But there’s still time.”

    I agree but the reason the industry didn’t crash is twofold: The big console manufacturers (= Sony and Microsoft) have more control over their markets than, say, Atari back in 1983 when the first crash occured.
    As we all know console games is where the money is at right now.

    Secondly, there has been an incredible growth of the whole industry (= way more customers) in the last fifteen to twenty years. This growth is exactly the result of dumbing down games enough to make them mass compatible (=what we criticize when we say they are “too movie-like”).
    Give those modern gamers a few old games where they have to read a printed manual with more than a dozen pages and I bet half of them will immediately flee!

  • Noumenon72 said,

    On YouTube at least, that Doomsday engine looks identical to regular Doom except for the status messages.

  • TrueTallus said,

    Good thoughts, all! Would you say that the shift to reaction vs action that’s gone on began happening to games to some extent during the 2.5 D fps era? I remember being engrossed while playing Marathon back in the day- often more because I was fascinated by the world explained in the completely non-interactive stretches of text in computer terminals, than the simple rush of blasting another Pfor with a set of dual pistols. Whats the specific negative quality(s) that we don’t like about the “movie-ness” of modern games, and to what degree is it a FOCUS on certain specific qualities that can be grating (rather than the qualities themselves)?

    I’m also curious to hear anyone’s opinion about what made 2d first person games uniquely great. Since the 2d gaming renaissance continues to shown itself capable of creating an amazing living fossils such as “Shovel Knight”, what would the excellent, true-blue, doom style 2d fps be doing NOW, 18 years after Strife sounded the genre swan song?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    @TrueTallus: I would, after having played a little bit of Final Doom. But it was really post-quake. Probably instigated somewhat by Unreal (the original). *EVERYONE* remembers a few very scripted moments in that game – like the massacre happening behind a half-jammed door, or that moment where the lights went out one by one, followed by the skaarj attack. I think those “canned” cinematic moments became the high-water mark for other games. Originally I think it was more of a mix, but eventually in many games you have stuff like the Modern Warfare or Spec Ops games (I confess, I’m behind the times w/ Modern Warfare – I haven’t played a new one since MW2) where it’s pretty tightly scripted from the get-go.

    But it never truly went away. The ARMA series is still pretty old-school and simulationesque. I haven’t played the latest Serious Sam, but that series sort of embraced at least the “generous mix” approach. Just like the old 2D platformers never truly went away, I don’t think the old 2.5D “style” completely disappeared. I wish I could say I knew more about what’s happening on the indie side of the FPS genre… most of what I’ve seen has been more along the puzzle-solving line, but Tower of Guns is kind of an interesting variation on the theme.

  • Felix said,

    I’m also curious to hear anyone’s opinion about what made 2d first person games uniquely great.

    That’s a good question, TrueTallus. I’ve been working on a rail shooter recently, inspired by classics such as Star Raiders 2 and Space Harrier. And reading an article about the latter made me realize nobody truly knows — since all attempts to imitate it, or build upon the formula, were pale at best. The same thing happened with other 2.5D first-person classics such as Lords of Midnight. And can you think of another game based on the same technology as Wolfenstein 3D that’s still remembered other than an obscure footnote?

    Me, I like keeping things simple. I like having a unique visual style. I find it mindblowing that nowadays I can code in a few hundred lines a kind of graphics engine that used to require so many hacks and compromises (some would say ingenuity). I think that’s a better use of raw computing power than MOAR POLYGONS.

    See, that’s what the classic Doom had: style. And that’s not something you can improve on with a newer, fancier GPU or gigabytes of storage.

  • TrueTallus said,

    @Rampant Coyote: I’m certainly in agreement with you that the simple gameplay style of the original doom didn’t go anywhere, but I admit (as someone with a graphic design background) that the aesthetic of 2.5 d first person games hold a unique appeal to me. I’m wondering weather that unique combination of perspective and presentation LENDS itself to a unique and delicious flavor of game, one that can’t be realized fully without the proper visual stylings in place. I don’t just want games that play like doom, by golly, I want them to look like doom as too:)

    @Felix: Doom did have ‘style’! I think the abstraction that’s inherent in 2d games creates a necessity for designers to look for excellence and economy of communication when creating a game. The details that can be recreated are less complex so the eye of the player has a chance to observe more clearly what’s being presented.

    I want to believe that every form of perspective/presentation in games has a unique voice and type of experience it can excellently convey! It’s frustrating that we have so few tools to explain and make use of the strengths of the things we know are valuable. The kind of granular ‘how can we make this better?’ innovation that would create more well realized understanding of those strengths often (understandable) seems to follow the whim of people’s rapidly inflating credit accounts. I guess I might have to wait until someone makes a wildly popular 2d ‘spiritual successor’ to see all that doom (or Space Harrier) could be:)

  • McTeddy said,

    While I’m not specifically a fan of the 2.5D genre, the things I like about it are the same as most old games. It’s about the interaction.

    In Doom you are thrown into a maze and need to overcome the challenge. It’s that pure game experience where I’m testing my skills vs. the computer. The excitement and drive coming solely from that competition.

    But modern game design is all about what the director wants. Every single player will be moving through the game in nearly the exact same way. The enemies are built to excite the player without actually threatening him… because death ruins a good story.
    I get literally the same experience watching someone else play. That REEEEALLY doesn’t make me feel like it was an interactive experience.

    There are plenty of good things about the cinematic game design of today… but there were some good parts of the simple old games too.