Thursday

forever DooM

requisite reading; things people have already said about doom:

vector poem on doom
summary:
doom plays like a topdown game
doomguy is super-maneuverable
doom has a varied bestiary
doom levels were abstract
doom was freely editable

trilobite
summary: doom ditched points in favour of survival

games radar on doom
summary:
infighting
scary enemies
music
fun bugs
total conversions available on cereal boxes

with this in mind, what can i add to the 'what i miss about doom' discussion?
i was playing through knee deep in the dead recently, aware that almost the entire episode was written by john romero. i started to notice just how much of the level design was bonus content.

here's the first level, and the route you need to take to finish it:


it's fairly linear, as you'd expect from an intro level.

the next three are big levels compared to the first, but full of extraeneous space:




in each case, at least half the level is surplus/bonus material. is it there to confuse the player, like a labyrinth? is it there to reward the explorative player with unique experiences? or is it just there because in each case, playing the game is in itself a fun activity, and is a reward in itself? i imagine it's a mix - some players will go for speed run routes, some will try to clear out every level of monsters. the game doesn't reward you for this - it just tells you what you've achieved. the player creates the reward. it must be a mixture - some sections are undeniably labyrinthine, and of course the player won't know which route to take on the first playthrough, and won't have an optimum route worked out until many, many play throughs. i know i would go all the way through the maze sections, going down every dead end, on repeat playthroughs, just for the experience. it was in itself fun.

the next three levels (plus the bonus level - found, again, by exploring in level 3) are about as large, but in each case, need to be explored just to be completed. a route through each level takes in every nook and cranny of each level. the initial levels prepare you for this move, by having all that space but just not using it. levels 5, 6, 7, and 9 use the hub structure that doom levels are more famous for - basically involving a lot of picking up key cards and doubling back through a large central area, that hit its peak in quake 2 and certain sections of half life, before being superceded by the rest of half life.

as an illustration, here's level 5:

a jaunt through the level takes you everywhere. it's worth bearing in mind romero was an rpg creature at the time. the first few levels smell to me of the optional sidequests you find in rpgs, that further your character but not your overall mission. the second half of the episode merely builds on top that these sections are no longer optional, but necessary to complete your mission (apart from the secret areas).

i don't know what we can learn from this. it sort of contradicts the idea that doom level design was all about abstraction - these areas don't do anything in the game, so your brain is tricked into thinking they must be *for* something. this runs alongside the argument that fake doors in games are ok, because it's better than spending all that time prowling through empty rooms with no lockpicks in; so when something in a game is actually for something, to the extent of being useless in game, it should be left out. as i said i don't know. i think i just miss non-linear levels.

ammendum:
i played through the doom press release beta and recommend you do the same.
the most fascinating change, as trilobite point out, is the removal of points scoring items, and the replacement of these with armour and health bonuses. this move further severs ties with previous games' 'coin collecting' ideals; the only things to collect here are things which benefit you, albeit in a tiny way. armour and health fragments were librally littered around the levels, and exactly like coins, they serve as a reverse-breadcrumb-trail, letting you know (if you're lost) if you've already been in an area. they give you the joy of collecting with the little bleep and screen flash, but directly benefit you. also the infant joy i had of trying to work out the optimum traversal path through a field of bonus items...

ammendum 2:
i latterly realise that these levels might well have been go-everywhere missions at first, but were simplified in order to make the first few levels less challenging by simplifying the layout of the items, but keeping the layout the same (since they're great levels). does that undermine everything i said above? i dunno.
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