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Everything To Know About the New ‘Doom’ Game

10 minute read

Guns, demons, fast—three words that sum up all you need to know about id Software’s Doom shooter rethink for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, out Friday, May 13. It’s about lunging through landscapes plucked from heavy metal album covers, punching things in the face until faces pop off, and old ways of thinking inflected by gonzo new filters.

I had a chance to speak with Doom co-director Marty Stratton, who’s been with the studio since 1997, through games like Quake III Arena, Doom 3 and Rage. Since review copies weren’t provided to press before launch (and therefore impressions and reviews are days off), here’s our late April interview with Stratton instead.

What’s old is new

“We wanted to make something that had a familiarity to people who’ve played our past games,” says Stratton when asked to distill what makes Doom, Doom. “It’s a pace and a feel of the weapons. These things tend to be classified in the arena shooter space, so things like no weapon reloading and bounce pads and map flow. But it’s a pretty broad definition, and what we tried to do was give people an experience that right off the bat they could have a ton of fun with, that they’d feel is familiar but also modern, that takes into account modern sensibilities about games.”

“So it’s definitely things like the speed, the verticality, the double jumping, the way the weapons feel, the lack of reloading, even the placed health and armor and power-ups in the world. Those are all things that if you’ve played our past games, you’ll recognize, and then newer players, it feels different from a lot of the stuff that’s popular today.”

The canceled version of Doom ‘wouldn’t have been what people wanted’

“We didn’t move on to Doom 4 immediately after Doom 3,” says Stratton. “We spent some time working on Rage, started the Quake Live project and did a bunch of other things as well. Without going into extreme detail, the Doom that was being developed before we rebooted was actually a good game. There was a lot of effort put into it. It was very different, but it had a good design, there was a lot of really good artwork in it, and it was much more heavily story-based. It was a completely different take on Doom, is I guess the best way to say it, really from all facets.”

“From a presentation perspective, from a story perspective, the characters and demons—it was a totally different take on those. The setting was different, the mechanics were different. And when we were making the decision to change course, we sat down to play the game and there was a lot there, honestly. It was good. Like, if that project had been finished, it would have been a good game. But when you’d sit down and play it, you’d say ‘This is cool, but it just doesn’t resonate Doom.’ It just wouldn’t have been what I think people wanted out of a Doom game.”

“So that’s the conundrum we were in. And there’s years of decisions and micro-decisions that get you to that place. But there are these points of reckoning that you hit, where you step back and evaluate, and you make big decisions. We were lucky to have Bethesda support our decision to reboot things and move in a different direction.”

“Your very next step once you decide to reboot is, ‘Okay, then what is Doom? What do we expect? What do we think fans expect?’ That was the process happening at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013. And we landed pretty quickly on a design foundation for what to do moving forward. And it was just being inspired by those original Doom games. You take everything you’ve done up to that point, whether it’s technology or tools or artwork or process, and see what you can use moving forward. It was a pretty big change at the time.”

It’s intentionally absurd

“Our guiding principles in making this Doom has been ‘keep it fun,’ because we’ve really focused on making it a game,” says Stratton. “It plays like a game. It sounds stupid when I say that, when we’re making games, but it’s an action-combat game. So it’s all about the combat. If you’re into fast, improvisational action, shooting demons with big guns, it really hits that. It was one of those things that we got pretty good early, our core combat loop, the way the guns felt and our glory kill [super fast and violent melee attacks] mechanic.”

‘The earlier iterations were a more serious take on Doom, which is perfectly fine. I was around for all of this, so I tend to look at that whole side of things, and we are where we are because of everything that’s led up to this point. You do your best and keep moving along. And as we’ve developed this in the vein of keep it fun, it’s also been a constant reminder that we take the development and our jobs and our responsibility to the game and brand very seriously, but in the creative side of it, we can’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s a crazy, outlandish, comic book, over-the-top brand. Even with the violence, we tend to say ‘How do we make it laugh out loud fun?’ And we’ve tried to infuse that in every aspect of what we’ve done.”

There’s a ‘right’ reaction to the violence

“We approach the violence or the blood and gore from a few different angles,” says Stratton. “We do have filters, as to how we evaluate it. Certainly being somewhat irreverent and violent is part of the DNA. How you deliver on that is up for grabs. Where we’ve chosen to really showcase it is in player feedback and player power, the power fantasy. When you shoot something, or when you punch something, or when you break something on a demon, there’s a ton of feedback.”

“And it goes into our animation system, our graphics system and the way our characters are rigged. Those are all specifically providing feedback to the player. Part of it’s the gameplay feedback, really selling the power of each weapon to the player. And when it comes to glory kills, you punch a guy’s head off, you break a leg, you slam them to the ground, and it’s that kind of crazy, over-the-top action movie feeling that you get to experience first-person. Violence-wise, it’s not for everybody, but I think it’s all in good fun.”

“We often reference things like Evil Dead 2, a horror film that’s almost laughable in its silliness. Everybody has their own sensibilities, but if somebody in our demographic is playing and when something violent happens or you do something violent to a demon, the reaction is laughing as much as anything, that’s the right reaction. If somebody turns their head and closes one eye and is squeamish about it, then it’s time to change something because we haven’t hit the mark. We talk about that a lot.”

Multiplayer has a touch of the The Matrix

“All of the characters in multiplayer are human representations,” says Stratton to a question about human on human combat in multiplayer. (It’s all human-on-demon during the campaign.) “There’s actually a fiction, though it isn’t particularly prominent, in the multiplayer that the whole thing is a simulation. You’ll notice people spawning in and teleporting into the prematch lobby. It’s all fictionally tied into this simulation by this supercomputer that’s part of the single player campaign story.”

It’s more than a graphics showcase

“Our presentation of the game has been much more about gameplay this time,” says Stratton. “So we’ve highlighted combat, talked about the demons and guns and speed, whereas past id Software games have tended to focus on graphics first and gameplay second. Back in the early days where we were pushing whatever the next graphics card was going to be, the leaps in engine technology were tremendous. I think people as they get in and play this new version of Doom, they’ll really appreciate what we’ve been able to do technically. But it’s really through the gameplay this time.”

The demons will come after you anywhere

“The way in which the demons move through the world has completely changed,” says Stratton. “We’ve advanced a system we started in Rage, where enemies can move through the world in realistic ways. So they can climb up all throughout the world, jump over things, climb over railings and get up to different areas. As acrobatic as the player is in our gameplay, and as much freedom of movement as you have, the A.I. needs to be able to move similarly and hunt you down and track you and chase you. It all needs to feel completely seamless. And I think it’s one of those things that just feels right when you play it.”

The solo campaign doesn’t play second fiddle to multiplayer

“We talked about the early period of the reboot, reestablishing what we thought Doom should be, and at the highest, highest level, before you even get into any of the tone and character and personality, what we established we wanted to make was an amazing campaign experience,” says Stratton. “Because that is what a lot of people remember, and bringing all of the elements that you would expect from a Doom game into a really compelling, fun, gamey campaign experience.”

“We absolutely wanted to create the multiplayer that people have now played the beta of, and again, a beta is just the tip of the iceberg of content. What everybody’s played in the beta is a super, super limited set of what’s in the final game. And then there’s the Snapmap component, which is a user-generated content tool and hub that harkens back to what players did with the original Doom in creating mods and wads and different ways to interact with the game and share your own creative ideas.”

“It was those three pillars that really formed our foundation. And the campaign has been a massive undertaking. By no means is anything an afterthought or a throw-in. Each has received a massive amount of development time and work. This has been id’s most ambitious project ever, and I really believe that any of these components by themselves could stand on their own against other games that only do one or the other.”

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Write to Matt Peckham at matt.peckham@time.com