Random comments about DooM 3 and the future of level-design

I wrote this for my website but I thought about posting it here, and on WoW’s boards for the comments at the conclusion:

I spent a little time in DooM 3 and I finished to use the old godmode because I wanted to check the Imp model in tranquility. Without the cheat I’m too scared and I can just shoot randomly everywhere and flee. I also cannot play for more than five minutes because I simply feel too scared. So, after the godmode I was amazed. I passed about fifteen minutes just by dragging the Imp everywhere around the level, staring the light effects of its fireball and observing the wonderful work they did with the pathing. Without esitation the monster is able to run throughout the whole level. If you are visible but unreachable it will start throwing fireballs at full speed, if you are out of sight it will run back to its original position. The only glitch I’ve noticed is about the interaction between different monsters. If you played the original DooM you’ll remember for sure that a major strategy was about making the monsters shoot and fight each other. I tried something similar in DooM 3 but not only the monsters don’t care about each other, but they also ignore any kind of damage. So you can dodge a fireball, see it land on a zombie and the zombie will be unaffected.

These screenshots are the reason about why I started to write this comment. Look at the legs, this is what really amazed me. If you notice, the left leg stays on a lower step than the right one. This means that finally the monsters are starting to react concretely with the environment. They don’t simply slide anymore on the ground with an animation attached to the movement. Instead they are starting to have real limbs, with a simulated movement that depends on the environment. I’m quite sure that this is simply based on the “ragdolls” but what I mean is that we are starting to go toward an interesting direction. What DooM 3 misses, even compared to its original version, is the “level”. The original DooM was a game strongly based on level-building more than the monsters. The walls were highly interactive and a level could change completely, transforming itself from narrow corridors to open spaces. And the open spaces are what DooM 3 misses more.

So this is what I expect as the evolution of this genre (I expect this even for MMOGs): interaction with the environment. Not only because the movements of the limbs will be simulated by an algorithm but because the movement of those limbs will be based on the physics. And the physics will be the real, only ruleset of the game. Considering strictly the gameplay this will mean that the Imp won’t simply be well-animated on a stair, but it will be able to jump on a wall, clutch on a handrail and things like this. The monsters shouldn’t be just entities walking on a more or less flat, horizontal level. Instead they should be able to walk on the ceiling, lurking everywhere around a level. What is now strictly scripted and hand-defined should be part of the IA and the physic defining the level. Instead of building using polygons, the level designers will start to use “materials”, as if building something in the reality.

The aim is to create an environment where you don’t have to anticipate and plan ahead the reactions of the players and the monsters. You will simply build a realistic environment and the gameplay in that environment will be completely open and free as in real-life. Because you’ll move from “designing” a game in all its parts, to a simulation. After this process the design itself will change and it will allow designers to really demonstrate their creativity within a game-world.

Another issue is about the negative influence of the consoles. As you all know using a gamepad to play an FPS isn’t really easy and this is affecting the level design. The levels are starting to become more and more flat and horizontal to reduce the problems of the controls on a console. I consider the sense of “verticality” one of the strongest elements for the immersion and gameplay. A huge part of the strength of the “Lord of the Rings” movies of Peter Jackson is due exactly to this vertical sense, with mind-blowing movements of camera. And this isn’t a strong element for an FPS, but for every form of art. Even in a game like DAoC one of the worst aspects is the level design, in particular on the old zones. You have hills, grass and trees. That’s all. The level itself can be lovely rendered but it lacks of any interest or creativity, completely unappealing. Instead the level design, for every kind of game, is strongly important. It becomes content because the environment is all, even more important if you also give a role in the gameplay to that environment. World of Warcraft represents a step forward on this idea, even if it doesn’t accomplish the interaction. We don’t have anymore horizontal levels, instead the verticality is present and largely used. You don’t walk on flat terrain, nor on random hills. Each small corner of the world is designed with a sense, there are uplands, long slopes, peaks and so on. You could find a small town on a lake, bordered by high mountains and, on top, a castle, accessible only from a tortuous road and a bridge on a chasm. The terrain isn’t anymore boring and random, instead it has a strong role in defining the environment. Not anymore as the “background”, but as the “subject”. Finally.

Unfortunately World of Warcraft stops with the interaction. You won’t be able to jump from a cliff to escape from a monster. Because the monster will teleport randomly at the bottom of that cliff, or simply nuke you through a hill if you try to flee and use the environment as a defence.

Now I’ll go back to observe my DooM 3 screenshot. Look at the hand of the monsters, the colors, the effects of the fireball, the shadows… For the first time raw math and artificial code are starting to challange the beauty of a painting.

Interesting points, Mr HRose, thanks. I remember Carmack saying a while ago (pre Quake 3?) that getting feet to do what they were supposed to (ie walk) was one of his goals, and exactly how difficult that was.

I haven’t played Doom 3, but have just entered the wonderland of balls to the wall playability that is Painkiller, and that’s the one I’d call the real sequel to Doom.

I wish they’d left out the cutscenes, though.

Excellent post Hrose! I agree, the second I saw them Doom mobs joints working like they Should I was awe-inspired. Seeing such a in-control mob interact with it’s environment has got to be a holy grail for game devs.

But saying that, I just want RPG’s, for example, to return to the days of Ultima6 and 7.
I want to bake bread!

Eh, I’m a big fan of that and I’d love to have those features ported to an online game. But the fact is that the projects are more and more money driven and things like that are always the first to be cut from the design.

The only game trying that path is SWG, but it does everything in the wrong way.

Eh, I’m a big fan of that and I’d love to have those features ported to an online game. But the fact is that the projects are more and more money driven and things like that are always the first to be cut from the design.

The only game trying that path is SWG, but it does everything in the wrong way.[/quote]

That’s just the thing, I don’t want a MMOG game derived from U6. Just give me a persona, a mission, and nobody else around to observe my obsessive compulsive disorder. Gimme MY world, ya know what I mean?

I feel a world ain’t fun unless it’s OURS. It’s hard to dismiss the feeling that you’re alone in a world and still feel it’s real. Not to poop on online games, they have a very fun aspect to them. But gimme a world, a real world, and I’ll kiss the feet of the designers till at least Half Life 3 comes out.

Cost cut designs suck, but we can always dream…

I spent a little time in DooM 3 and I finished to use the old godmode because I wanted to check the Imp model in tranquility. Without the cheat I’m too scared and I can just shoot randomly everywhere and flee. I also cannot play for more than five minutes because I simply feel too scared.

When you led with that I thought the whole post was sarcastic and didn’t bother reading another doom3 parody post.


That part pisses me off about Doom3. The animation and modeling might be great but I’ll never see it because it’s too damn dark and after you kill an enemy they dissolve.

Actually HRose, Valve claims HL2 has much less scripted events and that more of the actions that used to be scripted will be a result of the AI scanning its enviorment. But I’ll believe it only when I’ll open HL2 maps in the editor and actually see it.


So your theory is that console controllers are good at letting the thumbstick move left and right, but up and down is still a real problem? And worse, PC developers are flattening out the levels to accomodate their ports on up/down restricted machines?

The fear that PC gamers have of the consoles is astounding. Remember when people thought you could get AIDS from a gay man touching you? It’s right in Eddie Murphy’s Delirious. Instead of blaming consoles, on which I’ve played Halo, a great FPS that features rolling hills, slopes, cliffs, waterfalls and even alien aircraft that fly high right above your head (they require 180 degrees of vertical scrolling to shoot at), let’s instead blame… the developers. Could it be possible that a very large area with many polygons and a great draw distance could be very taxing in the Doom engine? On my borderline machine I had the frames-per-second constantly displayed in the upper corner, which loosely doubled as a sort of barometer of how much fun I was having. I dreaded the bigger rooms as I watched my framerate dip into the high 20s. When this happened, I didn’t get angry at my PS2, female gamers, kids, or Japan. Instead I cursed rocketeer and serial envelope pusher John Carmack. Hulls, occluders, r_speeds, BSP trees, normals, flying buttresses… It all sounds very complicated and sometimes wishing something into existence is not enough.

Besides, you held Doom 1 up throughout your thesis as a shining example of what was right with level design. It didn’t seem to suffer from being a giant pancake when viewed through HRose coloured glasses.

I strongly suspect the whole point of this post was to find a way to use the above phrase.

As an example Final Fantasy 11 has huge issues with the interface since it’s a port from a console game.

Doom 1 wasn’t an example of perfect level design. It had “bad” features, like levels having absolutely no sense aside producing interesting gameplay. Now we are going toward a simulation and reproduction of a believable environment but once again Doom 3 technology doesn’t allow “too much”. In fact we have just corridors and a few, meaningful monsters.

Before we started to use the mouse to aim we used the arrow keys. It was still possible to look left and right and also up and down. But it wasn’t exactly easy.

Halo has a few exception to the rule but it still develops on a horizontal level where you shoot enemies right in fromt of you. I believe you also have an autoaim options to ease the problems with the pad.

The two axes cannot be treated identically. Fundamentally any FPS is dealing with a character who is constrained by gravity, and from the perspective of movement the ability to look up and down isn’t nearly as important as the ability to turn and look at the door you’re about to go through. So I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that people have more trouble with up-down freelook than left-right, just from lack of practice. I know I do.

http://ducttape.glenmurphy.com/ :wink:

So my official Doom 3 comments:

  1. Uncertainty is scary. Knowing something is there, but not quite where, or what it is, is scary. Note these are not equivalent to “really dark and enemies jumping at you every single time you’d expect them to if you were designing a b-grade predictable horror movie.” The game is so goddamn predictable I got bored after an hour.
  2. What the fuck is up with the armor and ammo scattered all over the place? It makes no sense in the context of the game world at all, and it isn’t fun.
  3. What’s the point in having secrets and lots of items when it’s just ammo and armor? This might be fun if there was Duke Nukem 3d-style items like the holoduke that you actually could use and plan around, but nope. It’s just drudgery.
  4. The scripting is static. That guy who tells you to stop moving in the initial airlock where they bio-scan you, fresh off the arrival ship? He always says that, whether you’re moving or not. Lazy.
  5. Single well-lit monster syndrome!

God, what a turd.

All your comments are in-line with the other thread I wrote:

But mine has bullet points! :D

Yes, but what I did was about collecting all those points and summarize them under the same flaw:

  • The design breaks the “suspension of disbelief” because it exploits artificial “out of game” design strategies.

What you wrote in those points is true and originated by the same flaw in the design stage: “out of game” design.

Yeah, just consider it a “I agree with you.” Fucking Carmack.

Jason, even though (as H. Rose rightly j’accuses or il t’accuses or something) you ripped off H Rose’s penetrarating denunciation of Doom 3’s design flaws wholesale, I’d like to thank you anyway. So here goes: Thanks for neatly summarizing Koontz 2’s plodding forty paragraph post on things we all said about Doom 3 a month ago while expunging from your summary the bizarre comparisons he made to an MMORPG completely dissimilar to it in every way.

Fun that PcWorld has just posted a “mixed” review between DooM 3 and City of Heroes:

Both are hugely entertaining, and both cater to a very specific desire of gamers: to remove one’s self completely from reality for a few hours per day (or week).

Just a re-iteration of the flaws I focused. The purpose is the immersion of the “spectator” inside an experience. And there are basic flaws in this process.

It isn’t important if the experience are completely different (single player FPS and a mmorpg), because there are many, shared purposes and mechanics under the skin.