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.