In many games, speed and power are often tradeoffs. You don’t get both. But in Doom Eternal, they go together, and this leads to a different kind of first-person shooter. The faster you go, the harder you are to kill … and the more likely you are able to reap the power you need to take down enemies.
In Doom, id Software’s developers figured out how to get players out of cover and into the fight by rewarding them for aggressive play. And Doom Eternal takes that to the next level, said creative director Hugo Martin in an interview with GamesBeat.
It’s like moving around on a skateboard and taking down enemies at the same time. Citing his elder colleague, Marty Stratton, Martin says he agrees with Stratton’s view that this is the “best game we’ve ever made.”
The game uses the idTech 7 game engine to deliver the crazy visuals of hell on Earth. You’ll get powerful weapons to blow apart huge demons and beat back the hordes of the underworld.
Bethesda plans to release Doom Eternal on March 20 on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Switch, and Stadia. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: You had some extra time to polish. How has this helped you?
Hugo Martin: Even from the build that you’re playing now, there’s some minor inconveniences and bugs we were able to get out. We just really polished up the game and made sure it’s everything the fans expect. As Marty says, he really feels like it’s the best thing we’ve ever made as a studio. I leave that to him to say, because he’s been there for 15 or 20 years. But it makes us all proud when he says that. It means a lot coming from him. But we just had much more time to polish the game from every possible angle.
GamesBeat: Did the difficulty change at all over this time?
Martin: No. It’s a more polished experience overall, so player education has gone up, tutorials, just letting people know what to do and when they did something wrong. Teaching the meta of Doom. That’s important. The fun of the game isn’t figuring out what to do, but mastering how to do it.
We have a broad range of difficulties, too, from easy to nightmare. We think we have something for everyone. But it’s not meant to be — our goal is not to make a hard game. We just want to give people something to master, something that keeps them engaged.
GamesBeat: I remember the last time I tried it, I played one level up from easy, and it was too hard for me. [Laughs] I couldn’t get through one level of the last demo.
Martin: How is it going now?
GamesBeat: I put it down to easy, so I’m doing fine. I’m still dying some, but that’s okay.
Martin: What’s cool, and I said this before, is that we worked really hard this time with our difficulty settings to make sure that the experience you have on easy is basically the exact same experience you would have on nightmare. It’s just happening faster. On nightmare, they hit harder and they throw more shots. Everything you’re doing on easy will translate to nightmare. You just have to do it about 10 times faster.
What we’ve found is that the replayability has gone up quite a bit. Once you beat it on easy, or once you master it halfway through on easy, you’ll find yourself wanting to try a harder difficulty, and when you get there, you’re not surprised. The last time, we actually messed with their accuracy and a lot of different things about the projectiles and how they worked. In hindsight, I didn’t like that too much, because it meant that it was a different game on nightmare. I think it should be a harder game, and I think that nightmare this time is more challenging for players who look for that, but it’s not a different game. That’s important.
GamesBeat: I remember the story sequences from the last game being mainly holograms.
Martin: Yeah, the holograms and codex entries. And some cutscenes.
GamesBeat: You had to read a lot and pay attention to the holograms if you wanted to follow the story. Is that the way the story is told this time as well?
Martin: No, I think we expand a bit more. But for the most part, it’s very similar. We’ve chipped away a lot of the parts of the game that people maybe didn’t respond to as much and steered into the parts they did respond to. It’s even more of — it’s more Doom, you know? It just feels more on-brand than the last one. More colorful. It’s more like a Saturday morning cartoon.
The story is big and bold but stays out of your way. If you want to learn more about it, you have to dig into the world and pay attention to everything. You have to piece it together. It’s meant to be a story that pulls you in. We’re not going to answer all of the questions. Even if you read all the lore and pay attention to everything, there are still–we’re going to require the player to fill in the blanks and piece together what they think is happening, what the overall story and the history of the world is. We think that makes for a more engaging experience, having that air of mystery to everything. But we certainly give you a lot of pieces this time, and expand on the things that people loved in Doom 2016.
GamesBeat: I didn’t really like it when an important piece of the story gets to me through something I have to read. That’s where I kind of draw my line. I’m happy to read almost everything there is to read, but in Control, it has a reference to Alan Wake in a document that you were supposed to find and read. That’s a big moment, to link the universes together, and I would have rather seen that kind of bigger story moment come at me more directly.
Martin: The way that id handles that — because I agree with you — is that in Doom Eternal, anything important about what I’m doing and where I’m going is going to be in a cutscene. The codex is for the subtext, for the nerd lore stuff. A deeper understanding of the history of the people I’m interacting with, what my relationship was like with them in the past, how we know each other. That’s where you go to find a deeper understanding of the context of the situation, or the subtext beneath things. For what we call the A story — what I’m doing, where I’m going, and why I’m going there — that’s in the cutscenes, front and center.
Staying on the run
GamesBeat: It seems like the basic theme continuing from Doom 2016 is this notion that you always have to be moving and figuring out what to do to get more stuff to survive. You’re not hiding out.
Martin: Being aggressive is the solution to every problem in Doom. Movement is critical. Even more now. If you stop moving, you’re dead. They will seek you out, gang up on you, and kill you.
GamesBeat: As far as what is spawning where, you think you’ve cleaned out an area, but things can spawn behind you.
Martin: Yeah, just to promote movement from the player. If we don’t do that, then they’ll be able to pick a spot and stay there and take everybody out. It’s what we call 360 degrees of pressure on the player. If you only have 180 degrees — a lot of games will only put 180 or 90 degrees of pressure on a player, usually from the front. The movement capabilities of the player character in other games might not be as varied as they are in Doom Eternal. Asking me to account for 360 degrees of pressure with a different movement system might be miserable.
But in Doom, running, using jump hands, swinging around–the whole skateboard analogy really applied. You’re just gliding around the environment. If you don’t do that — we encourage you to do that by spawning guys all over the place.
GamesBeat: As far as the best game id has made, what were some things you think you picked up from other games in the past?
Martin: Honestly, we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. In terms of the character design of the original 1993 Doom, the demons — as you see, they just look like triple-A modern versions of those, because that’s how good those designs were. The work they did with the original Doom is still our biggest source of inspiration. When you look at a lot of what we’re doing with resource management and keeping the player thinking, this is nothing new. This was in the original Doom. Really, in any good–not just a video game, but in any game in general, it keeps you thinking, keeps you engaged.
For example, the rocket launcher in the original Doom was a big, dangerous weapon that was extremely powerful and could get you killed if you didn’t use it correctly. The ammo for it was in limited supply. You really cared when you saw a rocket sitting on the ground in the original Doom. You knew not to waste it on fodder and you knew not to just run around with it hanging out because you could kill yourself.
That’s the rocket launcher in Doom Eternal. That kind of respect that the players had for every component of the original Doom game really kept them engaged. You were thinking the whole time when you were using the weapons. There was a risk and reward involved.
A critique of the last rocket launcher, I would say — again, we love the last game. We think it’s great. We love that fans love it. But you have to objectively look at the things you make and see where you can improve them. Never get too high and never get too low. Just an even-keeled review of what we made and see where we can objectively improve it. I think the rocket launcher was just too spammable last time. You could use it like a rifle. That’s fun, and that had its place, especially for the time. In 2016 I think it was refreshing. But this time around, not unlike the original Doom, we wanted to make the players consider the right tool for the job when it came to what weapon you pull out in whichever situation you’re in. And how you use that weapon.
GamesBeat: Did you ever need to deal with Doom fan rage? I don’t think anyone was that unhappy with the last one.
Martin: No. We’re fortunate. We worked hard to make something that would do the fans proud. We just steered into everything they liked, you know? Not too much of that.
Well, I shouldn’t say that. With the multiplayer, we learned that they want id to lead and not follow. They felt that our multiplayer was a solid remix of a bunch of things they’d already played. That’s not good enough for fans of id games. And so with this multiplayer, we really tried to do just that and innovate and do something they haven’t seen before, but have it still feel completely Doom, and like the Doom Eternal single-player experience that they love.
We’re very proud of that, and we’re excited for fans to try it. I think they’re going to be shocked at how deep it is. On the surface it might look like checkers, but once you get your hands on it you realize it’s more like chess.
GamesBeat: If there’s an inspiration there, what is it? Is there anything related to Rage or Wolfenstein?
Martin: In the single-player? No. Nothing related to that stuff. We didn’t work on Rage. That was a different team at Avalanche. I think a few people at id worked on it, and of course Tim. But not too much. It’s a completely different game.
GamesBeat: It has its own secure identity.
Martin: Yeah, I think it’s important that every game we make have its own identity. We don’t mind that there’s maybe a running theme with some of the games we make. I really just think the theme with id games should be quality. If it’s made at id, there’s a standard that we have to meet. Again, because of the history of the studio. People come there because of that great history.
To me, I often–I view id as like Disney. There were the nine old men who invented the genre of animation, and at id we have that. We have the group of guys who created a genre of games that we all fell in love with. We’re the next generation of id guys who have to carry on the tradition of excellence. That’s a lot of pressure, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s gotta be good. Their work did quite a bit for video games. It’s quite an expectation to live up to. But it’s motivating.
GamesBeat: Are you going to have some twists and turns here, or is it more of a straightforward story?
Martin: There’s definitely a lot of interesting stuff to uncover. Again, expanding the Doom universe for those that are interested. I think if you don’t pay attention, you’ll probably just — the twists and turns come from the gameplay. We’re going to be throwing a lot at you, a lot of things to keep you engaged throughout. Not just through arena combat, but a lot of the incidental stuff. I think you saw it, if you made it far enough already–just the wall cannons in the hallways and the different kinds of combat puzzles we ask you to solve. That’s not just arena combat. We’re really proud of it.
GamesBeat: My challenge is remembering what I’m running out of and how to get that. I tend to pause the game and open up and think, “Oh, that’s what I’m supposed to get.”
Martin: That’s common. We’re fine with frustrating the player, so long as that frustration pushes them into the style of play that we know, once they master it, will be satisfying. Dying because you constantly run out of ammo in the first half-hour is common, because we’re teaching you something. If it’s something you can pick up within seconds, it’s probably not really that sophisticated or worth your time.
What’s challenging in the first half-hour to an hour will become second nature in the second hour. Then we’ll introduce you to something else. By the sixth, seventh, or eighth hour — like I said, the martial arts analogy applies. You’re earning your white belt, so there’s some things you’re learning, but about eight hours in you’ll be a black belt. The stuff you struggle with now will seem like breathing.
That’s where the flow state comes from in Doom. You really reach that flow state in Doom, where you’re instinctively doing all these things and managing the fight. It’s more than just shooting at guys. It’s a resource management war, in part. It’s strategy. But all of it falls into the category of aggression. You always have to be aggressive. That’s the key to Doom.
GamesBeat: I’m always in a state of panic. [Laughs] I’m not sure I get to that meta-level.
Martin: You’ll be there. Again, the power fantasy is to be earned. We won’t just hand you a shotgun and say, “Go win everything.” It’s something you have to earn, and it’s that much sweeter when you do. We want you to climb Mount Everest and get to the top and feel satisfied. We just have to make sure that you don’t die on your way up.