This week we were tasked with playing and writing about id Software’s seminal 1993 video game: DOOM. DOOM is a science-fiction first person shooter in which you play as a space marine fighting your way through a horde of demonic creatures. You may have heard about it.
Despite it being an extremely prolific game, I had never played it before this week which might make my observations more interesting or even more naive. To preface my investigation into the game, I must state that while I have played a couple of first person shooters, Wolfenstein: New Order being the most recent, I am not extremely familiar with the genre. Additionally, I tend to opt for stealth where I can which, again, makes me even more unprepared for a run-and-gun style of game like DOOM.
With this in mind it may come as no surprise that I was initially stumped by the game. The first level drops you into a large open room that is brightly lit and scattered with corpses and health pickups. Upon seeing this, I assumed that I was about to be attacked or that the monsters were just around the corner. This was not the case at all; to get to monsters I would have to cross the room and open the door, a fact which took me about 10 minutes to work out. This was mostly due to my unfamiliarity with the controls. Being used to playing modern games, and never having played video games as a kid (unless they were about math or typing), I was initially caught off guard by how unintuitive the controls felt. Having to hold ALT to strafe, as opposed to it just being automatic, felt clunky and awkward: like I was controlling a tank. Similarly, aiming by turning and shooting with CTRL felt equally as wrong (I guess you never realise how intuitive mouse look is until it is taken away from you). Additionally, the controls were hidden in the menu under the heading “Read This!” .
It wasn’t until I had read through them that I realised that you could open doors in the game. Again, this demonstrates the difference between DOOM and more modern games in which controls prompts are not only common but sometimes intrusive. Switching weapons required me to move my hands away from the movement and shooting controls so I only ever did this when I was in a safe area. Again, this is an issue that has been solved by modern first person shoots. One could infer that just as any artistic medium adapts to changing technology so too did video games. As the genre of the first person shooter developed so too did control schemes that were better suited for a mouse and keyboard.
My final, and biggest, roadblock that I faced when playing the game was the vertical positioning of the gun. With no mouse look and no way to change to it, I had assumed that any enemies positioned above my gun sight were unreachable and had to be dodged. This caused me to be killed. Many times.Once again my familiarity with modern gaming conventions was my downfall. This demonstrates how, over time, control schemes and conventions become rooted in both the games and the players. These conventions allows a player to jump into a game and already be competent and familiarised with the basics. However, when a game breaks the mould it can provide a unique and interesting experience. It may challenge the player in ways that they are not used to, which can be extremely rewarding in its own right. I was honestly proud of myself when I successfully strafed out of the way of a fireball. Something that would be simple and automatic in any other game was challenging and made me feel powerful and competent because of it. One notable game that does this is Receiver.
Despite these difficulties, I found DOOM extremely enjoyable and wonderfully atmospheric. From the get go, the visuals, level design and audio set the scene for the tense action that is to come. The pumped up soundtrack and fast paced movement really make you feel like a bad-ass space marine, although the exaggerated head bob was a little disorientating. The large open environments in combination with tight, right-angle corridors helped create a sense of anxiety and anticipation as I moved between areas in which I was completely exposed to areas in which I was trapped. This in combination with the extremely creepy monster growls kept me on my toes.
Each monster has a different attack that requires a different approach (this is called Orthogonal Unit Differentiation). To go along with this, they also have a unique visual design and audio cue. Not knowing anything about the monsters before playing the game, these cues allowed me to quickly learn each monster’s attack and helped me to anticipate and plan for each encounter. This was definitely my favourite feature of the game as it is one of the reasons I love The Binding of Isaac so much. I feel that it adds an extra layer of strategy to the combat which helps keep the game interesting, even once you have mastered the controls.
Finally, I found the level layout really clear, with plenty of health and armour pickups. The large open rooms contained secrets and many different paths but ultimately merged back to the one main path. I liked having this level of freedom while still always knowing where to go. The hidden secrets and little extras scattered around the level also encouraged me to explore further. Additionally, I found that the use of flickering lights as a guiding mechanism was extremely helpful while also still fitting with the tone and visual style of the game.
Overall, I really enjoyed my playthrough of DOOM. It was really atmospheric and challenging in a way different from that of other games I play. While I might not play it again I can definitely appreciate it for what it is and what it has contributed to games as a whole.