Few games have changed gaming as much as the original Doom did. The game opened up the world of pulse-pounding first-person action to a huge audience, and it also helped establish multiplayer play, thanks to its network multiplayer deathmatch options. The series' creator, id Software, seems to have every expectation that Doom III will make just as indelible a mark on gaming, in large part because of the incredibly high-definition visuals and dramatic real-time shadows made possible by the developer's latest 3D technology. But while the technology and game design have long been complete, the pressure is on for id's 18-person team to finish the game this year and deliver the sort of deep, atmospheric single-player experience we've only seen hints of in the game's few public appearances over the last two years.
Doom III won't have a major presence at next month's E3, but there will be a new trailer at the show. Fortunately, you don't have to wait until the convention doors open on May 14 to finally get some real news on the game, because we managed to track down id's lead designer, Tim Willits, to discuss this highly anticipated game. Read on for the first details on Doom III's multiplayer, an account of a recent memorable single-player experience, and his explanation of why Doom III really will live up to fans' high expectations.
GameSpot: There's so much anticipation for Doom III at this point that it seems larger than life. Will the final game be as revolutionary as many expect it to be?
Tim Willits: Doom III will truly change what people expect from a video game experience. Every piece of technology, from the rendering system to the six-channel surround sound and the realistic physics, is coupled with incredible art and design to create a world that is hyperrealistic and more interactive than ever. Players will be drawn into the mood and atmosphere of the game to the point where they feel like they are part of the world--not just a character running through a noninteractive set piece.
GS: There've been plenty of innovative shooters over the years. Is it hard to break new ground in a mature genre? What part of the gameplay experience do you think will be the most impressive?
TW: Breaking new ground is never easy--if it were easy, everyone would be able to do it. We choose to work on first-person action games because there is no more immersive experience than looking through the eyes of your character. The original Doom was groundbreaking in that it drew players into the experience of a video game like never before. Players were scared of the environment and the characters--they would try to dodge fireballs by leaning in their chairs, or jump out of their chairs in fear when a hell knight came around the corner. Doom III is the next evolution in that experience, and it will change our expectations for how a first-person game should look and play in the same way Doom did. When you play Doom III, you forget that you are playing a video game, and it's at that moment we can really terrify you. I'm continually surprised that a game I've spent so much time creating can scare me the way Doom III does. I can't imagine how it is going to affect people who really don't know what is around the next corner.
GS: I bet that you're playing at least parts of the game internally. Are there certain moments that stand out in your mind as memorable? What's your favorite weapon?
TW: I've had a number of great experiences recently, but one of the best happened just the other day and really brought together a bunch of the cool new elements in Doom III. I was making my way through one of the more lab-type areas of the game and started down a hallway. As I got about halfway down the hall, one of the zombie scientists approached from the next room. I was low on ammo and health and wanted to lure him down the hall, away from any other enemies in the next room, so I retreated to the previous room and waited. As he moved down the hallway, the light behind him was much stronger, so he cast a long shadow that moved ahead of him--I could see him coming just by his shadow. When he was finally in front of me, I shot him square in the chest with the shotgun. He just happened to be standing in front of a window to another room, and the force of the shotgun blast blew him back through the window and down a short set of stairs. We utilize "rag doll" physics on our characters, so his body tumbled perfectly down the stairs to the bottom. It was one of those moments where you just say, "Wow!"
All the weapons in Doom III are fun to use, and each one serves a purpose in the game, depending on the situation the player is in, but I think my overall personal favorite is still the shotgun. It has a wide range of uses--good for picking bad guys off from a distance, and great for those in-your-face battles. When I have it up, I can almost feel it in my hands, the heavy metal feel and the feedback I get when I fire it right on. When I run out of shotgun ammo, I really begin to get scared.
Deathmatch With Atmosphere
GS: Has the team encountered particular challenges in trying to put the gameplay and design into practice? What has it been like to work with the new game engine?
TW: I could write a book on the challenges we've faced in the development of Doom III, and there are always challenges in game development, particularly when working with new technologies. Aside from the challenges that John [Carmack] faces in developing the technology, our biggest challenge has probably been in the amount of assets that need to be created. When you create a gaming experience that is so real and so detailed, it exponentially increases the amount of content that needs to be created and the detail at which that content is created. All our assets are created at a prerendered-CG quality level, and through the magic of the technology are able to be displayed in the game in real time. Compared with other major game companies, we are a relatively small team of 18 developers working on a very large game with massive asset requirements, so it has been a major challenge to simply generate the amount of content that we need at such a high level of quality.
GS: We all know that the focus is on Doom III's single-player component, but tell us what the current multiplayer plans are and where they stand right now.
TW: Our focus hasn't changed--we're putting all our resources into developing an unbelievable single-player experience. We will, however, include a multiplayer component that includes game types like deathmatch and last man standing. There is nothing more visceral than competing against another human player, particularly in a first-person game. However, this experience is going to be very different from something like Quake III Arena. Doom III multiplayer is incredibly intense, and the light and shadows play a much bigger role in the gameplay. Never before in a multiplayer game have players had to worry about their shadow and whether or not it has revealed their position, or been able to shoot out lights so they can hide in the darkness. This alone adds a level of reality, depth, and atmosphere that is again going to redefine expectations about how a multiplayer game should look and feel.
GS: How much of the game is done at this point? Are you confident that things will be finished to your standards by the end of 2003?
TW: We've felt comfortable for a while now saying that we'd be done with the game in 2003, and we still hope to have it out this year. That said, we won't release the game until we are happy with it. Our game design has been done for over a year now, John Carmack is basically done with the rendering system, and almost all the other systems are in and working. We've definitely transitioned from the technology-building phase to the game-building and content-creation phase, and it's exciting to see the game being more visually realized every day.
GS: Doom III made a big splash at last year's E3. Will we see the game at next month's show? If not, will the game stay under wraps until it ships?
TW: We couldn't have been happier with the response at last year's E3. The game won an unprecedented five "critic's choice" awards and countless online and print "best of E3" awards. It takes an enormous amount of time and effort to prepare the game for E3, so this year we're scaling back our presence quite a bit so we can stay focused on game development. We have put together a trailer that will be playing in the Activision booth, but we won't be showing the game to the press or general attendees. You can expect to hear from us from time to time and see little pieces of the game between now and when we ship, but we also don't want to spoil the game for people, so we're trying to hold back some surprises.
GS: Thanks, Tim.