Monday, August 09, 2004

id Software Makes a Game 

This weekend, I did something that I haven't done in quite some time: get a video game. And what a game.

As you can probably guess, the game is Doom 3. It's quite different from id's previous titles in that it's an actual game, and not just some playable technology demo. I hesitate to say this, because it will almost certainly lead you astray and set up expectations that it can't fulfill: It's more like Half-Life. Which is not to say it's like Half-Life. It has borrowed a lot from Half-Life, but it's not the same type of game. If Half-Life was like an action movie, Doom 3 is more like a horror movie. I'll explain that more in a second, but first I want to explain a little better about the Doom 3 atmosphere.

Doom 3 is not as amazingly interactive as Half-Life was. You can't shoot the soda machines until all the cans come spilling out. But it definitely has a very vivid world you can walk around in; gigantic machines pound away, and the martian surface is convincing. You start the game and walk around the facility, watching them go about their work, or overhearing their conversations, and trying to figure out where you are supposed to go, just like Half-Life. People are walking around doing things, and there are real areas, like restrooms, offices, a kitchen, reception desks, lounge chairs, and so on. Eventually, just as in Half-Life, things go wrong and all hell breaks loose (actually, it happens somewhat more suddenly than in Half-Life, but you get the idea).

So, it takes good stuff from Half-Life (stuff that really, everyone should be taking from Half-Life by now). It's really not Half-Life with better graphics, as much as you might want that. If you play Doom 3 alone at night in the dark (I practically have to, the game is so dark that playing in daylight makes it almost impossible to see), it is scary. I have not finished the game, but the variety of ways that they have come up with to freak you out is astounding. It can leave you battered after a couple of hours of play; you walk into a new area and see all the grates, vents, cabinets, large, intricate machines, broken doors, columns, already-dead-bodies, and can see all the ways that something is going to pop out at you. And then something will rip through a staircase you were about to climb up, a new creature will come scampering down the walls at you, or some other thing you've never thought of. There's plenty of false alarms, too. Panels busting open, things breaking as you walk over them. You'll be walking around, wondering if you hear too many footsteps. You stop: did they last too long, or am I alone? Since the game is largely in darkness, you need to use your flashlight to get around, but you can't have a weapon ready while you're using the flashlight. Even worse is the darkness you're plunged into as you arm weapons and start firing. Perhaps the most sickening feeling is turning a dark corner, poking around with the flashlight, and realizing that you're standing right next to some grotesque, eyeless zombie staring silently at you for a moment before attacking. Things whisper in your ears, you get visions, you find bizarre altars with candles and slow, demonic laughter. Like I said, it can leave you feeling battered. Man, I really don't want to crawl through this ventilation shaft, you'll say.

This probably sounds ridiculous if you haven't tried it. Like I said, the graphics make it all real. The number of texturing passes gives every surface in the game a level of believability that hasn't been seen before. You can see the ridges on the back of your knuckles, and the light plays across the texture of your skin on the back of your hand. That's true of every surface in the game. The weird growth that oozes over the base has a pronounced shininess, which plays off all the bumps and veins in the growth, and makes it seem wet, pulsing, and real. When you find yourself with a zombie in your face and a flashlight in your hand, you can see it shining off his pupil-less eyes and every one of his teeth, and into the belly button of his engorged stomach. It's disgusting, you just want to put some distance between it and you. Obviously, the other major component of this is the dynamic lighting. When you open a door and walk into a room to find the single hanging light fixture still dancing around from whatever was just there, making shadows play around the walls from every surface and object in the room, you really buy it.

The lighting and normal mapping are obviously the two biggest tricks to make your mind buy the visuals on the screen. But there are a ton of wonderful little touches that make the world feel real. The first thing I noticed was the window glass. The windows in the game aren't just flat sheets with a transparent texture. They actually subtly distort what's behind them, just like real windows! You walk past a long window and can just barely make out the subtle warping effect of the glass. When there's a source of heat, like a fire, or a hot machine, it also warps whatever is behind it, in perfect imitation of the frenzied rippling you would see in real life. You can see yourself in mirrors. The lighting can simulate the ultra-white lighting of a welding torch too, a glow that some machines throw off. In multiplayer, you can see your own shadow. There's a physics engine too. So when you are stuck in a cramped office with some zombie jumping through the window at you, and you're trying to put some space between the two of you, you can hear and feel yourself knocking over chairs and desk lamps and boxes stacked in the corner as the two of you thrash about.

I was surprised how well it ran on my system. I run it at 1024x768, "Medium" quality. Normally I have an aversion to "Medium," since it usually looks like crap and has lower resolution textures. In Doom 3, it should really be called Perfectly Good quality. Only in "Low" quality is the texture resolution lowered. In "Ultra," all textures and maps are uncompressed (probably not realistic for any card out today). In High quality, all the textures and maps are compressed except the normal maps. The only difference between High and Medium is that in Medium, the normal maps are also compressed. Since the compression is lossy, this does visibly affect the quality of the image. However, it's not that bad. Most surfaces you can't really tell, and if you don't know what to look for, you might not see it at all. It's only on the really round, detailed surfaces where this lowers the quality. If you play the game on High first, and then walk around, you'll notice some objects here and there that don't look as good, but it's way preferable to lowering the texture quality.

Overall, it's just a fantastic game experience. Not as incredibly detailed as Half-Life, but it's incredibly intense. You won't miss the functioning sinks and hand dryers. However, what it did make me miss was Marathon. Seeing how this remake had reformed a crappy, simplistic game like Doom into a wonderful, gripping experience made me wish Bungie would give Marathon the same remake treatment. Doom 3's hallways are freaky and real, but they made me miss the haunted elegance and architecture of the Marathon. Doom was always about being scary and aggressive (demons). Marathon was less scary and more surreal (the moody, flickering lights everyone is going crazy over in Doom 3 were present in the original Marathon, for example). And it was certainly more engaging. As fun as getting freaked out by Doom 3 can be, I can't stop wishing it was Marathon being reimagined instead.

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?