QuakeCon 2019: Jumping into ‘DOOM Eternal’ with the Developers at DOOMCon

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Doom Eternal

When it comes to DOOM (2016), the audience was split. Was it gorey, graphic, and fun? Yes. But was it extremely easy with a dash that broke the game and the ability to spam a shotgun with no consequences? Also yes. At QuakeCon 2019, a convention that doubles as both North America’s largest LAN (Local Area Network) Party and a three-day celebration of everything the publisher Bethesda has to offer, DOOM Eternal developer id Software showcased how the direct sequel to the 2016 game would be extremely different.

On day two of the convention, DOOM Eternal developers Marty Stratton and Hugo Martin walked a packed audience of DOOM fans through the game’s demo, which was playable on the show floor. Now, it may not seem like much, but given the high demand of the game, appointments to play the game filled up within the first minutes of the morning. In addition to getting to see the demo, since many wouldn’t be able to play it, the panel, titled “Knee Deep in Doom” worked to bring fans behind the veil. Audience members were able to look at the thought process behind the game’s mechanics and point out how DOOM Eternal improved on the issues from the last game in the series.

Doom Eternal

First and foremost, the glory kills are gorgeous, the weapons are plenty, and the movement is erratic. That being said, unlike other DOOM games, every kill, movement, and weapon choice is baked into the game’s combat puzzle experience. As the developers explained, they’re going to kill you. That’s a given. But learning from those deaths is essential to moving through the game’s strong focus on unforgiving resource management.

The ripping and tearing of demons is all done with a purpose; you have to use the mechanics. “It’s easy to make a game hard…We wanted to make a game that is like a combat puzzle…it’s not hard for the sake of hard.” And truthfully, the game is hard. You do die, a lot. But with every death you learn what not to do. Running out of ammo led to your untimely demise? Well, now you know that you have to start incorporating the chainsaw into your kills. Could a little more armor have helped you clear the mob? Looks like you need to make sure to throw in the flame belch. And of course, if you had only glory killed that prowler instead of shooting him with a shotgun, you could have gotten a sweet sweet health boost to last through the fight.

Ultimately, the gorey glory kills aren’t just fun to execute but the best bet at surviving. That said, you need quick thinking to adapt to the AI and decide when going in for a glory kill will serve you well and when it will get you killed. As the developers explained, getting up close and personal with the Mancubus is a one-way ticket to hell for your DOOM Slayer when the Mancubus still has his arm cannons. Once those are disabled with skillshots and his weakness is exploited, you’re open to killing him and gaining more health with a glory kill.

Doom Eternal

These viscerally violent kills are also directionally generated, meaning that not every glory kill is the same and they aren’t just on a rotation of animations. Instead, the developers showcased how moving the stick to the left versus the right when performing one changes the kill you deliver. Discovering your favorites will take some time, but when you figure out how to nail the right movement, you can do it over and over again.

One of the other tough mechanics that will result in death? You can not stop moving. With AI built into the game to hunt down a paused DOOM Slayer, the fast paced movement that the series is known for isn’t just a fun gimmick; it’s built into the game as a puzzle in and of itself. You can’t slow down to think, instead you need to keep dashing, meathooking, and jumping your way around the levels and arenas in order to keep from death. While the developers recognized that all these mechanics will surely beat you up as much you’re beating the demons, they didn’t leave you out in the cold like other challenging games.

The 1Up system offers up an extra reward for exploring and helps move the learning curve down. As you earn 1Ups by exploring and platforming to areas outside the linear path, you don’t need to load a checkpoint and lose your progression. Instead, your screen grays out and you keep moving, with a small moment of invulnerability allowing you to take stock of why you died and how you can regain your center in the game.

The platforming elements of DOOM Eternal aren’t easy either. Instead of mindlessly moving from spot to spot, the platforming requires you to use combos of double jumps, dashes, and wall running to move to a secret or to your next objective. Because of the difficulty, you’re going to fall off the world, and as the developers explained, they want you to. But unlike punishing platformers that take your moment of bad timing and make you lose your progress, this game fast respawns you on the ledge you just jumped from. No progress is lost and you don’t get sent into a spiral of annoyance. Instead, you get to keep moving and ultimately, DOOM Guy gets to try again.

Doom Eternal

Now, the team at id Software didn’t just think about how to keep the deaths less annoying teachable moments, they also worked on implementing a system that tells you exactly what you need to know about everything going on. In their words, “The HUD gives you all the information you need as loud as you need it.” There isn’t a need to run up to every piece of ammo and inspect it before picking it up. Instead, the new color-coded system is in your face and vibrant enough to make ammo, armor, and health easily spotted at the speed they intend you to.

The color-coding system extends outside 1Ups and other loot moments. Every piece of ammo is also coded to the weapon that takes it. With a HUD that’s loud and in your face, you have no excuse for not managing your resources. This system ultimately helps with the high difficulty. While there was no specific mention of a colorblind mode, the developers did explain that the HUD is completely customizable. This is because it serves one purpose: they “need to be able to tell you what you need really fast and really easy” and if they can’t, the game loses its puzzle quality and morphs into unbeatable territory.

Overall, the largest takeaway of the panel was that the developers at id Software were listening to fans not only about the difficulty of the game but also about the scale of it. To quote the team, “in three levels of [DOOM Eternal] you will get more set pieces and level design than in the entire [DOOM] 2016 game.” This is due in large part to the new focus on storytelling that privileges a three-act structure for almost every level. In the demo alone you travel from a base on the moon where you get your Big F***ing Gun, to a spot in the core of Mars.

With so much to explore, the team didn’t let us know how the hole in Mars got there. We know it was from the DOOM Slayer, but what was he shooting at? We’ll find out when the game launches in November on the Google Stadia, Xbox One, PlayStation4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.