Doom Eternal’s “restrained” game design

It may not look it from the explosions of blood and gore, but Doom's designers are being restrained with its new tools

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Doom 2016 was a fast game. You moved fast, you killed fast, and the better you got the less you needed to stand still. What we saw from the gameplay reveal during the Quakecon keynote, Doom Eternal is not only going to be faster but you now have a whole range of new movement abilities that let you traverse the environment and dance around your demonic enemies.

There’s the double-jump, the dash, wall-climbing, and best of all a harpoon that you can impale enemies with and then use as a rope swing. With the meathook you can pull yourself towards enemies, closing the gap so you can finish them with a shotgun, or swing past them, using your momentum to reach an otherwise inaccessible area.

Oddly, when creative director Hugo Martin thinks of the meathook, he thinks of it as restrained.

“The fact that you can only meathook onto enemies feels very Doom,” Martin tells me, “and it shows the type of restraint on some of our features we feel like it makes them great.

“Often I think the best parts of any art are the parts that the artist left out because it enhances all of the other features. I don’t care if it’s music, writing, movies – it’s the stuff they don’t show you in horror movies that makes it powerful. The fact that you don’t see Jaws all the time is why he’s scary. The fact that you can’t meathook onto every single surface in the game is what will make the meathook feel smart.”

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“We could make it so you grapple to anything but then, at least in the context of a Doom game, [it would] get a little out of control,” Martin adds.

The fact that you can't meathook onto every surface in the game is what will make the meathook feel smart

Hugo Martin

Creative director

This ‘restraint’ isn’t new with Doom Eternal,” executive producer Marty Stratton explains. “Everyone loved the chainsaw – you can cut guys in half, it’s beautiful – but everyone also loved the mechanic of the ammo replenishment.” When you found a chainsaw in Doom 2016 it only had limited fuel, meaning you knew to savour the moments you could dismember demons with such ease.

Martin and Stratton both refer to these mechanics as intelligent design, things that give a layer of choice to how players interact with Doom’s arenas. This is something you can see in the new shoulder-mounted launcher. “In 2016 you take down your gun, you throw a grenade, you bring back the gun,” Stratton says. “Now it’s like, how ‘Oh it would be awesome and powerful to be able to use your equipment launcher and to still be able to fire your gun’, which is exactly how it works. It’s awesome.

“When you use the flamethrower you light guys up and if you shoot them while they’re on fire you get little armour shards that pop out like popcorn. It’s this combination of over the top fun, but also intelligence.”

The dash also, while an excellent movement tool for rushing towards and past enemies, has limitations designed into it. “The dash doesn’t regenerate while you’re in the air,” Stratton says. “There’s two dashes and it regenerates quickly but only when you’re on the ground. Those little moments of restraint are […] the nuance that holds everything together: the glue of the game is the little decisions.”

Id doesn’t use restraint simply to stop Doom Eternal’s abilities from spinning out of control, it’s to create a gap. “Because we don’t give you everything, you make up that difference with skill,” Martin explains. “Between what the feature can do, what you want it to do, that’s where the fun is. It gives you something to master.”

So, while Doom Eternal may look like a straightforward bloodsoaked sprint through a demon-infested Earth, every step you take in the game has been carefully designed to empower you, yes, but also encourage you to stretch further than the game carries you.

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