“Doom is a celebration of video games,” creative director Hugo Martin tells me. This philosophy has driven a string of changes in Doom Eternal, bringing it even closer to the original game that kicked off the series in 1993 – aesthetic changes but also significant mechanical changes.
During Doom Eternal’s frantic, hyper violent gameplay reveal the Doom Slayer finds a 1 Up pickup. “I’m an old person,” Martin says, “so I remember playing Nintendo games so I remember the meaning of extra lives and how important they were.” In Doom 2016, when you died you went back to the last checkpoint and started over – your enemies respawned, ammo pickups reappeared, and you were had another go. In Doom Eternal, if you have a life, you don’t die, you’re dropped right back into the action, keeping the pace going instead of having to start over.
The lives system isn’t just an aid, though, it is a powerful tool to direct players. They’re “your reward for exploration in the game”, Martin explains. “Like, ‘There’s a 1 Up coin under this fucking thing? Okay, what do I have to do to get it?’”
It’s the same for other pickups, too, like ammo. Martin wants players to read their environment and be making decisions and short-term strategies based off what they can see as they blast away at demons. “I can make a judgement from across the room in the middle of battle that those are missiles over there and I don’t give a shit about that right now,” Martin says.
It’s that thinking that led to all of Doom Eternal’s pickups being redesigned. ”We made all the pickups look like Doom 1993 pickups,” Martin explains. “A criticism of 2016 in my opinion, you couldn’t make that decision as easily. It was a little like ‘Oh, that looks like a red box, I think that’s this thing but it might be something else. Fuck it, I’m not going to pick it up.’
“We needed pickups that just like in old-school Doom, doing 200 miles per hour, meathooking and tearing all these guys apart you can go ‘Missiles? Fuck ’em, I don’t need it.’ We made these models look extremely cartoonish and very heavy-handed and then we put just the right shader on it.”
“You would not believe what actually goes into [those pickups] each one is individually lit,” executive producer Marty Stratton adds. “There’s a little lighting rig that sits on top of it so you actually see it and can pick them out from far away.”
While some players might scoff at the idea of needing lives, it feeds into the way id see Doom. “We say making the Doom slayer is like making a race car,” Stratton says. “You can drive a Ferrari 70mph down a freeway and it’s fun. Drive it 200mph round a track and it’s also very fun.”
Id split Doom Eternal’s gameplay reveal into two sections. The first video showed the game being played on a controller, it looked fantastic but it was a little slower – that was “the Ferrari going down the freeway,” says Stratton. “Then when we said ‘Let’s go keyboard and mouse, change the FoV’, showing off what the slayer can do running around the track at 200mph.” The footage was recorded by the best player at the studio, they dance around the arena, cutting demons to shribbons with shotguns, rockets, and the slayer’s new wristblade. They dodge everything the demons throw at them.
“The 1 Up is very much an example of how do we make sure somebody that wants guardrails for their trip around the track with the Ferrari,” Stratton continues. ”Maybe they don’t have the thumb gymnastics or the keyboard and mouse skills but they still want the fun of Doom. We want it to be accessible, [so we have] the extra life. We have a bunch of things in the game that are new that specifically address the player who dies too often at bosses. We give them the opportunities where they have a 1 Up and don’t have to reload their saves.”
“The key thing is we don’t just give it to you,” Martin says. “You earned it. So when that guy swipes you and kills you that was your safety net and you went out and found that thing so you feel good. “Everything about Doom has this flavour of old school to it. I’m an old person, so I remember playing Nintendo games so I remember the meaning of extra lives and how important they were.”
“It’s just awesome, it’s a celebration of fun,” Martin concludes. “Everything about Doom has this flavour of old school to it.”