My Doom Philosophy
It's about damn time I wrote this up!
Strangely sounding enough, I didn't set out to be a Doom level designer. Really. I'd been interested in making my own video games since I was a teenager in the mid-80s. All I wanted to do was make 2d video games. I went through multiple computer platforms from Atari 400/800 to Apple ][ and then finally a PC compatible computer. Along the way, I learned Basic, Logo, Pilot and Assembler on the Atari followed by Applesoft Basic. On the PC, I began with QBasic and QuickBasic, both the same thing really from a programing perspective but if you wanted to compile your program, then you forked over the money to Microsoft for the full QuickBasic. Then, actual books about game programming began popping up at bookstores. They had one thing in common; learn to program in C! So, I began to tackle the intricacies of non-type safe programming. As game software started to shift from DOS to Windows, I was able to bounce back out of C and use Visual Basic with DirectX.
A friend of mine had given me a book; Tricks of the Doom Programming Gurus. The CD included with this book had all kinds of editing software for making Doom levels. Although I wasn't initially interested in doing 3d programming, using the included tools to make something and pretty instantly test that creation was neat. I continued with my 2d game programming endeavors for a few years after starting to tinker in Doom. Playing with DoomCAD for Windows was an entertaining diversion for me when I didn't have the energy or concentration necessary to continue with my game programming work. By the time I started thinking more seriously about creating levels for Doom, I had gotten into playing deathmatch maps with first, DoomLegacy and then with ZDoom and ZDaemon.
At some point then, I lost interest in making a single-player Doom level at all. Deathmatch was just more fun to play for me. I shifted gears to making deathmatch maps. I didn't want to make and release a single map file, however. My thinking was having only one map was boring. I chose to have ten maps. At the time, some of my favorite deathmatch files had anywhere from twelve to twenty maps so I really didn't think that ten maps was too ambitious. Little did I know then, but I was on my way to making ten levels of suck! But when you're up to your eyeballs in task-oriented work to do, one doesn't back up and take a view of the whole thing in. No, yah just keep grinding on; "Get this done, get that done..."
It wasn't until I released this project to the general Dooming public that I realized it sucked. I got some really honest review of the work which made great points about what was wrong with it and I took my bruised ego and that commentary in stride and moved on, vowing to do better next time around.
For my new start in Doom deathmatch mapping, I chose to remake a classic Doom II map, Circle O' Destruction. I actually drew it up from scratch mostly from memory and it wasn't until I was texturing it, that I looked at the original to make better sector sizing alignments. Too, I made notes of the the things that sucked about this map from a deathmatch perspective and attempted to fix those things in the most inventive ways I could muster. This second project of mine was to have six total maps so my development time would be less than my first project. Well, two of these never saw the light of day because this time, I pulled back and viewed the big picture and said, "These SUCK!" and took the hatchet to them. I was playing a single-player wad file by B.P.R.D. about the time I was making this mapset. It's called Equinox. Something about playing Map04 of that influenced my work on one of the maps of this project. I just dug the way his lighting worked.
The other thing I did differently this go around was I ended up putting monsters in a deathmatch wad file. Originally, the practice was for getting my scaling down. But the more I designed, the more I liked including the monsters. When I was originally playing Doom Legacy with my kids, I would sometimes forget to flip the -nomonsters switch on the command line to start our game. Rather than shut the server down and start again, we just dealt with it. I mean, the kids were already having fun; why stop them?
This brings me to my first point about my Doom philosophy:
If it's fun do it. If monsters are fun, design them into the level from the beginning. I take alot of sh*t from players on in-game chat who enter Doom servers I run with my maps about this point. Lately, it has reached a crescendo of annoyance for me with the deployment of acronyms; PvP and PvE. I had to look that crap up on the Internet. I'd never read/heard of such excrement before. It's like when I was working some crappy PC replacement job at a bank and this b*tch demi-supervisor starts saying something to me with; "And just an FYI..." Fingernails on a f*cking chalkboard to me!
Here's the thing about deathmatch mode:
The number of monsters doesn't suddenly go up because you died fighting them (or other players). If you die in single player, when you press the spacebar to regenerate your dumb a$$, all the monsters that were there when you began the level are back in their original positions and very much alive again. So playing in single-player mode, you have to F6 to save your game all the time. I call B.S. on that! It's boring to me. Sometimes, when I want to slow down and take in all the atmosphere and trickery a map author has to lay down, I'll play single-player. That's something usually only other authors do though. If my target audience is any and everybody who's willing to play a nearly thirty year old video game, then the map I'm going to create is one where the player simply charges ahead and splatters some alien brains with wreckless abandon! Not giving too much of a sh*t whether or not they die. That mindset is very liberating. I'm not out my quarters like in the arcade either. Just hit spacebar and start railing again. Also, because there's more than one deathmatch start/spawn position on the map, one is not bored with; "starting all the way back here again, grr...".
Taking my Doom player perspective to my Doom mapping vantage point, here is how
the scheme is implemented:
Make all three difficulty levels as usual (Can I play Daddy/Hurt Something/Ultra Violent). Then, make a deathmatch UV with double to three times the number of monsters. After all, we have to account for the possibility of there being more than one Doom player in our silly maze! But if I must play alone today, these maps go to eleven. And I'm not having those monsters start in the same positions as the single-player version of the map either. I'll be sure there are plenty of hard-hitting, pipe-wielding bastage monsters. If I'm introducing a new creation for the first time in that map, you bet it's going to feature prominently!
So, the putting monsters in key strategic locations in the deathmatch maps worked out great. I'd remembered years ago (2006-ish?) a bunch of experimental monsters with a demo on the zdoom.org website forum. It's impossible for me to find that exact thread now but I'd downloaded and viewed the contents at the time. Having a more successful, though shorter, wad file under my belt, I felt I could begin to play with these new toys. There was a recolored chaingunner which was missing its plasma-repeater-type firing sprites so I worked on that as well as giving it sound. Once again, monsters were funner.
Because of the customization work, I got to reading alot more about DECORATE. I learned about ThingHate. I didn't use it in my actual maps but it worked out great for making a semi-scripted title screen for my new work. I liked the results so much that I additionally used DECORATE with more custom spriting in a credits map to play after the player finishes the last level.
Doom philosophy point number two:
Funny is fun!
I put jokes all over the place but that credit map was where I went all liberal with them. I called it the Monster Allocation Center which is a callback to an old game I used to play on the Apple ][ computer called Wizardry. In my case, I placed all kinds of weird artwork from various sources; Count Chocula, Pac Man monsters, Sinistar, Oogie-boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas as well as stills of that above mentioned monster resource pack in there. I have fun with sound samples too. That was something I remember from my early deathmatch playing days; there were all these vox files included in the servers I would join. I try to make the sound samples I use both funny as well as relevant to the game element at hand.
Doom philosophy point number three:
Animation is fun!
How do you feel about looking at a picture of Mona Lisa? Great, hey?! Video games are supposed to have animation. Stuff is supposed to move! That's why I fill up slots in my ANIMDEFS lump. It's also why designing with Doom ports in mind that don't support it or DECORATE has fallen off the edge of the Earth for me. At some point, I was satisfied with "Here's some boxes, they're colored like so, now I put some monsters in". This worked then because the monsters provided the animation but it was really lazy of me in retrospect. I can't really crab about this laziness of mine too much; I mean, first off, the game, Doom, is just that good. Too, those monsters of others' in the Monster Resource Pack were alot of fun. But with the tools available to me in a paint program, a resource combiner and all the junk that rattles around inside my skull? I shall do better!
Doom philosophy point num-wah four:
Too much focus on realism sucks.
There's plenty of more realistic gun mods already out there. Though Doom is a shooter, by definition, so is Carnival. I started developing my own weapons for Doom as a prop of an award to the player for slaying stronger monsters. To me, it only made sense; kill a shotgun guy, get a free shotgun. Kill a monster with five times the hit points and a lower pain chance and get nothing. What?!? That's bullsh*t!
It began with the railgun. I preferred the railgun sprites in The Last Strike Deathmatch and Clan ABC's Deathmatch files to the Skulltag one. In Zandronum, at least, as part of the player setup, one can choose the color of the railgun shot/beam/whatever you'd call it. But the weapon's sprites only real color and only when actually firing a shot is shades of blue. Someday, I may find a way to change that but in the meantime, I added a rainbow color rotation to the non-firing part of the gun's existance. That way, no matter which color a player chooses for their shot, the gun's electricity matches that color one-sixth of the time. Make red player as happy as blue player as happy as green default player!
Anyhow, the guns a player receives as an award for their achievement of slaying the big-bad monster have quirks to them. The cacolauncher/carcinobus arm cannon fires a projectile that may or may not do anything depending on what type of surface it lands on; floor, wall, another object. This is the direct result of me not knowing what the f*ck I'm doing! But then, it is written. And it becomes something entertaining in its own existance so it stays. Rasmapeater weapon left by the Sinister Brain recolored Arachnotron? In the player's hand, it doesn't quite shoot straight because it's "much too powerful" for mere humans!
I will not be spending my design time making a weapon that replicates the look and action of the latest AR-15/AK-47 automatic rifle. It's just not fun. If my audience needs that, they can turn on the news on TV. My weapons will always add cartoon levity to the game. Think Jim Carrey's balloon Tommy gun in the movie Mask.
Point five of Doom philosophy:
"The game was designed to demonstrate the futility of the individual effort. Let the game do its work."
That quote from Rollerball. John Houseman is so kickass. It applies here with the built-in object-orientedness of Doom's monsters. It's what's responsible for monster in-fighting. Through DECORATE, I intend to keep exploiting this premise. Hence, a demon which upon death loses its leg which then becomes an animated adversary or ally on its very own. The original Hell Knight doesn't get along with Cacodemon Doom-ism is just classic. Any extension of the Doom world should include this very ethos.
The final point in my Doom philosophy that I'll make here is that monster pain and monster death should be much more visible events. I've slowly been adding new sprites to the classic monsters for just this purpose. Thanks to DECORATE again as well as thanks to others who like to monkey with math more than I do, things get blowed up in my Doom world. They get blowed up real good! See Cacodemental, Sour Grape, Sinister Brain and Carcinobus for that effect.
I'm sure in the future to add to this as I make new discoveries or invent new methods and enemies. But for now, that's my Doom design philosophy.