Doom: ‘Own tech gives us an enormous advantage’

Id Software on hitting 25 years with its iconic FPS

A number of classic game franchises have reached the 25-year milestone, but few remain as relevant to modern players as Id Software‘s Doom.

In its anniversary year the classic first-person shooter series is gearing up for its latest instalment, Doom Eternal, with a revamped multiplayer mode and all the technological flair we’ve come to expect from the Texas-based developer.

Executive producer Marty Stratton tells VGC that he feels it’s Id’s willingness to evolve the series that has kept it in the minds of modern players.

“It’s always the balance that we’re trying to strike,” he said, “is somebody who’s been with the franchise for 25 years going to like a choice that we’re making today? And its that choice something that is relevant for today’s player?”

VGC met with Stratton and creative director Hugo Martin to discuss the anniversary, Id’s latest technology and more.

Doom turns 25 this year. There are a few game franchises around that age, but not so many that are still actively seeing releases. Why do you think Doom is still relevant?

Stratton: A part of it is that we’ve chosen to evolve it in a way that takes the heritage and makes it relevant for today’s players. It’s always the balance that we’re trying to strike: is somebody who’s been with the franchise for 25 years going to like a choice that we’re making today? And its that choice something that is relevant for today’s player?

I think probably the greatest part of working on Doom and the reason that it’s stayed so relevant is because what we’ve done with the Slayer and what he represents is so universally fun. The power fantasy of the game, the good versus evil eternal fight against demons… it’s a very universal feeling, of wanting to be a badass superhero. Keeping it relevant for today’s audience from a gameplay and technical point of view… it’s a lot of work.

Martin: It’s the legacy of Id Software too: I’ve always wanted to work for Id and a lot of people come there specifically to work for us. We’ve got a really, really talented team and when you get that many talented people together, good things are going to happen. Our efforts right now are focussed on Doom because we love the franchise. I think it’s a testament to Id Software that developers want to move to Texas to work for us. It’s awesome. It makes it a lot easier when you have the team that we do.

During your E3 press conference you announced your Orion technology, which improves the performance of games over cloud streaming. How significant is that?

Stratton: We’ve been working on Orion for several years. I think one of the best things about being at Id is that we’ve always been on the bleeding edge of technology innovation, whether it was Doom 2016 being the first triple-A game to use Vulkan API, or all of the advancements we’ve had over the years in the 3D space or VR.

Where as Google with Stadia and Microsoft with xCloud are solving things through hardware, we’ve applied our expertise in rendering engines to create this suite of technologies that basically just make it a lot faster to go from the renderer to the player. I don’t know exactly how detailed they’re getting with some of those techniques, but this should help literally every streaming platform out there – Stadia, xCloud or anything else – and give gamers a better experience.

“The power fantasy of the game, the good versus evil eternal fight against demons… it’s a very universal feeling, of wanting to be a badass superhero”

How much of an advantage do you think developing your own internal technology gives you, as opposed to just using Unreal Engine for example?

Stratton: It’s enormous. We get to push in all of the ways that we want to push. We’re not limited by the support system of another engine team: literally it is a 100ft walk from our lead environment artist to our lead rendering programmer. The collaboration between those folks and the fact that we can sit in meetings with both the engine team and content creators… it makes the game better in countless ways – literally countless ways.

Probably the most meaningful way it improves the experience for gamers is that they obviously get the most cutting edge visual experience at a performance and frame rate that is absolutely uncompromising. We’ve not had to compromise on the platforms, either; Doom Eternal will release on all the same platforms that Doom 2016 did, but the leaps that it has taken technically are… it doesn’t look anything like it.

You’re obviously targeting current-gen consoles with this release, but we imagine you’re well prepared for the arrival of new consoles too?

Stratton: Our tech is so scalable… it’s again a great advantage for us. That team is seeing the stuff years down the road and because they take such pride in how optimised the engine is, they make sure it runs on everything from a Switch to the highest end PC. It’s great because they take an equal amount of pride from that range. They will be the first to read all of the reviews about how the game is performing on the highest end, down to the fact that it runs on past-gen consoles.

On the flipside, do you think it’s important that you’re active as a creator of games in order to keep challenging your tech teams?

Stratton: Yeah. We’ve always said that our games are better because we’re making technology, and our technology is better because we’re making games.

As a creator of fast-paced action games, does it excite you to hear about Sony and Microsoft’s plans for high-bandwidth SSD’s in their new consoles?

Martin: They’re building better tools for us to make better games and that’s exciting. We don’t feel like there are any barriers for entry for us or consumers at this point. It will be exciting to see what we’re able to do with it for sure.

Ray tracing is another flagpole feature of ‘next-gen’ games. Can we expect similar innovations within that field from your tech team?

Stratton: Yeah, absolutely. We’ll probably get into that further down the road with Doom Eternal, but our rendering team is among the best in the industry. Ray tracing is just a matter of priority for us. Any time we take a technical step we’re looking at how we can lead in that area. With Vulkan, VR and streaming we were leaders and ray tracing will be no different.

The team has been spending a lot of time looking at that, we just haven’t gone fully down that road yet because we’re just so focussed on Doom Eternal and getting that out. Ray tracing is about better visuals but not necessarily more users, so that’s where we look at something like streaming and make it a priority overall for us, because it means more people can play games.

Ray tracing is about playing games with a greater visual fidelity, which is awesome and we will lead when it comes to that for sure, but that’s how it gets stacked internally for our team. We really want to get the game out and that’s what everyone is focussed on.

“Any time we take a technical step we’re looking at how we can lead in that area. With Vulkan, VR and streaming we were leaders and ray tracing will be no different.”

You showed Doom Eternal’s multiplayer mode for the first time at E3, which is something different from the usual deathmatch offering. Why did you decide to change it up?

Stratton: Martin, you get to talk!

Martin: I can’t answer those tech questions anyway!

With Doom 2016 we learned that id has to lead and not follow when it comes to game design. With the single-player campaign I think we led, but with the multiplayer we followed. The fans and critics picked up on that. It’s a good mode and it’s fun to play, but it’s not necessarily original.

This time around we really wanted it to feel like Doom. We took the DNA of the ‘Doom dance’ – the loop of one Slayer versus many demons – and turned that into a competitive, social experience. When we had one Slayer on the battlefield and let players control the demons it felt really good. We’d rather provide players with an incredibly polished and engaging experience that’s really tight, than something that’s huge with a million modes – which is another thing we did in Doom 2016.

I think it’s going to be every bit as satisfying to play as the single-player campaign. We play it all the time internally and it’s really, really fantastic.

Was differentiating the game from your other series a consideration as well? Quake for example already does deathmatch very well.

Martin: Yeah, because if you want all of that stuff you can go and play Quake Champions.

Stratton: With Doom 2016 we didn’t give players a Slayer experience in multiplayer. We didn’t give them the Doom experience that they got with the campaign and that’s really what this is about. For players who came to Doom 2016 for the campaign, the multiplayer felt like a side cart. In comparison, Eternal is entirely what they want.

We get analytics from our game and we see how many people are still playing the Doom campaign. They play it again and again and it’s because they like the way that it makes them feel. So with Doom Eternal’s Battle Mode, we want to give players the ability to continue playing in a more dynamic setting.

Martin: We didn’t want it to be twitch skills versus twitch skills, because if your thumbs are faster than mine then I really can’t overcome that. But in Battle Mode, I can overcome somebody’s reaction skills with strategy and teamwork. We’ve provided a mode that has a lot of depth, that gets your brain going as you play it. We focussed more on pacing: in Doom 2016 you just ran at each other, whereas this time there’s so much variety in the pacing. It’s awesome.

Death doesn’t feel as frustrating because I always feel that I could do better, which is a lot like the single-player game. During a match if you can identify why you lost, that’s a sign that you have a deep game on your hands. We’re really, really excited for people to play it.