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Doom 3

Posted by Arlo on Sep 16, 2004 under Life of Arlo

Doom 3 ScreenshotJust about 10 years ago now, I was caught up in a routine where some friends and I would gather at Joe and Karl’s place to hang out. We’d do all sorts of things, but the ones that stand out in my memory were pretty high up on the geek scale: Watching endless hours of the Simpsons, taking turns playing X-wing on Joe’s computer, painting miniatures, and making up new rules and maps for Axis & Allies. In retrospect, the only thing that saved us from debating the merits of the latest in pocket-protector technology was that we also played a fair bit of pool and used chainsaws to cut up the forest behind their house to make trails for four-wheeler races.

We were geeks, but there was still hope.

Just before a few of us packed up and headed off to college, someone managed to get their hands on the shareware version of Doom. I can’t imagine that we downloaded it… in those days, 9600 baud was still a fantasy. No, it probably came on one of the first PC Gamer disks. Not a compact disc – the floppy kind.

Years before, back in middle school, I had played Castle Wolfenstein. In fact, I beat that game on my Apple IIc. I don’t remember much – PC-speaker-garbled German shouts, an overhead view of a white-on-black maze, and a race against the clock to escape the castle after planting a bomb next to Hitler. If I remember that much of it even now, it must have been a good game.

During my first year of college, Wolfenstein 3D came out. I played through the shareware version of that, too, but didn’t find it that remarkable. Yes, it pushed the technological envelope, but it never fully captured my imagination. Perhaps that was because the graphics engine made me motion sick. Still, it couldn’t have been all bad since I played through physical illness just to complete the game. That’s gotta count for something.

Back at Joe and Karl’s house was where I first played Doom. I don’t remember being floored by the new technology nor awed by the realism of the new engine, but again, I played through the entire shareware version on a 386. id Software had released another good game and I played it through to the end.

But then something magical happened. The bigger nerds among us spent some time figuring out how to configure a network of three DOS computers and finally managed to get a game of Doom “Deathmatch” going. Finally we could team up against the demonic forces of evil or, better yet, turn our weapons against each other to slug it out, mano-a-mano!

I can clearly remember that first night of multi-player mayhem. When we tired of the normal maps, we went online and downloaded others. We played non-stop, fraggin’ each other to oblivion to the midi-music of Michael Jackson’s Beat It, right up until I looked down at my watch to see it was 4am. Four am! The last six hours felt like they were compressed like the interval between snooze alarms and when I finally pulled my left hand away from the keyboard it was literally cramped to the point of immobility.

Ah, good times.

After I moved out on my own, Doom influenced my first big credit card purchase. A brand-spankin’ new Quantex 90Mhz Pentium with 16MB of RAM and a 730MB hard drive (730MB? I’ll never fill it up!) and a 15″ MAG Innovision monitor was mine for $2970 with shipping… $30 under my limit. I had to wait an entire month for it to be delivered, but the first thing I did when it arrived was purchase Doom 2.

Doom 2 got me through my first semester in a dorm full of antisocial roommates. I played that game all the way through on the “hard” difficulty, making it a personal requirement to only save at the beginning of each level.

The best time spent with that game wasn’t until the second semester when I moved in with some like-minded, geeky friends. The first night we set up a four-seat LAN in the living room was almost a bust – our recently-ordered, matching coax Ethernet cards would not let us get a game together. It wasn’t until we finally decided (in frustration) to reboot all our machines at the same time that we finally networked Doom 2 properly. We wasted many hours trying to figure that out… but we wasted orders of magnitude more after we were connected.

Over the next five years in college (yes, five), networked computer games were a way of life in our dorm. Doom 2 started us off, but we also played the hell out of Quake and Quake II, Warcraft, Warcraft 2, and Starcraft, Diablo, The Need for Speed IIse, Duke Nukem, and even FX Fighter. It’s a wonder we got out of there with degrees at all.

Nowadays I’ve been much more interested in using my spare time to “create” rather than “play.” Oh, I still fire up the odd multiplayer game of Starcraft every once in awhile, but that’s mostly to stay in touch with my out-of-town friends. Admittedly, a few of us also get together once or twice a year for 3-day-weekend LAN parties, too. We’ll stay up all night and pass hours on end playing Unreal Tournament, Neverwinter Nights, and Quake III. So, yeah, I’m still a gamer at heart, but somewhere along the way the primary focus of my entertainment transitioned to blogging, video editing, and DVD watching.

All that ended on August 3rd when Doom 3 was released.

Doom 3, along with Half-life 2, has been one of the most anticipated computer games in recent memory. The programmers at id Software have been slaving away for the last four years on this game and they’ve been sending out a steady trickle of information about their progress. When the game went Gold in July, I knew that at least two weeks of August were going to be decidedly unproductive.

Doom 3 came out on August 3rd and because of a mistake at Fred Meyers, I had to wait an agonizing two more days for them to stock the game. I was finally able to lay down my $55 on the 5th and I installed the game right after work. Doom 3 was touted as the game that id tried to make when they created the original Doom and it was intended to be a intense, solo experience. Knowing that, I pulled the shades, plugged in the headphones, and informed my wife that a sudden tap on the shoulder could very well make me wet my pants. And then I played.

Id Software has been very up-front about Doom 3’s steep system requirements. In fact, it was highly suspected that the computer component upgrade industry would get quite the boost in sales when the game shipped. I don’t know if that happened or not, but I decided not to spend $500 on the latest and greatest video card. I figured my Athlon 3000+ with 512MB of RAM and a GeForce TI 4200 could handle it just fine. I was a little surprised that my machine only met the minimum system requirements on RAM, but I still decided to risk it.

Once the initial cinematic cut scene was over, I went into the video controls and tried their auto-configure option. The program scanned my hardware and then recommended that I run it on the lowest setting, 640×480. That couldn’t be right – I play my other fast-twitch games, like UT’04, at 1024×768! Okay, so let’s just try that instead. Uh-uh. No way. Unless I wanted even the calmest moments of the game running at about 5 frames per second, it simply wouldn’t do. I really did have to run it at 640×480! Luckily the frame rate was smooth and the quality of the picture didn’t seem to suffer greatly. Boy, they weren’t kidding when they said that there isn’t a home computer on the market (yet) that can play Doom 3 at its highest settings!

The game was slow in starting up as it walked you through the background story and the interface you’d be using to interact with the world. At first, I thought that the game felt more like System Shock 2 than the original Doom – there was a lot of story and no fighting – at least to begin with. Before long, though, all Hell breaks loose (literally!), and I was stranded in a Martian science facility, fighting for my life! For the next 30 hours of game play, I was struggling to stay alive under the onslaught of Hell’s minions, marveling at the graphics, and enjoying the depth of the story behind the game.

Like a good movie, Doom 3 shouldn’t be spoiled, so I will try not to give anything away, but I should mention at least a few stand out moments. These are things that made me stop and admire the game… things that were so good that I just couldn’t help but be amazed at how far interactive entertainment has come in the last 10 years.

The first time I killed an Imp and saw it disintegrate before my eyes.
The introduction of the Pinkie demon.
The introduction of just about any boss demon.
The various “red hallucinations” in the game that set your heart racing.
The improvements on the original’s weak storyline.
The amazing effect caused by a simple, swinging overhead light.
The surreally crafted atmosphere of Hell, itself.

For two weeks, I played Doom every night after work and from the very first moment I was engrossed. Somewhere in that time span, my wife and I went out and saw Aliens Vs. Predator. That movie sucked, but it was good for one thing: It allowed me to realize what made Doom 3 so great. AvP failed because, among other things, I didn’t feel for the characters – I couldn’t care less what happened to them. In a sci-fi/action/horror movie, that’s a recipe for box office disaster. If you like the characters, you’ll become involved in their plight and you’ll feel like you’re sharing the experience with them. That’s what makes a good movie.

In Doom 3, you ARE the character. If you’re not an avid gamer, that’s a hard concept to understand, but I think that’s exactly what makes this game so good. Take a good sci-fi movie like Aliens. Now, you can really get into a movie like that, but do you actually relate to those space marines that have been thrust into such an exceedingly bad situation? No matter how your heart races, you know deep down that you’re a passive observer – that you’re not actually in danger.

Even though you’re not going to actually die as a hapless space marine in Doom 3, the game still somehow manages to suck you in, forces you to invest in the blank-slate avatar, and completely convinces you that the only thing stopping Hell on Earth is your loaded shotgun. It’s a fantastic experience, fully realized.

Imagine yourself creeping along a poorly lit corridor, hearing whispers or grunts that you know are coming from somewhere nearby, using your flashlight to pierce the darkness… suddenly the lights go out and something extremely big and extremely fast appears out of nowhere, attacks you – and in a split-second you need to decide if it’s more prudent to use your flashlight to run or to turn it off to aim your gun! That’s what the second level is like. It gets really tense after that.

Doom 3 is a great game – hands down one of the best I’ve ever played. The best praise I can give it is that its visuals border on cinematic and that playing it is as close to being the lead character in a sci-fi movie that most of us will ever get. As my friend Derek put it, “Not one pixel out of place.”

High praise coming from someone who worked on Half-life 2.