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BJ Blazkowicz and DoomGuy : The Same 20 Years Later

How Machine Games and ID Software evolved two protagonists by changing nothing about them

Trying to adapt decades old games for modern players is no easy task, but developers at Machine Games and ID Software succeeded tremendously with Wolfenstein: The New Order and Doom, respectively.  In particular, where these two games succeed the most in their adaptation is with their main characters, who remain essentially the same between their original depictions and their modern reimagining.

 

In the original Wolfenstein 3D, the character of BJ Blaskowicz is a single sprite, a face built like a brick shit house that reacts to taking damage and denotes to the player the status of their health. In 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, he’s still a brick shit house, but Machine Games takes the refreshing stance that brick shit houses can have character depth as well. In the 10 hour campaign BJ is able to demonstrate hope and fear, hate and love, seriousness and humour, all within the confines of a compelling character. BJ has a range of compelling motivations and emotions; he enjoys what he does, relishes in the act of killing Nazis, cracking jokes and quips in the same manner as he cracks necks. But he longs for a life that, at the end of the game, he accepts he will never have, an unmistakably American vision of the nuclear family, barbequing in the backyard of a house surrounded by a white picket fence, holding the woman he loves in his arms.

The juxtaposition between BJ’s dreams and his reality show a heartbroken and complex character, that, when you get right down to it, isn’t really all that different from the face sprite that represented him 20 years ago. What Machine Games has done is added depth to this pre-existing character, the one dimensional avatar of a 1992 DOS game, without actually changing that much about him. They’ve simply taken the type of character BJ Blaskowicz was at his inception, and taken these characteristics to their logical conclusion. What place does the badass Nazi killing all American S-O-B have in a world where his war was fought and lost right under his nose.

2016’s Doom gives the titular “Doom Guy” a similar treatment, but in a less overt sense. Again, ID Software has given depth to a traditionally one dimensional character by changing little to nothing about that character and simply bringing what is already there to its logical conclusion using tools not  readily available to 90s developers. Our player character is there for one reason, to kill demons; anything that impedes or gets in the way of that motivation is met with disdain, disgust, and disregard. The Doom Guy seems annoyed that the game has the nerve to even try and have a story more complex then “kill all the demons”. Monitors with vital information are shoved out of his path with a violent gesture, characters trying to give exposition are ignored, and their instructions spitefully violated. When told to carefully remove a precious power source from its container, the Doom Guy instead rears his arm back, curls his hand into a fist, and destroys it instead with a series of pulverising blows.

All of this is done without a single line of dialogue from the Doom Guy himself; he never utters a single line. All of this character, the lust for demon slaying, the disdain of authority, the small moments of joy he finds in the carnage, are all shown to the player through his animations and his interactions with the few named characters in the game. Just as BJ Blaskowicz was expanded upon by taking his characteristics to their logical conclusion within the world he inhabits, Doom Guy’s purpose in the original DOS Doom is the exact same as it is in 2016s Doom, but the developers acknowledge how out of place this one track motivation is for a protagonist, and surround him with actual characters, fearful and frustrated by this force of nature. We learn all we need to know about the Doom Guy in the span of 20 seconds, as he trembles and clenches his fists with absolute rage while listening to another character try and justify the current demonic invasion of Mars.

                Adding substance to these characters was no easy feat, but it was done with a deft understanding of what made up their characteristics in the first place, and a desire to subtlety add the depth modern audiences have to come to expect in their protagonists. 

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