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Design Notes: DOOM (2016)

A designer's notes taken during a playthrough of Bethesda and id software 's DOOM (2016).

What's this?

As a designer, I always look at the games I play through the lens of design.  For a while now, I've been taking notes like this for each game that I play, building a record of my design thoughts as I go.  I'd like to start sharing these thoughts!  Maybe you noticed something different when you played?  Do you focus on different questions when you analyze a game?

Here are my thoughts on Bethesda & id software's DOOM (2016).  I didn't work on this game.

 

DOOM

Genre: First Person Shooter

 

Current Playtime

18h

 

Did I “finish” it?

Yes!  Single player only.

 

Praise

  • Character movement is very fluid, quick, and easy.  Jumping up ledges is very forgiving.

  • Weapons feel different from each other

    • Plasma and Assault Rifles feel a bit similar- maybe upgrades will differentiate

    • Definitely, once I got more weapons, and especially once I started fighting at longer ranges, these two weapons felt very different from each other.

  • Weapon upgrade choices are immediately and powerfully useful

  • Clever level design and power up placement breadcrumb the players through levels very naturally, without needing thought

    • Really, exceptional level design.  I’ll think I’m lost, and then boom, the next thing I need is right in front of me.

    • Level design continued to impress me throughout the entire game.

  • Level design is a nice blend between primary path and secrets.  You can blast through the game barely paying attention and the level design will hold your hand as you run through; but secondary systems encourage you to stop and hunt for secrets.

  • Glory Kills restore health, Chainsaw Kills restore ammo- there’s always an incentive to get close to enemies and finish them off in one of two dramatic and stylish ways.  Ammo is still limited (chainsaw requires fuel), so it’s not trivial, but this simply encourages the player to target the biggest enemies with the chainsaw- high risk, high reward

  • Rune trials give me consequence-free practice with a specific weapon type, giving me more insight into its functioning and use.

 

Possible Improvements

  • When I make a choice about a weapon upgrade, I make it blind to how the upgrade feels in combat- I don’t make my choice from a meaningful experience of using and comparing the upgrades

    • But I can get both upgrades so it’s not a huge problem.  By the end of the game, if I do a bit of exploring, I can definitely get all upgrades for each weapon.

    • It could be interesting to have a 'rune trial' type experience with each weapon when you select it for upgrade, allowing you to play with each upgrade for a very short time trial, before you make your decision.

  • I don’t tend to need both weapon upgrades for each weapon.  I find whichever one feels strongest to me and use it a lot, and never swap over to the other one.

    • This may not be something you'd want to fix, really.  It's valuable to let the player express herself in play.

    • But if you wanted to make both upgrades (and swapping upgrades) required, you'd have to design enemies with each weapon in mind, almost rock-paper-scissors style.  I think you'd end up with more enemies than could reasonably be managed by the player's memory, though.

  • I don’t find myself immediately understanding which weapons to use against which demons, or even if there’s a correlation that way.  Instead, it just feels like some weapons are generically more powerful than others- and I use those ones against demons with higher health, and weaker weapons against demons with lower health.  There are some exceptions- the rocket launcher, for example, is better versus slower demons that move straight towards or away from me.

    • By the end of the game, I was definitely prioritizing high damage weapons against high hp targets, and cycling to low damage weapons for smaller targets, for ammo conservation purposes.

    • If we wanted to push the tactical weapon choice aspect further we could look at some solutions.  For example, if physical projectiles were stopped by shields, but energy projectiles were not, then this mechanic could encourage us to use specific weapons against shielded monsters.

  • Some of the key bindings seem a bit off from what I would expect.  E is open doors, but it could just as easily also serve as the Glory Kill (currently F).  Once G is introduced (for Chainsaw), my brain expects it to throw a grenade- which is instead bound to L-Ctrl and middle mouse click.  An easier keybinding array might instead be:

    • E: Contextual- Interact OR Glory Kill

    • G: Grenade

    • F: Chainsaw

  • Boss fights feel a bit odd, out of pace with the rest of the game (all about fighting hordes, swapping weapons to tackle the current challenge).

    • I regain health by glory kills- in boss fights, there are no minions to glory kill!

    • On the other hand, this does make boss fights feel uniquely challenging, especially compared to the frenetic pace of late-game combat arenas.  The variety might be a good thing, but it's definitely a very different feel from the rest of the game.

    • Perhaps a simple fix would be to add a handful of waves of possessed to boss fights to allow this mechanic to return

 

What’s the core experience of the game?

The game isn’t what’s in the computer- the game is what happens in the player’s mind.

 

You are a badass supersoldier killing demons in myriad ways inside a martian industrial hell-energy refinery.  The core emotional experience is one of power (over your enemies) and mastery (in the ways of killing them).

 

What creates or supports that core experience?

Just about everything, but especially:

  • Movement speed

  • Glory Kills

  • Weapon diversity

  • Weapon feel (high power- great sound / animation to support the high impact)

 

What breaks that core experience?

Very little, really.

  • Some of the late game enemies felt a bit bullet sponge-y, even versus my most powerful weapons.

  • I never felt like my consumable items (grenades etc) were very strong.  They’re so limited and on such a long cooldown that I simply avoided them for most of the game- if I needed AOE, I would use a rocket launcher, not a grenade.

 

Did the core experience 'work'?

Hell.  Yes.  I was completely buying what Doom was selling.  The levels had me moving through them fluidly and easily; combat arenas had me mastering different verticalities and using the environment to my advantage; weapons felt strong, glory kills felt badass.  Very little pulled me out of the core fantasy.  To top it all off, the story was simple and stayed out of its own way, giving me just enough reason to keep pushing forward.

 

What’s a possible change we could make, and why?  What are some pros and cons?

  • To combat late-stage enemies feeling like a bullet sponge, I’d love to see them get multiple glory-kill-able parts to them.

    • Imagine fighting a Cyber-Mancubus.  It has three “parts” to it- left arm, right arm, head.

    •  

    • Target each arm individually.  Once enough damage is done to the arm, it can get blown off (if you overdamage it), or it can become vulnerable to a glory kill.

  • Pros:

    • Breaks larger enemies down into smaller chunks, incentivizing the close/distant playstyle supported through glory kills

    • Gives players more of a feeling of power and progress when fighting the heftiest enemies in the game

  • Cons:

    • Possibly confusing for players who have learned that a glory kill is a KILL, not merely damage

    • This change might make the most damaging weapons feel less important!  If I can use a less damaging weapon and treat one big enemy as three small enemies, maybe I’ll just never use the heavy hitters in my arsenal.

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