Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Fourth Trip to Hell

Seemingly out of the blue, id Software went and announced Doom 4 this morning. I won't pretend to understand why they issued this reasonably big announcement via an underwhelming press release, what with their annual Texas fan orgy QuakeCon barely two months out. (Maybe they have something more momentous to blow out there. Playable Rage, perhaps?) Anwyay, I can't help getting excited about another Doom game, even if the people who are going to make it haven't actually been hired yet.

I loved Doom 3; Doom 3 got a bad rap. There, I said it. Yeah, the point-A-to-point-B gameplay was archaic by first-person shooter standards even in 2004, and having to swap back and forth between flashlight and weapon was kind of a drag (although I will bow to anyone who's able to handle a tactical 12-gauge one-handed).

Setting the design issues aside, I assert the quality of the Doom 3 experience hinged on the conditions you played it under. Not just the screen resolution and beef of your graphics card -- although those things matter -- but more importantly the ambient elements of your play environment. I plowed through the game strictly at night, all the lights off, with a good bass-heavy pair of Sennheisers on, and it scared the bejeezus out of me time after time. I can't remember a game before or since that's poked my brain's primal fight-or-flight fear response so acutely (some Resident Evils come close), nor one in which I've become so utterly immersed. At times I was living in that world and running for my damn life, and I think the external sensory deprivation I imposed on the experience was crucial to maintaining that feeling.

At the time, the prevailing sentiment about Doom 3 was derision for all the button-pushing, rusty industrial corridors, and endless monster closets. But then, most people I knew who played Doom 3 did it with the lights on (lolz) and even sometimes with other people hanging around. Most of them weren't impressed. Indeed, I went back and played it again in that manner some months later, and the jump-out-and-scare-you moments came off as largely ineffectual and sometimes downright cheesy. Not scary in the slightest. Looking at Doom 3 in the light of day brought its faults into stark relief, where before I had been able to overlook them for the sake of allowing myself to get sucked into the game's reality.

It would be ham-fisted and more than a little pretentious to suggest those other people weren't playing Doom 3 "the right way," and of course you are free to enjoy any game in whatever manner you want. And if you just couldn't stand the mindless enemies and dated gameplay conventions, well, that's down to personal preference. Can't knock you for that. But is it fair to expect a horror-themed game to succeed in any environment? You wouldn't watch Alien or The Thing on a sunny afternoon and expect it to be very scary. (If you would, your constitution's even weaker than mine.)

At any rate, with a new team at the helm on Doom 4, I'm optimistic. The whole Hell-on-Mars thing has been done to death, so let's hope they dispense with that setting and take it somewhere new. (Any ideas? Post 'em in the comments.) If they're smart, they'll at least make sure that the Hello Kitty flashlight is UAC standard-issue equipment this time around.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Stuff You Own...

...ends up owning you, etc. etc. Clich├ęd but true. It's hard to appreciate how much crap you can accumulate in four years of living at the same address, until you have to pack it all up and move it somewhere else. This ain't even the half of it.

Regular posts to resume after I get settled (and get an Internet connection) in my new place. Hopefully! I've been awfully slack in that regard.