Goddamn. I love Doom 3. It’s a mess of a game, but in all the right ways. I love the fact that they patched the game so you could shoot guns and actually see what was happening by letting you duct-tape a flashlight to your gun. How do oversights like that even happen in one of the largest tentpole franchises in all of gaming?
Monster closets aside, the game has always fascinated me because it completely changed from the run-n-gun gaming of the original entries to a more frightened, slow play style. It wasn’t until a few years ago that a friend pointed out this was incorrect, that the player is actually supposed to explore Doom 3’s horrific interiors by diving and blasting in all directions. It’s one of the only times in gaming I’ve realized I’d played an entire dozen-hour game incorrectly. I remedied that so fast, and now I’m ready to play Doom 4 the right way.
As I’m prepping for my return to Hell, I thought I’d pull out my old copy of The Making of Doom 3 — a relic from the times when people put as much effort into an art book as a behind-the-scenes documentation of the production. Writer Steven L. Kent churned out a 200-page, four-year coverage of the making of a state-of-the-art horror game, and it’s now the kind of rare document that was a must-buy at the time — and now, a $5 used copy is pretty easy to score off Amazon.
So I’m going to plow back through this book and share some of the most fascinating tidbits with you, my fellow Demon Chainsaw Buddies.
The book starts around the period where the E3 announcement of the game is made, back in 2002. There’s a lot I’ll skip over here about how innovative and next-gen this technology is, because most of those claims are 15 years old at this point. Also, take note that this announcement trailer with alpha gameplay (and a different intro to the game) features the exact same demon-tears-you-in-half ending as the teaser of the new game.
The game was almost never made, as the internal team argued about wanting to diversify. They had a multiplayer competitive game in mind which went by the working title Quest and, oh wow, that’s a terrible name, even for a working title. Over a weekend, the team rallied around Doom 3 as their next project and began doing high-concept development and starting into layouts. They estimate that every foot of Doom 3 required 12 times the layout time of the original Doom. For a team of only 22 people, this became a huge endeavor.
As progress on the game went slowly, a copy of the demo for the game leaked onto the internet, along with a level editor which allowed gamers to create their own content; a rare double-whammy for piracy. Attempting to contain this leak became a huge diversion of time and energy for the id team.
During all of this, Trent Reznor parted ways with the project after he could not agree to terms to continue making music and sound effects for the game.
By the time 2004 hit, the final monsters in the game and several of the most important weapons — including the BFG and chainsaw — still hadn’t been created. Kinda important when you’re making Doom to have Doom-type things in the game. Also, a multiplayer game mode which had been making public demonstrations for a couple of months was clearly not going to make the cut for the game. On top of all of this, John Carmack began work on a different game engine, which made the entire team worry they were about to restart the game process from scratch.
The writing on the game started to develop, and with it came the few main characters. Elliot Swann was originally conceived as an evil lawyer-type who was later restructured because up against the main big bad Betruger, it became impossible for them to differentiate between motivations. General Hayden was a character who was also set to be an insane military antagonist that wound up getting cut down because, again, there were only so many evil things for evil men to do in space, and this was getting too complicated for the straightforward story.
Level design also included similar cuts. Originally, the player was going to check in and stop by their living quarters before getting down to the nitty gritty of demon killing, but the team felt this meant the player spent too much time walking around doing nothing before any action set in. There was also a scene set in the space station chapel that was ultimately cut for similar reasons.
Once everything was in place for the story and the levels, it became a final step to figure out where the battles take place. Positioning your introductions to demons — and where you’d get brutally hammered — became a time-consuming, constantly tweaked set of events. This balancing act also involved a re-balancing, once weapons were introduced. The shotgun, for example, was originally introduced much later in the game, but since the bad guys in the first battle stage wound up being shotgun-blasting monsters, it became one of the first weapons introduced for necessity.
Finally, the team had to focus on revising the story delivery elements. Early plans involved retelling the story of an ancient Martian civilization through visions during teleportation segments, but these were scrapped for being “too much story” — when all they needed to convey was also available in setting and background art. And when that failed? PDAs. Yes, a million PDAs with a million little story notes hidden in emails. Perhaps the design choice Doom 3 is most famous for, next to monster closets.
It’s a lot of work and a lot of recalibration, but we got something pretty incredible out of a 22-person team. Can the single player campaign on Doom 4 one up this? We’ll know in less than a month.