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Hell on earth: id's Tim Willits on the return of Doom

Doom 3: BFG Edition is out October 19, overhauling the original in almost every department. VG247's Dave Cook speaks with id Software's Tim Willits about the Doom phenomenon.

"Instead of a slower horror game with action elements, it's now more of a faster action game with horror elements. Again, it's not wholesale changes - like you won't see Rage AI or anything like that - but I think that we did enough small things that had a big impact."

id's Doom series has been absent for a long time. In fact, Doom 3 was released on PC back in 2004, and the studio hasn't released much since then. But id is returning to its roots in Doom 3: BFG Edition, a game that is more than just a simple re-release.

There are re-designed levels, elements of the Rage engine, new textures, lighting mechanics and of a new eight-mission chapter called the 'Lost Mission'. It's comforting to see a studio take such a broader view on its old content, rather than simply slapping them on a disc in HD mode.

Not only that, but id essentially fathered the FPS as it exists today - if not fathered, then certainly popularised it - so it's great to see them back doing what they does best. It's also their chance to remind FPS fans everywhere that at one point, id was near-untouchable in the genre.

VG247: Let's start at the beginning. Why return to Doom 3 in the first place?

Tim Willits: That is the big question, and it's not just Doom 3 - that's what we're keen to make sure everybody knows. We're doing more with Doom 3 BFG than just re-releasing the original. We've actually put a heck of a lot of Rage tech into the Doom 3 engine to kind of modernise the game.

For instance: we have the Rage input control, checkpoints, we've updated the lighting so it's brighter, we changed the flashlight, tweaked ammo, we've put the Rage network layer in to make it run faster at low latency, and we added 3D support, multi-display support for PC.

Then we went through every single level of the original and things that were really frustrating or not fun, we made them more enjoyable. So it is really kind of cool for us - especially as we all love the Doom franchise - to go back and rework the game in such a way.

We've done a handful of small things that really have a big impact to kind of re-introduce the franchise to our fans, and to really say hello to some new fans because everyone's heard of Doom, but you'd be surprised at just how many people haven't actually played it.

When you say you've integrated some Rage tech, have you optimised the specs, or is it going to need an incredibly powerful PC to run, like Rage?

The specs are generally going to be higher than the original. Now, the biggest change with the PC version is that it runs at 120hz now, we've re-done the HUD elements, the PD elements, and done map modifications.

But the biggest change is - remember long ago there was an Xbox version of Doom 3?

Yeah. I own it.

That wasn't very good [laughs] and you are definitely in our market. This is based on the high-end PC version, which is much better. If you're only familiar with Xbox you are our target audience, and you'll be well rewarded. Plus it's a decent price for what is a lot of content.

You said there that you've tweaked the map design. What did you see in the old map design that you simply had to get rid of to make this a better version of the game?

Ah yes, I have a perfect example: in the Alpha Labs, there was this part where you walk up these stairs, and the stairs fall apart behind you and Imps spawn in front of you. When we were playing through that earlier this year we were like, 'this is not fun right here...this was a bad idea.'

We grabbed our young designers and said, 'young designer, this is a bad design right here. How do you think we can fix it?' and so we fixed it. You know it's kind of funny, because most of the guys who worked on Doom 3 originally, they still work there.

One of the guys wanted to go back and up-rez and make the characters look better, and a texture artist said, 'you know, I never liked those textures, can I go back and fix them?' and we said 'sure, go ahead, knock yourself out and fix them up.'

The original Doom 3 level designers are still there and they made our new 'Lost Mission', which is eight levels, it takes about maybe three hours to play through, and story wise it fits in the middle of the original Doom 3.

Those designers were like kids in a candy store making new Doom 3 maps, so yeah, this has definitely been a labour of love for id.

Can you give us an overview on what the Lost Mission will involve?

Sure. In the original game there was a squad of marines called Bravo Team, and you were always trying to catch up to them, but they get ambushed. The opening cinematic to the Lost Mission is the scene where Brave Team gets taken out.

One of the marines survives and that's who you are. You then find a scientist and he's like 'you've got to help me! There's a remote outpost still active in the hell dimension.' and your guy is like, 'oh, I guess I know what I have to do.'

So you blast your way into hell and fight a big boss at the end - which is very 'Doom' - but the neat thing about it is, we have a unified code base. So that means we have the code from Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil, giving us the shotgun, the grabber gun and other things.

As you are trying to reintroduce the Doom franchise to new players, what elements of the first two games have you brought back for Doom 3 BFG? I noticed you mentioned that briefly at the start.

Doom and Doom 2 we have never gone back and changed, but what we brought back from those games for Doom 3 BFG is, we've sped up the player, we brightened the world, and those are just a handful of things that make the game play a bit differently.

Instead of a slower horror game with action elements, it's now more of a faster action game with horror elements. Again, it's not wholesale changes - like you won't see Rage AI or anything like that - but I think that we did enough small things that had a big impact.

It's important that you'd want to communicate those big changes to players, because there is a craze at the moment of straight re-releases and shoddy ports isn't there?

Yes, and that's what I'm keen to talk to all of the reporters about, because you're right - a number of publishers have put together compilation packs and said to people, 'Oh hey, three old games for 20 bucks, this is great!' But we've really worked hard to make this version of Doom 3 more than just a re-release.

So many games come out these days and they are lacking - not to say that Doom 3 was bad of course - but few developers have the time, budget or freedom to go back and fix games in this manner.

You know that Doom 3 actually sold more than any other Doom?

Oh really?

Yes, but you're right. We are very fortunate to go back and fix it because again, video game design is an art form, and art is never finished. After a number of years, having people play it, and seeing what we've done, it's an honour and a pleasure to go back and say 'let's try this again'.

What was the response at Quakecon when you first put the game into the hands of players?

It's hard not to have a lot of love at Quakecon, but at first people thought we were just re-releasing Doom 3. But we were like, 'no, we've re-made every map, we've changed this, we've changed that', and they were then like, 'oh, that's cool.'

But I have actually received an email complaining about the flashlight, about how you can now turn it on while still holding your gun. I've had people email me and bitch at me saying like, 'this sucks'.

I know why they're doing that though. When the game first released on PC there was a real tension whenever you had to take time and switch between your gun and flashlight. Because you could walk into the dark with your light and be face-to-face with a room of enemies without your weapon up. That was pretty scary at the time.

I think the way we've done it now is cool too, because the light is rechargable and lasts about as long as my damn iPhone. So say you're playing the game and the light isn't on, then suddenly something jumps out of the dark at you.

You'd then go like, 'Oh shit!' and then the battery dies. You calm down and then keep playing, but suddenly it happens again and you're then like, 'Oh shit!' but your light is dead. It definitely still has that tension and scare factor.

It is scary when you go into the dark unprepared and you're like face to face with a Cyberdemon or something, and Doom 3 did get those bad guys more up in your face than the originals. Did you remodel the enemies for BFG edition?

No, as mostly it was texture work, just because going in remodelling and adding polygons is a bit like, 'Is it worth it?' But the extent that we've re-done our textures, you're going to get big bang for your buck.

I mean it's still Doom 3 in that the animations are a little odd, but it still feels cool, especially when playing in 3D on a big projector screen. I brought the game home one night to play it and - to fight a six foot Imp throwing fireballs out of the screen with surround sound speakers - it's just amazing.

That's the thing about Doom isn't it? Go back to the original Doom, you know, playing it in a dark room alone, with big PC earphones on...that was pretty creepy wasn't it?

Yeah, and that's what Doom has always been about. Hopefully we can recapture a little bit of that magic and bring it to first-person shooter fans who only play military games. They might be like, 'what's this Doom game about? My dad used to play this', then put it on their big TV set, and hopefully they'll love it.

If you're a student of the first-person shooter genre, you have to understand the lineage that got us here today, and it starts with Doom.

It's your chance to say, 'We made this genre popular. We made it cool'.

Exactly yeah.

I once read a fascinating article - this is many years ago - that discussed the amount of man hours lost at companies because their employees were playing Doom in the office when they should have been working. I mean that kind of phenomenon is almost unheard of these days. How did it feel, back then, to know you had made something so influential?

You know it's funny because I get that question a lot, and I joined the team in March '95, so Ultimate Doom was the first game I worked on at id. I also did the shareware episode for Quake.

Doom was hugely influential in the industry, but Quake - in my humble opinion - may actually have been more influential to what we do in shooters today. But when we were working on Quake we were all there, and no one thought it was going to have the kind of impact it did.

We knew it was going to be big, but we didn't know it'd spawn the things that it spawned. Even when we were first looking at Doom 3 tech, no one was doing dynamic lights, bump mapping or any of that stuff.

The great thing about working at id and working with John Carmack is that we've always pioneered things moving forward, and John loves new technology. He's always got new things, he's into the Oculus Rift headset, and so yeah, it's always an exciting place.

Doom 3: BFG Edition launches on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC October 19.

About the Author

Dave Cook avatar

Dave Cook


Living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Writing a game called Jettison and a book called Seventh Circle. Loves spicy food.

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