This is the first of a series of design journal entries I plan on posting online. My goal is to talk about my observations (both design and general) after playing a game. I will talk about things that I thought were noteworthy or thought provoking. I will also talk about what worked (for me), what did not work, and what I would have tried to do differently. These posts are designed to be quick and to the point so that I can cover a breadth of games.
Summary: DOOM’s focus on nurturing a smooth core game loop keeps the player engaged and often fulfills the power fantasy it promises. Its levels incorporate loops and verticality to encourage the player to keep moving, which gets more fun as the player’s arsenal grows. The enemies are designed to challenge the player in unique ways, encouraging a change in weaponry depending on the current circumstance. When the player is in need of health or ammo the game avoids pauses by rewarding glory and chainsaw kills with health and ammo, keeping the player in flow.
As a newcomer to the series, the first level of DOOM felt like I was playing a single player campaign on a multiplayer map. The level design was not linear and had no clear destination due to the primary objective of eliminating all demons in the area. I found myself lost and confused, especially during a moment where I could not find the last demon remaining in the area. As my arsenal grew however, I began to see the reason why the levels were structured this way. The levels practically scream at the player to keep moving due to their lack of dead ends and looping structure. When I say looping structure I don’t mean the level ends where it began, I mean that individual sections of the level are designed using loops and those larger sections are connected mostly linearly with one another.
Looking back, I think what caused my discomfort during the first level of DOOM was my limited selection of weapons. Since my tools were a weak pistol and the combat shotgun with limited ammo, I often found myself charging up to a demon and melee hitting them, which does little help if they haven’t already been damaged into their vulnerable state. My expectation from standard FPS games was that if I could get close enough to a grunt to melee it would be an instant kill or at least a decent knock back. This was not the case, and my unmet expectation resulted in confusion and dissonance with the game. To try and avoid this, I would have introduced the chainsaw earlier so that the player would feel more comfortable getting up close to enemies when they have no other alternative.
As my arsenal grew however, my enjoyment with the game grew with it. With so many weapons, I found myself knowing which tool I liked using for which enemy. I switched between them seamlessly since their order became ingrained in my memory. It has a nice flow to it and it makes me feel like a super soldier. The chainsaw mechanic does a fantastic job of merging the need for resupplying with a game loop that relies so heavily on constant mobility. This mechanic keeps the player in flow during combat, allowing for each combat encounter to be smooth and exhilarating from beginning to end.
Finally, one of my favorite mechanics in the game was how a weapon’s final upgrade is a challenge instead of a resource cost. This gives the player a fun secondary objective to focus on during combat and helps them master the skills required for that weapon. However, I think the feedback on your progress with those weapons is poorly communicated as I often forgot what the quest for a weapon was or how far I had gotten in it. This was mostly caused by the large quantity of weapons available. I think a small HUD tool-tip that displays when you switch to a weapon with an active quest would be enough to remind the player of its existence.
Other features I found interesting: The use of green lights to indicate what ledges you can climb up on. The use of colored keys and doors to break up levels into smaller objectives which force you to explore the environment. Secondary objectives in each level reward the player for changing up their play style by achieving more difficult glory kills or finding collectibles.