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Demon Guts and Future Guns: Designing the New 'DOOM'

“There’s a fair bit of humor in tearing demons apart with your bare hands or slicing them in half with a chainsaw” says DOOM exec producer Marty Stratton.
All images stills from DOOM (2016). Photos courtesy of id Software and Bethesda Softworks.

The airvac doors in the military base on Mars hiss open. Inside, screams and howls pierce the silence. Practically feeling the heat of Hell on their backs, players know: they’re playing DOOM. What began as a violent-for-its-time first-person shooter in 1993 has mutated into the DOOM franchise, consisting of three major games, plenty of spin-offs, novels, and a 2005 movie of the same name. On May 13th, id Software and Bethesda Softworks bring players back to Hell with DOOM, a new iteration on the classic franchise. Id Software’s Executive Producer, Marty Stratton, speaks about the inspiration for the game, designing the hellish atmospheres, and psychotic jetpack skeletons.

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“The game takes place roughly 150 years in the future,” says Stratton, “and begins as you wake up in a secret bunker deep below the Martian surface.” The two main settings for the game are a huge space base on Mars and Hell itself. On setting apart the style in those two settings, Stratton explains, “the visual and fictional themes across those two settings vary greatly.” The base, even when under siege, is very orderly, but “Hell is a realm of hostility—fractured and chaotic. At times there’s a vague semblance of past civilization, but clearly overrun for ages. Some of my favorite locations in Hell are part of what we call The Titan’s Realm—a zone where the world has formed around the skeletal remains of massive ancient demons.”

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When asked about the horror elements of the game, Stratton says they didn’t really push for proper horror, “It’s fast, improvisational and always charging forward at full speed. Yes, there is Hell and there are demons that will rip your arm off and beat you to death with it, but we always try to be so bombastic, over-the-top and fun with that stuff that it never feels serious enough to be called horror.”

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And how do the past incarnations of the game shape this new release? “You can’t make a game called DOOM without paying a lot of respect to the legacy, heritage, fans and community that have been built over the past 25 years. That said, we’ve never wavered from making this a modern DOOM game that, while heavily inspired by the original DOOM and DOOM II, offers players today a unique, deep and most importantly, fun experience.” Stratton says the most noticeable similarities between past games and this new entry are the demons, “DOOM demons have so much personality and character and are such an iconic part of the brand that it was important for us to capture that timeless personality in our modern interpretations. I think a great example of this is the Revenant—for anyone that knows the franchise, his current incarnation is like what’s been in your head for years and it’s thrilling. For those that aren’t as familiar, he’s just a bad-ass 8-foot-tall psychotic skeleton demon with a jetpack and rocket launchers on his shoulders.”

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While developing the game, id Software truly harnessed the power of next generation systems to make everything (even the 8-foot-tall psychotic skeleton demon) more realistic. Stratton says the biggest new development with next-gen consoles was, “screen space reflections—which result in everything reflecting in the environment as you’d expect, like when a demon walks over a puddle in the environment, you can see his reflections. That alone adds a remarkable sense of realism.”

Stratton and his team looked to a huge array of sources for inspiration when designing DOOM. “For movies, we love Evil Dead 2 for the over-the-top tone of the violence, Hellboy 2 for color and some tonal elements, and even Gladiator for the sense of power and strength of the DOOM Marine. Of course it’s hard to not be inspired by artists like Wayne Barlowe and [Zdzisław] Beksinski, and we’ve spent hours looking at Don Punchatz’s original DOOM cover illustration.” Drawing all of those inspirations, and setting the game in an ultraviolent hell, could make for a truly horrific and graphic game, but Stratton says they work toward a different feel. “DOOM allows us to create absolutely bombastic moments of violence and gore but we always make it really over-the-top and comic book. We have a bit of a rule when evaluating our blood and gore—if a player is laughing as they exclaim 'oh shit!' when something happens on screen, we’re on the right track. If they cringe and want to turn away, it’s probably too serious and not crazy enough. There’s a fair bit of humor in tearing demons apart with your bare hands or slicing them in half with a chainsaw.”

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Final Key Art for DOOM (2016). Photo courtesy of id Software and Bethesda Softworks.

Dive into hell and see for yourself on May (Friday the) 13th.

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