A Q&A With the Creator of the Controversial Duct Tape Mod for 'Doom 3'
Back in 2004, you had a choice: use your weapon or use your flashlight. That didn't sit well with some people.
Though the original Doom games featured imps and other hellish creatures, it wasn't really a horror game. Doom 3 was very much the opposite, filled with barely-lit hallways that hid enemies in the dark. To get a better sense of your surroundings, players could use a flashlight, but that meant putting your gun away. It was a big controversy at the time. Why couldn't the all-powerful Doomguy hold both at the same time, or, at the very least, find some damned duct tape?
Some folks thought it was annoying, irked by the burden of swapping between them. Other players saw it as a deliberate design decision to introduce risk/reward.
"The flashlight's separate use was designed for gameplay purpose," wrote one Doom 3 player on the gaming message board NeoGAF, way back in 2004. "I love how you need to use your flashlight to move around and then when you turn in a room it highlights a monster all of a sudden and then you gotta run and switch to your weapon, it adds to the atmosphere."
Whatever id Software's intentions were, if there's a demand, inevitably a modder will fill it. (Even if that means flipping the toilet paper direction in Fallout 4.) Though a number of modders developed solutions, the Duct Tape mod by Glen "FrenZon" Murphy was the most popular. The clever named probably helped.
"Under the crazy presumption that a roll of duct tape has to exist somewhere on the Mars facility," he wrote at the time, "the Duct Tape mod sticks flashlights to your machinegun and shotgun. In order to preserve the atmosphere, these new lights are much narrower (and a little brighter) than the standard flashlight, and are only available on the basic weapons."
The flashlight controversy was a real kerfuffle at the time, in as much as the 2004-era Internet would get up in arms about a design decision. (They were simpler times.) id Software was mostly mum about it, though it later enshrined the Duct Tape mod into the game as part of the 2012 re-release, Doom 3: BFG Edition.
"The rationale behind that really is that, it's like for people who wanted it, you can turn it on," said id Software CEO Todd Hollenshead to Polygon. "For me, the purity of the game is that you could either have the flashlight, or have the gun, it was just a choice you had to make in the game. I think that, for the game we made at the time, that was the right decision. A lot of the gameplay was kind of built around it."
As part of my ongoing series interviewing mod creators, I tracked down Glen "FrenZon" Murphy, creator of the Duct Tape mod, to learn more about his process. We chatted about the controversy surrounding the mod at the time, what id Software's response was, and what's happened in the 13 years since.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Waypoint: It's been a long time since the Duct Tape mod—13 years! What are you up to these days?
Glen Murphy: I run the Android and Chrome design teams at Google. Now I'm in the incredibly fortunate position of being able to make big and exciting things all the time.
Though I also have a young 3.5 year old son, I still game heavily. Just today I unpacked (after a month-long shipping process) some of those Slaw Device pedals for my VR/HOTAS Digital Combat Simulator setup. They are amaaazing.
Can you remember when you had the idea for the Duct Tape mod in the first place?
Murphy: I think Doom 3 had been out for a day or two, and as I'm a giant wuss when it comes to horror games, I was having trouble playing it with all the scary darkness. So I spent most of my time slowly peeking around with the flashlight and squinting in fear. This made for a pretty frustrating game, having to wait to switch back to a weapon whenever a monster appeared, and having to shoot into the darkness. It was not the faster Doom I loved, and it seemed like an immersion-breaking artificial constraint—you could carry piles of weapons without strain, but couldn't stick a flashlight somewhere?
How long did it take to make the mod? Were there any big challenges in putting it together?
Murphy: I had dabbled in Quake 1 modding in the past, so as soon as the mod tools were released I figured there would be a way to fix it. It turns out that it was amusingly simple, especially when you consider the reaction—it was one or two lines of script, and a new image for [the] flashlight image, which was just a scaled-down version of the regular flashlight image.
If I remember correctly, I don't think I was the first flashlight mod—there was another one called "gunlights." I think Duct Tape took off because of the name and the excuse that it wasn't a total replacement for the flashlight—the brightness circle was half the size, and it only worked on two weapons, so it looked less like cheating. I think that story helped it spread so quickly via sites like Slashdot and Blue's News.
"I had an excuse to email id to let them know that was happening, to introduce myself, and to ask if it was OK. I think their response was a relatively terse 'this is fine.'"
I remember the Duct Tape mod being a huge point of controversy when it came out; some argued it undermined id Software's intentional design. What did you make of that?
Murphy: I tried to address the controversy ahead of time by positioning the mod as a simple change to the gameplay for those who wanted it, rather than a straight cheat. I think it mostly worked—this was back in the day where people on the internet were relatively polite, so I only got one or two negative emails, which was great in comparison to the hundreds of supportive ones. Either way, as I saw it, the point of modding tools was to enable and allow changes to the intentional design of the game, so I knew that it was well in the camp of the type of thing id wanted to enable.
A well-known programming book publisher had gotten in touch with me to discuss writing a book about Doom 3 modding, so I had an excuse to email id to let them know that was happening, to introduce myself, and to ask if it was OK. I think their response was a relatively terse "this is fine," so though the book thing didn't go anywhere, I least got to find out we weren't on not-speaking-terms.
When the Doom 3 BFG edition came with an "armor mounted flashlight" feature, it felt like it put any lingering doubts to rest though.
When you look back on that time—the mod, the controversy—what do you think of?
Murphy: It was exciting—I had been publishing random projects on the web for a while, but this one just took off—it felt nice to make something so many people wanted and appreciated. It was my first real taste of what a big launch felt like, and I loved it.
I still remember this one email someone sent in: "Your a true hero and a damn fine American." I'm Australian, and a card-carrying member of the grammar police (I also used to write for gaming press), but that made me love it even more.