Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Early Doom 3 Impressions

We survived San Antonio (you'll hear about it later this week). In the meantime, we got home about 4:00 this afternoon and I've been able to put about 2.5 hours into Doom 3. I've consciously avoided reading any reviews or impressions before I started playing, because it inevitably affects my expectations. This time, I wanted to start from scratch.

Here are my biases about id games. I think John Carmack is an absolute genius. His game engines are stunning. I also think he develops games that have the emotional maturity of a seventh grader. He has famously said that plots in games are like plots in porn--no one really needs or expects them. This is why the single-player experience in so many id games is totally pedestrian and dispassionate. Weak, really. So I usually play an id game for two reasons: one, out of respect for Carmack's genius, and two, as an engine demo. I think the single-player experience in Half-Life was better than all the other id games--combined.

The single player experience also hasn't evolved over time. If anything, it's regressed in id's recent games. Maybe the armor factor of beryllium underwear increased from 20 to 25, or the plasma shock galaxy disruption rifle had its rate of fire adjusted to be more 'realistic.' I just don't give a shit about that. I want a substantive, engrossing experience, not some adrenaline-fueled gib-sprint that feels like it was designed in a meth lab.

Here is a haiku about the single-player experience in id games:
Monster, monster, monster, kill
So many monsters

Monster boss so huge the end

If you think that was serious, please shake yourself immediately.

So I expected Doom 3 to be a very nice engine demo and a slight enhancement in terms of plot. Looks pretty, tastes great, less filling.

Which is not what I'm getting, really, and it's much to id's credit. Yes, it looks fantastic. What I didn't expect, though, is that they've made an honest effort this time to create a significantly better single-player experience, and I think to a large degree they've succeeded. Yes, there's still quite a bit of 'monster, monster, monster, kill' (fastest self-reference ever--three paragraphs), but the level of detail in the world and the story itself are far beyond anything id has ever done before. There is genuine tension. The level of polish is extremely high as well. I've even had two jump-out-of-my-chair moments, both of which I enjoyed immensely.

I'm going to play this every day for a few hours and give you additional impressions at ten hours.

A quick hardware note: I'm running it on an X800XT-PE with an Athlon FX-51 and I'm getting a minimum of 40fps at all times in 1600x1200x32 with detail on 'high.' The vast majority of the time I'm running at 60fps (I've got vsync on and that's the refresh rate of my panel). This is still early in the game, so these framerates may not hold true all the way through.

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