Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Monster Closet

When I was about seven, I saw the original Frankenstein movie on television. It didn't scare me at the time--at least, I didn't think it did--but there was one scene underground that really stuck with me, and by 'stuck with me' I mean it scared me to death. What I remember is a secret passage leading to an underground lair where all kinds of horrible experiments were performed. That may be from Bride of Frankenstein, not the original, but the scene itself was very vivid.

It wasn't long after I saw the movie that I started getting nervous every time I passed a closet in our hallway. The closet had a white accordion door that was faded and slightly yellowed. I see it so clearly now that if I reached out, I would expect it to be there.

At night, when I walked past that closet, I had this crazy idea that a monster might reach out and drag me into its underground lair for experimentation. It got to the point where I would kind of jump past that closet just to get past it a little quicker. I didn't really believe it would happen--not really--but I didn't believe that it couldn't happen, either.

My mom also stored her household money at the bottom of a box of tampons in that closet, and she asked me to get money for her one day, but that's a different story. Just imagine how you'd handle nuclear waste without gloves and you'll have a pretty clear picture of that incident.

So I had a monster closet when I was a kid. I hadn't thought about that for at least thirty years, but now that I'm playing Doom 3, I think about it all the time. Doom 3 is full of them. id took my monster closet.

I'm waiting for a check, by the way.

All these monster closets are location or item-pickup triggered, so if you step in a certain place or pick up a particular item, here they come, out of the dark nowhere. It's disorienting and does create tension, but conceptually it's very weak.

Just imagine for a moment that you're a young monster trying to establish an acting career and you answer a casting call for Doom 3. It's a huge casting call, of course, but somehow you're one of the monsters selected to appear in the game. It's the pinnacle of your career, obviously, and you tell everyone you know of your achievement. On the first day of shooting, you spend hours applying as much blood and slime as your body can hold. You're dripping with menace and proud of it, on your way to stardom--and then you get told to go stand in a closet. When the door opens, attack, you're told. It's so dark that no one can even see you when you emerge from the closet, and you're 'dead' within two seconds, out of the scene.

Welcome to show business, kid. Best of luck on the career. There are always good jobs available at the post office.

All the cool kids are saying that Doom 3 is boring and lame. I like some of those cool kids--they're the shizat heazzie sheazzies and all that--but I think they're somehow missing the point. To say that Doom 3 is not a great game doesn't mean that it's not a fun game. Sure, the gameplay mechanics are repetitive, but they copied most of those straight from System Shock 2, and they were repetitive back then, too. Everyone who is praising System Shock 2 and slagging Doom 3 conveniently forgets that SS2 was very repetitive in places. It's a classic, yes, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't a slog at times.

This isn't a '9' game on a scale of 1 to 10. It's a 9.5 as an engine demo (and would be a 10 if they demonstrated some outdoor environments) and probably 7.5 in terms of gameplay. Importantly, though, it's still the most interesting game id has ever done, by far. My heart races frequently when I play. It's fun. It's an absolutely fantastic looking haunted house. They were shooting for horror film, not haunted house, but it's still fun.

I think there are certainly some disappointments. The sound is quite a letdown--not in how it's used, but in how it's not used. Here's an example. You're killing all manner of monsters and most of them have some kind of death cry. Presumably, that cry could be heard by other monsters, since they're all over the place, and presumably the programmers know where those monsters are, since all the locations appear to be pre-determined and not randomly generated. So when a creature issues its death cry, why isn't there an answering cry from other members of its species? Even if the rooms are sealed, the sound would travel through the vents. Defining an effective hearing radius, totaling the monsters in that range, and creating response cries would sound fantastic. The sound would come from different locations, so you'd be hearing these shocking cries from all over your speaker system. It would also tell you how many creatures of that species are in the area. If you were in a particularly tough area, hearing so many cries would be very chilling. Bad business up ahead.

Here's another opportunity. The first time you see one of these monsters, they should be eating someone whole. Let it last a while. Make the monster's body translucent, so you can actually see the victim entering the monster's body as its consumed. Yikes. Then, after you kill the monster, you can look at its corpse--and see the dead guy inside. From that point on, every time you saw one of those monsters, you'd think about what would happen if it killed you.

That would give somebody some bad dreams. Maybe me.

Just from seeing what id did with this game, it's easy to see how they could have made it the scariest game ever made, and one of the greatest games ever made as well. That they didn't do this doesn't mean the game isn't worth playing. It just means that we all wish they had.

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