Doom Resurrection was released today [App Store] and we had an opportunity to speak with id Software's John Carmack and Escalation Studios' Tom Mustaine about the brand new title today in a telephone interview. We have also had time to play through the final version of the game and will be posting our review momentarily.
Clearly, one of the most talked about aspect of the game is the control system that has been called an "on rails" experience. Carmack and Mustaine both object to that characterization, however, and feel that by removing the free-roam aspect, it becomes far more accessible and better experience overall.
One of the things I like to say is if you compare this to one of our traditional FPS games like Wolfenstein 3D Classic to a lesser extent and even more with Doom Classic... but those games can look really good when you've got somebody who knows what they're doing playing around with it, somebody who is comfortable with the controls. But, the first pick up response on it generally is not that great even from a FPS person because it's a control set people aren't familiar with.
And with Doom Resurrection because you do trade off some freedom, you don't have the ability to roam everywhere, but the game looks good all the time. .... And it does have that sort of skill based progression just like you would have with a traditional FPS game but it just has a generally more sort of positive feedback on there without the downside of making people feel like they have no idea what they're supposed to be doing.
The companies also spent a large amount of time experimenting with controls systems for the game, almost scrapping the game altogether about half way through. The original iteration of the game had a "tap to shoot" mechanic which was simply not-fun. It wasn't until they discovered the tilt to aim mechanic that they felt they had a compelling enough game. They are particularly proud of their implementation which has not been used in other iPhone games yet, and expect it will be imitated in the near future.
Yeah I do take some pride in that traditionally as like id invented the FPS genre on the other platforms, I think we will be a bit of a trailblazer in control methods etcetera on the iPhone as well. It's a platform that I care quite a bit about and we are making an effort across all the products to make sure that they do all come out well. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and I do expect this to be imitated.
In response to the question of App Store pricing, Carmack stressed that that was a very important part of the equation for the future of big-title games in the App Store. He believes that for the market to be able to sustain big AAA titles in the future, the App Store market is going to have to be able to support higher priced titles of at least $9.99.
A full transcript of the interview is included after the jump. We have more information on Doom Classic, Wolfenstein RPG and id's future iPhone plans which we will report in a separate article.
App Store Link: Doom Resurrection, $9.99
Tom Mustaine: What did you guys think when you got your hands on it?
Arn / TouchArcade: I liked it a lot. The best thing was it felt like Doom. Of course, there are a lot of people concerned with the scripted "on rails" aspect of it.
John Carmack: We tried to avoid having it characterized like that, there is a stigma associated with that. (Tom: Kind of an old school stigma.) We like to talk about it as kind of a "crafted experience."
One of the things I like to say is if you compare this to one of our traditional FPS games like Wolfenstein 3D Classic to a lesser extent and even more with Doom Classic -- which obviously not many people have seen yet since it's not released -- but those games can look really good when you've got somebody who knows what they're doing playing around with it, somebody who is comfortable with the controls. But, the first pick up response on it generally is not that great even from a FPS person because it's a control set people aren't familiar with, and just with any FPS, if you can't do the controls you generally tend to look stupid and it's not the most rewarding ... when you're bumbling around not doing what you want it to do.
And with Doom Resurrection because you do trade off some freedom, you don't have the ability to roam everywhere, but the game looks good all the time. You may wind up dying if you can't shoot the monsters effectively but you don't necessarily look like a fool when you're doing it, and the game is pretty cool to look at even when you're in the process of failing. And it does have that sort of skill based progression just like you would have with a traditional FPS game but it just has a generally more sort of positive feedback on there without the downside of making people feel like they have no idea what they're supposed to be doing.
That's a problem that we have all the time in high-level FPS game design. You can spend so much time building really awesome things that happen in the world, but the player is almost never cooperative, you know? They're almost never looking where you want them to unless you actually yank the control away from them which puts you again outside this free-roaming motion. The player will generally be looking off to the side or not even in the right place or they walk away when something cool is happening. So what we get for trading away some of the freedom on this is the controls make sure whatever cool stuff we put in everybody really gets to see.
Arn: I understand that you hadn't initially gone with this design decision. Can you talk about how you came to this control system?
Tom: Yeah, early on when we all sat down initially and discussed this game, it was kind of a foregone conclusion that the thing you do is tap on the screen to shoot the monsters. That's what we implemented for the majority of the design (about half way through the development) before we actually took a stab at it to make a change. But honestly, up until the half way point, the game just wasn't really fun at all. It just wasn't resonating.
You play the game and you tap on the monsters with your finger and you move through the world and you'd be covering the monster with your finger and you didn't have the kind of compulsion you could expect, you know, that aiming mechanic you really need. So about half way through both id and us were really looking at this thing saying "It's not shaping up" and we were actually considering canceling it at one point.
But we got to a point where we made a change and moved over to the kind of accelerometer/aiming mechanic and what that did is literally overnight made the game go from being kind-of-not-fun to actually a really engaging experience and it finally captured what we wanted out of the thing from day one which was a distilled shooter experience. It captures all the elements you'd expect out of Doom and all the visceral combat and feedback and everything but it has that compulsion of micro-seconds of where I've got to aim at this guy, and I can't hit this one in the head quick enough, I've got to use more bullets on this guy and that really turned it from a game that was kind of half-and-half to a game that actually was hard to put down and that was a big part of it.
This is the first time that both Escalation and id have built a game like this, this is the first time we've built something outside of the standard traditional shooter realm that we know so there was definitely a bit of experimentation and iteration and what we ended up with is something we're all very proud of.
John: It is always interesting when you're presented with new user input capabilities and figuring out what the right thing to do there is. That's an exciting part but it's a risky part because we did go into this whole project saying we're not positive this is going to work and I was very careful to not pre-announce this project, not get anyone excited ahead of time because we were prepared to just kill it if it wasn't actually going to be a lot of fun. And it is interesting when you talk about dynamics. We used to talk about how we might do FPS dynamics, different ways of doing things here, and you can't just be doing them analytically. You can't just be staring up in the space and say "Well I think the right way to deal with a touch screen and accelerometer is like this." We did a bunch of that on this project, on Wolfenstein Classic and I've got other experiments on Doom Classic. In a lot of ways you have to try a whole bunch of things. In the classic games on there I've tried three or four other methods that aren't actually in the shipping game and other stuff I've tried since on Doom .... and you really have to throw a lot of things at the wall and see what winds up sticking.
Tom: We were actually really surprised. You guys saw my screen at WWDC. I've played almost every single other kind of what you'd call "shooter game" on the platform and nobody settled on this kind of aiming and shooting mechanic. I was actually pretty surprised, I think we're going to be setting a path for people. We put a good deal of time and money into this to ensure that it's a fun game and I think that's going to be beneficial to other people as they're building games in this kind of genre going forward so it was definitely an interesting experience.
John: Yeah I do take some pride in that traditionally as like id invented the FPS genre on the other platforms, I think we will be a bit of a trailblazer in control methods etcetera on the iPhone as well. It's a platform that I care quite a bit about and we are making an effort across all the products to make sure that they do all come out well. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and I do expect this to be imitated.
Technical Capabilities of iPhone
Arn: Did you find the control system to be the major issue in creating the game? From a technical perspective can you talk about moving the Doom 3 assets over from a difficulty standpoint?
John: Things came over visually pretty quickly. We had it looking good early on and we knew this was going to be a good hook because even the early versions that we didn't think were that much fun to play, we had some really strong reactions. Somebody was playing on the iPhone and somebody glances over their shoulder. An exact quote from one of the people was "Holy cow!" as this is not what they were expecting to see on the phone. But, that wasn't going to be enough to have us release the product with it. We had to get some other stuff up there.
There are some interesting things where it turns out [the iPhone] is more gated on the CPU than the GPU right now and we could have structured some things differently and made a little bit more push on there and even this doesn't max out the traditional iPhones. There are different ways we could do things to squeeze more performance out of there and certainly when you look towards the 3GS there's lots of opportunity there for doing different things. But from a technical standpoint, it all went reasonably smooth. You're never done, you can always spend more time and effort to make things more optimized or try out different techniques on there. But we learned a few things through this process, I learned a bunch on Wolfenstein Classic and Doom Classic and carried those things over. And we've got more stuff for all of these projects going forward, which there is going to be a lot.
Tom: That said too, there's also definitely a bit of a performance difference between the original devices versus the 2nd generation iPod touch which is the fastest device before the 3GS. So there's quite a bit of smoke and mirrors going on. Technically we achieved exactly what we set out on early on visually, and there are actually some visibility solutions in there that were inspired by what John and his team had done in Rage. So there's some pretty cool stuff going on under the hood to make Resurrection look as good as it does, but that does create some limitations because we had to make sure to target the devices that are out there and we didn't know anything about the 3GS until everybody else did about three weeks ago. We made some pretty specific decisions early on and got everything up and running really quickly, and it shifted to making sure it was fun.
Pricing and the App Store Market
Arn: You guys were at an advantage being able to use the Doom 3 assets developed previously, do you guys have any thoughts on the App Store pricing models in general. The App Store is becoming a very competitive and cheap market for a lot of things.
John: That really is a significant issue. Doom Resurrection is launching at $9.99. We'll see how it does there or if it's completely shunned. It is a significant deal for the platform even though the numbers are good for how many units are out there and how many units people are moving on different things. We've done quite well with Wolfenstein 3D Classic on there and certainly expect to do even better on Doom Classic. From a hardware standpoint, the iPhone should be a better gaming platform than what you've got on the DS and PSP. You've got some software things in the way that keep you from achieving all that you could with that but those are things that we have reasonable hopes that Apple will be evolving to address.
Right now you really couldn't afford a full-fledged, "do the best possible job" development on here. Doom Resurrection was a pretty expensive project to develop. I can't say for sure how it ranks relative to anything else but the big titles on the iPhone so far have been ports and the novel titles have been generally small projects.
This is definitely going to be up there, if not the most expensive to develop it's going to be in the top five probably. A team of professional developers who otherwise would be working on high end console titles are working on the iPhone here. And as I said, this is far from really maxing out what we can do on there. Especially now that we've seen one of the really good signs is that people buying Myst shows us that it's possible to go ahead and have hundreds of megs of downloads which encourages us to do things like mega-texturing on future things and all that kind of stuff.
Still, if you look at a DS or PSP game, if it's intended to be a AAA one, they spend millions of dollars developing those. If you want to look at the latest Zelda or something going on the DS those are very very expensive projects to develop. The iPhone can certainly do anything that you're doing on there and make a better game with it. If the average price of a successful app has to be $1.99 it's never going to happen. We hope that the market can stratify a little bit. Even if it stays at $9.99, the margins are better than other consoles and there are some other savings in there. If [iPhone] games could have a reasonable shelf life at $9.99, you will start seeing multi-million dollar development budgets as the market continues to grow. But if it turns out the only way you end up being successful on the iPhone is games that cost a couple dollars, you're never going to achieve that parity with the other handhelds.