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Doom 3

Or, why id Software's next game will be more than just a technology demonstration.

Id Software are something of an anomaly in the games industry. Not only can they promise the world, but inevitably they deliver it too, and in an era when anti-hype has crushed some previously highly anticipated releases, it is something of a testament to the skill of the Texas based developers that nobody in the industry doubts that Doom 3 will be a major success. With the game's release arriving at the end of 2003 or early 2004 (the old 'when it's done' scenario), perhaps it's time to recap on the story so far, as it were.

Id have always gone their own way. Despite their massive critical and financial successes over the years, they have resisted the temptation to grow for growths sake - Id still numbers around the 20 employees mark. This is partly down to Carmack's well known apathy towards anything other than programming and rocketry, but also perhaps partly due to the fact that Id is one of the few developers out there lacking in outright leadership. Carmack himself owns 40% of the company, with artists Adrian Carmack and Kevin Cloud holding over 50% and the remainder spread between other employees. The result is a level of infighting that would tear other companies apart. Indeed, divisions were rife over the decision to make Doom 3 itself, and eventually resulted in the sacking of artist Paul Steed after he organised a rebellion of employees who were in favour remaking the early classic.

Once development began, however, further strife was avoided and the game is now considered technologically complete, with only minor fixes and changes ahead before final release sometime in the next eight months. That, of course, does not mean that there is not considerable work to be done. The much vaunted Doom 3 technology causes the developers some considerable problems as well as offering opportunities. The root of the problem is the massively increased level of detail the engine can handle - this looks incredible but it must first be generated, and the increased content needs of a graphics engine that can handle models of up to 250,000 polygons take a considerable toll on a small company like Id.

Carmack's genius was to design an engine that utilised models built to full CG specifications, and then convert them to a low polygon version with very little noticeable loss of detail. This is accomplished through a variety of means, the most important of which is modelling the shadows created on the full CG model in a texture format, creating the illusion of a far higher polygon count.

The engine is, of course, the real star of the show. Carmack has always shown incredible foresight, and Doom 3 will be the first mainstream game engine to offer dynamic lighting. In older engines (Quake 3 and before, Unreal, etc.), when a level designer compiles a level, the compiler calculates the lighting of the level based on the position and strength of the light sources placed within it, including a certain amount of reflected light (light that bounces-off surfaces). This information is stored in something called a lightmap that is used, along with the level geometry, to load the level that the player sees. Doom 3, however, does away with such lightmaps once and for all by calculating the effects of all light sources dynamically during the game.

This has several important implications. In the older engines lightmaps imposed limits on the amount of lighting that could be changed in the game - perhaps the main character might have a shadow, as well as the enemies. Later iterations might introduce new tricks to make the light seem more dynamic - light switches, shooting out lights, etc. But the fact is, in Doom 3, all lighting is dynamic. Shoot a ceiling lamp and it will swing, and all the objects in the room will have their shadows recalculated on the fly. One consequence of the move to dynamic lighting is the loss of reflected light calculations, meaning that any area where there is no direct lighting will be rendered black, but this is a small matter for a game designed to invoke fear. These changes bring tremendous possibilities, however, and for the first time we should see lighting techniques inherited from cinema being utilised to create fear, suspense and foreboding.

Doom 3 will also make good use of existing technology. Bump maps are computationally expensive, but will be used extensively in-game to create illusions of depth and texture. Six channel surround sound will be supported, as well as a realistic rag-doll physics engine. Also in is an impressive per-polygon hit detection system that will thankfully avoid the excesses of Soldier of Fortune. Id have also opted for a mixture of motion capture and animation for in-game movements - humans will be motion captured for realism, while the more hellish enemies will be animated, Id understandably wanting to avoid opening a portal to hell specifically to ask some demons for some motion capture help.

The game is said to be so GPU dependent that for the first time, Carmack has stated he feels he has the spare CPU cycles to 'waste' on extensive enemy AI. Monsters will seek out the player with their senses, and CEO Todd Hollenshead described one moment during an internal play testing session, where a nine foot infected marine with a chain gun was seeking him out, firing randomly around itself as it probed the dark. Hollenshead described how he waited intently for the monster to pass him as it searched, before leaping out behind it in ambush. It is cinematic moments like these that give a glimpse of the type of game play Id are trying to attach to their five star engine.

In all the hype surrounding the phenomenal engine, the upcoming Doom 3 game play has almost become lost. Whilst the original specialized in a run and gun mentality, Doom 3 takes a far more understated approach. Carmack has publicly stated that he purposefully designed the engine for claustrophobic and cramped corridors, designed around the intended Doom 3 game play. It will, therefore, presumably be mostly set within the confines of the infamous Martian base where all hell breaks loose (literally). It is also well know, of course, that the primary aim of the development team was to make the game as scary as humanely possible, and the technology inevitably evolved to allow the level designers to accomplish this. Hence the dynamic lighting and state of the art sound. Players, however, should not be expecting the same pace of play that the earlier games provided, but instead something far more visceral. The developers have also stated a preference for the recent trend for more intense, but shorter games, although Carmack reassured worried fans that the game would be far longer than some of the more recent FPS releases.

Doom 3 will shed the mission structure of its illustrious predecessors, instead opting for Half-Life style mini-loads between areas. This should help keep the tension high and ensure the minimum of relaxation for the player. It has been confirmed that many of the weapons from the previous games will make it into the release, including the all important BFG, although other favorites like the chainsaw have yet to be implemented. Some information has also been released about environment interaction within the game. Id have given some details as to how the player interacts with in-game computer consoles - upon approach, the player automatically holsters his weapon, and the mouse cursor appears. The console can then be operated in the same way as any html browser, and character movement away from the console immediately equips the last weapon used, should the player be ambushed. Few other details of environment interaction have been revealed, but it's very reassuring to hear of this well designed system, and it augers well for other interactive elements.

An Id game would not be an Id game without multiplayer, and so it came as a great surprise to many when Carmack announced that Doom 3 would be a single-player experience only. This, however, has been altered. Doom 3 will now ship with limited multiplayer capabilities for 2-4 players, with deathmatch and last man standing confirmed. It has also been rumored that Id will augment the games multiplayer capabilities in an expansion.

The release of Doom 3 will likely be another seminal moment in the history of gaming, and the little company from Texas will once again be making its presence felt all across the industry. A major Id release constitutes a technological boundary point - everything before is old and limited, everything after advanced and full of promise. And part of the excitement of a new Id release is not only seeing what they can achieve themselves, formidable as they are. Thanks to Carmack's single-minded dedication, we can also look forward to the efforts of a plethora of professional developers on the engine, and the growing sophistication of the Mod community will no doubt mean some incredible efforts from them. The shadows of Doom 3 should ensure that the future remains bright.

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