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长文:开发者谈《毁灭战士》对现代动作游戏的启示

发布时间:2020-03-18 08:59:08 Tags:,

开发者谈《毁灭战士》对现代动作游戏的启示

原作者:EHJ Brouwer 译者:Willow Wu

动作游戏可以从经典的《毁灭战士》中学到什么?

先问一个问题:你能想到几个游戏曾经火爆到覆盖率超过了微软Windows系统?

由于《毁灭战士》的巨大成功和其深远的后续影响,二十多年来它一直都是研究人士热衷分析的对象。大家都想更进一步地剖析到底是什么让这个1993年诞生的游戏系列大受欢迎且经久不衰。无论是技术方面的成就、对速通的赞赏还是针对关卡设计衍生出的各种mods,有太多东西可以讲了。单单一篇文章是无法全面覆盖的。

与其加入到《毁灭战士》的学术研究中,我觉得反过来分析一下动作游戏(我最喜欢的游戏类型)能从这一系列学到什么/警惕什么样的前车之鉴会比较有趣。这将是一篇相当长的文章,请做好准备!

Doom3Gamespy(from game-wisdom)

Doom3Gamespy(from game-wisdom)

关卡设计&自主权

《毁灭战士》的对战方式是射击恶魔,同时以闪电般的速度移动。屠杀展开的场所通常都有锁住的门、隐藏的埋伏和储存额外资源的密室。你不能向下看或者向下看,游戏系统的纵向自动瞄准功能能在一定程度上帮助你(但此功能只有在怪物离你一定距离内才有用),因此《毁灭战士》的重点在于走位和速度。关卡难度循序渐进,最后一关,也就是最难的一关是小型的死亡迷宫。

这些关卡就是动作游戏可学习的第一课。最初,《毁灭战士》的关卡是由游戏设计师Tom Hall制作的。但是程序员John Romero认为它们还有很多不足的地方,其中之一就是没有用上现有的技术。跟他们以往的游戏不同(例如《德军总部3D》),《毁灭战士》里有不同高度的建筑、弯曲的走廊,可以运用不同的打光技巧等等。

正是这些元素使得《毁灭战士》在当时脱颖而出,甚至比当今某些更现代化的游戏还要出色。John Romero设计的E1M1:Hangar便是最著名的例子。开场是一个U型场景,有几个短楼梯,通向一个被敌人包围的锯齿形走廊。你可以透过偶尔出现的窗户看到外面似乎遥不可及的风景。

虽然这些元素在如今看起来并没有1993年那时那么惊艳,但是设计思维仍具有很高的参考价值,尤其是对动作游戏来说。除了极少数的例外,大多数动作游戏都提供了广阔的开放空间,偶尔会出现走廊。开发者一般都不会设计有很多高低错落建筑的环境,最多只是让玩家攀个悬崖。其它能丰富游戏战斗的现代技术——例如2006年发行的Prey中的天花板行走,2010年DarkVoid中的喷射背包飞行,或《只狼》中的擒拿技——都被忽视或沦为噱头,而不是游戏设计的关键部分。我们看到了科技的进步,但随之而来的大量选择似乎把游戏带向了一个更为单一的方向。

Romero是E1M1的设计者,同时也是程序员。因为《毁灭战士》关卡主要是利用手头的现有资源创造的,所以一个人也可以独立制作。这样一来Romero就有了很多创作自由,可以自主设计关卡——如今的游戏设计似乎就是在这点上有麻烦。

《毁灭战士》的开发团队大概只有6个人:程序员John Carmack、John Romero和Dave Taylor,艺术设计师Adrian Carmack(顺便说下他们没有亲戚关系)、Kevin Cloud和游戏设计师Sandy Petersen——他在游戏发行前10周取代了前面提到的Tom Hall。

这一点对下文的比较分析很重要。近期发行的动作游戏《鬼泣5》主要是由18位游戏设计师、19位环境设计师、17位界面设计人员、16位角色设计师、80多位动画制作人员、30多位特效&灯光设计人员、26位程序员以及45位负责引擎工作的人员共同完成(这还不包括提音效、短片制作、或者其它外包工作)。单单游戏本身的开发工作就需要130多人,跟2001年初代《鬼泣》比起来,人数增加了2倍。更别提还有管理、营销等其它方面的工作了。

为什么会这样?一个比较简单的理由:如果你想确保游戏的画面不跟时代脱节,那么如今制作游戏确实需要更多的人力。这要归咎于3D技术的应用——它需要更复杂的绑定操作、动作捕捉、更高的帧率和分辨率,以及更复杂的编码和引擎来实现。这一切都需要更高端的硬件设备,最终结果就是人们更害怕出现错误,采取更加保守的做法。例如,《拳皇13》 开发团队使用的是Sprite工具,创造一个角色要花费近16个月的时间,团队得同时处理多个角色以保证游戏按时发行。一款全价游戏(标准版售价在60美元左右的高端游戏,游戏邦注)应该是什么样的?人们的想法已经不同以往,期待值越来越高。从粉丝们对《质量效应:仙女座》(Mass Effect: Andromeda)打出的惨烈差评就可以看出。

这种对不断变化的画面标准的追求可能会让开发者“委曲求全”。虽然也存在一些坚持自我的游戏制作人,比如小岛秀夫、David Jaffe和Michel Ancel,但他们更多的是指导产品的发展方向,而不是亲手打造一整套关卡。

《忍者龙剑传2》的开发记录中讲到,大部分的对战都是由游戏总监板垣伴信亲自测试的。虽然他是众人敬仰的资深前辈,但是游戏中的改动并不是他一个人可以实现的,而是像机械齿轮那样,一个带动另一个。

如果在《鬼泣5》开发的最后十周,总监伊津野英昭想要重新设计某个任务,这会是一个巨额工作。对比之下,尽管Sandy Petersen是在游戏发行前十周才加入《毁灭战士》开发团队,但是他完成了游戏19/27的关卡,尽管其中有8关是基于早期Tom Hall的设计。

同时团队也感受到了不一样的东西,比如Petersen对伏击和主题的热衷。主题的强烈存在感对Petersen来说是不可撼动的,就比如《毁灭战士2》Map23:Barrels o’ Fun就是基于炸药桶主题设计的。再举一个不一样的例子:Romero喜欢强调对比,比如亮vs暗,拥挤vs开阔。所有这些主题关卡都是相互关联的,促使玩家不断回到先前探索的区域,在脑海中构建出地图。

如今的情况,简单来讲就是游戏设计工作中有太多联动程序,不可能像1993年的《毁灭战士》那么灵活。

因此,当你以俯视视角观察游戏关卡时,你会发现现代动作游戏的很多关卡都是由开放空间或简单的形状构成的。精美的艺术设计、强大的视觉效果,再加上穿插其间的故事情节或有趣冲突,简单性也就被掩盖了。这使得游戏更依赖于即时玩法而不是它们所处的关卡。

你可以看这张对比图:

左边是《毁灭战士》E1M7的关卡地图,右边是我根据《鬼泣5》M11制作的地图——这算是游戏中相对复杂的一关了。我只能根据视频来描绘地图,虽然画得比较简单,但是也足够表现它的关卡设计了。

但《毁灭战士》的关卡设计方法也有一个缺点:前后质量不一致。第一章Knee Deep in the Dead的绝大部分关卡都是由Romero设计的,但之后的扩展系列和游戏则是多位设计师的大杂烩。有时你一连玩下来的N个关卡其实是出自于4个设计师之手,他们各自的设计哲学和逻辑都不一样,从而糅合成了一个不连贯的产品。

总结来说,我们从《毁灭战士》上学到第一个启示是:

现代动作游戏注重的是即时玩法,而不是所处的关卡。开发人员应该多运用新时代的开发技术,创造新式关卡、有趣的traversal(指玩家可以用任意方式,例如跑、跳、攀爬等在环境中行动,游戏邦注)方式以及对战场景。开阔式的场景其实挺不错的,但不要使用得那么频繁。

另外,技术已演变得过于复杂,人们太过专注于细节,因此现在单凭一人是不可能制作完成一整个关卡的。当下动作游戏看重的是对战和画面表现效果。如果能看到哪个动作游戏没有那么关注材质分辨率或布料建模的质量,而是更关注如何在游戏设计过程允许更多的灵活性,那真是令人欣慰。为了保持设计的一致性,避免《毁灭战士》出现的问题,开发团队需要一个主设计师确保各自设计的关卡顺畅衔接。

敌人、武器&如何组合

呈现出来的关卡是什么样的,这取决于敌人以及杀死它们的武器。《毁灭战士》中的敌人会朝你冲过来,用各种方式攻击你,有时你甚至可以让它们自相残杀。但是《毁灭战士》的对战亮点不在于此。一些小怪看起来并不能造成什么威胁,比如Pinkie是一种无脑的怪物,奋力冲上来只为了咬你一口,Imp会随机吐火球。

但是当Pinkie有Imp提供支援时,情况就不一样了。原来你只要跟这些怪物保持距离就行了,但现在你还需要躲避飞行物。周围加上熔岩池,就更不一样了。如此不断叠加,一个地势险峻的竞技场就有了雏形——不同类型的敌人共同合作,同时危险的环境也牵制了玩家。

《毁灭战士》中的恶魔都有一个独特的主题,这种设计效果在单打独斗时显现不出来,在它们合作战斗时才会,再考虑到玩家有哪些武器,让对战变得更加精彩。

每个章节的第一个任务都会重置玩家的弹匣。设定玩家在任务中使用哪一种武器也会对战斗产生影响。对战三只Barons of Hell,影响因素不只是你所处的环境,还有你手上的是等离子枪这样的武器还是普通手枪。

游戏后期的对战往往会演变成大型战斗。尤其是在《毁灭战士》的第三章和《毁灭战士2》的后半阶段,一次微妙的摩擦很容易招致一大波的敌人合力来打垮你。这是因为设计师必须对玩家不断提高的技能水平采取对应措施。游戏流程进展到一半时绝大部分的敌人基本都出场了,而剩下的关卡则更多是实验性的。最终每种可能的组合方式都试过了,玩家渐渐能看出关卡究竟是反映出了开发者的设计技能还是只是变着花样耍小聪明,比如以数量压制。虽然有时候是能产生娱乐效果,但是有时候只会无意义地拖长游戏,惹怒玩家。

对战情况也会因为难度模式而改变。在Ultra Violence难度下,游戏中的关键场景可能会出现Cacodemon这种怪物,它的攻击可能会彻底扭转战局。Nightmare难度会提高敌人的行动速度和攻击频率,在冷却时间过后复活被杀死的敌人。不同难度模式下物品的位置也不同,也有专属的武器。举一个例子E4M1:Hell Beneath,由American McGee设计,他移除了Ultra Violence和Nightmare模式中的急救包,把原本就不好打的一关变成了系列最难。还有E1M3:Toxic Refinery,由John Romero设计,移除了某些光源,对战的时候玩家要花费更多精力去辨识怪物。

如此,设计师可以创造出关卡的数个不同版本,涉及到关卡专属的怪物以及通关所需的特定技能。

比如Dario&Milo Casali两兄弟创作的衍生游戏Plutonia Experiment,其中有一关出现了9只Arch-vile(这是游戏中最危险的怪物之一)。相比之下,《毁灭战士2》在接近最后阶段时也只用了2只Arch-vile跟玩家对战。《毁灭战士》第二章的boss Cyberdemon也是如此。它的作用相当于是一个阻塞点,用一场艰难的战斗拦住玩家。在Plutonia中,玩家一次要对付4只Cyberdemon。

Dario曾公开表示,这个游戏是为那些已经通关《毁灭战士2》困难模式的玩家准备的——这些人正在寻找新的挑战,希望有人能利用游戏中的元素再次创作并将其发挥到极致。Dario会自己先玩一遍困难模式,如果很轻松就通关了,他会再把游戏调得更难。

除了迎合硬核玩家的需求,《毁灭战士》还提供了难度较低的模式,让新玩家更容易上手。敌人更少、伤害低,医疗补给更多或者早期就给玩家提供强大的武器。游戏并没有通过改变玩法,利用全自动瞄准(《绝对征服》)、自动回血(《生化危机2:重制版》)、自动战斗(《猎天使魔女2》)或者自动闪避(《忍者龙剑传3》)等手段帮助新玩家。这些改变无法让你体验到眼前游戏的精髓所在。

很明显,《毁灭战士》的开发团队努力做到了物尽其用。这就是现代动作游戏从《毁灭战士》获得的第二个启示:

当下的产品已经具备了优秀动作游戏的基础,包括个性化的敌对角色,多样化的操作、交互方式。可以尝试更多组合方式,这会使你受益匪浅。多去思考探索,而不是认为眼前的一切理所当然。将新敌人介绍给玩家后,你的任务并没有就此结束,这是测试关卡特色设计的开始,它能不能吸引玩家?这样的人有没有新鲜感?那些原本不打算设计成联手攻击的敌人,你可以重新组合。如果沉浸感有可能受到破坏,那就把这些特殊的对战转移到更高难度的模式中。如果你的游戏太难了,那就提供简单一些的模式方便新玩家上手。

大胆实验敌人的组合攻击、武器效果,利用不同的难度尝试更具挑战性的对战,或者调整物品的原有位置给玩家使绊儿。作为奖励,你可以允许玩家自创地图。例如《但丁的地狱》的DLC《露西亚的审判》设计思路就不错,但是执行效果太差。如果玩家能够自己设计游戏,你无法预料到他们会带来怎样的精彩创作。你需要借鉴《超级马里奥制造》。

游戏中的角色移动

我们在前文提到《毁灭战士》的各种战斗,其中有一个关键要素,那就是移动(movement)。玩家的位置、敌人的位置,你要怎么让二者交锋。除了常规的移动,动作游戏通常会提供更多选择,比如《忍者龙剑传》的走墙,《忍》的冲刺、《鬼泣3》的瞬移。但无论是哪种类型的的移动,当角色开始攻击时,他们都是静止的。

当但丁攻击时,他不能移动。虽然有一些攻击是伴随着移动,比如《忍者龙剑传》的风车斩或者《鬼泣》的前进突刺,但这些都是预先设置好的,并不算真正的移动。确实有移动时,一般是为了快速闪避或以调整到特定的距离和角度,从而再次发动攻击——也就是再次进入静止状态。

因此,这些游戏运用的方法就是通过取消动画或者固定住敌人让玩家不断进攻。《毁灭战士》则完全相反,走位+移动+攻击是关键。游戏中的多数隐藏机制都对移动速度和流畅性提供了支持,比如,如Strafe Running(允许玩家同时向前和横向移动,可以在关卡中跑得更快,游戏邦注)、滑行、走墙。

这并不是说其它动作游戏没有这些设计,玩家在《神奇101》中可以边移动边射击,《合金装备崛起:复仇》中Raiden的可以忍者跑。有些游戏把移动跟武器配合了起来,就比如《仁王》的双拐攻击。但是综合来说,它们比起类似风格的2D游戏,比如《忍者龙剑传3:刀锋边缘》或者《胧村正》来说,战斗中的移动还是显得相当生硬,这是现代动作游戏的一个痛点。

《鬼泣4》的玩家可以在一定程度上实现边移动边攻击,这通常被称为惯性运用攻击。然而《鬼泣5》取消了惯性设定,这意味着很多原有的攻击机制也一并不能使用了,引发了众多玩家的争议和讨论。这就表明了玩家对这种战斗方式的热切渴望。

那么,为什么这种设计只存在于《毁灭战士2016》《绝对征服》《马克思·佩恩3》这些游戏中?像《忍》《刺客信条》这些行云流水的动作游戏为什么没有?

有一种观点认为,它可能会导致游戏变得过于简单。在《合金装备崛起:复仇》中,敌人格挡一定数量的攻击后必须自动反击,这是为了阻止玩家使用忍者跑从而完全制压敌人。

另一种观点是这样会减弱攻击的效果。虽然从机制层面来说这并不重要,但攻击招数的视觉吸引力绝大程度上是来源于动画设计、时机、肢体动作和敌人的反应。在移动中攻击,跟地面的接触就少,场面效果就会减弱,招式显得没有力量,有种漂浮感。

要真正做好这种效果,敌人必须参与进来,然而目前情况并不是这样。只有极少数的情况下,敌人才会被设计成正面对抗。

一款动作游戏,攻击只是整体的一部分,而角色在攻击过程中持续的移动、控制和走位也是非常重要的。

《毁灭战士》给现代游戏的第三个启示:

很多动作游戏的攻击设计都是以静态为主。最初2D动作游戏非常注重战斗中的移动,然而现在的移动在真正参与到战斗时就戛然而止,等需要采取防御动作时玩家才会再次移动。

多尝试一下战斗过程中的移动,以及面对不同类型的敌人效果如何,这对动作游戏来说应该是很有益的。动作游戏中的移动不应该只局限在躲避作用,可以多跟战斗本身结合在一起。

总结
当然,《毁灭战士》这个游戏还有很多值得研究学习的地方:如何布置关卡中的隐藏奖励、激发玩家探索欲,为什么拾取护甲会让玩家觉得探索是值得的;公开排名促使了各种挑战的诞生,以及Big Fucking Gun的隐藏追踪机制是如何考验玩家的专业技能的。你也可以从《毁灭战士》的错误中学习:比如某些武器的重复设计,一点都不刺激的boss战或者《毁灭战士2》中过于单调的关卡设计。《毁灭战士2016》甚至也可以成为你的灵感来源,比如合理的武器升级机制。

值得注意的是,我们总结的这些《毁灭战士》启示(无论是重要的还是次要的)都是从整体的角度出发,不可能所有游戏或风格都适用。比如早期的《生化危机》就不需要在战斗中增加移动,上面说到的启示也不能保证游戏销量会因此上升。综合来说,我的想法是这样的:动作游戏已经有很长的一段历史了,但是从Playstation 2时代开始,动作游戏就渐渐地陷入了《武士手枪》所奠定的设计框架中,而之后的《鬼泣》系列则进一步固化了这种框架。如果可以的话,我希望这篇文章可以成为一个灵感来源,让人们意识到关于对战的构建,游戏中还有更多元素、方法可以探索,从而增加对战的趣味性。

另外,我在为这篇文章搜查资料时,发现了一些有趣的东西:

·《鬼泣5》的首席环境设计师名字跟著名游戏制作人三上真司同音,但并不是同一个人。

·起初我想把护甲拾取作也挑出来细讲,但我改变了主意,因为它并不是非常重要。简单来说就是《毁灭战士》中普通护甲的上限是100%,可拾取的额外护甲每一个可增加1点护甲值,最多能到200%。在《毁灭战士》中有很多隐藏点,这是一种奖励玩家的简单方法——提供可叠加、有时效的辅助道具。《完美超人Joe》中也有类似的设计,每一章都要求玩家收集胶片,升级你的VFX。

·讲武器和敌人的那一部分,有些东西我用的是官方设定名称,有些是社区用户的“爱称”。举个例子:等离子枪的官方名称是等离子步枪(Plasma Rifle),但玩家通常会说等离子枪(Plasma Gun)。同样地,没有人用大写的s来表示散弹枪,所以我也不这样写。像shotgunners、Pinkies这些都玩家是常用的称呼,但是官方设定名是Former Human Sergeant和Demon——很少人用。我决定用Big Fucking Gun而不是BFG,是因为我觉得这样写会方便更多读者理解(还有我只是想写“fucking”这个词)。

·我没怎么详细分析《毁灭战士》中敌军可以互伤的设定,主要是因为再写下去文章就太长了。其它动作游戏,比如《阿修罗之怒》也有这样的设计。

·召唤人物,比如《混沌军团》中的Sieg、《异界锁链》中的Akira、《鬼泣5》中的V、这些例子应该归纳到移动那一块。你可以在移动的时候命令怪物进行攻击,但通常这些玩家自己发动进攻时,最终也会遭遇上文说到的静态限制,所以我将这些例子排除在外以免混淆。而且那一部分已经有足够多的参考例子了。

·Nightmare是《毁灭战士》中的一种难度模式,当初加入它的想法是“可能会有玩家抱怨Ultra Violence模式太简单”。因此,大多数玩家都认为这是一个玩笑似的设计,纯粹为了难而难,但仍有粉丝热衷于挑战这个模式。

·在不同难度模式下游戏内容也会做出调整,包括敌人、物品位置、奖励,甚至还会引入新的boss,除了《毁灭战士》能做到这种程度的全方位更改,其余的就只有《忍者龙剑传:黑之章》了(至少据我所知)。每种难度模式就像是一个独立的游戏。有些模式有时甚至包含了比更困难模式更具挑战性的对战,从而平衡玩家逐渐提高的伤害输出。《忍者龙剑传:黑之章》的Ninja Dog难度也是同理,必须要给玩家更困难的考验,而不是一味地迎合他们。关于这一话题,Shane Eric Dent的这篇文章值得一看(https://medium.com/@shanedent20xx/ninja-gaiden-black-has-an-incredible-easy-mode-93847ce93505)。

·American McGee是真名。关于这背后的故事,他说道:“是的,名字是我妈妈取的。她说她之前在大学里认识了一个人,给她女儿取名叫‘America’,于是就给我取了这个名字。她还说之前有考虑‘Obnard’。她一直是一个不喜欢走寻常路、创意十足的人。”

·为了写这篇文章,我自己去尝试了Doom Builder(类似于《超级马里奥制造》),虽然还没做完,但是从实验中我已经感受到了单单一个Lost Soul怪物就可能对战局造成的影响,真是很有意思了。尤其是考虑到敌人还可以误伤友军。

本文由游戏邦编译,转载请注明来源,或咨询微信zhengjintiao

What Action Games can, imo, learn from Classic Doom

A question: how many games can you think of that were once so popular, it was installed on more computers than Microsoft Windows?

Due to its success and subsequent impact, DOOM has been analysed for nearly twenty-five years and counting. Each study aims to further unravel what made the 1993 title plus its expansion packs and sequel, tick. From its technical achievements, appreciation for speedrunning and modding to its level design – there’s plenty to cover. More than any single post can encompass.

Instead of adding to this ongoing master thesis of DOOM, I thought it would be interesting to turn it around and examine what lessons Action games (my favourite genre) can take from it, good and bad. This is going to be quite the long post, so strap in!

LEVEL DESIGN & AUTHORSHIP

DOOM’s combat is about shooting demons while moving at a lightning’s pace. The levels that house these slaughters often feature locked doors, hidden ambushes and secret chambers with extra resources, all paired with slight backtracking making them feel very open. You cannot look up or down and since it sports a considerable auto-aim, DOOM is more about positioning and speed. Each level builds on the complexity of the last, peaking with the last levels becoming a miniature maze of death to unravel.

It is those levels that are part of the first lesson imo. Originally, DOOM’s levels would be created by game-designer Tom Hall. However, programmer John Romero found them lacking for numerous reasons, one being that they didn’t play into the technology available. Unlike their previous games such as Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM would allow for different types of elevations, crooked hallways as well as being able to toy with different volumes of lighting, just to name a few.

These elements are what make DOOM’s levels stand out and even exceed many that are created today in more modern games. Episode 1, Mission 1: Hangar [E1M1], by John Romero, is the most famous example of this. Starting off in a U-shaped area with a staircase, leading to a hallway with a zigzag pattern surrounded by acid, all while being able to look outside to a seemingly unreachable place that teases you with an armour powerup.

While these elements aren’t as impressive now as they were in 1993, the mentality is, especially for Action games. With rare exceptions, most action titles offer big open spaces with the occasional hallway. Elevation is generally avoided or nothing more than a cliff to jump on. Other modern techniques that allow for newer, more interesting types of geometry or combat options – such as walking on the ceiling in Prey from 2006, flying in 2010’s DarkVoid or grappling from Sekiro – are contextualized, ignored or relegated to gimmicks, instead of being a key part of the game’s design. As technology moved forward the plethora of options that came with it seemed to have steered titles in a simpler direction.

Now one element that might have popped out is the specific mention of Romero as the designer of E1M1 while also being the programmer. Because DOOM’s levels were made with most of the assets already present, one person could make a level by himself. This allowed Romero a great deal of autonomy and, to a degree, authorship of levels. Authorship that seems to be missing in current game-design.

Now, one must mention that DOOM was made by around six people: programmers John Carmack, John Romero and Dave Taylor, artists Adrian Carmack (no relation) and Kevin Cloud and game-designer Sandy Petersen – who replaced the aforementioned Tom Hall ten weeks before the game’s release.

This is important for the following comparison. Action gaming’s more recent release was Devil May Cry V in 2019. This title has 18 game-designers, 19 environmental artists, 17 people relegated to the interface, 16 working on character art, more than 80 for animation, over 30 working on visual effects and lighting, 26 programmers and 45 just for the engine. Not to mention the staff working on audio, cinematics or any of the outsourced works like character riggers, totalling at more than 130 people working on just the product itself, nearly triple the amount that worked on the first Devil May Cry from 2001. And that’s not to mention management, marketing and other departments that are involved.

Why is this? Though an overly simplified statement, making games in the current day and age takes much more manpower than before if you want to keep up visually. This is thanks to the jump to 3D requiring more complex rigging, motion capture, higher frame rates and resolutions and more complicated coding and engines to accompany them. All of this demands stronger hardware, with the end result being more error-sensitive and less flexible. Sprite based King of Fighters XIII’s team needed nearly 16 months to make a single character for example, juggling multiple at a time with long hours to see the game launch on time. Expectations of what a full price game is supposed to look like have gone up, as evident by the fan backlash of a title like Mass Effect: Andromeda.

This drive to keep up with the ever-shifting visual benchmark could be a cause to authorship taking a backseat. While the sector has its names, like Kojima, Jaffe and Ancel, these are more directors that guide the vision of the product, not people that handcraft a whole set of levels themselves.

In the documentary for Ninja Gaiden II, director Itagaki was seen testing most encounters in Ninja Gaiden II personally. While admirable, any changes wouldn’t then be made by a single individual; instead one cog would force another in motion, and another, and another.

If, during the final ten weeks of development on Devil May Cry V, director Itsuno had wanted one entire mission to be redone, it would’ve been a monumental undertaking. Conversely, despite being hired ten weeks before the game’s launch, Sandy Petersen was able to make 19 of DOOM’s 27 levels, though 8 were based on early sketches by Tom Hall.

At the same time they were also given a distinct feeling, like Petersen’s love for ambushes and themes. Themes that served as a red line throughout, such as a level based solely around exploding barrels [DOOM II: Map23: Barrels o’ Fun]. A different example is Romero’s emphasis on contrast i.e. light and dark and compact versus open. All these thematic levels flow into each other and have players revisit older areas to build a map in their head.

Today there are, simply put, too many moving parts for a game’s design process to be as flexible as DOOM**’s was in 1993.**

As such, it should be no surprise that most of the levels in modern Action games consist of open spaces or simple shapes when looked at from above. Their simplicity is hidden behind good art-design, stronger visuals and filled with story moments or interesting encounters. Which as a result have the games rely more on their immediate gameplay than the levels they take place in.

An example of their comparison: https://i2.wp.com/stinger-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Artboard-1@2x-100.jpg

I placed the map for E1M7 from DOOM next to that of one I made based off of Devil May Cry V’s mission 11 map – one of the more complexer ones. While I had to base it off of video footage, and thus is a tad more simplistic, it does paint a pretty telling picture.

DOOM’s method of level-design comes with a downside though, namely the inconsistent quality. While the levels in DOOM’s first episode, Knee Deep in the Dead, were nearly wholly designed by Romero, later expansions and games would feature more of a mishmash of designers. Sometimes you’d play maps from 4 different designers in a row each of varying quality and with different design philosophies and logic, leading to an inconsistent title.

All in all though, the First Lesson that Action games could learn from DOOM is this:

Action games currently focus on the immediate gameplay, and not a lot on where said gameplay takes place. Level design should embrace current technological development more to offer new types of levels, interesting method of traversal, gameplay or combat scenarios. All while avoiding gimmicks and staying true to their current vision. The open arena is great, but use it more sparingly.

Aside from that, technologies have become too vast, too complex and too focused on high detail to let a single person make a level. Instead it falls back on the combat and art direction to do the work for them. It would be interesting to see a title in the genre focus less on the resolution of the texture or the quality of the cloth physics and instead allow for more flexibility in the game’s design process. In an effort to keep the design consistent, unlike DOOM*, there’d have to be a leading designer that monitors the level’s cohesion with each other.*

ENEMIES, WEAPONS & HOW IT ALL COMES TOGETHER

How exactly those levels play out though is determined by the enemies and the weapons that kill them. Foes in DOOM run at you and shoot at you in various ways and some might even be used to kill each other. But that is not what makes DOOM’s combat tick. A Pinkie is a near brain dead foe whose only purpose in life is to rush at you for a bite. An Imp will at random occasions fire orbs at you. It seems very basic.

When that single Pinkie is supported by an Imp however, the battle changes. What was once just a simple matter of keeping distance now also involves dodging a projectile. Add a pool of lava around the arena and it changes even more. Twelve steps further and we’ve laid down the foundation for an arena with multiple levels of elevation, different enemy types working together to put the player in unique situations, while the environmental hazards keep him in check.

Each demon in DOOM has a distinct theme making for interesting engagements not when alone, but when they are combined. An element taken even further when taking into account which weapons the player will have.

The first mission of each episode resets your loadout. Designing which weapon can be picked up in certain missions also influences the combat further; a battle against three Barons of Hell can be very different not only depending on the room you’re in, but also whether you have a Plasma Gun to rely on or just a regular shotgun.

Later encounters in the game tend to devolve into large fights however. A once nuanced encounter devolves into waves of enemies huddled together, especially in DOOM’s third episode and the latter half of DOOM II. This can be attributed to the designers having to compensate the player’s rising skill level and improved load-out plus the fact that DOOM tends to show its cards quite early. Most enemies will have been encountered as early as halfway through the game with the remaining levels being more about experimentation with DOOM’s offerings. Eventually each possible combination has been made and levels will start to either mirror their design or rely on gimmicks, like hordes of enemies. While sometimes this works to entertain, other times it will just annoy and pad out the game.

Encounters also change depending on the difficulty-mode. Ultra Violence might add a Cacodemon in that one key area, whose projectiles change the dynamic completely. Meanwhile Nightmare difficulty speeds up enemies and projectiles while also respawning killed foes after a set time. All difficulties also change item locations and offer unique weapon pickups. A good example is Episode 4, Mission 1: Hell Beneath [E4M1], by American McGee, which famously removed all medkits on Ultra Violence and Nightmare, turning an already hard level into arguable the series’ hardest. Or how Episode 1, Mission 3: Toxic Refinery [E1M3], by John Romero, removes certain lights making it harder to see in some encounters.

This methodology also gives level designers the freedom to construct numerous versions of each level with unique enemy encounters with specific skill levels in mind.

For example the expansion pack The Plutonia Experiment by the brothers Dario and Milo Casali. One mission in this expansion features nine Arch-viles, one of the game’s most dangerous foes. By comparison, DOOM II only features one fight with two Arch-viles near the end. Same goes for the Cyberdemon, the boss of DOOM’s second episode. He tends to be used as a chokepoint offering a tight encounter. Plutonia throws four at once at you.

Dario has gone on record saying that the expansion was made for people who had finished DOOM II on Hard and were looking for a challenge using all the elements from the game and putting them to their most extreme use. He noted that he’d always played through the level he’d made on Hard, and if it was beaten too easily, it would be made harder. Dario went on to state that he didn’t have a lot of sympathy for players who played Plutonia on Hard and complain it’s ‘too hard’.

Images cannot do The Plutonia Experiment justice. So please enjoy this video showing its insanity, courtesy of the fantastic Civvie11: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVyMsAja5z8

Aside from catering to the hardcore, DOOM also uses its difficulty modes for newer players to be eased into the game on lower settings. It would offer smaller encounters with less dangerous foes and more health-pickups or give certain powerful weapons earlier. It doesn’t coddle new players with gameplay changes like auto-aim (Vanquish), regenerating health (Resident Evil 2 Remake), letting the game do the fighting for you (Bayonetta 2) or having you dodge automatically (Ninja Gaiden 3). These are changes that never teach you how to play the game, but play it for you.

It is clear that DOOM strives to make the best of what little elements it has to offer. And that is exactly Action gaming’s Second Lesson that it can learn from it:

The foundation of a great Action game is generally present in current day titles, with a fantastic cast of enemies, moves that are available to the player and how they interact. Instead of taking this for granted, modern titles could benefit from further experimenting on how all those foes and abilities come together. Introducing a foe shouldn’t be the end of it, it should be the beginning of trying engagement setups and unique level-designs built to give the foe a new twist each and every time, making it feel fresh. Combine foes that would have no reason to team up, and if immersion is risked to be broken, relegate these unique encounters to higher difficulty settings only. If your game is too challenging, offer unique lower settings to ease newcomers in.

Play with enemy combinations and weapon setups and don’t be afraid to use multiple difficulty levels to try out newer and more dangerous encounters or gimp the player with different item locations. As a bonus, allow players to make their own maps down the line. Dante’s Inferno’s Trials of Lucia had the right idea, but was badly executed. Who knows what fantastic fights await if players could design their own? One need but look to Super Mario Maker for the endless creativity.

MOVEMENT IN ACTION

If there’s one key element in all of the aforementioned fights in DOOM, it is movement. Where you are, where you enemy is and how you can you bridge the gap. Regular movement aside, Action games offer a plethora of other options in this regard. From Ninja Gaiden’s wallrunning, Shinobi’s dash to Devil May Cry 3’s teleport. One thing that’s consistent with these types of movement though is that they are static and when the character starts to attack, that move is static as well.

When Dante attacks, he cannot move, similarly to how Ryu stops being agile the second he readies his blade. While there are some attacks that have movement tied into them, like Ninja Gaiden’s Windmill Slash or Devil May Cry’s Stinger, these tend to be pre-defined. And when movement does take place, it is mostly used for a quick dodge or reposition with a specific set distance and angle, only for the offensive to start once again, with halted movement.

As a result, plenty of the tricks in these games are about staying on the offensive through canceling animations or keeping a foe pressured so you can stay right in his face. This is sharp contrast to DOOM where movement and positioning combined with attacking is key, understandable considering its genre. This is highlighted further with most of its hidden mechanics contributing to movement speed and mobility, like SR50, Strafe Running, Gliding and Wall Running.

That’s not to say some Action games haven’t already done this. Players can move while attacking in The Wonderful 101 and then there’s Raiden’s Ninja Run in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Some games also put movement as a weapon ability like Nioh’s Tonfa, which can be canceled with a press of a button. Generally speaking though, unlike their 2d brethren like Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom or Muramasa: The Demon Blade, movement in combat seems to be heavily stilted in modern Action games.

In Devil May Cry 4 players would use the momentum of previously canceled attacks to generature movement for subsequent moves, allowing players to move while attacking to an extent, often dubbed as Inertia. An example of this would be Guard Flying. When removed from Devil May Cry 5, this was justifiably met with controversy and discussion, since this meant a sizable portion of the game’s offensive mechanics was removed. This highlights a great desire for such movement in combat.

So why is this element mostly exclusive to games like DOOM 2016, Vanquish, Max Payne 3 and the upcoming Nelo, and not present in games that actively promote mobility like Shinobi or even Assassin’s Creed?

One argument as to why can be made that giving players such mobility could result in too easy a game. Metal Gear Rising had to force enemies to automatically counter attacks after blocking a certain amount of hits to prevent Ninja Running from locking enemies down completely.

Another argument can be that it can make attacks feel less powerful. While not important mechanically, a lot of the visual appeal from an attack comes from elements like anticipation in animation, timing, body movement and the enemy’s reaction. Attacking while on the move can see animations lack build-up and have them be less grounded, making the resulting move feel floaty.

For it to truly work though, enemies have to play into it, which is currently not the case. Foes are made to be fought head on with only rare exceptions. Looking to DOOM II, Arch-viles are completely built around line of sight, shotgunners need to be avoided using terrain and Pinkies are a huge danger in enclosed areas. Such a change in enemy design could open action gaming to foes that dodge around much more often or use line of sight moves more akin to the medusa-like Nure-Onna’s gaze in Nioh 2.

It’s an interesting proposition; an action game where the act of doing the attack is but one part of the whole while the constant movement, control and positioning of the character during such an attack is just as important.

As such, the third, and last, lesson that action games can learn from DOOM isn’t just as much a lesson, but also a spark for inspiration:

Too many action games focus on movement being stilted while being on the offensive. While originally 2d Action games were all about movement in combat, combat is now about moving until you’re engaged in a fight, at which point your position is frozen until defensive actions need to be taken again.

Action games could benefit from experimenting with movement inside the combat area and how this plays into the different types of foes. Movement should become more of a mechanic in Action games outside of avoiding attacks, it should play more into the combat as well. Be it through a unique weapon or a game built around it.

CONCLUSION

There are of course other little lessons to be gained from classic DOOM. How the levels are filled with well hidden secrets that reward exploration, how little pickups for armour always made said exploration worthwhile, its open ranking screen that promoted all types of challenge runs and the detailed way of how the Big Fucking Gun’s hidden tracer-mechanic allowed for more expert play. Mistakes can also be lessons, like the overlap of certain weapons, lackluster boss fights or dull variation in level-aesthetics in DOOM II. One could even look to DOOM 2016 for inspiration, such as its showcase in how weapon upgrades could be handled properly.

It is important to note that all these lessons, big and small, are generalized and can never fit every game or style. The older Resident Evil games should not have higher movement in combat for instance, nor do any of these lessons guarantee more sales. Instead, the general notion I feel is this: Action games have been around for a long, long time, but since the release of the Playstation 2 they have slowly started to settle into the mold laid down by Rising Zan that was further cemented by Devil May Cry. If anything, let this post serve as an inspiration that there can be more elements to look at and new avenues to explore into how combat is constructed and made interesting. I hope that future installments of my beloved genre seek to inspire once again!

SOME FUN NOTES I FOUND WHILE RESEARCHING THIS POST

Apparently the lead environmental artist for Devil May Cry V is named Shinji Mikami. Not to be confused with the Shinji Mikami;

Originally I wanted Armour Pickups were going to be a lesson of their own, but I decided against it as it wasn’t major enough. The general idea is that the way armour works in DOOM is that regular armours only bring you to 100 armour, no more. But little armour chunks can get you above 100 to a maximum of 200. There are a lot of secrets in DOOM that as a basic reward have little chunks of armour. It is a simple method of rewarding players with something useful that can always stack and tends to expire. You can sort of see this in Viewtiful Joe, where each chapter requires you to collect film canisters to upgrade your VFX-meter;

A lot of the names used throughout the post for DOOM’s weapons and enemies are a mixture of those present in the official manual and their more popularized terms in the community. For example, while the manual calls it the Plasma Rifle, most players call it the Plasma Gun. Similarly no-one writes the shotgun with a capital ‘s’, so I avoided that. Other foes like shotgunners and Pinkies are more common terms, while their official names, Former Human Sergeant and Demon, are rarely used. I also decided to just write out Big Fucking Gun instead of BFG, as I felt more people would understand what I was talking about if I did so. That and I just wanted to write the word “fucking”;

Infighting between enemies in DOOM isn’t really mentioned. The reason is mostly that the post was getting long enough. There have been Action games that toyed with this, such as Asura’s Wrath where enemies could damage each other;

Summoning characters like Sieg from Chaos Legion, Akira from Astral Chain and V from Devil May Cry V were considered to be mentioned in the lesson about movement. I’ve always felt it interesting that you could order monsters to attack while you move, but generally these player characters did suffer from the same limitation in the end as well once they attacked themselves, so I left them out to avoid confusion. That, and that part of the article had enough references as it is;

Nightmare was a difficulty mode in DOOM that was aparrently originally put in to quell possible complaints that Ultra Violence difficulty was too easy. As a result most players considered it a joke difficulty, but it still has its adamant fans;

The methodology of enemies and item locations changing on higher difficulties is only fully revisited on DOOM’s scale in Ninja Gaiden Black (at least to my knowledge), where each difficulty changes enemies, item locations, scarab rewards and even introduced new bosses. This saw each difficulty mode play like its own unique game. Some modes at times even contained harder enemy encounters than in harder modes, which had to compensate for their higher damage output. The same goes with how Ninja Dog’s difficulty urged players to become better, instead of coddling them too much. This article by Shane Eric Dent is a great read on the matter;

After much looking around, generally speaking the game itself is stylized as DOOM, while the builder is stylized as Doom. This inconsistency hurts my eyes, but it is the way it is;

And yes, American McGee is his real name. The story behind it is, as he puts it: “Yes, my mother named me that. She claims a woman she knew in college, who named her daughter ‘America’, inspired the name. She also tells me that she was thinking of naming me ‘Obnard’. She was and always has been a very eccentric and creative person”;

For this post I decided to try my hands at Doom Builder myself. While not finished, it is interesting to witness just what a difference a single Lost Soul can make to your combat encounter. Especially how the game’s infighting can make each fight feel different. You can download the levels here, but be warned…they aren’t very good!

(source:gamasutra.com


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