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Archive for February, 2012

DOOM: Stop Shooting Me

I have been playing the hell out of Doom.

Note that when I say Doom, I’m really referring to Doom, Doom 2, Final Doom, and a few Doom mods I’ve scrounged up from various Internet websites. They’re all basically map packs for the same gory mass.

I know I talked about Doom forever ago, but after watching the newest Errant Signal episode I felt like giving it another look. This time I looked for that Ghoul’s Forest 3 mod that Chris mentioned, which lead me to find ZDoom, a source port that makes the game about a million times more fun.

I don’t actually know what a source port is, but ZDoom seems to run on a different engine than the Steam version of Doom that I’d been playing prior to this discovery. It runs a hell of a lot more smoothly and quickly. It also hosts a myriad of options that the original Doom didn’t include, like customizable controls, mouse aiming, autorun (thank Odin for that), an alternate HUD, the list goes on.

As a result, I’ve been playing the hell out of Doom, as previously stated. It’s a ton of fun. Fast movement, satisfying weapons, elaborate levels, powerful threats. The 2D sprites have aged fairly well, as opposed to the hideous 3D models in Quake, and this game has all the pieces of a good, solid shooter with a massive buffet of levels.

But while the game is good, I’d really hesitate to call it great, and here’s why.

These guys. Fuck these guys.

The standard mooks that get thrown at you in large numbers are soldiers who wield pistols and shotguns. Another common enemy is the heavy weapons guy, who has a minigun. These guys are infuriating. They constantly break game flow and ruin the fun.

They’re fairly flimsy; a few pistol shots will kill the regular soldiers, and even the chaingunners will always die from a super shotgun blast. The problem with them is that they use hitscan attacks.

For the uninitiated, the two types of ranged attacks in a shooter are “hitscan” and “projectile.” Hitscan refers to attacks that hit the target (or wall, if you miss) the instant they’re fired, while projectile attacks actually take time between launch and impact. Pistols and shotguns are generally hitscan, while rocket launchers and crossbows are projectile.

Hitscan enemies are fine in the shooters we have today, where you can take a few shots, hide behind cover until your health regenerates, and then pop back out again. But Doom doesn’t have regenerating health. Doom is designed around the idea of quickly moving around the battlefield as to avoid taking any damage whatsoever.

And that would be fine with projectile enemies, where there’s actually any possibility of avoiding a shot coming toward you. But with hitscan enemies, the only way to prevent taking damage is to not be within the enemy’s line of sight. This means taking cover, and when you’re having to do this constantly, it really screws up the running and gunning of Doom’s core design. And to make matters worse, many rooms with these soldiers don’t have cover to hide behind, so you have to run back into the previous room or take several shotgun blasts to the face.

To the game’s credit, their accuracy isn’t perfect, but the accuracy and damage go up on higher difficulties. On hard mode all it takes is one second for a chaingunner to chop your HP bar in half, and don’t get me started on nightmare mode.

Oh, and here’s a recurring setup: PLAYER steps into room and is immediately torn apart by chaingunners. PLAYER reloads, pokes head through room to find where chaingunners are, and dies again. PLAYER reloads again, steps into room and immediately shoots one chaingunner, steps out of room having taken 20 damage, steps back into room to shoot next chaingunner, etc.

A hard mode playthrough will swiftly derail into an adventure in save-scumming. I think I pressed the quicksave button more often than the fire button, and this would not have been nearly as much of a problem if they had just stuck to projectile attackers.

You’ll notice that Croteam learned from id Software’s mistake with the soldiers when they designed Serious Sam. In Serious Sam the only hitscan enemies are the Arachnoids, who don’t show up very often, are generally not put in SURPRISE! situations, and don’t have very good aim. Then Croteam unlearned this lesson when making Serious Sam 2 and 3, but that’s a story for another time.

Anyway, despite all that, I still quite like Doom. It’s flawed, but fun nonetheless. And that’s impressive given its age.

I proudly present Doom and its sequel with the Still Holds Up Award from NGD:

You’ve earned it, my friend.

Dungeons of Dredmor

Damn, has it really been almost three weeks since I last posted? Huh. That’s the longest time between posts I’ve ever had.

Hi, guys. Sorry for disappearing for awhile. If you want to know why, well… Let’s just say a certain thing happened. A thing happened that drained away my creative energy. In fact, it sapped me of pretty much all my energy, creative or otherwise. I’ll probably elaborate on my other blog at some point, but for now let’s just say it was personal. A personal thing happened.

I’m going to try to bring my spirit back by forcing myself to write again. So here’s Dungeons of Dredmor.

I first tried Dungeons of Dredmor quite awhile ago. I opened it up, spent a good five minutes or so choosing the skills for my character, started off on my adventure and got killed by a monster in the very first room.

I exited and let the game collect dust.

DoD is a Roguelike. For the uninitiated, a roguelike is defined by Wikipedia as “a sub-genre of role-playing video games, characterized by randomization for replayability, permanent death.” I would add that they’re also characterized by being impenetrable. They are often represented through blocks of text, as with the classic Nethack:

They also generally have horribly complex and unintuitive control schemes wherein every single button on the keyboard serves a function. To top it off, they’ll generally have an almost vertical difficulty curve and no tutorial whatsoever.

So yeah, after my first attempt I just assumed that DoD was just another typical, inaccessible roguelike and left it to rot. But then I read Jarenth’s retrospective on it and it inspired me to give the game a second chance. Now, well, now I dare say I’ve become rather obsessed with it.

Let’s look at all the things DoD sets itself apart from most roguelikes.

Well, for starters, it looks a hell of a lot better than most — that is to say, it actually has an appealing aesthetic. Yes, this has nothing to do with gameplay mechanics,  but despite what a lot of old-school gamers might say, visual design matters. This game is presented in classic indie pixel art, and it’s charming and cute.

The game provides a number of thorough tutorials that teach you pretty much all the basics of the game — movement, combat, equipment, consumables, abilities, leveling, the works. Some of these are fairly obvious and intuitive gameplay elements, but the crucial thing is that by running through the tutorials you can be assured that you aren’t missing anything important. This is something a lot of roguelikes and a lot of older RPGs failed to cover; I remember it taking me quite awhile just to figure out how to rest in Fallout.

Of course, the game includes the usual obstacles that a roguelikes provides — gratuitous difficulty, permanent death, and grueling length. But let me show you one of the screens you encounter before starting a new game…

Is it just too tough for you? Switch down to easy mode. Are you sick of having to start over from the beginning? Turn permadeath off. Is grinding getting tedious? Switch it to quick mode. This isn’t to say the game will be a cakewalk with all these features introduced — it’s still very challenging, even on easy mode. But it’s more accessible and less mean-spirited.

Truth be told, I’ve actually been playing on medium with permadeath on. Unlike with The Binding of Isaac, in this game I’m actually alright with starting all over from the beginning now and again. The game hosts a myriad of skills that you get to pick from at the beginning, and with each attempt you can try out different combinations until you find one that suits you best.

I’ve talked down about games that force you to make all the important choices before you start the game, but in this case it actually feels appropriate. In Morrowind you’re stuck with those decisions you made for several dozen hours, assuming you’re not going to get paranoid and start over. In this game each playthrough generally only lasts a few hours, so you can keep testing the different skills and see which ones complement one another.

And that’s ultimately indicative of the game as a whole. This isn’t a game about winning; it’s a game about learning. Every time you lose the game says, “Congratulations! You have died.” In pretty much any other game I would interpret this as the designer laughing in my face, but with DoD it actually makes sense to me. Congratulations! Now you can start fresh with a new hero and a new dungeon!

Gaslamp Games has done something impressive here; they’ve taken a genre that’s famous (or infamous, depending on where you stand) for its inaccessibility and managed to transform it into something anybody (well, any gamer) can get into. Sure, it’s tough, but it isn’t mean-spirited. It lets you in so it can smash you down. Then it helps you up so it can smash you down again.

One day I’ll beat that Dredmor…