Commentary > Game Over
Face to face with "Doom"
A hand-on look at next year's biggest game – and likely biggest moneymaker.
August 16, 2003: 2:33 PM EDT

DALLAS (CNN/Money) – I hop into a four story high hole, my eyes focused on a red icon set amidst a swirling cauldron of ... something.

I grab it and am instantly thrown back out into the heart of a space station slowly being enveloped by hell. A roaring, banshee-like scream fills the air. I begin moving at a dizzying pace, the room blurring in the corners of my eyes. I spot one of my three opponents and quickly kill him with my bare hands. Another sees me and runs away – fast. I give chase, only to find myself face down on the floor seconds later, the latest victim of a shotgun blast.

I'm one of the first eight people outside of id Software to play the multiplayer version of "Doom 3". And as I feared, my deathmatch skills are as pathetic as ever – even when I manage to find the berserker power-up.

Love it or hate it, the "Doom" franchise is one of the most successful in the gaming industry's history. Since its debut 10 years ago, the series has earned id over $100 million dollars. And the licensing fees the developer stands to earn on this latest version are enormous.

When playing Doom 3 multiplayer, it's best to wait a bit before proceeding when you see this.  
When playing Doom 3 multiplayer, it's best to wait a bit before proceeding when you see this.

It's going to have to wait a little longer to begin collecting those, though. The game, which was originally expected this holiday season, has been delayed until sometime in 2004. Activision (ATVI: Research, Estimates), which is publishing the game, hinted at this a couple of weeks ago in a conference call, but id executives confirmed the delay to me earlier this week.

"It's not our job to have the game done by an arbitrary date," said Todd Hollenshead, CEO of id Software. "Our job is to ensure the game is as good as it can be and then ship it. ... We don't expect to have it done this year."

The single player version of the game, which is the chief focus, remains a mystery. id has shown small segments of it, but kept the bulk under wraps. What's certain is the company has decided to focus more on a storyline this time around – and is aiming to create one of the most suspenseful action/shooter games the industry has seen.

While the multiplayer aspects of "Doom 3" might lack a little of the suspense, they still offer plenty of insight into the game's technological leaps. The graphics are smooth and on par with the film "Shrek" (even at low resolutions) – although instead of a loveable ogre, you'll face off against deformed zombies and demons. The physics are incredibly lifelike, with windows shattering realistically when shot and objects reacting to gunfire much as they would in real life.

If you've played any deathmatch game – essentially a kill or be killed online game of tag – you have an idea of what to expect with "Doom 3" multiplayer. What's different this time around is the clever use of lighting and the more precise target areas. (While in previous games a shot in the general vicinity of your opponent would suffice, you'll have to aim a little more carefully now. It's literally possible to shoot under another character's arm.)

Some of the nasties from the single player version of Doom 3.  
Some of the nasties from the single player version of Doom 3.

Fans who were unable to make it to Dallas for QuakeCon, the annual fan convention for id's games, might howl, though, since there are no plans to release a multiplayer demo of the game anytime soon, said Hollenshead.

"We're too far out to think of that at this time," he said.

Of course, there were no plans to release a demo a year ago, after the game was first shown at E3, the gaming industry's trade show. Still, within a couple of months, that early build was leaked onto the Internet. Most fans liked what they saw, but some complained the game demanded too much of their system – an unfair complaint for a 'demo' that wasn't meant for public consumption and hadn't been optimized.

The memory of that leak still causes grimaces at id.

"You never like to have something unplanned like this happen," said Hollenshead. "I'm not a big believer in the any publicity is good publicity school of thought. It's kind of like you're standing up and giving a speech and someone pulls your pants down. You may impress people, but you're not happy about it."

While the developer still won't hazard a guess as to a completion date, it does promise the game will be an enormous leap – both graphically and in terms of gameplay. Part of the reason for the delay is the continuing optimization of the game –ensuring it will run on a larger spectrum of PCs.

Read previous Game Over columns

And while it likely won't come out in conjunction with the new game, work continues in Hollywood on a film based on the "Doom" franchise. Warner Bros. pictures has optioned the rights to the franchise and is currently working on a script.

It's not a new project – Hollywood has been dancing around the games for years. But Hollenshead said he believes the elements are now in place for the film to actually happen. What's important, he added, is the cinematic "Doom" is able to stand on its own merits – and not just be yet another mediocre movie based on a video game license.

Tim Willits, lead designer on "Doom 3", concurs.

"That'd be real embarrassing," he said. "I mean, I'd hate to have a bad Doom movie and have all my friends say 'Dude, your movie sucked!'"  Top of page

Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.

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