What’s Next for Doom?

There is a paradox in that I both want to know more about the universe of Doom and want its mystery preserved. In my review for Doom Eternal I outlined the stylistic differences it had with its predecessor. I asked my readers which way they liked their Doom, while at the same time failing to definitively answer the question for myself. I like both games for the very traits that separate them.

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At the moment I’m playing through Doom 64 on my Playstation 4 and Doom 3: BFG Edition on my PC. They’re completely different experiences, with the former being a pure arcade-shooter where you wiz through the arenas like a cat with a firework tied to its tail, and the latter being an immersive story with cutscenes, characters, and perhaps most significantly- narrative pacing. While the two games aren’t perfectly comparable to Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal, there exists a similarly stark contrast. And once again, I find myself thoroughly enjoying all versions of Doom.

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And the discussion of these stylistic and creative dichotomies is relevant for the post going forward, because today I’d like to write about the future of the Doom franchise. As I said at the beginning, I want to know more about its universe and yet…I don’t. I do think there exists a potential line to be crossed where the exposition becomes too much. I don’t think that Doom Eternal crossed that line- but it made me think about where that line might be. In short, that’s what I’d like to speculate on today.

I want the franchise to retain the sense of mystery established in the 2016 reboot but never to explain it- not fully at least. The idea of Hell as being unknowable, a plane of existence so far removed from our own that it can’t truly be defined, understood, or expressed in human terms, adds to its terror in my view. I think the best way forward is for the franchise to expand its lore gradually, in fragments, and to add more questions whenever it provides answers.

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I’d be interested to see the battle with the forces of Hell across other planets, dimensions, or time periods. I also think that given Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal focused so much on harkening back to the original games, the next entry in the series should definitely try something new. Doom has been firmly rebooted at this point. We’ve seen all the classic demons returned with updated graphics, we’ve faced off against the Cyberdemon, the Spider Mastermind, and the Icon of Sin. Now it’s time for the establishment of new traditions. That’s not to say there haven’t been new additions in the way of monster designs and locations, but I think we can agree that the emphasis has for the most part been on nostalgia. Even the platforming in Doom Eternal is, to my mind, rooted in the environmental puzzles of the old games. It might look different on the surface but it’s not particularly new. I want the next game to really shake things up- without losing its identity of course. New demons, new gameplay challenges, and perhaps a different story premise.

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One thing I don’t really want to be explored too much is the Doom Slayer himself. I’m not against him having spoken dialogue or showing his face, or any other arbitrary creative restrictions regarding trivial details. There’s got to be some wiggle room with which to experiment. But generally, I’m not interested in exploring his origins or motivations too much. The mystery of why he hates demons so much is fascinating, but I don’t think it could ever have a satisfying answer.

I like the disconnect between the Slayer and the human NPCs, and the way they try to ascribe meaning to his actions and existence where perhaps none truly exists. There’s a humor in the way they try to rationalize his behavior when he simply doesn’t give a shit. The Doom Slayer cares only about ripping and tearing. He repeats it like a mantra. There’s nothing further to be explored, and I think it says something about human nature that we’re always looking for a greater significance in things. It’s become apparent that this is lost on a large section of the fan base, who reflect the folly of the human NPCs by asserting that the Slayer is some kind of religious figure. One of the interesting aspects of the game is that he’s greeted as a messiah but has a complete disregard for human concerns. Anything they say falls on deaf ears- he just continues with his mission. The distance between the human NPCs and the Slayer isn’t just amusing; it creates an intimacy between the player and the protagonist. He’s there for the same reason we’re there. He’s the bridge that connects us to the fictional world. To the NPCs the events of the game are pure chaos- they’re running about like headless chickens desperate for an explanation. But to the player (and our avatar) it couldn’t be more simple. It’s one of the ways the game makes us feel powerful- we step calmly into the apocalypse and sort it out as the helpless NPCs marvel at our actions.

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I think the first people to suggest that Doom was a “Christian game” did so as a joke- they were making fun of the moral panic that surrounded the series in the 1990s for its gore and Satanic imagery by saying “Look, we’re fighting against Hell, you ought to be in favor of that, right?”. But as so often happens on the internet, the meaning of a word, phrase, or idea changes the more its repeated (just look at how the term “woke” morphed from its very specific definition of being alert to racial injustice to a broader, shallower synonym for “hip”). The meme is now a little too straight-faced for my liking, and I can’t help but suspect that some (not all!) of those eager to claim that Doom is somehow Christian belong to the belligerent Alt-Right minority of gamers that routinely complain of persecution (to the hilarity of the rest of us). Even if iD Software came out and said that the Doom Slayer was Jesus Christ, it wouldn’t count for anything. It’s intent vs effect. It’s Death of the Author. Once a work of art enters the public realm, the intentions of the creator are irrelevant. To search for meaning in the Slayer’s actions beyond ripping and tearing is to be the butt of the joke the franchise is making.

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But that the NPCs consider the Doom Slayer a religious figure is important. And that the demons regard you as a kind of antichrist is even more interesting. To my mind the best thing for the next entry in the franchise would be to play up these angles whilst keeping the details about the Slayer himself to a minimum. It adds to the power fantasy that is at the heart of the gameplay experience. You get the sense when you encounter the demons that they know exactly who you are. They hate you as much as you hate them- and this dynamic makes the combat exciting. I like the little touches that suggest these terrifying creatures fear you- and my wish for the next game is for it to explore this fear even further.

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In my last post I wrote that while I liked the Marauder, a big part of me was hoping that he’d be a unique character rather than a type of enemy. Facing corrupted Night Sentinels is a great idea, but perhaps in the next game we can have a specific Marauder that’s a true boss. I think it would be fascinating to have an enemy that acts as a true nemesis to the Doom Slayer. To my mind, this would be an especially skilled Night Sentinel that is jealous of the Slayer, and who was one of the first to take the opposing side during the civil war. He hates the Slayer for being an outsider that’s better than him and gets all the glory, and Hell preys on these raw emotions until it becomes an uncontrollable, hate-filled obsession. I think this character could have a similar move-set to the Slayer, constantly switching between weapons and hard to predict, and you could even have him Glory Kill you in an elaborate death animation if you fail. I could see this as a recurring boss fight that escalates in difficulty. He’s stalking you, but something happens each time that interrupts the fight, making the final showdown all the more satisfying. Just an idea.

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Another thing I would love to see in a sequel to Doom Eternal is a horde mode. I don’t see why it can’t work. To my mind, it’s a perfect fit for the series. And I don’t mean a half-assed horde mode that has a finite amount of waves. I’m thinking something along the lines of Gears of War and Black Ops 3’s “Zombies”: you start off against Imps and Possessed with just a Combat Shotgun and Chainsaw, and as you progress, you spend points on new weapons, health upgrades, runes, et cetera, so that when you hit the higher levels you can take down Barons of Hell and whatnot. Make it as crazy, layered, and intricate as possible. Make it fun for both solo and co-op. Make it feel like a proper siege where you have your backs against the wall and any moment could be your last.

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There’s also talk about whether Doom could make a good feature film. I’m not sure. The premise is very cinematic- you could easily make something similar to Event Horizon and tell a story about a UAC Mars base that descends into chaos. The setting and basic conflict of Doom works fine- but for the film to be any good you’d have to dispense with a lot of the qualities that make it work so well as a game (which is a very different beast). The reason why something like The Last of Us makes a great game is the exact same reason why it would make a great movie. Not so with Doom. You’d need a greater emphasis on characters and a restrained use of violence. Don’t show the monsters right away- tease them out. I’d explore the more insidious aspect of Hell, the way it tempts you like the One Ring of Sauron. I see it calling out to someone on the Mars Base and seducing them, paving way for the eventual invasion. This character could be the sibling, friend, or lover of the protagonist, who has to go into Hell Dante’s Inferno style and try to rescue them while trying to maintain their sanity. The character that becomes an unwitting conduit to Hell’s invasion could have some kind of trauma that the Spider Mastermind is exploiting in order to gain his or her trust. There are all sorts of themes you can play with here like greed, depression, and existentialism, and maybe it won’t win the Palme d’Or but at least this way it will have enough respect not to be utterly ridiculed. The hardest part to translate to film would be the Slayer himself. Either you’d have to reinterpret him to make him more relatable, or you’d have to feature him as a kind of secondary character. I honestly don’t know. But I think the best candidates for the role would be John Cena, Jason Momoa, Tom Hardy, or Jon Bernthal.

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Another question that gets asked is whether the next game should even be a Doom game at all. The success of Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal has had some people wondering whether iD Software should reboot the Quake franchise in the same way. There’s obviously an appetite for it, and in many ways Doom Eternal in particular is much more akin to the old Quake games than the original Doom titles. The only thing about the Quake franchise is that it’s a little schizophrenic, and fans will be divided when it comes to the question of which Quake we’re rebooting exactly. There are some fans that consider the first game the only true Quake, and would rather see the Lovecraftian imagery reclaim its rightful place once more. Then you have the fans that want a continuation of the sci-fi horror narrative we got in Quake 2 and 4. And just to make things more complicated, you’ve got the fans that insist the true heart of Quake is multiplayer, and would rather see a revival of the arena shooter genre established in Quake 3. There’s no way to make all these folks happy. The gameplay of Quake has already been rebooted with Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal. The question that remains is one of identity- be it in its visual tone or its single player/multiplayer emphasis.

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Admittedly, I’d love to see a Quake 4 sequel with today’s graphics and a gameplay system more akin to Doom 2016. But at the same time, I think that would be the least adventurous and the least necessary option. Quake 4 ended without much need for a sequel. What I think would be better (at least, for lovers of single player shooters like me) would be a full reset on the Quake IP. It would be cool to hop between dimensions, going from the Lovecraftian chateaus of Quake 1 to the alien planets of Quake 4, and then onto pastures new. You could create a voyage through realms that’s visually spectacular. One minute you’re fighting ogres and armored knights, and the next you’re gunning it out with biomechanical cyborgs. And the visuals needn’t be the only thing that gives the game variety- let’s bring back the vehicle sections of Quake 4 but make the controls, you know, good. Quake has less of a firm identity than Doom, but this could be used to its advantage, especially if we’re starting from scratch. We can characterize the protagonist and have cutscenes in a way that won’t be controversial this time.

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Fuck it, you could even make the game a crossover with the Doom universe. If we’re jumping between dimensions, why not? The two franchises are cousins anyway; they’re already linked in a way few other IPs are. It wouldn’t mess with the lore either, especially as it’s established that the Hell of Doom spreads like swarm of locusts across the cosmos, devouring whatever it can. You could have a level where the protagonist of this hypothetical Quake 5 enters Hell and takes down Pinkies and Revenants with his lightning gun.

What do you think? Would you like to see something similar from iD Software? Let me know in the comments!

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