On a road trip in North Texas, id Software's Tim Willits dishes on the upcoming 'Doom 3 BFG Edition.'
We're driving down a two-lane country road in North Texas. Id's Tim Willits is riding shotgun, navigating. He's telling me about the upcoming Doom 3 BFG Edition. It's a bonus-packed re-issue of the Doom catalog to date, with updated graphics and controls, extra missions and improvements geared at converting naysayers.
When it releases (exact date and price point are TBD), it will be suitable as an introduction to the series for new adopters. Or, perhaps, as a foot in the door for a new installment in the almost 20-year-old franchise.
I mention to Willits that if one were id Software, and were working on a new Doom (say, Doom 4), that the Doom 3 BFG Edition would be the perfect precursor. This is the second time today I pose the same question. The only question, really, for id Software, which announced it was working on the sequel in 2008 but hasn't said much about it since.
Willits laughs, and then takes his time responding.
"If one were working on that," he says, "it would be a perfect precursor." Then he makes a show of checking his email. And then we get lost.
Willits and I are en route from id's headquarters in Dallas to John Carmack's private airplane hangar about 45 minutes outside of the city. There, Carmack will show us the rockets and rocket engines made by his other company, Armadillo Aerospace. This is the hobby Carmack pursues in his spare time, when he has any.
"It would be a perfect precursor."
Carmack has not had much spare time of late. Although we are now driving to Armadillo Aerospace's rural headquarters, this will be the first time Carmack has visited in weeks. He's been too busy to pursue his hobby of rocket science. He's been rebuilding Doom.
"A number of companies have done these 'retro projects,'" says Willits, using the company's code name for Doom BFG, "but we're trying to do something with new content. We have all the games. We tried to make the offering the best we can."
Doom 3 BFG Edition will be the final say in Doom content to date. The package will include Doom, Doom 2, Doom 3, Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil and a brand-new, "lost" mission for Doom 3 with seven new levels, a new boss and two-to-three hours of content.
In addition, Carmack and id have been tweaking the formula, enhancing and improving the now seven-year-old game. The graphics have been enhanced. 3D graphics support will be native. And the game will have a brand-new control scheme on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Also, it will be available on PlayStation 3, which marks the first time in history that the original Doom will be available on a PlayStation platform. (While a version of the game was released for PlayStation, its levels were modified from the PC version and some were missing entirely.)
But perhaps most importantly, Xbox 360 players will be able to use their flashlight and gun at the same time, something that was not possible when the game was originally ported to the console, and which fans let id know was a problem.
Willits says the id team scoured message boards and fan forums looking for complaints they could address this time around. The flashlight. The too-dark levels. The difficulty. All were issues id addressed based on fan feedback, in the hope that this version of Doom 3 would be that much more engaging.
"We've tried to find those opportunities that can enhance the gameplay," Willits says. "We didn't have enough ammo in the original. It was too dark. There weren't checkpoint saves. No flashlight. That one was so big, we put it on the sell sheet."
John Carmack has printed out painstakingly detailed instructions on how to get to Armadillo Aerospace. Instructions which we do not follow.
"That one was so big, we put it on the sell sheet."
We turn down a rutted, dirt road. We can see, off in the distance, the large, white hangar building housing Carmack's rocket factory. After driving for almost an hour, we are almost there. The only problem is the active runway between us and it. We've come in the wrong entrance, and are now on the wrong side of the field.
We park for a bit, and mull our options. A friendly farmer walks up and informs us that attempting to cross this barrier in our rented Camry would be a bad idea. Not to mention illegal. He gives us directions to where we want to be, and we turn around. We're back on the county road for less than five minutes before we hear a strange, rhythmic knocking coming from under the car and have to pull over.
Willits says id's recent acquisition by Zenimax, parent company of Bethesda Game Studios, has allowed his studio the freedom to take a risk like spending a year tweaking a near decade old game and releasing a 'director's cut,' an opportunity few studios get. Most games are rushed out the door, barely finished and then left to fend for themselves. For id, the chance to go back and right some Doom 3 wrongs, is an opportunity they've relished. Adding a new mission is just a bonus.
The new Doom 3 "Lost Mission" will put players in the boots of "Bravo Team," the company of space marines players were originally sent to save in Doom 3. The Lost Mission begins with one of the Bravo Team members waking up in a Wraith kill room, and having to help a group of scientists shut down a teleporter to Earth, before the demons invade and ruin everything.
The Lost Mission takes place concurrent with the timeframe of the Doom 3 story, and will help fill in some of the gaps, as well as offer players a few hours of new content. Combined with the tweaked, revamped and prettier Doom 3 and the two original Dooms, the total package will be, in John Carmack's words: "quite a long offering."
We're on the side of the road, near the railroad tracks, and Willits, his PR handler and I are pacing around the rental car, looking for damage. Luckily we don't find any. We shrug off the noise as mud, or some small animal and climb back in the car. Only after we are again underway do I remember that this car has a digital readout of the four tire inflation sensors, which can tell is how much pressure is in each tire. The car's computer verifies what we have since learned. We continue on our way.
Willits is happy. He's spent the past year revisiting a game he believed was done, for better or for worse, and been given the chance to make it better. He's also been promoted. In his new role as id's studio director, he is in charge of all of id Software's projects, making sure the designers on each team have the tools and resources they need to get their jobs done, and pitching in where he can.
Willits says that at id, it was important that a person in a leadership role have the tools and resume of a developer. As a developer himself, he's not coming in from outside the system and telling people how to do their jobs. Instead, he's building them up to be their better selves, and offering hard-won wisdom.
I ask again if Doom 4 is coming soon, and Willits just smiles
I ask if he's concerned that consumers who have never experienced Doom might be disappointed when they get their hands on Doom 3 BFG Edition and find an eight-year-old game and two that are an additional decade older.
"Our consumers are smart enough," he says. "You can see the evolutionary steps of the product. Even the gameplay mechanics in Rage are more advanced than they were in Doom 3. I think people understand what it is."
What is it?
"It was a great game that had a few things that could have made it greater."
I ask again if it is also a sign that Doom 4 is coming soon, and Willits just smiles. If it is, then one assumes it will arrive "when it's done."
Over on The Verge, don't miss the head-mounted display John Carmack created in his lab for Doom 3.