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Doom's box art is terrible

How to effectively remove all the character from your game

Doom needs guns. It needs hellish landscapes and brutal, uncaring enemies. The game's legacy has been built on its level design, so it's important the game avoids a linear path from one battle to the next. Doom is an uncompromising and violent experience, and if you don't want that? There's plenty of other stuff to play. Doom is a franchise with style and a strong sense of purpose.

So why in the living hell is this the cover art?

doom cover art

That art is painfully boring and dull. You have a generic-looking robot soldier in front of what appears to be fire. It looks like something you'd find in the portfolio of a talented artist who was trying to show they could do a particular style without trying to use the imagery of any specific game. It's lifeless and dull.

There was also a trailer released yesterday, and I bet it's just as bad. It likely hides all the things that made Doom great. Right? Let's take a look.

Holy shit! Now that's a game I want to play! It looks fast, violent and bloody. If you don't want those things, that's fine, but if you're interested in what Doom is doing, that trailer makes the game look like a very effective delivery mechanism for blood and gore. It doesn't make any excuses for what it is, nor what it wants to do. It's proudly disturbing, there are big guns and I want it on my PC right the hell now.

"If you're not into violent, bloody games ... Doom's probably not a game for you," Bethesda's Pete Hines told us at E3 last year. "I told my 11-year-old: You can watch the press conference, you can watch the opening stuff, but you can't watch any of the Doom stuff. And then you can tune back in and watch the other stuff because even the Fallout stuff, other than Todd [Howard]'s terrible potty mouth, is fine."

Hines' description of the feeling of Doom was just as enthusiastic. "I don't know, what's the chainsaw doing?" he asked. "Can you stick it in a demon and saw him in half? Can you grab them by the hand, rip them in two and see the spine sticking up? It turns out you can do that, and it makes it pretty cool and fun."

So the company is clearly comfortable with Doom. Why not create a cover that highlights these aspects of the game instead of burying them in what looks like mid-'90s "edge"?

This could be any game

commenter on gaming forum NeoGAF even mocked up the Doom cover with the lettering for other games, and the scary thing is that it works. I'm not sure if that's an indictment of boring cover art or the rather generic feeling to many modern action games, but here we are.

crysis doom cover

Ken Levine once rather famously defended the bland cover art for BioShock Infinite as being aimed at players who may not read gaming sites or even keep up with new releases.

"I wanted the uninformed, the person who doesn't read IGN … to pick up the box and say, okay, this looks kind of cool, let me turn it over," he explained. "Oh, a flying city. Look at this girl, Elizabeth on the back. Look at that creature. And start to read about it, start to think about it."

So the aim is to create a bland, marketable image that a large number of people who wander into a physical retailer will pick up and look at. But does the Doom cover do that? Did the BioShock Infinite cover? Both images are just watered-down, boring looks at rather overdone gaming conventions.

The Doom cover looks like the front of a fake game someone mocked up for a television show to keep from paying to use any official art. It looks like someone turned Bud Light into a video game.

Games are expensive to create, and they're expensive to market. As Levine often pointed out, you can't rely on your franchise being well-known or your name to save you. Doom 3 was released 11 years ago; players buying this reboot could be from an entirely different generation. The name recognition works on people like myself in their late 20s or (cough) mid-30s, but Bethesda wants to sell as many copies of Doom as possible, and this is the cover that the company thinks will do that.

Now that's a game I want to play!

Which is fine. In the scheme of things, this isn't a big deal. Many of us will buy the game digitally and never see the cover. I also have doubts about how many people go into physical stores and see a cover like that, pick up the game and make a buying decision based on art alone. The cover's lack of character isn't worrisome as long as the game itself feels connected to the source material.

On the other hand, Doom is the franchise that gave us this cover. That's a game that would catch my eye. It shows the hero, it shows the odds they're facing and there's that great demon turning to look at the player, as if in challenge. There's a lot going on there, and it sells the idea of Doom much better than a now-generic space marine who would fit into any one of a dozen or so franchises.

An interesting, well-designed cover may or may not impact sales, but the official cover art for Doom makes it seem like Bethesda is ashamed of what's inside ... which we know not to be the case, based on the trailers and interviews. If the goal is to catch the eye of people who may not know what Doom is, this cover seems perfectly content to blend into a wall of boring, mechanical protagonists.

Doom deserves better.

Doom Multiplayer demo

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