Despite the overwhelmingly negative beta, despite the decision to not release the game early to critics, despite the stream of negativity in pre-release comments, the team at id Software said they knew they had something special in Doom, and they had faith that once it was released, the fans would see it too.
But there was still some satisfaction when when all of that work, years of development and hard decisions paid off with delighted fans and multiple awards.
“I felt relief, I guess,” said Doom creative director Hugo Martin in a recent interview about the 2016 game. “Like, thank god.”
All Doom games are something special to id Software and the players it makes the game for. The first-person shooter series is inexorably tied not only to the genre, but the studio. The original 1993 game essentially solidified the first-person shooter genre. Not only is it considered one of the most influential games ever created, it was the first break-out hit developed by id.
And this latest Doom wasn’t just carrying with it the import and relevance of the series and studio, it also had the baggage that comes with more than eight years of development and one very hard complete reset.
Doom was first teased as Doom 4 in 2007 and announced in 2008. In 2009, ZeniMax Media, which owns Bethesda, bought the studio. In 2013, ZeniMax confirmed that an older version of the game had been scrapped and that id was starting over. In 2014, Doom 4 was renamed Doom and Stratton said at the time the game would return to the series’ roots.
Speaking with me last month, Stratton praised the support Bethesda gave id and its developers.
“It was a hard reboot and a big commitment,” he said. “There are a lot of other executives who wouldn't have the trust in us and the brand after the reboot. I don’t know if there are a lot of big publishers who would allow their teams to push the way they do.”
Stratton said that anywhere else, a publisher would have pulled the plug on the game. But Bethesda gave the studio the support it needed and simply got out of the way.
The new concept for Doom was to create a throwback title, to extract what connected with people on the original Doom and infuse it into a modern game.
Stratton said that meant things like the attitude and personality of the character and the speed of the game.
Martin said the process of creating Doom involved evaluating and reevaluating what it was creating and then pulling out the bits that didn’t work.
“If it felt good it stayed,” he said. “We knew that Doom 1 and Doom 2 were going to be a big touchstone for Doom 2016, but within that there’s a tremendous amount of subtlety.
“Doom is as simple as basketball, you have a ball and two hoops, but there’s so much you can do within that. Doom has the double jump, the ledge grab and a bunch of guns, but within that there is a tremendous amount of room for creativity and improvisation.”
As the team worked toward the 2016 release, Stratton said, they became convinced they had something special.
“Internally we knew we had something we loved, loved, loved to play,” he said. “We were addicted to playing it. We played this game for hundreds of hours and we still loved to play it.
“You never have a crystal ball, but you can feel confident about a game. We felt really confident.”
And then the beta for the game hit and with it came the overwhelmingly negative reaction.
Stratton said he still thinks the multiplayer got a “little bit of an unfair rep.” But, he said, the beta focused on multiplayer and not a snapshot of the campaign because it wasn’t meant to be a marketing stunt. Instead it was designed to stress test the online capabilities of the title. Despite the negative reaction, the studio didn’t change anything about the multiplayer gameplay, both because it was probably too late, but also because it didn’t think it needed to.
“It was pretty late in the cycle,” he said. “We were fixing things that were fundamental backend systems. We were making a few adjustments here and there.
“I still think we had a great multiplayer. Internally, we felt like (the reaction) was going to net positive. We liked it a lot and still had strong beliefs in it.”
Martin said there was a bit of trepidation knowing that within a month the team would be releasing Doom to some of the same people who were so viciously tearing the game down because of the beta.
But id stuck to its guns, betting that people would take to the multiplayer over time and knowing that the campaign would win everyone over.
Then, another surprise to fans, weeks from the release of Doom, Bethesda announced it would not be providing advance copies of the game for review.
At the time, the publisher said that it believed that the game’s campaign, online multiplayer and SnapMap are “important parts of the complete Doom experience, and are meant to be experienced as part of a complete package. As Doom’s SnapMap and multiplayer modes both require access to a server that won’t be live prior to launch, review copies will arrive on launch day.”
Some read that as a sign that the publisher had no faith in the game and didn’t want it reviewed negatively before the release.
Stratton said that wasn’t the case at all.
“That was a very deliberate decision,” he said. “Contrary to what people saw online, that we must not be confident about the game because of negative buzz, we were confident in the game. We were confident in how players were going to react to it.
“If you were a player who wanted to read your favorite review site and make a purchase decision, you could still do that, but we didn’t want that to be the only voice out there. We were going to let all [players] have an equal voice.”
And then the game hit, landing strong overall review scores and not a few game of the year awards (including one from Polygon.)
Doom went on to sell a million copies on Steam in its first three months, according to SteamSpy. Stratton declined to talk specific sales numbers but said the team was very happy with the game.
“It’s been probably the most successful game id has released,” he said. “over the last 15 years.”
That means the game is considered by id to be more successful than games like 2004’s Doom 3 and Rage.
I asked if it is possible that Doom might get new campaign content or perhaps even the same sort of stand-alone expansion that worked so well for Wolfenstein: The New Order.
“We have a lot of stuff on the table,” Stratton said. “Things we’re thinking about.”
Martin said that he and the rest of the team in Texas love that Doom is the type of game that id makes and that they want to keep it going. That comes with a great sense of responsibility, he added.
“You don’t want to be the team that fucks up Doom.”