Shacknews - David Craddock

I've been speaking extensively with id Software's Hugo Martin and Marty Stratton, for an in-depth making-of on Doom's reboot that you'll be seeing on Shacknews soon. In advance of that longer feature, I spoke with Martin on how his background in film influenced his approach to designing games, and with Stratton on the pressures he felt working on such a beloved brand.

Doom has been out almost a year. Now that you've had time to reflect, what did you enjoy most about the project?

There are so many things. My favorite part is actually the end product. I know that sounds like a cop-out, so I'll give you some others, but I'm so proud of where we ended up with it. Not just because it's been well-received and people feel like, hey, Doom is back. Doom is where it needs to be in terms of modern gaming conversations. But we really set out to create something that would appeal to people who, like you said, you've been playing id games a long time—a game that would appeal to you, and all of us who played Doom and loved it, and it became part of who we are as gamers. It has fond memories [associated with it]. Our Doom was true to that. It didn't necessarily replace it, but it became part of it. It was an augmentation to your Doom history.

At the same time, there's a lot of new people who have come to Doom. My son is 16, and he's got a bunch of friends who played it and loved it. They were excited about it, and Doom was a new thing to them. A lot of them are hardcore gamers, but they'd never gone back and played the original. Maybe they'd heard of Doom 3, but they'd at least heard of Doom, and they're not Doom fans, and not just because they know me. They're looking forward to whatever comes next from Doom.

So, ultimately the fact that we delivered on that promise that we'd make when we announced the game at QuakeCon in 2014—that's probably my favorite part. But the process of making the game was immensely hard but immensely fun. A lot of that comes from the fact that we were so flexible as we went. We played the game constantly, and I think that made all the difference in the world. The day-to-day decisions. Doom is such a crazy, fun, absurd, wild brand. When you're going through creative meetings, or reviewing art or animations, or whatever, it's anything but mundane. It's such a fun world to play in.

When you have conversations in meetings about how you're going to kill a demo in the most creative, bombastic way you've ever imagined, it's just fun. It's so fun to be at work and work with the people here who are just so passionate about it. I would hate to work on a game that doesn't have quite the impact or meaning [that Doom has], or the opportunity to make an impact. The fact that as you're going through the process, you know you're working on something that matters to people. That when it comes out, if you succeed or you fail, it will be a big thing. That pressure, just that purpose, is awesome.

I've worked at id and worked on id games a long time, and id games have kind of always had that, so I don't know what it's like to work on something that doesn't mean something. To be able to have that opportunity on Doom, and have it with these people, and ultimately have it turn out the way it did, and to know that it would. Going into launch, we all had a lot of confidence that we had done a good job. We really liked it even after a few years of development and playing it for hundreds of hours. We were still having competitions on Ultra Nightmare [difficulty] literally up until it shipped, trying to see who could get furthest.

That's kind of a long-winded answer, but I'd say that combination of things was my favorite part of it.

Who won the competition?

There were a bunch of people from QA, and a bunch of devs. We have a multiplayer testing pit, and different guys were trying different tactics. It's funny because when the game comes out and you have Ultra Nightmare, we didn't know how long it would take people to beat [that difficulty]. I honestly thought it would take months, and I think it took two days. It was crazy. When you look at the skill of the players out there, it's just insane.

One of our younger designers, Adam Bideau, he was the closest. There were some other guys in QA that came close as well, but he was the closest throughout. We had said in an interview that nobody internally at id had beaten Ultra Nightmare yet. It was his mission to beat it before [the game] shipped, and I think the night before it shipped, he beat it. He would basically practice, and then go back to his game once he knew [strategies].

I'm not saying that was at all a cheat, because he beat it fair and square. But, again, when you look at some of the [consumers] who did it right after it launched, they were just basically like, "Yeah, I'm going to take on Ultra Nightmare," and it would take them a couple of tries and then they were through.

Did you take that as a testament to the quality of the game's design? Kind of like saying, "Yes, this may look impossible, but it is possible."

Yeah, I think so. I give the designers, the leads and our AI team just tons of credit for that. But it's tough. [laughs] It's really hard to do. I think some of the first players to beat it did so on PC. It's definitely a faster and snappier experience on PC, the way you can manipulate the mouse and keyboard. It was fun to watch.

It was the first time we'd released a game with Twitch as a big thing, and streaming [in general]. It was just awesome to be able to watch people. We spent most of the first week after launch just watching people play on Twitch. It was such a cool window into people's first reactions and experiences with the game. You can learn a lot, and it's just fun.

I liked to talk to developers about how they felt after a game released, especially one that went through as many development twists and turns as Doom. How did you feel last May when the game finally launched? That must have been surreal.

Yeah, it was a little surreal. At first, it was just a relief. That's the hardest I've ever worked in my career, the last year of Doom. The last six months alone, I didn't take a day off, even on weekends. We worked 16 to 18 hours a day, just trying to squeeze every ounce of juice from it. Just because, again, it's a combination of pressure, pride, respect, and love. It's all these things and you're just like, "This has to be great. If I have slept one second more than I needed to and this doesn't turn out great, then I'm going to look back and really be disappointed."

We had a lot of confidence. We really felt like it was going to be great, but you never know. You've always got a little pit in your stomach. When it first goes out and people are playing it like that, it's definitely a relief. It's a few years of really hard work, and you're so happy that people like it. It's hard to explain because you put everything possible into it. You sacrifice. And this isn't just me. The entire team sacrificed their weekends, dinners, time with family. All kinds of stuff. The fact that [Doom] came out and peopled liked it, and not just liked it: You have a lot of conversations with yourself when you're making something when you ask, "Are people going to get this? Are they going to understand that we're giving them a little wink?" Particularly when you try to do things that are subtle. "Are they going to understand what we're trying to say with this? That we're trying to call back to the original Doom in some way?"

That's where the Twitch experience was really awesome. People would walk into a space and recognize the fact that it was kind of based on a level from the original Doom, and they'd be like, "Oh, I see what you did here." And you're like, "Yes! Oh my god!" Or at the beginning, when Samuel's talking and you grab the monitor and throw it to the side, even that was like, "Man, this feels risky. This is the right thing to do, but are people going to be upset?" Because we basically took the one piece of information about what you're supposed to do and chucked it. Are they going to understand that that's a statement we're making? Or are they going to be pissed off that we took control away from them for a fraction of a moment and just chucked their main source of information to the side?

When people react to it [positively] in real time and you see that, it's like: Yes. Thank you. Oh my god. They got it.


Related Articles: - Why Doom won the Shacknews 2016 Game of the Year award.- Shack's review of Doom

Shacknews - John Keefer

Brian Fargo has been in the games business for a long time. From his first self-published game in 1981 to running inXile Entertainment today, he has been part of some of the industry's most memorable RPGs. Fallout, Bard's Tale, Wasteland, PlaneScape: Torment, Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights ... all bear his name in some capacity or another. And now, after 35-plus years, Fargo is rolling the dice once again, but this time on retirement after his current project Wasteland 3 ships in 2019.

"Wasteland 2 and Torment both came out great," Fargo told Eurogamer. "The Mage's Tale's got a great buzz. The Bard's Tale 4 looks spectacular. Wasteland 3 is building on Wasteland 2. It seems like a good time to drop the mic.I love this industry, but I've been at this since 1981. I've been at it with Ken and Roberta Williams [Sierra co-founders], Trip Hawkins [EA founder], the guys from Brøderbund - I look at my friends, they have a lot more spare time than I do. It's a very intense business. It's all encompassing. It seems like I should relax for a little bit."

After self-publishing Labyrinth of Martagon in 1981, Fargo founded the RPG powerhouse Interplay two years later. Bard's Tale was one of the first projects for the developer, a critical hit with fans in 1985, with Bard's Tale 2 coming a year later. Bard's Tale 3 and Wasteland rounded out the 1980s for RPGs, along with a rather innovative game called Battle Chess. During that time, he also gave two young game developers from a startup named Silicon & Synapse their start. Allen Adham and Mike Morheim later changed the name of their company to Blizzard Entertainment. 

In the 90s, Interplay grew to more than 600 employees. Fargo worked on 33 different games, among them Star Trek, Castles, and Lord of the Rings. Under Fargo's watch, the developer created a pure RPG division known as Black Isle Studios, which added such titles as Baldur's Gate (with BioWare), Icewind Dale and PlaneScape: Torment to its portfolio. In 1997, a little RPG was released that became one of Fargo's trademarks, Fallout. 

By 2000, though, Fargo moved on from Interplay after management differences with majority shareholder Titus Software. He wasn't out of work long, as he founded inXile Entertainment in 2002. The flow of games slowed, but he still kept the love for his old RPGs. He acquired the right for the Bard's Tale name and published a console version in 2004. It also developed Hunted: The Demon's Forge for Bethesda in 2007.

However, where Fargo and inXile have really made their mark of late is on the crowdfunding scene. Fargo became an outspoken critic of the publisher based model and in 2012, announced Wasteland 2. It quickly became one of the most popular Kickstarter projects at the time. It hit its crowdfunding goal in two days, and by the deadline, had amassed more than $3 million. At a time when some Kickstarter projects began to deliver less than stellar products and mismanagement was a serious issue, inXile and Fargo delivered Wasteland 2 in 2014 to great reviews and some Game of the Year accolades.

Before Wasteland 2 hit digital shelves, Fargo went to the crowdfunding well one more time with the announcement of Torment: Tides of Numenera, a spiritual successor to the beloved PlaneScape: Torment. Fans went nuts, and shattered a then-Kickstarter record of hitting $1 million in less than 24 hours, while reaching two stretch goals. By the end, Torment had reached more than $4.1 million and set a new Kickstarter record. The game hit $4.5 million and its final stretch goal after all was said and done. The game again did not disappoint, launching last month to strong reviews from critics and fans alike.

InXile has continued with its success by crowdfunding Bard's Tale 4 last year, gaining $1.5 million and pushing for a 2018 release. The company also moved into the VR space with A Mage's Tale, a Bard's Tale spinoff set between BT3 and BT4, acting as a bridge between the two games. It will launch this summer on Oculus Rift.

Wasteland 3, announced late last year through new crowdfunding platform Fig, will be Fargo's last hurrah. "I started Interplay in 1983. I think I'm one of The Last of the Mohicans. Most, if not all of the old guard has gone on and relaxed. That's a long time, right? I should get an award just for survival."

He will stay focused on these last three games, determined to see them succeed, especially Wasteland 3. "It puts even more pressure on me to make damn sure that thing is stellar." he said.

(Top image courtesy of Riot Pixels)

Shacknews - David Craddock

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is more than just one of the best Zelda games ever made. Its medley of tropes turned upside down, combined with an apparent willingness on Nintendo's part to take cues from other open-world titles and either strip out or rethink the genre formula, make it one of the best games ever.

Every great idea starts somewhere. In Breath of the Wild's case, the trail of bread crumbs and monster parts leads to a 2D prototype engineered in the vein of the original Legend of Zelda on NES. The game's directors have been forthright in emphasizing the prototype's importance to Breath of the Wild's ideas. Its simplicity gave Nintendo an interactive white board on which to sketch out elaborate concepts like physics and chemistry engines.

That's reason enough for Nintendo to consider publishing the prototype, incomplete or otherwise. Nintendo has long worked inside a bubble. That strategy has led to some of its most innovative and successful ideas. Rather than following popular trends, its designers come up with their own game concepts—considered by many to be the cream of the industry's crop—and refine them.

Remember, this is the company that popularized the d-pad, analog stick, platformers, open-world adventures, and myriad other genres; that brought the North American video game market back from the dead in 1985; that put out a black-and-white handheld that went toe-to-toe with beefier, full-color competitors and came out on top; that created a mascot more recognizable among children than Mickey Mouse.

For as often as that strategy has worked out, it's also caused stagnation. The Zelda series had been in desperate need of a facelift for 10 years before Nintendo unleashed Breath of the Wild and changed gaming yet again. 2006's Twilight Princess, while boasting some of the best dungeon design in the franchise and perhaps the only likable sidekick to pal around with Link, was largely a remaster of Ocarina of Time's systems and progression route. Skyward Sword followed five years later, but was mired in divisive motion controls and tedious, repetitive tasks.

Nintendo seemed to agree. Two days before the game's release, three of Breath of the Wild's principal developers gave a standing-room-only talk at the Game Developers Conference where they discussed tearing down Zelda conventions to rethink and rebuild the series. It was during this talk that developers revealed the existence of the prototype. Images and video that looked like they could have been lifted from Link's inaugural adventure established a direct connection between the testbed's humble veneer and Breath of the Wild's "open-air" systems. Players could hunt wildlife for food, burn down vegetation, and make use of natural resources such as chopping down trees to make rafts or firewood.

Breath of the Wild's prototype has enormous historical significance. Not just as the first step along a development journey that resulted in a game likely to influence the industry for years, but as a lens into Nintendo's development culture and methodology—where it came from, where it is, and where it's headed next.


Related articles:

One Speedrunner's Journey Through Zelda: Breath of the WildHow One Zelda Fan and His Mom Bonded in HyruleHow Puzzles in Zelda: Breath of the Wild Reward Breaking the System

Shacknews - John Keefer

Bethesda and id are slowly building momentum for Quake Champions, an homage to the original game. If we want to keep with the theme of the bloody gory spiritual successor, we can safely say that information is oozing out at a maggot's pace. But that's OK, as a closed beta is coming to bandage that wound–or open it wider, as the case may be. Oh look, another drop of plasma in the form of a map reveal.

The appropriately named Burial Chamber offers everything from "wicked lava pools threatening to overtake the Arena, to the treacherous open spaces, nowhere is safe ... Skill is required to traverse this Arena, lest you find yourself tumbling to a molten death." You get chills just reading that, don't you?

The closed beta, which still doesn't have a run date yet, will feature the Burial Chamber, Blood Covenant, and Ruins of Sarnath arenas in which players can fight to the death, although with any FPS like this, death is but a pixelated figment of your imagination depending on respawns.

Bethesda and id will continue to offer battlefield triage in the form of more arena and hero reveals before the beta. But, if we can be honest, M.A.S.H. did triage better. 

Shacknews - John Keefer

Electronic Arts doomed Titanfall 2 to financial mediocrity by releasing it the week between its own Battlefield 1 and Activision's Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare last November. But developer Respawn Entertainment soldiers on (we salute you), revealing the next free DLC for the game, Colony Reborn, coming on March 30.

The pack will see a remake of the original Titanfall map, Colony, as well as a new R-101 pilot weapon, complete with scope. And if you like your killing up-close and personal, a new execution called Curb Check should get the adrenaline flowing. 

The paid part of the DLC includes purely cosmetic items, such as new Prime chassis for the Northstar and the Legion. In addition, there will be 20 new camos, patches and banner each to go with five new Titan nose art designs and a new warpaint.

Respawn also announced a free weekend and double XP for players to coincide with the DLC release, running from March 30 to April 3. In addition to multiplayer,  the Training Gauntlet and the single-player mission The Beacon are being added for everyone to try. Both will continue to be free after the multiplayer weekend ends.

CEO Vince Zampella has been rather miffed at the treatment of the popular franchise, saying he is even uncertain if EA will allow a Titanfall 3. He was rather appalled that TF2 was being wedged for release between two other powerhouse franchises, one of which he helped build. "It definitely feels a little odd. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is from my old studio, that I built," he said. "And they're repackaging my old game that I built, on a brand that I built. So it's kind of like you're throwing it all against me. OK, I can live with it," he said at the time.

Sales of the game have been disappointing, through no fault of Respawn, but the developer plans to keep pushing forward for its loyal fan base, even if the next step in the franchise isn't known.

Alas, poor Titanfall 2. We knew you well ... and loved you

Shacknews - John Keefer

EA Play, Electronic Arts middle-finger to E3, has announced that it will be bringing the next installments of popular franchises to this year's event, particularly a new Star Wars Battlefront and Need for Speed.

Tickets for the three-day event, scheduled for June 10-12 in Hollywood, will go on sale on April 20 at noon ET / 9 a.m. PT. EA will be providing more information on how the ticketing process works as it gets closer to that date. If it holds true to last year's format, fans who can't attend will still be able to attend online by purchasing tickets that will grant them behind-the-scenes access and livestreams of all the new games.

Other titles that will be there will be the usual assortment of sports properties, including FIFA 18, Madden 18 and NBA Live 18. Other games are expected to be there, but EA is likely drawing out the announcement to entice more people to attend as the launch of ticket sales and the event itself draws closer. Maybe it will announce that the fix for Mass Effect: Andromeda's animations will be there as well.

EA has seen fit to finish EA Play 2017 before the official start of E3, although it will overlap with several of the planned press conferences, including Microsoft and Bethesda. EA will likely stagger its press conference to not step on any toes officially. Last year, EA Play's last day was still going as E3 opened the show floor. E3 runs June 13-15 this year at the Los Angeles Convention Center, and for the first time will be allowing the public to attend

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Mass Effect: Andromeda drops this week, and it's fair to say the reviews haven't been as glowing as its predecessors. Whether by age or quality or just design paradigms moving on, this won't be the first time a series slips and loses some of its critical and fan reputation.

This week, the Chattycast talks about what becomes of big franchises when they start to lose their way. Some go quietly into that good night, others find a way to stay relevant, and some meander along for a while longer. What series have made a successful bounce-back after starting to falter? What lessons can the team at BioWare learn from the successes and failures of others?

Be sure to visit AudibleTrial.com/Chattycast for your 30-day trial with a free audiobook download of your choice.

RSS | iTunes | Download this episode

Shacknews - John Keefer

A new trailer for Prey is out, discussing main character Morgan Yu, the motivations and even relationships that help set the tone for the game. And while that in and of itself is interesting, what really should draw your attention is the cool weapons and the alien Typhon.  

While Bethesda and developer Arkane continue to push the narrative of most current RPGs, namely "your choices matter," it is obvious that some care has gone into creating the weapons and creatures that will be populating Talos I research facility run by (dun-dun-dun) your brother. The story says that Morgan, conveniently suffering from trauma-induced amnesia, was instrumental in creating many of the things found on the station. And based on the early trailer, Morgan is a mighty creative individual.

The GLOO Cannon, which shoots quickly hardening glue at enemies and obstacles, looks incredible fun, even if it is a variation of freezing and shattering bad guys with ice or liquid hydrogen. There is also a Recycler grenade that will explode and turn nearby items and even enemies in craftable materials. That dead body over there? "Sorry buddy, but I need to make some ammo. This will be your vengeance!"

Also, the Typhon are pretty tough. They can turn themselves into inanimate objects, which can really mess with your mind when your coffee mug or desk chair come to life and eat you.

Hey Bethesda, here's a marketing idea: The Typhon Company, maker of home and office supplies. Give them to friends. They really are the gifts that keep you guessing!

One thing we aren't guessing about - Prey is coming to PC, Xbox One and PS4 on May 5.

Shacknews - John Keefer

While The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is fantastic, the Nintendo Switch version of game has its share of performance and framerate issues, especially between docked TV mode and handheld mode. Speculation has varied on what the issue could be, as it tends to be sporadic, but one developer seems to think it is just programming bugs.

The unnamed developer from Bplus Games told GameSplash that only certain zoom ratios are affected. "Most of the frame-rate issues in Zelda are just programming failures. If Nintendo sets the right people to it they can totally fix them, " the developer is quoted as saying. "Some dev friends and I have the same feeling about that. Because sometimes it is just a specific zoom ratio that makes the frame-rate drop. Just zoom in a bit closer or further away and it runs super smooth. The problem is that the game wants to show both near and far LOD (Level of Detail) objects. This is a frame-rate killer if two objects are in each other. To show that, it would need around 10 times the power. And if you see Kakariko Village, the framerate hell there, and then the more beautiful Hateno Village, which runs super smoothly, you see that doesn’t make sense. So something else is going wrong there."

The dev also said that Nintendo knows about the LOD issue, but hasn't fixed it yet. He explains that in his chats will some Nintendo developers, he found the game originally ran at 60fps, but they didn't want performance fluctuations, so they focused on capping it at 30fps. 

The dev then went on to explain the difference between docked and undocked mode. "A lot of things change between docked mode for Switch, besides the resolution. The distance for LOD’s are changed, the types of texture filters, the distance of texture filters, levels of tri-linear mappings, etc. All depending on graphics. But for example, the zoom ratio of the LODs are changed, which is a coding part. That also would be the issue with the zoom level frame-rate issues. So yes, it is a programming issue in TV mode that doesn’t relate to power."

I don't want to give too much credence to unnamed sources on such specific problems, but it does explain why the framerate drops only at certain times. And if it is something that can be patched, even better.

This also gives rise to the speculation that the Switch version of Breath of the Wild was a rushed port of the Wii U version, although it does run better on Switch. Since Breath of the Wild is the flagship first-party title for the console hybrid, it seems odd that Nintendo would let programming bugs out into the wild to mar the Switch's launch. Granted the performance problems have not been enough to dampen the enthusiasm for Breath of the Wild, but they still exist, and the rushed release of the console to meet the end of Nintendo's fiscal year at the end of this month is a plausible explanation for the game problems and certain hardware issues being allowed to reach consumers.

Whatever the actual explanation, hopefully The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild performance issues are ones that can be fixed with a patch. The sooner the better.

Shacknews - John Keefer

We know Destiny 2 is coming, as both Bungie and Activision have made it clear that a sequel to the popular shooter is in the works. But what looks like leaked posters from an Italian retailer give us a release date of September 8, and a possible beta before that.

Rumors have already started circulating that an announcement will be coming sometime today, although both developer and publisher have been mum so far. The release date could be the European street date–September 8 is a Friday, while most North American games are released on Tuesday. One poster is from GameStop Italy talking about the beta, while the other with the release date shows that Destiny 2 will still be a PlayStation 4 title. 

Activision has said previously that Destiny 2 was on schedule for a fall launch, and that the new game will have a broader appeal to bring in more fans while still keeping the current ones engaged. The bad news for current players is that they will be able to carry their Destiny characters over to the sequel in name and appearance only, as all powers and inventory will be wiped. Also, the game is wrapping up its live events with the Age of Triumph, coming on March 28. The launch trailer is below.

Destiny is currently on Xbox One and PS4, while Destiny 2 will add PC as a platform.

 

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