As with all big games, the hype and anticipation has been huge with Doom3, so it was good to see that id wasn’t unaware of this fact and did it’s best to make itself available to the UK press. As such I managed to hook up with Todd Hollenshead (joint CEO of id) and Tim Willits (lead designer on Doom3) a couple of weeks prior to the US launch of the game. It was great to meet game developers who are as excited about their game as the expectant public, and both Todd and Tim’s love for video games came through loud and clear at the meeting.
Without a doubt, the most interesting thing that came out of my conversations with id was that, in Todd’s opinion anyway, even that latest generation graphics cards are not really powerful enough to cope with the Doom3 engine. Todd and Tim made it clear that pushing the quality settings to Ultra High is, to quote nVidia, the way it’s meant to be played, and at this setting a 256MB graphics card just can’t cope. It would appear that to play Doom3 in all its Ultra High graphical glory, you’re going to need a next generation graphics card with 512MB of memory.
Of course squeezing more textures into less memory is exactly what ATI’s new 3Dc technology is all about, and I asked if there were any plans to implement 3Dc into the game. Todd’s answer was that id did not want to implement features that were hardware specific. This is no bad thing, since none of us want to go back to the bad old days of having to use the right hardware to play certain games. That said, 3Dc is an open standard so nVidia could adopt it – although this is unlikely to happen unless Microsoft incorporates it into DirectX.
So, Doom3 has a strong heritage, and some top people behind it, but how does it actually measure up compared to some very strong competition? Well the wow factor is definitely there – the engine does look amazing, and if you have a fast enough machine you will find yourself truly immersed in the Doom3 universe. There are certain effects that will just have you standing there staring, regardless of how many monsters happen to be attacking you at the time. One of my favourite effects is the heat haze – you’ll find lots of instances where there are fires from explosions or burst pipes and not only does the fire itself look good, but there is a shimmering heat haze surrounding it which looks incredible.
Another effect that game developers have been trying to perfect for years is a convincing shadow, but now every other developer can stop trying to perfect shadows, because id has done it. Shadows look so convincing that I often found myself moving between light sources just so that I could see the way they affected my shadow as I moved. But it was when I approached a corner with a light around it that I really appreciated how good the shadow effects are in Doom3 – not only could I see an enemy around the corner, but I could clearly see him raise his chainsaw, pull the started cord, and advance towards the corner in order to fell me like a redwood.
Lighting effects are also amazing, and the way light falls seems so natural and real, that it’s hard to believe that the Doom3 universe exists only inside your PC. Use of light and darkness is the key to setting the claustrophobic atmosphere of the game and although playing it might not be as scary as id had hoped, it definitely gets the heart pumping. But I’m getting ahead of myself here, let’s start at the very beginning, because as Julie Andrews once said, it’s a very good place to start (oh my god, I’m quoting The Sound of Music – I truly must be in Hell).
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The game starts with you (a marine) disembarking from a shuttle onto a science facility on Mars where things haven’t been going too well, to say the least. After the usual orientation that’s synonymous with most first person shooter games, your commanding officer sends you off to locate a missing scientist. This little errand allows you to get used to the controls and the environment, while you manage to pick up a pistol along the way – after all, you know that it’s going to come in handy. But when you find the missing scientist he’s terrified of something, but doesn’t get a chance to explain what he’s scared of before, quite literally, all hell breaks lose.