Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t: An Idiot’s Answer to the Multiplayer Conundrum

DOOM 15

If DOOM is a ballet production, then I’m its shotgun-toting, demon-face-smashin’ ballerina – a ballerina in space marine armour with deep-seated anger issues and a penchant for punching bad guys in the everything.

But this is ballet orchestrated by heavy metal and powered by Red Bull – a combination my twenty-five-and-a-half-year-old self could’ve only dreamed of.

Indeed, DOOM’s moment-to-moment gameplay is so fluid it feels practically choreographed. Swift, smooth and gloriously brutal, id Software have made a shooter so satisfying it makes me feel like I’m the most elegant space marine ballerina that ever fragged.

But while its campaign was almost universally revered, many lamented DOOM’s multiplayer – “bland”, “uninspired”, “boring”. Yet few have talked about the difficulty of designing such multiplayer, a component that seems almost doomed to irrelevance.

Oh yeah, and: wah wah, wah wah, wah wah, wah wah.

Certain Affinity – DOOM’s multiplayer developers – ostensibly had two options: bring its multiplayer design into 2016, load-outs ‘n’ all, or return to multiplayer of old, where weapon pick-ups and rocket jumping are the 640 x 840 order of the day.

If it does the former, Certain Affinity would likely be accused of selling out – of sacrificing DOOM’s retro charms to the contemporary gaming hive mind. But do the latter, and DOOM is labelled archaic, obsolete and long in the tooth.

Now, though, DOOM feels trapped between the two – it never quite aspires to or truly reaps the benefits of either. It’s fast, frenetic – but never feels fast and frenetic enough. It’s tactical, considered – but never tactical and considered enough.

It just is.

It’s not exactly difficult to see, then, how designing DOOM’s multiplayer is an absolutely Hellish task.

Multiplayer’s better moments irradiate the feeling of almost, as you wish you moved just a little bit faster and jumped to a little bit further. And the most frustrating aspect of multiplayer – as fun as it can be – is that it feels like a game mode or two away from sheer brilliance.

So – as somebody who has absolutely no experience or understanding of game design and lacks general decency and taste in general – here are three fundamental changes I would make to DOOM’s multiplayer.

Let’s call these the Unholy Trinity of Awesome:

On-map weapon pick-ups: For me, on-map weapon pick-ups are the lifeblood of frenetic multiplayer. They give you something to shoot for – besides those people trying to kill -you) – and offer that ‘loot-drop’ feeling every time you find ’em and that ‘fuck yeah’ feeling every time you use ’em.

Ballerina shoes +1: The speed pick-up is how I expected DOOM’s multiplayer to feel. No longer are you waiting to get into the action. That fight three rooms away feels two seconds – not ten seconds – away.

Skilled-based matchmaking: By far my biggest bugbear, DOOM’s ‘points-for-play’ systems flies in the face of classic arena-based multiplayer. I want my rating to show that I out-twitched bigger and better opponents – not that I spent a weekend sat in my underwear watching Star Trek and playing video games. Which I totally didn’t.

With all this said, though, I’m not exactly a game designer. And yet still, DOOM’s multiplayer is fun at its demonic beating heart. But it’s a component that feels ironically trapped between worlds.

So, err, yeah, whatever: wah wah, wah wah, wah wah, wah wah.

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