From Box Office Hell to Gaming Heaven

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The original DOOM and DOOM II: Hell on Earth weren’t the original First-Person Shooters – even in id Software’s own back catalogue Wolfenstein 3D preceded them – but whereas Wolfenstein made a modest splash, these were huge, huge hits, to the extent that for a while you didn’t talk about “first-person shooters”, you talked about “DOOM clones”.

In fact, there’s an extent to which it still makes sense to talk about “DOOM clones” as a distinct subgenre, thriving primarily in the three year gap between id releasing DOOM in 1993 and their release of Quake in 1996. Quake was such a success both in terms of critical and commercial impact and in terms of the technological advances it popularised, that after it came out true 3D became the de facto standard for first-person shooters. Prior to Quake, games like DOOM looked 3D but were actually “2.5D” – if you look carefully at a DOOM map, you’ll note that you can map out the entire thing in 2D, with raised and lowered areas here and there but no places where, for instance, one corridor ends up passing directly over a different corridor.

Part of the genius of DOOM, in fact, was how it was able to provide this really fast-paced experience which managed to combine maps about as complex as you could get in the 2.5D format they went with, large numbers of enemies and projectiles, and gameplay principles where the basics are easy to grasp but there’s lots of scope to devise more advanced tactics, all in a package which could run on a wide range of computers. It didn’t hurt that the game has really nice graphical design, with distinctive environments and enemies, as well as a great knack for conveying the feel of how the weapons operate – firing off the plasma rifle feels very different from firing the shotgun, for instance.

These are all things which look easy but aren’t, as is demonstrated by how so many of the game’s imitators like Rise of the Triad or Duke Nukem 3D simply haven’t stood the test of time as well as DOOM, or for its matter DOOM II (which managed to accomplish an awful lot simply by providing more of the same with a very few new weapons and monster types to add new tactical options and challenges.) On top of that, id maintained a good relationship with the modding community, to the extent that there’s still a thriving community producing homebrew DOOM maps today and id were able to release a couple of homebrew campaigns as Final DOOM in 1996. Although I don’t think Final DOOM is as strong as the levels in the original two games, it’s telling that it still stands up as a viable commercial release that isn’t a total technological embarrassment in 1996, the same year as Quake came out; whilst I’d still put the first two official DOOM games above Final DOOM, I’d put Final DOOM comfortably above more or less any of the DOOM clones following the 2.5D format out there.

DOOM 3 followed in 2004. I’ve not played it and I haven’t really felt like I’ve lost out by not playing it; everything I’ve seen on it suggests that it is a competently-implemented but ultimately unremarkable early-2000s FPS. The two major surfacings of the franchise since then have been the much-reviled movie tie-in and this year’s DOOM, a brand new game updating the franchise for current-generation PCs and consoles. Between them they represent a critical low point for the franchise and the chance of a sudden revival.

Continue reading “From Box Office Hell to Gaming Heaven”

All-Consuming Stupidity

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Ponytail-sporting aikido master, guitarist, volunteer lawman, and (theoretically) actor Steven Seagal has essentially vanished from the big screen. Since around 2001ish he has worked more or less exclusively in the straight-to-DVD field; he’s got a supporting role in Machete, Robert Rodriguez’s upcoming Grindhouse spinoff, but 99% of the time Seagal prefers to be the lead actor in his movies, which leads to a major problem, that being that he’s not really a good enough actor to sustain a film by himself.

Nonetheless, there’s something undeniably compelling about the man. Perhaps it’s the air of intensity about him, this strange aura which isn’t quite charisma, this strange utterly unassailable self-confidence which suggests that if he’d never become an actor he might have made a fairly successful cult leader.

The Steven Seagal Legacy is an eight-DVD box set that tries to represent the best of the man’s career from the era when his films actually appeared in cinemas rather than going straight to DVD. In theory the asking price is £60, but in practice it’s nearly always on sale.I got mine from HMV for a mere £15, which at less than £2 a disc – each in proper DVD packaging – meant that I could buy it in the knowledge that if I didn’t like any of the films on offer I could sell them on EBay and most likely turn a profit. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t come to that though. What could be better than watching a doughy man stroll around beating people up all day?

Continue reading “All-Consuming Stupidity”