(Screenshot: Doom on Xbox 360/Activision)

Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.

Ultra Nightmare

This week, Patrick Lee gave us his thoughts on the new Doom, a reboot that managed to modernize much of what made the original so astounding. A big part of that is the game’s speed, which is more than a few hairs above most contemporary shooters. But Cowtools wondered whether everyone’s appreciation of the first Doom’s speediness was a bit of apocryphal:

Am I missing something? I never thought of the original Doom as a fast game with non-stop monster shooting. This is the second review that has emphasised that aspect. The reason I loved it so and re-played it so much, was the creepy atmosphere, exploring the occult symbols on the walls, and the sense of dread as you crept about, daring to look around a corner, and hearing the hiss of monsters in the distance.

Commenters saw this both ways. Plenty pointed out that the action itself was very fast, but many, like Iceland, agreed that, especially for the time, the atmosphere of the game was just as engrossing:

I think it might depend on when you played Doom. Maybe in 1993 Doom had a level of relative realism that didn’t exist for me just a few years later. Doom’s revolutionary advances were completely lost on me, and I more or less took for granted that it was a cartoony first-person version of Robotron.

Now to be clear: I loved Doom. But even disregarding the limitations of the era, it was always very gamey. Consider the intentional predictability of the enemies. Revenants or imps were specific memorable enemy types in the same way as Mario’s Hammer Bros. or Koopa Troopas or those little helmet beetles in Mega Man. They all represent repeatable patterns and tendencies to master, much more so than the AI some soldier in a modern shooter.

I would expect that for most people who found Doom immersive and scary, that was possibly a product of how mind blowing the technology was when it came out. It’s got scary art, but it’s such a video game—which is actually one of its greatest unique strengths that’s been neglected until this reboot.

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And D. corroborated that theory:

When it came out and you were playing it for the first time, Doom was like nothing that had come before. It was tense the way a horror movie is tense. It’s not exactly that you’re genuinely scared. It’s more that you’re on edge in a particular way that mimics fear. Other games of the era were tense, too, but more like watching a sport where it’s down to the wire and you’re hoping your team wins.

If you came to first-person shooters in the mid-to-late ’90s, then you were just getting into it when Doom was merely the originator in a wide field of clones. You had Duke Nukem 3D, Star Wars: Dark Forces, Hexen, Strife, Blood, Shadow Warrior, Rise Of The Triad, etc. Put simply, the FPS landscape only had a couple of games before Doom was released, and after Doom, the floodgates were opened. So I’d say there was a window during which you had to play Doom for it to truly impress you. After that, it was the best of a wide bunch, but not the singular experience for those of us who had a buddy at school give them a shareware 3.5” floppy with Doom’s first episode on it.

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Douay-Rheims-Challoner remembered one particularly harrowing moment:

I’d say the only time the original Doom provided me real, genuine dread was in the Tower Of Babel. You’re just in a building with tons and tons of power-ups and weapons and no monsters, and then you go outside AND THERE’S A FUCKING CYBERDEMON TWICE YOUR SIZE AND IT HAS A GODDAMN ROCKET LAUNCHER FOR A FIST RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN.

Other than that, I remember it as me, guns, trouble, and cheats I abused so I could run through the walls to see how the sausage was made, as they say.

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The Horror

Art: This War Of Mine The Board Game/Awaken Realms

Also this week, Samantha Nelson reported back after playing a few rounds of the upcoming This War Of Mine: The Board Game. It’s based on a video game of the same name, which had you controlling a group of civilians trying to survive the siege of their home city. Commenters were heartened to see games try and tackle war from this angle, but NakedSnake pointed out that even with these less explosive stories, it’s difficult to entirely avoid the sensation that you’re doing something thrilling:

I haven’t played the board game, but I played a lot of virtual digital of This War Of Mine. While it succeeds in communicating the horror of war, the problem is that, any time you have a situation where the stakes are very high, you have an interesting story. And nothing is more high-stakes than life or death. When I was playing the game, I initially avoided violent encounters. But as the war went on and my confidence grew, I started looking for opportunities for them. There is just nothing more exciting than dealing with a short-term life-or-death situation, and my brain finds those situations inherently appealing. We don’t actually want to experience them, but games/movies/books allow us to dip our toes in those violent worlds. And no matter how much the work itself might decry war, there is always a sense that being in a life-or-death situation is a worthwhile experience that gives us insight into the world in the way our current lives never could. Whether war is good or bad, it is always (in the medieval sense) awesome.

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Elsewhere, JRB thought this sounded like another great example of co-op board gaming:

This game looks like it will be another great example of why co-op board games are experiencing such a surge in popularity right now. Co-op play really is one of the two things board games will continue to do better than video games for the foreseeable future (the other being bluffing mechanics).

As much as I love me a good digital couch co-op like Lovers In A Dangerous Space Time or Helldivers, they still tend to be very dependent on dexterity and timing as dictated by the game. Co-op board games tend to move at the speed of the players (with one or two exceptions like XCOM or Escape The Temple). This makes them incredibly social, as players have time to discuss, reason, compromise, and, in the case of a traitor mechanic, bluff.

As long as you avoid inviting over the loud, quarterbacking asshole who insists it’s his way (it’s almost always a him) or the highway, the game only moving forward when the players are ready means even quieter, shyer players get a chance to contributy, usually be waiting until everyone’s talked themselves out and then pointing out the obvious thing everyone else missed and saving the day.

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In her preview, Samantha pointed out that the game tries to avoid empowering those “quarterbacking assholes” by having players take turns as the group’s leader and encouraging discussion before a final decision is reached. Venerable Monk thought this was a good idea:

I’ll definitely be checking this one out when it’s released. I really like the concept of taking turns by giving one player the leadership role each day. It seems like a great way to mitigate the temptation to act as quarterback for the entire game, because you actually get to run the show at regular intervals. I really enjoy games like Space Alert, where turns are simultaneous and timed, so there’s no time for telling everyone what to do, and games like Battlestar Galactica, where someone might turn against you, so it’s dangerous to share too much of your plan, but I hadn’t encountered this kind of rotating leadership before. It sounds right up my alley.

Combine the rotating leadership structure with the risks of losing resources or even having to choose who might starve, and I can see folks being more than willing to let someone else make a tough decision with limited information. “Martha’s not going to die on my watch, dammit!” In cooperative games, it has to be tough to make things unpredictable without making the random elements seem unfair. In games like Arkham Horror or Pandemic, you can learn to expect certain events to happen at certain times, which can make the experience feel like it’s “on-rails” for veteran players. I would expect the inherent unfairness of random events works better in the setting of a war-torn country. These people didn’t choose to join a war, and they couldn’t exactly prepare for it. It only makes sense that they’re going to experience losses that seem meaningless and unfair.

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That’s all for this week, Gameologiandantes. Thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week!