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Let's Watch: John Romero Plays Doom

Then, shooting.

I am rapt watching John Romero play and talk about Doom. Over a two-and-a-half-hour Let’s Play series, the hallowed former id Software lead designer and co-programer has gone into fascinating detail on his level design philosophy, technical tricks, the game’s development, and his other work, but it’s equally splendid to hear about stuff that never happened. Here’s an old idea for deathmatch co-op: played on regular levels with monsters around, the only way to score points is to hit the end-level button first, so players swing between cooperating and making a violent break for the finish. Lovely.

His co-commentator here is JP LeBreton, Doom mega-fan and modder, former BioShock level designer, and former – grumble grumble – Spacebase DF-9 designer. It’s such a fascinating look at one of the most influential video games, explaining a lot of why it works so well. They look at moody lighting, ways to hide and tease secrets, room shapes, level layouts and flow, pretty details, and agh! this depth of discussion is so pleasing to me. One single room can spawn several minutes of chat. It touches on a lot of general ’90s FPS design and history too.

I also dig Romero’s unrealised idea for Daikatana to track speedruns and other challenges, storing scores and demos on a central sever for all to see. It’d be perfectly doable nowadays, but was a big idea for the time. I’m reminded a bit of John Carmack’s abandoned plans way back in ’96 to run QuakeWorld as essentially free-to-play.

I’m glad to see John Romero being a lot more public about his ’90s FPS work again. He seemed to shy away for a few years, possibly because people kept cracking the same hackneyed Daikatana joke. But did you see the huge load of Doom clay model shots, work-in-progress art, and unused assets he dug up to celebrate its 21st birthday? Lovely, that.

This is part of Double Fine’s Devs Play series, where they sit Double Folks down with designers to play their games. The final one, coming next Tuesday, will see Tim Schafer and Double Friends playing their first game, Psychonauts.

Here’s the introductory first episode (the rest get down to the demon-shooting quicker), and the whole lot are on this playlist.

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Alice O'Connor

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When not writing news, Alice may be found in the sea.

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