QuakeCon is basically a safari. People stalk through the halls of the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Texas, tracing steps and leading packs of highly trained dogs in search of one mythical creature: Doom 4. Legends tell of a time many moons ago when its logo briefly appeared on a big screen, and in the moment, the hunt was on. So now I tip-toe through the case mod jungles of the BYOC, glancing every which way and-- STOP. What's that rustling around behind that row of NASA-grade supercomputers shaped like characters from My Little Pony? Could it be...? Oh, never mind. It's just Big Foot. Nothing to see here. I have, however, picked up a few clues.
Hacking through jungles of tastefully sculpted potted plants, my journey eventually brought me face-to-face with id Software creative director Tim Willits. Parrots cawed and all manner of exotic fish wriggled and danced beneath a searing sun – somewhere on earth, presumably – as we spoke of the mysterious beast that is Doom 4. Willits was a kindly man, quick to laugh and even quicker to quip wittily. But he knew more than he let on. Behind his agreeable smile was a full-to-bursting dam of secrets.
So I'd gotten some intel about a Doom 3: BFG Edition feature known as “The Lost Mission,” and I had a hunch. Maybe, just maybe, the new levels – which are, in fact, newly created and not excavated from the ancient ruins of Doom 3's development – somehow tie into Doom 4's storyline. I liked Tim, but I was prepared to do whatever it took to make him talk. So I cracked my knuckles, furrowed my brow as though it were a cheetah ready to pounce, and struck violently with a series of polite questions.
RPS: You're bundling together some new levels as a “Lost Mission.” But was it really lost back when you first made the game?
Willits: You mean, like, we designed it years ago and now we're releasing it? No, it's all new. But it's made by the same guys. We had an opportunity – based on where everyone else was at id – for these [former Doom 3 designers] to go and make some cool Doom 3 maps.
RPS: And that's leading the charge on the BFG Edition, right? Because, I mean, you actually have all the Dooms – which is really fun to say.
Willits: It's all the Dooms.
RPS: All the Dooms! So is there any chance the Lost Mission ties into Doom 4? Like, storywise – as a lead-in?
Willits: [laughs] I can't answer that question. That's very much 'Sorry, I can't answer that question' territory.
RPS: Curses. So close. Thanks anyway, though.
And then, they struck. PR reps descended upon us, waving their schedules and tapping their watches with bestial ferocity. “Well, it was great talking to you, Nathan,” Willits casually concluded with a look that said, “Run. I'll hold them off.” Biting back tears, I did just that. I haven't heard from him since – though I'd like to, because I want to ask him a few more questions about RAGE.
Ragged and weary from a mix of the elements and a Dishonored demo playthrough gone horribly awry (As a Tallboy put a poetic end to my power-drunk rampage, I rasped out one final breath: “The horror”), I stumbled into the not-actually-a-jungle compound of the Cult of Carmack. John Carmack himself took the stage, clad in his traditional ceremonial garb (a collared shirt and blue jeans), and the crowd fell completely silent. This was a place of the truest reverence. Bathed in a radiant orange light while his eyes darted with an almost childlike curiosity, he spoke.
“We've got the bulk of company on Doom 4, but it'll be done when it's done. We don't want people to read more into than they should,” he proclaimed, referencing past communication breakdowns with games like RAGE. “As we showed [RAGE] year-after-year, we had a surprisingly large contingent of people that expected it to be like Fallout or Borderlands. And that hurt us in that it wasn't long for an RPG – even if it was for a shooter.”
Even so, he reassured his adoring masses: This won't be some out-of-left-field metamorphosis for the series. ”Everyone knows what Doom is. There's shotguns and demons.”
And then Carmack's grip on his composure loosened. Caught up in legitimately excited fervor (and slight illness), he let a few tidbits about Doom 4 slip. “We're continuing to get better on the tactical gameplay level. Making that gritty feel – the punch of it. RAGE definitely has better punch [than Doom 3]. And we'll continue to improve that [in Doom 4].”
“[Doom 3's] world was a shell, and not that much was interactive. So that's another big thing for us going forward in the next game,” he added, noting however, that a focus on detail won't keep the demonic shooter in development hell forever. “We've made a lot of mistakes [time-wise] already with Doom 4. But prioritizing things that help us get the game done faster is hugely important. We just can't go another six years [like we did with RAGE].”
And, to drive that point home, he noted that id's mobile division is currently on indefinite hold, as everyone's now plugging away on Doom 4. “It's not a grand slam sort of thing on there,” he explained. “The Bethesda family really is about swinging for the fences. I hope we get back on there, but it's about blockbusters.” Further, he stated outright that “RAGE 2's not a top priority.”
He continued to talk for hours, never missing a beat and entrancing his audience – myself included – with a nearly primal rhythm. Rocket ships, VR helmets, optical position tracking, measures of latency, calibration matrices, chipsets, gamma-corrected interpolation, ray-tracing, rastorization, and so on and so on and so on. It was like being in some kind of brain-straining fever dream. Everyone came away knowing so much more, yet also feeling acutely aware of how little they actually knew.
So my Doom 4 safari was – for yet another year – largely fruitless, but I came away hopeful. Doom 4 is real, and John Carmack raises the average IQ of any room he's in by an amount that he's probably made an infallible algorithm to calculate. The status quo, in other words, holds strong. But Doom's 20th anniversary is next year, and id's scrambling to roll out the red carpet. Something is stirring. And when it finally emerges, I'll be ready to travel back into this untamed land of madness and interrogate everyone about what they'd ask a Cacodemon if it could talk.