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Mk7_Centipede

Doom on the Horizon | The Artistry in Abandoning the Vertical Axis [updated]

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Posted (edited)

"Why do you need to shoot yourself in the foot?" goes the pithy retort as to why classical DOOM lacks the ability to look up and down.

 

It remains the singular and unique trait separates DOOM from its classical and modern contemporaries. Marathon 2, Quake, Duke Nukem, and System Shock would all allow the player the ability to view along the vertical axis and it has seemingly been regarded as missing component of classical DOOM. Nevermind the Icon of Sin would be a lot easier with mouse-look, or that the BFG would be even more horrible overpowered in multiplayer by shooting yourself in the foot with it. In spite of this, free-look remains a standard for a lot of DOOMers and we need to go over why this is smudging of the art style.

 

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What really makes classical DOOM special and why it still has so much life in it after so many years is that it comprises art. Whereas most people think of the lack of the vertical axis as lacking, it actually requires better map design. As with viewing a piece of art, you do not run around looking at it from different angle, but your eyes move across it and you contemplate its dimensions. And that is what you have with this rather special Sunder Map 31- first, where the desire to view the large structure in full demands that you walk outside; and second, where the entirety of the large building can be soaked in without using the vertical axis but the movement of the eyes.

 

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Now this is really great framing. It would be more appropriate to compare the visual language of classical DOOM with classical Resident Evil titles with their fixed camera systems.  The camera did not kill gameplay when it was facing the wrong direction in that game, but really helped with scares and visual storytelling- which, incidentally, are the things we tend to love about classical DOOM.  When your levels are literally art, its a misunderstanding to want and touch them rather than appreciate them.

 

The truth is that we lie to ourselves when we say that other games are more vertical or have something more in letting you shoot your own feet. Personally, I think FPS swimming and shooting fish is downright absurd. I do not think the FPS genre gets anything from swimming segments.  And hopefully some of you will see that the vertical axis is likewise a feature that never added any value to the FPS experience.

 

First and foremost- we write a horizontal language. The vertical dimensions of writing lowercase letters is practically zero. our spatial connections that we intuitively perceive are basically all horizontal. Your ability to stack letters is going to be a lot worse than squeezing them together. So at a conceptual level (and this applies to eastern language too), your ability to differentiate well is going to be on the horizontal axis.

 

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Now this is Half-Life 2, a fairly well regarded game. And you know what? Gordon Freeman is going to fight this helicopter, but it would have been so much more fun if you did not have to look up to shoot at the boss because you lose sight of this wonderful vista. Which is obviously appreciated just as it is, with the player looking forward.  And just consider for a second that the Striders will duck down all the way to your level just so you can shoot them without having to look up.

 

striders.jpg.712f9b05414b2d37a621bcd567a77d3b.jpg

 

So for all the looking at wrenches in System Shock, and looking at padlocks in Half-Life, when it comes down to combat, classical DOOM does it right.  And headshots are rather unrealistic in games these days. No one in real life runs around shooting at people and aims for the head. Every police and military force will tell you the same. This sort of multiplayer-fetish for headshots vanishes with instagib rules.  Hell, Halo and Destiny and Gears of War do not even register headshots on anything but the final shot.

 

But lets talk about Battle Royal games then as well. Surely they must be using the vertical axis a great deal, since aiming at your foot is how the matches all start, right?

 

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Time and time again, when watching players land their gliders- they continue to look horizontally and land and move in a continuous direction. The noobs and players with less spatial awareness are the ones that will spend their time looking at their feet and making sure they land on the planet even when there is no fall damage.  Granted, the view angle is slightly downwards- but only slightly.  The building mechanic are what make Fortnite largely appeal to aiming up and down the vertical axis.

 

Not every game can go without a vertical axis these days. But its not for want of headshots that Fortnite uses the vertical axis so well. But at the same time, nobody really regards Fortnite for its map design like people did with Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament.  And ultimately that has to do with the framing of the map and less about the technology and fun.  And ultimately, games these day have simply gotten away from proper framing of set pieces and combat scenes. Ultimately, even if a game does allow for viewing upward on the vertical axis, map design not requiring the player to manually look up and down is more intuitive and therefore better map design.

 

Apex Legends, on the other hand, with all its Halo-esque gameplay and modern traces, does not have tower construction races. Its a Battle Royal Halo Game, more or less. Some characters require precision aiming, whereas others do not. Lifeline being the former and Watson being more of the latter. Still, this does not mean that classical DOOM gameplay mechanics could not work in a modern Battle Royal game.  The DOOM Eternal Meathook could totally work fine with 100% auto-aim on, whereas the Lifeline's ultimate demands there be free-look.  A classical BR game would probably have to be something like Helldivers meets the legend of Zelda. And indeed, our classical FPS is less a 'metroidvania' as it is a 'zeldoom' (Zelda-Doom mashup).

 

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The well is a standard in Zelda. You fall down the well and into a cave. You are usually guided visually to realize the well leads to a cave via some cracks in the ground, or sometimes a character simply tells you to jump down the well. But the set up is often pretty obvious.  This picture from Link's Awakening makes it obvious that getting down the hole is paramount to the level's progression.  And the reason I say this game design is more in line with classical DOOM and not a metroidvania is largely because Zelda operates entirely on the horizontal plane. In Metroid and Castlevania you absolutely have to aim at things above you and clear out cobwebs to find switches, so to speak.

 

But in Zelda and DOOM, you simply have to apprehend the existence of something in obvious sight and then work backwards from there to find out how to get into the nooks and crannies of a map.  So whereas in metroidvania games you are trying to find some random point of interest, in zeldoom games the point of interest is obvious and the problem solving takes place around it.  And this goes back to, again, the emphasis on the horizontal axis.

 

There was certain DOOM map I was looking for that actually began with a secret well next to the player, and I think repeated this trope throughout the episode; but I am at a loss to recall specifically which classical wad this was (help!)

 

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Put more elegantly, art requires perspective. Art that inspected rather than appreciated will often miss significance. A meme is even created when we view art from the unintended perspective.  Just as how a mirror will give a room 'space' and feel larger and more comfortable, so too setpiece that does not require the player to contort to demanding angles is simply the better route. I mean, nobody pays extra to sit in the front row at the movie theater- and that is all about framing.

 

Lets take a quote from Kotaku's recent review of Cadence of Hyrule [its a terrible gaming site, i know]: "Keen enemy design is the secret to Cadence’s combat. Every enemy has strict rules on how they move and attack. Blue Slime? They move up and down between a pair of squares. Lizalfos? They stay put until you cross their paths, and then they charge in a straight line. Moblins will pause and toss javelins from a distance, armored knights can only be attacked from behind. If you were to pause the screen, Cadence of Hyrule could be treated like the grid-spaces of Into the Breach or even something as elegant as chess. Take out the need to move to the beat, and you’re essentially dealing with a rudimentary Zelda tactics game. Each screen is a new sort of puzzle, and clearing out enemies often grants rewards like unlocking treasure chests or diamonds."

 

Honestly, this is not far from the elements that really make classical DOOM tick. While DOOM is not beat-based, most people will tell you that when you start making a map, its good to have a musical tune in mind to help set the mood and pace. And while there are no enemies in DOOM that require you to attack them from behind, the weapon and enemy types lead themselves to puzzling combat. Chaingun for the Pain Elemental, Rockets for mid-tier swarms, and Shells for Everything else- while saving Cell power for eventful and difficult matches with Archviles and Masterminds.  Regarding gameplay foundations, Zelda and DOOM have countless elements that overlap- and this further reminds us that the best games have similar tools.  Lets say when you pulled up the map in DOOM, it went to a Zelda perspective. Wait, it already does that. I suppose they will never add aiming to Link's bow and arrows, right?  Well, the cat is definitely out of the bad with this one.

 

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Consider the duck-rabbit.  In real life, we do not jump down watering holes or through flames to rescue some afflicted soul. But in the fantasy world of video games, you play the role of the fireman or the guardian of the princess. In fantasy logic, you do not make fire out to be an obstacle to avoid as in real life, but an obstacle to overcome. So the trick is getting from a smelly and annoying squawking bird to lovable hopper and salad killer.  With regards to the height of buildings, Sunder gets it just right with intrigue and scale. Other games and Mods often demand the player croon the player's neck as if locating the North Star was ever relevant in a video game. Sure, when you literally inhabit a skyscraper in some downtown sector of your city, you want to peer up and down at the other buildings and streets. But that is not the point of a videogame, and recreating reality is an absurd attempt to stifle actual artistic worth.  We might dutifully refer to DOOM3 as the Caravaggista of shooter games.

 

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Therefore I think it to be wonderfully wrong the way many artists approach game design. While someone might be quick to say Sunder Map 31 has a modern or brutalist architecture, they are refusing to see it in the far more appropriate light- and that is by comparing a map not to architecture but eminent painting.  "The Embarkation of The Queen of Sheba" does all the wonderful things to your eyes and asks you too keep on searching about the frame, and it is all so obvious to the person respectful of art.

 

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Here is Hell On Earth doing similar things as Sunder Map 31- calling us outside and not forcing us to look up, but to glance everywhere.  Hopefully I reminded people as to why classical DOOM is a legitimate set-up for gameplay and maybe can be adopted by other games as well.  Certainly, regardless of how you play your game, the ability to frame scenes and thus convey with less is paramount to good map design.  I think its about time we all took of breath of the artistry of game design.  Words and such.

 

How did I do?

Edited by Mk7_Centipede

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For me the two most annoying things of classic DOOM gameplay were not being able to shoot rockets (etc) exactly where I wanted to, and not being able to walk off a tall cliff because some monster far below which you couldn't see was blocking you.  These "limits" of the vertical axis do not add any charm or specialness in my book.  I bet any developer announcing a new FPS game at E3 without the ability to look up/down would get booed off the stage.

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Posted (edited)

I love this post, it is exactly as you say, it's art!  

 

But Doom is now the brush and canvas to most people, not the art.  And some like painting with different brushes that Doom doesn't have normally (like larger levels, high res textures and dynamic lighting).  The creations inspired by the brush and canvas provided by Doom have changed the way the game is regarded today. 

 

Doom was art, now it's something more, it's the foundation on which art and creativity are built upon.  I am proud of the fact that all of these mods and add-ons and sourceports exist, and that there's still much passion around the creative aspect of Doom.

 

I applaud anyone who has flexed a creative muscle in regard to Doom.  Whether good or bad just creating something is an achievement.  Now we all just need to recognize this and be more supportive of any artistic activity involving one of our collectives favorite games.

 

Update!

 

Did you add more to this!  I love it more!

 

Edited by CrbnBased : He added more that I like!

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I have nothing to add, but holy fuck this is a great opening post. <3 

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4 hours ago, Mk7_Centipede said:

The building mechanic are what make Fortnite largely appeal to aiming up and down the vertical axis.

 

So you mean one of the central gimmicks to the biggest game on the planet appeals to aiming up and down the vertical axis, but you pass over this with an aside?

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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, Linguica said:

 

So you mean one of the central gimmicks to the biggest game on the planet appeals to aiming up and down the vertical axis, but you pass over this with an aside?

 

I got a bit tired writing this and admittedly it does veer off near the end.

 

I mentioned it though. Not every game can go without a vertical axis these days. But its not for want of headshots that Fortnite uses the vertical axis so well. I just wanted hint at the possibility of a BR game without the vertical axis is certainly possible. But these games are not really considered for their artistry and yeah I did not bother rubbing it in Epic's face that people dont think Fortnite is artistic.

 

I didnt want to not mention BR games since they are so popular, even if they do not cater to classical DOOM's playstyle.  And Ultimately, even if a game does allow for viewing upward on the vertical axis, map design not requiring the player to manually look up and down is more intuitive and therefore better map design. I think puzzles that demand you look for cobwebs are less fun than ones with more immediacy.

 

A classical BR game would probably have to be something like Helldivers meets the legend of Zelda. And I wanted to bring up Zelda & Doom in this post but decided to hit the hay. I might add more to this later. Was thinking 'metroidvania' is the wrong word for DOOM style gameplay and that 'ZELDOOM' might be more accurate.

 

Thanks though.

Edited by Mk7_Centipede

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Posted (edited)

This is silly. Lack of freeaim wasn't some "artistic" design choice, and using freeaim isn't "smudging the art."

 

The only reason you couldn't look up and down is that it caused some visual warping at extreme angles, like in Heretic and Duke Nukem. If it was because gameplay was better that way, they'd have kept it straight in Quake. 

 

The Icon of Sin argument is silly because if you could freeaim in the original Doom they wouldn't have even designed it that way in the first place. Same for the BFG.

 

When you're busy fighting a helicopter that could rip you to shreds in an instant you're not really focusing on the view. For that matter, you're not focusing on the view really ever in the middle of a heated firefight, you're focusing on the threat. Removing vertical aim as a design choice only unrelated to technical limitations would just be artificial difficulty. You need to be able to pick off the most important threats first, and autoaim would make that harder, since you wouldn't be able to aim under or over certain foes. This is less an issue in most Doom maps because of infighting and overall less open map design that a lot of modern shooters. But doing that today would be silly.

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2 hours ago, Mk7_Centipede said:

I mentioned it though. Not every game can go without a vertical axis these days. But its not for want of headshots that Fortnite uses the vertical axis so well. I just wanted hint at the possibility of a BR game without the vertical axis is certainly possible. But these games are not really considered for their artistry and yeah I did not bother rubbing it in Epic's face that people dont think Fortnite is artistic.

 

To be clear, I am not trying to disagree with you here but to sharpen your arguments. I think Doom's lack of vertical aim is noteworthy for a number of reasons. Most obvious is that it makes control easier since you effectively only need to worry about precision aiming in 1 dimension, which is something people have been practicing in video games since Pong.

 

But more interesting, I think, is the artistic quality that this decision lends to Doom. In the software renderer, all vertical lines are always vertical - even with mouselook you get the y-shearing. And when you have an engine with a striking visual feature, it leads people to exploit it to make striking visual features!

 

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(you will notice these screenshots all happen to be in 4:3, which was the aspect ratio Doom was designed for, and which is... more vertical!! Maybe the modern ubiquity of widescreen and ultra widescreen monitors is making people unable to appreciate the aesthetic qualities of classic Doom to the same extent, because they effectively have verticality "blinders" on.)

 

And there's even a "life imitates art" aspect to this too! Look at the horrid skyscrapers being constructed on puny plots along "Billionares Row" in Manhattan and tell me they wouldn't perfectly fit into an update to Planisphere 2.

 

mmr-billionaires-row-650x392.png

 

Planisphere2.png

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Posted (edited)

I admire the effort that went into this, and I prefer no mouselook when playing SP, but to argue that the vertical axis has added nothing to games is absurd.

Firstly, the examples you bring up that would be broken with mouselook - firing the BFG into the ground and damaging the Icon of Sin - are both artifacts of game design built alongside the lack of mouselook. Had the BFG been programmed to function as a large splash damage weapon, as most new players assume it is, the first problem wouldn't be nearly as bad, and as for the Icon of Sin... this was designed specifically with the lack of mouselook in mind, and yet a lot of people say it's gimmicky or stupid, so I don't think it's adding much there.

 

From a more general gameplay-across-multiple-games standpoint, yeah, most of the action takes place along the horizontal axis because it's easier to control that way and it's more natural. But it seems you're ignoring the benefits of having mouselook. Fighting or moving in most FPS games is made that much more exciting by the fact that you can look down from the pillars in Quake III's Blood Keep and fire a rocket down or jump down yourself onto someone, or control the cliffs in TF2's Badwater Basin, scan your environment in Portal and fall through Portals to build up momentum, etc. etc.

So many people, when talking about HL2, praise the use of the Citadel looming closer throughout the game, which warrants you staring up at this vast monolithic structure; I find it strange that you pointed out that you can't see the sunset horizon when looking up at the copter. I mean, yeah, just like in real life. You still know it's there. It takes no effort to look back at it. If anything, being able to look up opens up more possibilities for skies and scenery like looking up at the stars or out from within towering mountains, etc.

 

As for headshots being ridiculous, I'm not sure what to say to you. Risk/reward is fun. It feels good to be rewarded for putting in a little more effort. It's just another layer of depth to combat that rewards skilled players.

 

At the end of the day, yeah, I think Doom benefits from having no mouselook and I wouldn't want it to have originated any other way, but to say that the vertical axis brought nothing or little worthy to the table of FPS games seems pretty absurd to me.

Edited by Kapanyo

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@Linguica:

What is the third map pictured, with all the 'floating Barons'? You picked 3 rather solid pictures.

Is there not a TNT or Plutonia map that begins with the player by a Water Well, and you can jump down it for a shotgun or something?

 

@Kapanyo:

I am not so much saying that shooters need to abandon free-look as a player mechanic, but abandon it as an assumed feature.  I think it ruins map design and possibly gameplay in some instances.  The HL2 fight against the Attack-Helo was what I thought a good example: The smart-gun on the hovercraft should simply auto-aim at the Attack-Helo and let the player drive around normally rather than forcing the player to constantly gaze upward.  I feel like everything copies COD so much as far a multiplayer is concerned, even though Instagib is the most popular way to play Quake Champions.

Furthermore, while I realistically understand that DOOM Eternal and HALO Infinite will not likely abandon their control schemes for the DOOMWORLD community, there is the ever growing market of Battle Royal and Smart Phones. If Apple and idSOFT team up make an amazing and simple BR game for iPhones, hopefully they contract some work out of the creators and players here.  Ease of use goes a long ways these days and I think the community is pretty dang principled.

So I dont think it is entirely an exaggeration. I certainly hope new (if not AAA) FPS games evoke the classic and simple controls of yesteryear.

 

(PS I updated with some Zelda commentary. I might make 1 more update to try and work out the uneaven edges or the article. But I think this is all the main content)

 

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Posted (edited)
13 hours ago, Mk7_Centipede said:

this picture from Link's Awakening

 

A Link To The Past

Sorry to be that guy... ;)

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29 minutes ago, Jayextee said:

 

A Link To The Past

Sorry to be that guy... ;)

 

Well, I did say Kotaku sucks XD

thanks though. Nothing like having an in depth article only to start misidentifying stuff.

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Great article / text!

 

I do find the lack of vertical aim in Doom quite unique and interesting, too. John Romero himself said, it would be "cheating" to use mouselook in Sigil, so there is definitely a gameplay element to it as well. Depending on wall height, gaps in said walls, windows, ledges, etc. you can steer the player's attention to things and / or hide stuff from him. Cacos as traps come to mind. One day I want to explore this aspect and map boom compatible without mouselook. In a modern GzDoom / UDMF map I think no mouselook is a bit silly.

 

The aesthetics do indeed remind of architectural photography, where a tilt-shift lens is used to get those straight vertical lines which looks quite unique and striking at times.

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42 minutes ago, elend said:

The aesthetics do indeed remind of architectural photography, where a tilt-shift lens is used to get those straight vertical lines which looks quite unique and striking at times.

 

I hadn't even thought about that - it's common in architectural photography to "correct" photos to make vertical things look vertical, even though that doesn't make physical sense, or at least would require an extremely long lens. It makes towers and so forth look more imposing than they normally would. Software Doom does this automatically, and in fact can't not do it!

 

rjJD2ud.gif

 

I think there is something to the idea that the sort of forced perspective that Doom provides gives the game a certain "hyperreality" - all towers are always perfectly vertical, and you can't even look up and get a proper perspective view of its size, it's just a permanently vertical and imposing edifice. This is also why looking up and down in the other Doom-engine games is so revolting - the further away from the horizon you get, the more warped the perspective grows. In architectural photography they warn against trying to "correct" if you're shooting at too much of an angle, because it starts to look increasingly Escher-esque.

 

oqW5pjG.gif

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I like the idea of forced perspective hipster purists. "Oh, your game has three vanishing points? That's cool, lately I've been into two point perspective, it's pretty obscure, you might not have heard of it"

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Great illustrative pictures, @Linguica. Did you shoot them around your house?

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Mixed feelings here. I think in lists:

  • Our eyes are more wide than tall, and, placed horizontally, and our heads turn horizontally much more easily than they do vertically. So, yes, we are built to pan horizontally much more naturally.
  • I don't believe the lack of Lookup/down in Doom was an artistic choice, I believe it simply wasn't developed yet.
  • Same with the lack of Z checks/the inability to walk over/under a thing. Note that this is also in line with the lack of stacked (3D) floors.

Not being artistic, I cannot confirm or deny that the lack of freelook provides an enhanced framework for the artistic quality of Doom maps, but it is an interesting thought! I can say that Doom's restrictions on geometry do affect the ability to portray and idea in a Doom map, and I would think that this was a negative trait.

 

As a counter example: Heretic and Hexen allow software freelook, but did that really alter level design drastically? Could you not replace the textures with Doom textures, and be looking at a typical Doom map? I'm asking - I don't know, one way or the other.

 

You're not forced to look up/down in Doom, but I still want to!

 

By the way, ducks are awesome :)

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