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GoatLord

How would you describe Doom's aesthetic?

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To me, it is essentially a mix of cyberpunk, gothic, arcane, militaristic, industrial, retro-future, occultist, Lovecraftian, Gigeresque and Satanic. I've really never encountered another shooter shooter with such a wide and odd mix of styles. Maybe I'm just being rose-tinted.

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To me it really all depends on the level. Episode 1 and 2 were obviously military and science installments. Episode 3 was hell and tech, and E4 was... Something...?

For Doom 2 it really depends on the level. Most of the early levels just seem like random buildings, the city levels were like a post apocalyptic 90's city. And then you've got abstract extra stuff and yada yada. I could go on all day.

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Doom's aesthetic can onl'y be described as "Doom's aesthetic" to be honest.

That's the only way I could describe it, especially in the modern gaming era where everything is far more realistic. I guess pixelated, abstract, satanic, tech base and awesome all come to mind, but you honestly just have to see it to understand.

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Doomkid said:

Doom's aesthetic can onl'y be described as "Doom's aesthetic" to be honest.

That's the only way I could describe it, especially in the modern gaming era where everything is far more realistic. I guess pixelated, abstract, satanic, tech base and awesome all come to mind, but you honestly just have to see it to understand.


Yeah, in fact, you could say that games like Heretic, Hexen, etc. have a Doom aesthetic. I mean, the game was so popular that anyone with a little knowledge of 90's games will know what you're talking about.

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I'd say, Heretic and Hexen are too consistent in their styles to be compared to Doom. Their developers didn't just throw everything they liked into the pot, they've created cohesive worlds. One of them is weirder than the other, but it still looks more "professionally" designed than the world of Doom. It's a strength and a weakness at the same time.

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For the first Doom, it's a mix of sci-fi and horror essentially. You've got aspects of a sci-fi military base, concrete and structural with radioactive waste and high tech doors and lifts and things of that sort, and then aspects of a hellish nightmare such as walls of flesh and pools of blood. Which one is more dominant depends on the episode, with episode 1 being mostly sci-fi, episode 3 being mostly horror, episode 2 falling somewhere in between since it's a base in hell.

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Semi-realistic and semi-abstract sci-fi mixed with semi-horrific and semi-arcade-like depiction of hell.

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I always liked to think of Doom as Death Metal: the video game, the imagery is very much like it, with a dash of sci-fi on top of it.

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Yeah, I get that vibe a lot. Doom's boxart looks like it would belong on an old school death metal album cover. The game in general has many of extreme metal's themes.

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Doom's art assets undoubtedly have a stereotypical "heavy metal" aesthetic, the kind you saw in 80s Metal bands' album covers and posters. In fact, I'd say it has a very mid-late 80s aesthetic, despite being made in the 90s.

The visual quirks of the engine itself did the rest, crystallizing its aesthetic in gaming terms.

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nxGangrel said:

. . . you've got abstract extra stuff . . .

Doomkid said:

. . . I guess pixelated, abstract, satanic, tech base and awesome . . .

scifista42 said:

Semi-realistic and semi-abstract sci-fi mixed with semi-horrific and semi-arcade-like depiction of hell.



A lot of great descriptions in this thread, and I think we're all on roughly the same page. But, for me, the most unique element of Doom's aesthetic -- especially compared to modern games -- is its abstractness. Even supposedly 'normal' tech-bases are weird in their layout and design.

I'm sure this was incidental: There wasn't a huge insistence on realism in aid of immersion back when Doom came out. People didn't insist upon it or even expect it, so gameplay and visuals informed the layouts, rather than what made 'sense.'

[And this comes up every time we talk about classic Doom], but a big part of the aesthetic of Doom comes down to the limitations of the engine, and PCs at the time. Firstly, it wasn't easy to map for original Doom, and even if you had weeks to work on a map, there was the visplane limit to contend with - this lead to beautiful, abstract chunky design, by necessity.

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John Romero admitted that, near the end of development, he quit caring about believable structures and was just going for the fun factor. Apparently, the big room near the end of E1M2 was when he started going crazy with the abstract architecture. Awesome yet impractical.

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schwerpunk said:

A lot of great descriptions in this thread, and I think we're all on roughly the same page. But, for me, the most unique element of Doom's aesthetic -- especially compared to modern games -- is its abstractness. Even supposedly 'normal' tech-bases are weird in their layout and design.

I'm sure this was incidental: There wasn't a huge insistence on realism in aid of immersion back when Doom came out. People didn't insist upon it or even expect it, so gameplay and visuals informed the layouts, rather than what made 'sense.'

[And this comes up every time we talk about classic Doom], but a big part of the aesthetic of Doom comes down to the limitations of the engine, and PCs at the time. Firstly, it wasn't easy to map for original Doom, and even if you had weeks to work on a map, there was the visplane limit to contend with - this lead to beautiful, abstract chunky design, by necessity.


After mapping for a while I realized making "realistic" structures suck. And they often totally ruin a layout (or have a bad one to begin with). When I started working on Quake style levels it was much more fun for me to play and often looked better.

I think Quake's level design was far superior to Doom's. It seem more abstract and looked and played better. On the other hand, despite having four different dimensions, all the levels looked the same, while Doom had variety.

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I dunno if I would say that Doom displays that many styles. To me, I'll go with the boring answer, it's just an abstract base, with an abstract hell.

So basically out of those all I see is militaristic, and Hell/Satanic styles. A bit spacey/futuristic yes, but only really bare bones, it doesn't scream a complex mix of styles.

I know the architecture is limited, but to enhance those styles they could have placed many more say, giant plasma screens on the walls, more computer terminals all through textures, more light imitating textures too....but no, it was such a sparsely decorated game that most styles don't really come off. I guess the demons feed off of interior design.

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Space stations/outposts and hell. Simple as that. Once you got to Doom 2 you could add "city" and "haunted house" to that list.

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nxGangrel said:

After mapping for a while I realized making "realistic" structures suck. And they often totally ruin a layout (or have a bad one to begin with). When I started working on Quake style levels it was much more fun for me to play and often looked better.

I think Quake's level design was far superior to Doom's. It seem more abstract and looked and played better. On the other hand, despite having four different dimensions, all the levels looked the same, while Doom had variety.


Well, Duke 3D seems to have relatively believable level designs and I happen to think they're quite good.

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"Retro" is the biggest part of it for me, in all respects. The technology of the techbases isn't cutting-edge, it's clunky, chunky, full of room-filling computer boxes, the Mars moon bases as built with 1970s technology. The hell aesthetic doesn't break new ground, the medieval/Gothic/baroque structures and elements are tried-and-true classic depictions of hell and even the Giger and flesh-horror elements harken back largely to Aliens and Hellraiser of the mid-late 1980s. Even without considering the ruinous effects of Hell's influence and presence, the human-built spaces have a grimy, lived-in feel, full of cut corners and bodge jobs, with clean spaces and textures serving mostly to emphasise just how grungy the rest of the place is. It's a depiction of a deliberately old and outdated future.

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MetroidJunkie said:

Well, Duke 3D seems to have relatively believable level designs and I happen to think they're quite good.

Yes but keep in mind Duke3D runs on the build engine.

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I've always said it was lovecraftian. I mean it's obvious that it takes it's own spin on lovecraftian shit, but still.

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TheOrganGrinder said:

"Retro" is the biggest part of it for me, in all respects. The technology of the techbases isn't cutting-edge, it's clunky, chunky, full of room-filling computer boxes, the Mars moon bases as built with 1970s technology. The hell aesthetic doesn't break new ground, the medieval/Gothic/baroque structures and elements are tried-and-true classic depictions of hell and even the Giger and flesh-horror elements harken back largely to Aliens and Hellraiser of the mid-late 1980s. Even without considering the ruinous effects of Hell's influence and presence, the human-built spaces have a grimy, lived-in feel, full of cut corners and bodge jobs, with clean spaces and textures serving mostly to emphasise just how grungy the rest of the place is. It's a depiction of a deliberately old and outdated future.



I agree. In Doom 2 the city textures hardly seem "futuristic" - they are low-tech, predominately made of wood and plaster, and seem like a dry run for Quake's medieval textures. What does this say about Doom's conception of future Earth?

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SavageCorona said:

http://i.imgur.com/EiV6ysh.png

All of these. Yes Doom's style is DOOM2.WAD too.

Based on this one might make a broad, educated guess at Doom's aesthetic as a combination of:
1. Hell
2. Base
3. Wood

Which, funnily enough isn't too far off the mark. :)

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There's something I've always found nightmarish about the overuse of wood in "Thy Flesh Consumed." It made the environments seem very arcane. As mentioned already, Doom 2's cities look very old and worn. That may possibly be why Doom 4 was set in a very contemporary (rather than futuristic) city.

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i think that the games' asthetic means to take itself seriously. of course everything is stylized, but i think out of necessity. i remember reading a quote from john carmack where he stated that one of the motivations for him to develop doom 3 was that he believed with modern graphics they could create a visual experience closer to what they had originally envisioned. so i think any cartoony part of character design was a result of the technical limitations of the day.

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jute said:

What does this say about Doom's conception of future Earth?


the poor were forced into ghettos while the super rich worshipped satan?

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