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Scorpinax

What makes classic DOOM scary?

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Despite it's seemingly outdated graphics, DOOM I and DOOM II manage to maintain a very well composed atmosphere of tension. Of course there were obvious attempts to be frightening or at least shocking: butchered and hanging corpses lie around a lot of the levels and you're oftentimes literally walking through Hell itself. 
Obviously, after sinking dozens if not hundreds of hours into DOOM the enemies tend to lose some of their scare factor: after you've dissected them in and out and learned exactly how many rockets it takes to fell a Mancubus. the scares aren't quite as fresh. But even with thousands of hours sunk into the game, I find myself experiencing that unique type of fear DOOM creates fairly often: a combination of "this is pretty horrifying" and "I can very easily die here, oh shit oh shit". 

 

What gives these games their edge, an edge many games that focus entirely on reproducing fail to recreate?

What component is the most crucial in maintaining this edge?

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Today I don't experience it to be that scary anymore. But I can remember the tension when I played it during the 90s. 

I think it is the combination of low health and monsters that can appear almost everywhere and out of nowhere. You were never really save.

And that doesn't happen anymore, because i know the original WADs too well and I became a better player with first person shooters in general. I'm simply not in that situation anymore. At least not that often.

 

... Hey now that I think about it ... There's one thing where Doom is still scary for me. And it has to do with this feeling of never being totally save. Which probably tells me that this is really the reason for me:

It is still scary when I'm in a dark room or light flickering and attacked by enemies I can't see very early. Either they are hidden behind corners or - even better - if they are Spectres.

This situation creates the same uneasyness i've experienced when playing Doom for the first time.

 

That seems to be very similar to your "I could easily die here".

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24 minutes ago, Stocki said:

There's one thing where Doom is still scary for me. And it has to do with this feeling of never being totally save. Which probably tells me that this is really the reason for me:

It is still scary when I'm in a dark room or light flickering and attacked by enemies I can't see very early. Either they are hidden behind corners or - even better - if they are Spectres.

That definitely plays a role in the experience. In fact, now that I think about it, it's something that Dead Space also has, which is another game that captures the tense atmosphere better. In that game some of the fear comes from never knowing if your enemies are totally dead, a fear which is sort of replicated by the Arch-viles ability to raise enemies, though not nearly as frightening. 
You never know if an area that you 'cleared' is really clear or not.. And theres plenty of times you return to a previously completed room only to find it full of enemies again. This is only made worse when its dark, or the enemies are hard to see, as you said.

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I remember when I was younger, I'd watch my dad blaze through the levels and then he'd ask if I wanted to play and, once I was seated in front of the keyboard, I'd always freeze up. I never wanted to walk a step forward because I was afraid of something coming after me.

Whenever I did find the courage to move I'd run around maniacally in a panic.

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11 minutes ago, Kapanyo said:

I remember when I was younger, I'd watch my dad blaze through the levels and then he'd ask if I wanted to play and, once I was seated in front of the keyboard, I'd always freeze up. I never wanted to walk a step forward because I was afraid of something coming after me.

Whenever I did find the courage to move I'd run around maniacally in a panic.

That's a great story! My first experience with DOOM was in the form of a shareware rip off called Bad Toys 3d. Even though it had cartoony, colorful graphics it still scared the crap out of me as a kid. I can't even imagine how i would have reacted to DOOM if i'd gotten my hands on it at the time.

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Lost souls, because one usually goes somewhere else and then follows you around, just to surprise you when you don't need it.

 

Basically the same goes for archviles as well, but usually because the mapper thought "hey, here have an archvile, lol".

 

Now the worst I could imagine would be mixing Amnesia into this, basically enemies that aren't enemies, because most are just "illusions", e.g. you look at them, look away, look again and they're gone. Imagine this with archviles, big NOPE for me. You'd never know which archvile is the REAL one, heh.

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I never considered classic Doom scary in any sense of the word. But then again, I wasn't exposed to classic Doom until the age of 13 anyway, and that wasn't even my entry point into the franchise. The first Doom game I ever played was actually Doom 3.

 

That's not to say classic Doom doesn't have atmospheric moments, though. But I wouldn't go as far as to call it scary.

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Doom is a strange game for me in the scares department. I think I haven't been genuinely scared playing the IWADs since I played them as a child.

 

What confuses me the most is that I'm not sure what id was trying to do when developing the game, I mean, maps like Deimos Lab can pretty unsettling (mainly because of the music), but in other instances the game doesn't even try to take itself seriously. Even Romero called Doom "humorous" at one point.

 

But, a well placed spectre or revenant can still, quite literally, make me jump from my seat. The game doesn't scare me, but it sure as hell can make me tense under certain conditions.

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It can be scary back in 1993-1998. But now when we live in modern world with 4k ultra-realistic games, people of current generation can think classic Doom is not scary, but funny.

Moreover, first version of Doom I played is PSX Doom. That is more-or-less scary game, even now. New sounds, ambient music and darker levels do their deal.

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I did, indeed, find the game occasionally scary when I first played it (even though I was an adult). It was mostly because of the traps, and less because of the hellish theme of the game. Largely, the game was a mix of exhilaration (when I was successful) and frustration (when I was repeatedly failing).

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I for one have never considered the classic Doom titles horror games and never found them scary, or, well, I did, but primarily due to age (yeah 4yrs olds playing Doom lol).

 

I see the games as using morbid imagery and elements mostly to stir a feeling of unease in the player in some maps, combined with the midi and overall atmosphere, but nothing more than this. Doom was meant to be a fun game on top of everything. Sure, for the time it came out it was very unique and like nothing else seen before, also being considered revolutionary for its time, so it was perceived as much scarier due to its ultra violent and heavy use of demonic and macabre imagery, but nowadays that's very far from how it'd be perceived by people.

 

It gradually shifted towards a more horror take later however, starting with PSX Doom which replaced lots of sounds, the music which was mostly dark ambient, and darkened the overall atmosphere and tone, then Doom 64 followed which took it even further and relied on "occult" elements even more, and finally culminating with Doom 3 which was a horror oriented shooter that sadly sacrificed the gameplay for atmosphere instead of making both complete each other.

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Diminishing lighting, cutting-edge (at the time) graphics, monster action sounds (the background noises they randomly make when they're roaming around) and Bobby Prince's spooky soundtrack.

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I for one, never found the classic games to be scary.

 

I have a friend, however, that has a fear of disembodied heads, and was terrified upon discovering John Romero's head.

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Yeah, Doom isn't scary. It's a fun action shooter. Just a cheesy shooter meant for nothing but a good time.

 

It's like being scared of the Munsters.

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I'm one of those who played Doom 2 and Final Doom before I played Doom so by the time I actually got to play Doom, I didn't find the level design and the music to be  scary at all unfortunately. From my childhood memories, the three things that scared me the most were:

 

* Facing the Cyberdemon.

* Getting the super-death scream(that thing terrified me when I was little).

* Crushers.

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What I remember about Doom from my childhood is that the game wouldn't come out for another couple decades. ;P

 

There are occasional startling jump scares, but otherwise, Doom has never been scary to me.

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Back when I first played doom, it was the only game I had seen at the time which would allow me to move around in a 3-dimensional environment. That in and of itself made it seem a lot more "real" to me than other games I played back then. Not that there were that many games I played when I was little. But it was that "realness" that sold me on the atmosphere back then. It made me come up with my own head-canon: What could this place be? What could have happened here? What is gonna be around the next corner? Those were questions I had on my mind when I played back then.

 

When I look at the game these days, that "realness" is gone. There are new things instead that made the game interesting for me, but none of which ever revolved around a subtle sort of "horror". Even though I do appreciate these moments where there's something spooky, that feeling of "realness" is dead and done in the water for me pesonally. What's left is the fighting, the fast paced run and gun, the brutal murderfests, the tight challenge-style fights. A pentagram on the floor, surrounded by a couple dead marines doesn't do anything for me anymore, it used to be the case, and in a way I miss these moments that would make me look at the screen and think twice about moving forward. People these days manage to build impressive "places" in doom, and I like that, but it's not because of the scaryness in my case.

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I feel like any level set loses any scare factor it has/had in repeat playthroughs (edit: because you know where enemies are going to be, and when the lights are going to shut off on you, etc), which may be why none of us here seem to find DOOM as scary as somebody in 1993 might. I was also introduced to the franchise by DOOM 2016, which is by far the least scary out of the entire franchise, so naturally I don't associate DOOM with horror. I instead associate it with a hell of a fun experience, in both the classic and modern titles. (also genocide of the entire demon race by the angriest video-game protagonist to ever exist) I'm leaving out DOOM 3 in this because I never played more than a few levels of it, and what I did play didn't phase me. The only thing that scares me nowadays is my internet connection failing.

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Depending on your age I think people did find it scary, but not in the jumpscare way, but rather it's a frightening game to play. All those people, who used cheatcodes to play didn't do it for no reason, they were scared to die in this game(like me). Depending on age of course or sensitivity.

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1 hour ago, Novaseer said:

I feel like any level set loses any scare factor it has/had in repeat playthroughs (edit: because you know where enemies are going to be, and when the lights are going to shut off on you, etc), which may be why none of us here seem to find DOOM as scary as somebody in 1993 might.

I agree, but only partially. If that was the case people would still be frightened by modern WADs, which of course isn't a thing, with some exceptions here and there.

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Just now, KVELLER said:

I agree, but only partially. If that was the case people would still be frightened by modern WADs, which of course isn't a thing, with some exceptions here and there.

Fair enough. DOOM isn't by any means a horror game in modern standards.

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There's something that could be said about the lower resolutions available during Doom's release. I liken it to the rise of Horror and Slasher films during the VHS era of film. Due to the lower resolution and screen cropping done during that time, a lot was left to the imagination of the viewer. The backgrounds were often dark and muddled in pixels, always keeping viewers on edge since they could not predict the location of the "monster". This generated intense dread in viewers, who may have been relieved when the "monster" finally showed up since they now know where it is. Doom's pixellated visage might have been used to such an effect, although Quake may have done it better.

 

In modern Horror films and games, we have remarkably detailed environments and backdrops. This inadvertently reduces the horror, since you know that the "monster" isn't present in the scene. This pushes jump-scares to the forefront since that's the easiest way to scare the viewers now. Doom also moved towards action-heavy design over time, removing the few horror elements it had.

 

I do consider Doom to be a horror game in some aspects. id Software was never one to shy away from taboo topics, given Wolfenstein 3D and Quake. Also, the existence of Doom 64, PSX Doom, and Doom 3 leads me to believe that id Software might have intended Doom to be a horror game of sorts.

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E1M2, first time I played Doom and finished the first level, the sudden pace change in the background music from E1M1's fast heavy music to the slightly calmer E1M2 tune is really menacing, I don't think the game as a whole is scary, but it sure does have few "suspense" moments for beginners.

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Playing keyboard only certainly made it more scary-- not being able to turn on a dime made the anticipation of what you were about to see beside you more present.

For me, playing it as a kid in the 90's knowing I probably wasn't supposed to be playing it made it scary too.

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I think it depends on the person. A sheltered kid who hasn't been very exposed to violence/gore in games and other media may still find classic Doom to be scary despite the old age graphics. However, a person who has been desensitized due to already experiencing a lot of darker media/pop culture probably won't. Go play Silent Hill 2, for example, and then turn on classic Doom and see how scary it is.

 

Edited by Reaper8888

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14 hours ago, Alfonzo said:

The game dabbles in the abstract by dint of limitation and design. Pixelated environments and pseudo-representational impressions of believable spaces take us about half way toward fully understanding the world we play in, leaving our imagination to fill in the rest with evil agency and bad juju.

That sounds pretty apt. I think the vague sense of scale and diminished lighting (per fraggle) and other things just make the game feel sort of otherworldly. I've always found something really cozy but also unnerving about representational spaces on older game engines (up through about Goldsrc). I have to wonder how much of that has to do with my age and the era of games I grew up with though.

 

It is really appealing to the imagination.

 

Do you think a part of it is also due a feeling of control? The environment is pretty static at the start of each level, and you know that moving forward, attacking, etc. could be the start of something terrible. Maybe placing this progression in the hands of the player adds to a sense of anticipation and foreboding.

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Okay, the only thing that has ever scared me in Doom was the maze in Command Control. Me and my brother were just in the maze and bam! A Pinky Demon suddenly comes out of nowhere and we scream extremely loudly! Our parents weren't in the house so they didn't hear us which I'm glad because they would ask me a billion questions on what happened and it would take like an hour so they could finally understand what actually happened.

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Classic Doom doesn't scare me in this day and age. I would say it's very tongue-in-cheek mixed in with just the right amount of serious. But back in 1993 it definitely gave me a good fright with it's macabre imagery and grisly monstrosities that would literally came out of walls or phase into existence right in front of your face only to turn said face into ribbons with a good smack. I would say that the moody atmospheric music tracks like "Dark Halls" or "Suspense" have stayed in the back of my mind ever since I first head them. I will say, however, that while taking a rocket to the face from a Cyberdemon or being suddenly ambushed by hordes of baddies made me nearly have a heart attack, it's those black empty eyes that the Baron of Hell has that scares me to this very day.

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I don't remember that I ever go really scaried in the sense that I would jump out of my chair, at least when I was playing it I had gone through some other freaky games like Phantasmagoria (and rewatching some video sequences of these on youtube, I am like wtf was I playing at 16?). Of course there are the occasional memorable traps that could be sudden and scary, especially in E1M3 when you get the blue key and the lights go off, that was one of the best moments. And the later satanic imagery.

 

But there was a certain sense of atmosphere because of many factors, like the light diminshing, the use of flickering lights, the abstract later levels, the fact that there was not enough exposition, no cinematics, story. It was just you, left in a strange world to explore. You felt you were there and wanted to check what is behind that corner.

 

I also wonder about many modern games, which while they have all the nextgen graphics to be more believable, they fail to evoke the same feelings as some oldschool FPS. One reason is that many of these games you have a walkie talkie or something, telling you where to go, paths are very linear, made up for you, it's very predictable that you are in a rollercoaster fake world, rather than a place you are left alone to survive. For me, no matter how good the graphics, the shadows, the jumpscares, the obligatory QTEs, the story exposition, many modern games just don't give me the same sense of being there and the atmosphere of many classic FPS.

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