When we interviewed id Software earlier this week about its amazing E3 demo of DOOM III, one of the things the developers kept stressing was the fact that everything was being rendered live by a fully functional game engine. And though we had no reason to doubt them (we've been covering id Software games and John Carmack long enough to know better), there appeared to be some skepticism at the show over whether it was real gameplay footage being shown. Complicating matters was an apparent rule (unknown to me, to be honest) that to be considered for E3's Best of Show, your game has to be in a playable form ... something that technically wasn't proven by the show display for DOOM III.
Cut to: late Friday afternoon. I'm not really sure how it happened, but fellow GameSpy writer Fargo and I have suddenly found ourselves in a small room with DOOM III lead designer Tim Willits, demonstrating that we weren't simply watching a demo, but that the game is indeed playable (although obviously a long way off from completion). If anything, seeing Tim play the game live was even more amazing than the demo.
Tim started by loading up the first sequence of actual gameplay from the demo -- if you've seen it, it's the area where your character first runs into a group of zombies after everything in the UAC installation has (quite literally) gone to hell. To start, Tim showed off the astounding physics and collision detection of the engine by shooting a box off a shelf, and then shooting it around the floor. No matter where he shot the box, it spun and moved just the way you'd expect it to in real life.
Tim then rounded the corner, where he met up with the first wave of zombies. After quickly disposing of them with the pistol, he pulled down the console and spawned in a few other creatures from the demo, including the imp, the pinkydemon, and the commando. Using the shotgun and assault rifle this time, he disposed of them as well, leaving behind some very prominent blood smears. After defeating the pinkydemon (a short, silvery, pudgy creature about twice as long as it was high), Tim called up the vertex map for the enemy, showing that it really wasn't made up of all that many polygons, but instead it was the new bumpmapped textures that gave it such a smooth look.
Another thing we took a close look at was the Flash-like system Robert Duffy had built for on-screen displays -- in particular, the ammo counter on the top of the assault rifle. As Tim fired the weapon, you could see the very well-rendered digits counting down, even with the gun jerking all around the screen.
The highlight of Tim's demonstration was saved for last, however, as he showed the power of the dynamic lighting system. He first entered a room with a swinging fluorescent light fixture, which caused shadows to move back and forth in harmony with the light. With a couple of commands at the console, he then turned all the overhead lights OFF, leaving him in near-total darkness with a single bad guy, with only muzzle flash and some faint flickering machinery to light the area. And although the screen was practically pitch black, the effect was huge from a psychological standpoint ... I'd have been pretty panicked if this had happened to me playing the game. You'd have to believe the lights are going to go out once or twice in the final product...
In our interview with John Carmack earlier this week, he indicated that his goal with the new engine wasn't to build a feature set that would please potential licensees -- it was to build an engine that would work best for DOOM III. If nothing else, Tim's demonstration showed how tightly intergrated the engine and game design will be -- the shadows and lighting aren't just a gimmick or a component of the engine, they're an important part of gameplay, and it's our guess that DOOM III (as id Software is envisioning it) probably couldn't have been built in any existing game engine.
As a point of clarification, Tim explained that the reason the game was shown as it was to make sure that everyone got the same experience without load times or the risk of the presenter making a mistake, or worse, getting killed. So for everyone wondering, yes, the engine works, the game is playable, and yes, it looks THAT good. •