What if Doom had been released with a polygon engine?

Imagine Doom released a couple of years earlier than it did, or even in the late 80s. The gameplay is exactly the same, fast and smooth. The controls are just as fluid. The sound is just as kickass. The levels are just as complex, with all their nooks, crannies and secrets.

But there is only one catch: there are no textures. Every wall and floor is a solid color polygon, perhaps shaded with the same distance-mapping lighting used by Doom. There might be a few "polygon textures" here and there, some composite polygon walls etc. but no true raster textures.

Would Doom still be a big hit, with everything we love about it -minus the graphics- still going for it?

IMO, yes: the gameplay would still blow anything else available at the time out of the water. In general, anything using polygon graphics at the time was boring/complex, usually simulation titles. True 3D action games were few and far between, and surely nothing like a "first person polygon-based FPS" existed (military/flight sims don't count, IMO).

Being polygon-based might even give it a few perks, like real freelook/freeaim, the possibility of having truly 3D levels or decoration (though that capability might be foregone for mapping simplicity, with the levels still being 2D but with finally rendered with a proper 3D perspective). It might also allow Doom to be released a few years earlier than it did, though not MUCh earlier: polygon-based 3D games could grow quite demanding too (getting a smooth framerate from a game like e.g. 4D Sports Racing or Microprose Grand Prix required a 486 at full detail, and those were 1990/1992 titles!).

Sprites and monsters might still be 2D, or they could be polygon based 3D models too...in that latter case there's an obvious risk of making everything look much more ridiculous and "cyberspace-y". Voxels is another possiblity, but given the amount of work required to make animated voxels, I doubt id would've bothered.

So, what do you think? Would Doom still be a big innovator/a major gameplay singularity?

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Gameplay rules. I say yes, it would. Perhaps we would worship textureless old games now, and what? I can imagine that. Solid color walls can be used in a reasonable way to look good, after all.

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Nope. Even if it was released at the same time as Quake II with comparable polygons it wouldn't be anywhere near as big a deal as it was. The timing and execution were ideal for when it came out and that is a large part of its legacy.

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Why would no textures be required? Descent came out only a year after Doom (December 1994) and had fully texture-mapped 3D level design. Granted, Descent was hopeless on anything less than a 486 but you could recover some performance by reverting Descent's 3D enemies to sprites.

It should be noted, however, that Descent's level format is much more limited than Doom's, being made of six-sided sectors (called cubes but not necessarily cubic; they can be stretched, squashed, and otherwise distorted as long as they still have six flat sides) joined together through linked portals. There aren't really any of the funky shapes, windows and slots in walls, and smooth flow you see in Doom levels. Without the gravity-defying 3D movement in the original Descent the result would probably be not unlike Tom Hall's alpha levels.

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As long as the gameplay and the lighting effects are still there, then yes, it would have still been a big success. The engine (3D, no textures) that you describe is comparable to Star Fox, which was pretty successful.

The only hesitation I have is that the levels might have been harder to make (Doom's flat 2D levels makes it really easy to draw them out). Maybe the fan-made levels scene would not have been so large.

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It would look really freaky....I think old early polygon models are terrifying, I guess because they tend to be a bit glitchy and stretchy....same with some sprites in some games too.

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Woolie Wool said:

Why would no textures be required?


Read the premise again: Doom being released a couple of years (or more) earlier than it was, when texture mapping was not even considered viable outside of the demoscene, CAD graphics or the realm of expensive VR simulators. Perhaps even with a cross-platform release on Amiga and Atari ST.

However, just for the sake of completeness, let's recall that Shadow Racer VR (1995), Pyrotechnica (1994) and last but not least, fade to black (1996) all had polygon-based engines. Fade To Black looks close to what I had in mind, but it's unlikely that a poly-based game of that quality could run on 1990 hardware. Being poly-based doesn't mean they are "easy" games to run: they all had equal or higher requirements than Doom.

If all sprites were 3D models though, that'd have other consequences: they'd be much harder on the renderer, and the animation system would be very different, perhaps skeleton-based (but movement and rotations would be smoother). But 2D sprites with a 3D environment was the most common approach for non-simulator 3D titles, so I think they'd still should go with 2D sprites.

The truth is that even plain polys can be made to look good with proper shading (gouraoud, phong etc.), but those modes of shading were not widely used in games: they were quite CPU intensive, to the point that it was more efficient to just use textures, at that point. When 3D accelerators came, all offered texturing by default, so games with high -but untextured- poly counts were not really fully explored, at least not on the PC.

@Phobus: I don't get the Quake II comparison.

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Maes said:

Imagine Doom released a couple of years earlier than it did, or even in the late 80s. The gameplay is exactly the same, fast and smooth. The controls are just as fluid. The sound is just as kickass. The levels are just as complex, with all their nooks, crannies and secrets.

But there is only one catch: there are no textures. Every wall and floor is a solid color polygon, perhaps shaded with the same distance-mapping lighting used by Doom. There might be a few "polygon textures" here and there, some composite polygon walls etc. but no true raster textures.

Would Doom still be a big hit, with everything we love about it -minus the graphics- still going for it?

IMO, yes: the gameplay would still blow anything else available at the time out of the water. In general, anything using polygon graphics at the time was boring/complex, usually simulation titles. True 3D action games were few and far between, and surely nothing like a "first person polygon-based FPS" existed (military/flight sims don't count, IMO).

Being polygon-based might even give it a few perks, like real freelook/freeaim, the possibility of having truly 3D levels or decoration (though that capability might be foregone for mapping simplicity, with the levels still being 2D but with finally rendered with a proper 3D perspective). It might also allow Doom to be released a few years earlier than it did, though not MUCh earlier: polygon-based 3D games could grow quite demanding too (getting a smooth framerate from a game like e.g. 4D Sports Racing or Microprose Grand Prix required a 486 at full detail, and those were 1990/1992 titles!).

Sprites and monsters might still be 2D, or they could be polygon based 3D models too...in that latter case there's an obvious risk of making everything look much more ridiculous and "cyberspace-y". Voxels is another possiblity, but given the amount of work required to make animated voxels, I doubt id would've bothered.

So, what do you think? Would Doom still be a big innovator/a major gameplay singularity?


I guess it would have been a success at first, but would be even more niche (or forgotten) now. The original Starfox is a fun game but still feels like a museum exhibit rather than an actual game these days. Doom just hit all the sweet spots at the time, which is why it is still remembered as a classic today (and Doom 3 isn't.)

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Maes said:

gouraoud

Gouraud. Gou'raoud are the badguys in Stargate. :p

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It may have become an initial success but I doubt it'd have had any longevity. Doom as it was released hit a sweet spot that made it appear revolutionary. The texture mapping was a major factor (if not THE major factor) in it.

Take that out and we end up with a generic game that tried to push boundaries but wouldn't have managed to obliterate them.

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That's what the monochrome doom project tried to do, and it was succesful and even in greyscale.

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Graf Zahl said:

Take that out and we end up with a generic game that tried to push boundaries but wouldn't have managed to obliterate them.


Well, that's exactly what I've been wondering: even if you take the texture mapping away (as some "minimal" ZDoom mods that use single-color flats and textures can prove), you'd still have a kick-ass game, which would beat any other 3D Action game not just for 1990 or 1993, but, as far as we've been able to tell, forever. There would simply be no comparison with all those boring and technical simulators (especially anything involving flying), or even titles like Stellar 7 or all those battlezone clones. As far as I can tell, no other 3D game had as much action and as complex levels as Doom, not even fully 3D games like Castle Master (which felt more like an experimental 3D world sandbox with a bunch of building and objects roaming around and quite complicated, stiff controls).

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I agree it would have been very well received, but it would not have aged gracefully like the Doom we know has.

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Perhaps, when the SC was released, or even sooner, on one of its sequels, texture mapping could be added (e.g. Doom II could be textured, or the first thing source ports would do would be adding texture support).

This also means that the engine could be very different at its core (not the same thing as drawing monochrome textures, it would not be column-based at all). OTOH, starting from a fully polygonal engine, it would be easier to transition to hardware acceleration and to hardware texturing...

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Mike.Reiner said:

I agree it would have been very well received, but it would not have aged gracefully like the Doom we know has.

Why? Flat shaded polygons look highly stylized and hardly age at all.

I can't say the same thing about early "photorealistic" art, which wasn't all that flawless.

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Da Werecat said:

Why? Flat shaded polygons look highly stylized and hardly age at all.


Maybe if there are enough of them so that you don't realize you're looking at polygons ;-) Texture mapping is certainly a much easier shortcut to making things look more detailed than they are. It's like painting a facade vs actually building something.

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Maes said:

Maybe if there are enough of them so that you don't realize you're looking at polygons ;-)

Well, if the "photorealism" is the only way to "age gracefully", then yes, you need a ridiculous amount of polygons.

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Much of why I liked Doom so much was because of the texture mapping.

Maybe others would feel different but I think it would just look bad. Flat shaded polygons with no textures look awful to me.

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Da Werecat said:

Why? Flat shaded polygons look highly stylized and hardly age at all.



Maybe to you - but it's not a technology that would have been perceived as groundbreaking. About the aging I strongly disagree.

Even today, a well made Doom level looks like a simple predecessor to modern games.

Flat shaded polygons just look old. This is a kind of technology that has come and gone and wouldn't be able to impress anyone these days. The results are just *too* abstract.

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Graf Zahl said:

Even today, a well made Doom level looks like a simple predecessor to modern games.

You hit the nail with "looks like". I think most people on these forums don't admire Doom because of visuals anyway. Instead, it's something to do with playability (or perhaps, modability). That's why I said I could imagine the game to stay alive similarly as it does in this real world.

But your point is correct IMO. When I think about it, even modern Doom leveldesign and highly developed textures aren't enough for a convincing modern-gamey feel, (G)ZDoom elaborated mods aside.

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Graf Zahl said:

Flat shaded polygons just look old.

Retro.

Indie developers like this kind of simplicity. Probably because it's very hard to make it look ugly, unlike fully textured worlds.

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Maes said:

Well, that's exactly what I've been wondering: even if you take the texture mapping away (as some "minimal" ZDoom mods that use single-color flats and textures can prove), you'd still have a kick-ass game, which would beat any other 3D Action game not just for 1990 or 1993, but, as far as we've been able to tell, forever. There would simply be no comparison with all those boring and technical simulators (especially anything involving flying), or even titles like Stellar 7 or all those battlezone clones. As far as I can tell, no other 3D game had as much action and as complex levels as Doom, not even fully 3D games like Castle Master (which felt more like an experimental 3D world sandbox with a bunch of building and objects roaming around and quite complicated, stiff controls).


One game that came close was Terminator for DOS...and no I'm not talking Future Shock or Rampage or anything like that. I mean the game that re tells the first film where you roam a full 3D L.A and have to survive while you chase your target. The gameplay was a little slow granted, it is 3 years older than Doom, but there was still violence and action, even driving cars and running people over.

There aren't many videos of it on YouTube, but I have some.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ix9iD64pV4
Here's me playing it badly.

I imagine if Doom came out as an old polygon game, it would resemble this....all be it in a military base and hell as opposed to L.A.

Or it might look like Robocop 3, which came out the same year as Doom.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JhCTBjBbOY

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Hah no, but it would still have that blocky feel to it, just grey blocks instead of bright yellow ones...or look more like Robocop with that colour scheme.

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Woolie Wool said:

It should be noted, however, that Descent's level format is much more limited than Doom's, being made of six-sided sectors (called cubes but not necessarily cubic; they can be stretched, squashed, and otherwise distorted as long as they still have six flat sides) joined together through linked portals. There aren't really any of the funky shapes, windows and slots in walls, and smooth flow you see in Doom levels. Without the gravity-defying 3D movement in the original Descent the result would probably be not unlike Tom Hall's alpha levels.

As a Descent mapper who has also messed around with Quake mapping, I can't say this is entirely accurate of Descent's limitations. In fact I find it to be essentially the exact opposite of Quake maps:

- Quake gives you six-sided brushes that you "add to" the level.
- Descent gives you six-sided segments that you "subtract from" the level.

Descent does have funky geometry here and there. For example, level 7 (the last in the shareware) had a half-sphere-like shape with a door underneath it. User-made levels generally stayed boxy (they play the best in deathmatch/"anarchy") but a few would have more complex geometry. A simple structure such as, a window with three bars can have the segments warped to "wrap around" these bars. Through this principle, one can make all sorts of crazy geometry that you can't do in an engine like Doom's such as, say, a pair of asteroids next to one another with an entire level's worth of geometry contained within them. But a lot of such structures could be easier to make in an engine like Quake's (especially since Quake's brushes do not need to be/aren't connected)
That said, you can easily tell which levels in Descent were likely developed the earliest: they're most likely the ones that consist of standard-width-and-height tunnels going everywhere. :)
True 3D environments were new then, so it took a while for people to experiment with weird systems like these.

Da Werecat said:

Why? Flat shaded polygons look highly stylized and hardly age at all.


okay.

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No, I don't think so. There may have been initial success but polygon graphics would have got old quickly and people would have moved on to textured "Doom clones" that looked prettier when they arrived. I think a polygon version would have been acknowledged for a long time as "important" but moved past much more quickly by players. I don't see me playing such a game for 20 years anyway.

As others have said, Doom hit a "sweet spot" with its release, technology and other things-wise. Let's not forget that the often mentioned "realistic graphics" were a very big part of what made Doom the sensation that it was too.

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Phobus said:

Nope. Even if it was released at the same time as Quake II with comparable polygons it wouldn't be anywhere near as big a deal as it was. The timing and execution were ideal for when it came out and that is a large part of its legacy.



i have to agree with this, doom's "2.5d" engine was a shining example of what one could do with sprites.

one of the reasons this game is still popular 20 years later is its neat, seamless in-game world. less advanced in a technical sense than the polygon-based engines that came after quake, but it looks good, and frankly, who cares what technology his game uses as long as it looks good (stunning, even, in 1993-94).

i don't use 3d models in ports like doomsday because they stand out, as opposed to the original sprites in their environment. then consider what blocky models of around 200 polys quake has, and it was designed to run on computers with several times the power of those able to run doom. quakeguy's face is one flat block, ffs. what would doomguy have looked like?

such graphics look too abstract, too much like cyberspace to keep people immersed. doom didn't have this uncanny valley. polygon-based graphics took off with geometry processors. but at that time, sprites were a much better solution.

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The "shading" used in that mechwarrior pic is not even flat shading that actually changes the color/lighting level: it's simply a kind of constant-pattern fill that was used to create primitive "shadows" and "transparency" effects, create color dithering or to give a pseudo-textured look to polygons.

It cannot even be called shading proper, but when you have a grand total of 16 colors to work with...well.... I recall some early 3D accelerator cards in 1996-1997 still used this effect to simulate "alpha blending", making even properly textured games look like crappy polygons.

@Xegethra: I wasn't aware of that Terminator title. The graphics engine and the driving scenes remind me of Test Drive 3, from around the same time. I think everyone can plainly tell why such a title wouldn't ever get ahead: before Doom, 3D meant boring and slow. Even in 1993 Doom had hardly any competition (except maybe from Wolf3D) in its department, in 1990 it would have been ultra-revolutionary just for the gameplay. A 3D game that's actually NOT a cure for insomnia?! Stop the presses (for the next 20 years)!

Robocop seems a bit less insomnia-inducing, but then again it came after (!) Doom and certainly had better controls than Terminator. I think the poly graphics, in that case, were due to the cross-platform release to the Amiga, which could just barely handle solid polygons, but not textures at playable framerates. Which reminds me...a polygon engine might make Doom more "palatable" on the Amiga as well...what would have been its course then?

Doom got a lot of things right, not just the graphics. Even if it graphically WASN'T the most advanced title of its era, it certainly had one of the best combinations of graphics, gameplay, sound and controls. Take away one or more of those elements, and you end up with Terminator. Or Ultima Underworld ;-)

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