Hello everyone and it seems we are making good progress through 2018. But I have a question. What do you do when you see bread that has gone stale and mouldy? You throw it out and hit the shops (unless eating mouldy bread is your thing?). In this post, we discuss what it means to ‘reboot’ a series and why it happens.
In need of a face-lift
Have you noticed that in an established series, all of a sudden there’s like a complete wipe to everything’s that happened before and now you’re wondering what just happened? Everything seems different to what you’ve seen before, as if someone flicked a switch somewhere. This is known as a ‘reboot’, a refreshing of all continuity within an established series. It is a reimagining/restructuring of the characters, timeline or story of an established series from the beginning. Think of it in terms of computers – to reboot a computer is to restart the operating system.
There are a couple of reasons why the decision to reboot a series is made. A reboot can bring about new (or renewed) interest from fans to a series that has started to grow stale and tired. As a series goes on and on, keeping audience retention becomes harder if audiences start to get disinterested with the series. When this happens, the decision to ‘reboot’ is usually not far off.
In terms of films, where reboots often occur, reboots gives the series a chance to be reinvented, allowing the casting of new actors, locations and stories in an effort to attract new target audiences and refreshing things. Long-running film series are most at risk of being given a reboot.
The James Bond film series, going since 1962, went through a major reboot with 2006’s Casino Royale. The previous entry, Die Another Die, had been criticised for being saturated with product-placement and over-reliance on gadgets and special-effects at the expense of any sensible plot. Having seen the film, I kind of have to agree. The film started of ‘believable’ but the plot was discarded in exchange for over-the-top action sequences, such as the shootout between Bond’s ‘invisible’ Aston Martin and Zao’s pimped-up Jaguar that dragged out far too long. Did I also mention the film was product-placement heavy? After the mixed reviews, the filmmakers, Eon, had decided on rebooting the series and going back to simplicity. With this direction also came a change of Bond himself. Pierce Brosan left (I personally felt he was a great Bond) and in came Daniel Craig.
Other media sources can also be rebooted such as TV series, books, and of course, videogames. As this blog primarily discusses videogames, as a case study, there is one particular game series I would like to focus on. It has become a legendary series that has long cemented its place within the industry. That series is Doom.
The Doom Beginning
At its core, the Doom series is a first-person shooter, consisting of the player moving from room-to-room shooting hordes and hordes of demons and undead from Hell in order to survive. The player is often an unnamed marine, popularly known as the ‘Doom Guy’, using only his tenacity and an array of advanced weaponry for survival. While the concept may seem generic now, when the first Doom game was first released in 1993, it was considered revolutionary in setting up the first-person shooter genre we come to know.
One of the groundbreaking aspects of the original Doom was the game engine. Although looking outdated now, for its time, it was considered relatively advanced and realistic 3D graphics. The engine included full texture mapping, varying light levels, and height differences of in-game objects. Doom’s visual highlights were greatly enhanced as a result. The use of darkness acted to confuse players and heighten tension. Various in-game objects were dynamic, such as moveable platforms, floors rising to form staircases, and doors opening and closing.
Doom was technologically impressive and a critical and commercial success
Although appearing to be 3D, the graphics depicted by the Doom engine were not true 3D. They are internally represented on a single plane, which is a flat, 2D surface with an infinite range. This is most obvious when moving and turning. As the player turns about, the engine will ‘compensate’ for this, giving the impression they are 3D. In other words, the engine used ‘graphical trickery’ to make it appear objects were moving. This was brought about so that the game could run smoothly for home computers of 1993.
When Doom was released, it received critical acclaim to the point where it was considered to be one of the most influential titles in the industry. Praise was given to the gameplay and graphics. In a poll done by GameSpy in 2001, Doom topped the list. Similarly, in its 10-year anniversary issue, PC Gamer considered Doom the most influential game of all time. The game eventually sold between 2-3 million copies through to 1999, being played by millions and millions. The game’s developers, id Software, jokingly said they expected Doom to be ‘the number one cause of decreased productivity in businesses around the world.’
First Reboot: Doom 3
The series have been an immense success, with the style of Doom firmly established. By 1997, four main Doom games were released. The gaming community was well aware of what Doom was and the influence it brought about to the industry and community alike. The fast-paced, run-and-gun nature inspired many other games. As a testament to Doom’s popularity, many of these games were known as ‘Doom clones’ for featuring many of the same features. Id Software licensed their game engine to other developers, who released their own titles using the same technology.
It was approaching the year 2000 and id Software had just finished their latest project, Quake 3 Arena, a multiplayer-orientated shooter. But it was at this time that the company were reaching a ‘creative crossroad’ as to where they should go next. As Joseph Cirllo writes, ‘id needed to make a decision on what their next great game would be and at this point had no direction to go into. The only thing they knew for certain was that the focus for this next game would be single player. There were complaints from the press and even the players over the fact that Quake 3 Arena was a multiplayer only title, and id was ready to go back to doing a well organised single-player game.’
With each iteration of Doom, the formula was usually the same run-and-gun action you’d come to associate with the series, just with better graphics each time. Id Software had a reputation of going back to what it knew best; what they were known for. By the fourth Doom game, it seemed the formula was getting tired and worn out, as were some of the employees. Project manager Graeme Devine then proposed an idea to id Software owners, Kevin Cloud and Adrian Carmack, which was to develop a role-playing/action game called Quest.
Despite the owners’ liking the idea of trying something new, Quest never materialised because there were many at the company who opposed it. One of the arguments was that id Software was known for the action games, and to develop a role-playing game was unlike anything they had ever done. ‘It would also mean they would cater to a whole new set of players, and these gamers wouldn’t know who id Software was and would be sceptical of their game’ (Kent, Kushner).
One of the chief employees to argue against Quest was none other than game engine designer, John Carmack (and who you may remember from this post about virtual reality ). By 2000, technology had advanced considerably since the original Doom. Carmack had been doing research on the latest tech to see how far he could make the next graphics engine go. What he learned was good. He had ideas that they could create a new Doom taking advantage of these technologies, creating ultra-realistic settings and locations that took Doom to a whole new level, allowing them to do things they could never have done in 1993. A technology enthusiast, he sent an internal company plan in June 2000, strongly accounting plans for a remake. Many of his fellow colleagues agreed that a remake was the right decision.
However, Kevin and Adrian hated the idea of doing a remake. As Joseph Cirillo writes, ‘In their minds Doom was perfect and if they tried to change the perfection of Doom by making a new game that in any way wasn’t like the first it could very well alienate their fan base from them. Their games had catered to a specific range of users, and those users stayed with them throughout the whole company’s life span. If they created a game that was unlike anything they had done before, it would separate id from their fans and could cost them thousands of dollars in unsold games.’
Carmack, along with several other colleagues, presented the two owners an ultimatum. Either they would allow the team to remake Doom, or they would leave. Carmack did not want to purposely creative divisions; he had the company’s interests at heart. Doom had made id into the company it was and sales of a new Doom with the latest tech could be lucrative. After this meeting, both Kevin and Adrian reluctantly agreed. Instead of their preferred Quest, id’s next project would be Doom 3.
John Carmack, a veteran of id Software and one of the main reasons why Doom 3 was developed instead of Quest
Doom 3 is instantly different from previous titles in the series. The most obvious difference is graphically. The game was released in 2004 and it looked stunning. The graphics portrayed a startling realistic feel, and coupled with the lighting and shadows, made the setting unnervingly creepy and life-like. But in terms of gameplay, the biggest difference was that it now featured a dedicated story.
Story in Doom had never been apparent or necessary before, yet with the direction of Doom 3, having a discernible plot along with the modern graphics, visuals and sound would help to create a truly unforgettable experience, which was what Carmack was looking for. The theme of the game also shifted. Rather than the fast-paced, run-and-gun people knew, Doom 3 focused on survival horror, fighting hordes of demons and undead in dark and dingy environments.
I have played Doom 3 myself many times and I fondly remember being apprehensive and on edge, but also fully taken in by all the visual aspects of the game. I can truly say that I felt the same way as the many media publication that came to see the in-progress game at E3 2002. As Cirillo explains, ‘during the twelve minute demo the press was treated to what could only be described at the time as a quality presentation on par with what the movie company Pixar had done. The game had surpassed all expectations and saw numerous awards from E3 for the year.’ It won five awards that year, and it wasn’t even released yet!
Doom 3 displayed graphically impressive visuals, leading to disturbingly life-like details, which also highlighted the survival-horror theme of the game
A lot of the core elements carried over to Doom 3. You still play a silent protagonist – the Doom Guy – and you still move from place to place killing hostiles, albeit at a slower pace. The setting was at a research facility on Mars, where the science team were working on teleportation tech. Testing it out multiple times, they unwittingly stumble into the realm of Hell…and literally all Hell breaks loose. Naturally being one of the few survivors, the Doom Guy must take it upon himself to survive using his skills and weaponry, hallmarks of the series. It turns out an ancient civilisation on Mars had been battling the Hellish hordes eons before. In an effort to stop the invasion, they had sacrificed their entire race, with their ‘souls’ being transferred to a weapon called the Soul Cube. This weapon was wielded by their mightiest warrior. He succeeded in sealing the portal to Hell but at the cost of his life. Somehow, the Soul Cube would become trapped in Hell itself. The player fights his way through, successfully frees it and uses it to destroy Hell’s own mightiest warrior, the towering Cyber Demon.
The anticipation during development, and then the success upon release seemed to justify Carmack’s decision to create a remake. Reviews were positive and focused much on the graphics and visualisation. GameSpot commented that the environments were ‘convincingly lifelike, densely atmospheric, and surprisingly expansive’. Several reviews noted on the dedicated storyline, with IGN writing ‘the UAC base also has a very worn and lived-in feel that adds to the realism.’
While Doom 3 was released in 2003, there would not be another Doom title for over a decade (discounting its expansion and the BFG Edition). Work had begun on a new title, tentatively called Doom 4, but this never came about. Instead, after many long delays, we had ourselves the second reboot of the series.
Second reboot: Doom (2016)
Doom 3 had set many benchmarks in the industry and community that another Doom game seemed likely to build upon the success. That idea was Doom 4, which was announced in May 2008. John Carmack stated the game would look ‘three times better’ than their recent project, Rage. It would be planned to run on the id Tech 5 game engine, the latest version, and so be that better.
The initial development of Doom 4 was supposed to be a reworking of Doom 2. In terms of story, Doom 4 would have taken place in a more urban environment. Conceptual art and screenshots suggested that the player was caught in the middle of an invasion of demons on Earth. It would have been a literally hell on earth scenario.
However, things slowly started to go south during production. The first moment when it appeared things were not going well was in 2013. Doom 4 was announced in 2008 and nothing had come out in five years. It was in April of that year that an expose by Kotaku documented that Doom 4 was fighting a different kind of hell; that being development hell. Jason Schreier (2013) writes, ‘I’ve talked to four people with connections to the Id Software-developed game, and they’ve described a studio plagued by mismanagement and lack of communication that has frustrated staff both at Id and Id’s parent company, ZeniMax.’
The development process was claimed to have suffered from mismanagement, with the proposed story described as ‘lame’ and ‘a mess’. Several proposed scripted sequences drew (unwanted) comparison with the Call of Duty franchise, leading to the tongue-in-cheek phrase Call of Doom. Tim Willits, working on the project, citied a ‘lack of spirit’, saying, ‘every game has a soul. Every game has a spirit. When you played Rage, you got the spirit. And (Doom 4) did not have the spirit, it did not have the soul, it didn’t have a personality.’ To further strike a blow, id mainstay John Carmack himself would leave to join Palmer Luckey’s Oculus Rift.
Once it became clear that the team was unsatisfied with the direction Doom 4 was heading, they decided a reboot was the best option. The lack of personality in the project was thought to be the primary reason for this decision. The product they were making wasn’t good enough to them and not the product the fans were wanting. Mismanagement and lack of attention had allowed Doom 4 to lose track and in turn, hit team morale hard. This was a chance to wash the slate clean but it meant that the past couple of years had been for nothing.
Despite this, the team was exciting about the prospect of doing a reboot. Schreier (2013) writes, ‘at one point, a source told me, the Doom 4 team had a big meeting in which company leaders talked about what Doom meant to them. John Carmack got up in front of everyone and said something like, “Doom means two things: demons and shotguns.”
Nasty enemies and nastier weapons; quintessentially, that was the Doom that players knew and loved. With a reboot finally agreed, all other projects were put on hold so all efforts could be put into this project to make up for lost time. As a metaphor for a line being drawn in the sand, the project was renamed from Doom 4 to simply Doom. Executive producer Marty Stratton explained the name change because ‘it’s an origin game, reimagining everything about the originals.’ It was about going back to what made Doom, Doom. The feel of the game would no longer be horror-orientated like Doom 3 was. The setting was now back on Mars, based within a research facility that was experimenting with ‘energy derived from hell.’ The player would again play the Doom Guy (or Slayer) and must fight demons and undead. And that formed the basis of the story. The team believe the actual story was not so important and put little emphasis in developing this. They did add background information, such as terminals, that the player could read to give some context, but otherwise the team made it clear that plot was not primary.
Instead, the team focused on ‘movement’ as the dominant pillar. The previous Doom games had always been about moving from one area to another; the horror-orientated theme of Doom 3 somewhat slowed the pace down considerably. Weapon reloading was removed (allowing continuous shooting) and maps and levels were designed to limit opportunities for them to hide. Instead, the player was always expecting a fight. The game would be created in such a way as to be ‘over-the- top’ to emphasise the team’s desire to creating the ultimate first-person shooter experience. The audio was also produced with this in mind. The soundtrack featured heavy-metal inspired audio (heavy drumming and high tempo) to heighten the moment.
The moment when the chainsaw was used to dish out bloody pain upon enemies drew the loudest cheers from the audience during the E3 showing
All of this was best summed up when Doom was showcased at E3 2015. A demo was shown to a full house. The demo showed the player moving fast and swiftly, double-jumping, vaulting and mantling obstacles in environments where he was constantly under attack, highlighting how movement was at the forefront of the design process. There was also a greater focus on combat. Along with the standard combat mechanics, there were several instances where the player literally killed enemies with their bare hands. The audience cheered and whooped at these ‘glory kills’, such as when one unfortunate demon had its heart ripped out. When the player came into contact with several weapons, from shotgun to chainsaw, the audience cheered and whooped each time, especially when the chainsaw was used to gorily shred several enemies to bloody pieces. Boy, did they love that one.
On presenting the demo, Marty Stratton briefly explained what the team were looking for when designed the game. In his statement, he said something very interesting. He said, ‘the foundation of any Doom experience – past or present – is unquestionably combat that’s centred around three things: badass demons, big, f-ing guns (he really wanted to say it!), and moving really fast.’ He had just summed up what Doom was all about, and why they made this second reboot the way it was.
Doom (2016) was a revert back to the earlier games of the series, centring around badass enemies, big f-ing guns and movement at its core. It was a critical and commercial success
The demo really showed to the world that they have kept this mantra to heart. When it was shown, it was like being a football match; the fans lapped it up and enjoyed what they saw. I bet everyone at id had a massive grin on their faces. I have seen the demo and it ticked all three boxes. It really was a reboot, a return to its roots. I watched it and I could certainly understand the reaction for I almost felt the same way. It was almost majestic. Doom was back, bloodier than ever.
Back to Basics
When Doom was released in 2016, it was a commercial success. By July 2017, 2 million copies had been sold on PC. Critically, it was praised for its fast-paced gameplay, styling and visuals. Gamespot said the ‘reboot captured the spirits of the older games, while refining them with modern elements.’ Likewise, Game Revolution called it ‘top-notch.’
I used Doom as an example of a reboot as it was recent and that the entire Doom series was popular. We explored their creative thought process and preceding events that ultimately led to it being rebooted twice. Id Software had put a lot of effort into Doom 4, only to ultimately discontinue with the project and instead literally start all over again after being dissatisfied with its progress. On this occasion, creative differences were the reason. They lost a lot of time but it was worth it. In the end, the second reboot proved to be a hit.
As we discussed earlier, reboots happen for several reasons (as it was Doom 3 and then Doom), and to varying degrees of success. A main factor for being rebooted is dissatisfaction from audiences, critics and even the series’ producers themselves with how a long-running media series has gone. Think again back to Casino Royale, which was the result of critical and commercial disappointment with the previous entry, Die Another Day.
My intention was not necessarily to discuss if rebooting is a good or bad thing, although they generally occur due to negative circumstances. However, when the decision to reboot is made, it is not always a bad thing to go back to basics in order to start things over. It gives the series a chance to reinvent itself. This was more apparent with Doom (2016), where it was reminiscent with the earlier titles. Sometimes it is necessary to give it the reboot.
Joseph ‘Maniac’ Cirillo III’s article, ‘The Making of Doom 3’
The Making of Doom 3
David Kushner’s book (2003), ‘Masters of Doom’
Jason Schreier’s (2013) article, ‘Five Years And Nothing To Show: How Doom 4 Got Off Track’