Year in, year out, I do a lot of interviews. Every once in a while I have the pleasure of doing an interview with a designer who’s that perfect combination of passionate, candid and entertaining. Tim Willits, the creative director at id Software, is one such interviewee, and I got to sit down with him at QuakeCon and talk about whether he expects PC gamers to buy Doom 3 BFG Edition, the viability of 3D technology and the undeniable impact that Call of Duty has had on this current gaming era. Read on.
Atomic: Why update Doom 3?
Tim: That’s the very first question that everyone has given me!
Tim: We are at the absolute height and saturation of our current-gen consoles. There’s probably, what? 105, 110 million between the 360 and the PS3 in the world, and I think there are 60 million PS3s. So if you only had a PS3 and a PS2 and a PS1, you’ve probably never played a Doom game. And that’s 70 million people out there. And so we thought, we were finishing up some stuff on Rage, we’re doing some other stuff that John [Carmack] talked about in his keynote, so we had a perfect opportunity with the staff at work—because it only took us 12 or 14 people to do this—and the market is great for it, and it’s a great bridge. It has everything we made concerning Doom, it looks great, plays well, the 3D looks badass. And so it’s the perfect timing; especially with Christmas around the corner.
Atomic: So that would be why it wasn’t Wolfenstein or Quake. So, Doom 3 BFG Edition is coming out on PC as well, right?
Atomic: Do you think that many PC gamers are going to buy a game that is essentially rebranded eight-year-old tech?
Tim: I don’t know. I will be surprised because, like John said last night, the mods will not work and it’s not game compatible with the old stuff, and he either needs to strip some id Tech 5 out [of the Doom 3 BFG Edition code], open source a part of it, or create a separate DLL for mods. Yeah, it’s a big question that we need to answer. But there is a huge console audience that has never played this game who we are targeting.
Atomic: Sure. John was talking yesterday about the flashlight and how the ability to turn it on and off now has actually changed the genre from survival horror to sort of more action horror. Do you think this is a good or bad thing?
Tim: That’s the comparison I made that [John] was listening to… he took my thing! But, yes, and like John said, it’s just more fun. But we did… there’s still a battery. So what we found out is when people play it, they’re running around shooting, and they get to a dark area—there are still dark areas—they turn the flashlight on, they fight a little bit, they kind of get to a bright area, and then the flashlight just kind of naturally goes out. So then they run around and they get scared—‘Oh, I got scared!’—and they turn the flashlight on. So it still has that. The way we’ve set it up, people still jump out at you, and there are still some dark scary areas, but it’s just faster. Have you played it yet?
Tim: You just fly through, and you’re blowing guys away. It’s 49 levels! So, it’s like, get through it. Have fun. Blow some shit up. That’s really what we want people to do.
Atomic: Well, there’s a bit of a trend moving away from survival horror and moving towards action horror, I know that Capcom’s talked about this recently. Is this something that you’re consciously doing? I mean, do you think that survival horror is dying nowadays and it needs to be sexed up or action-ified?
Tim: Action-ified? Ha! Someone else asked me the same question about the horror genre and I never really thought that much about it. For us, it was the logical thing to do to make Doom 3 more appealing. Because, like John said, one of the big criticisms was, ‘Oh, it’s too dark, and I ran out of ammo.’ But I think you can still make a game scary and fun without making it scary and frustrating. Sometimes players get frustrated in Doom 3 because they ran out of ammo, or they were lost, or there were people with flashlights; and just because it’s difficult to play, doesn’t necessarily make it scary. I do think there’s a huge opportunity for games to excel in the scary genre. Heck, things that we’re doing in the future, we want them to be scary, but action is definitely where it’s at. I think that… we live in, it may be good or it may be bad, but we live in a Call of Duty era. That’s just the way it is. And that franchise has more impact on the industry than I think people realise. You just have to kind of go with the flow.
Atomic: Was that something that influenced Rage as well, Call of Duty?
Tim: No. But you know what was funny? We ran some focus tests through Rage before we shipped it and, if you remember, you could hit the guys, and they’d fall, and then they’d be on the ground and they’d be crawling and they’d try and shoot you, which we thought was awesome. And we had this whole group of hardcore Call of Duty fans come in, and they said, ‘Hey, y’know, there’s a bug in the game that we shoot guys and they don’t actually die. Like, in Call of Duty, they take damage and they die, and then you shoot the next guy, they take damage, and they die. But in Rage, I shoot a guy, he falls down, but he can still shoot at me. Are you guys going to fix that?’ Those were serious questions.