I’ve now watched every publicly available movie for Doom III and Half-Life II. And I think that the real difference between the two is that Doom III wants things to look good and Half-Life II wants things to act right. Half-Life II’s industrial-strength physics engine allows for new and interesting gameplay elements; Doom III’s unified lighting code and self-shadowing doesn’t.
Before you flame me, remember that this site is about pushing the envelope of game design. Half-Life II does; Doom III deliberately doesn’t. Doom III is about classic, rock-solid gameplay and showing off Carmack’s spanking new everything-gets-sixteen-texture-passes engine.
Now, is Doom III going to be a hit? Absolutely. It’s going to be huge. And it will be a good game, and I will be buying a copy. But it’s not going to do anything new gameplay-wise.
Watched a video on Gamasutra (that’s a recurring theme, eh?) from this year’s GDC. It was of Jason Rubin of Naughty Dog, one of my favorite people from one of my favorite companies. He talked about how much time they had spent on improving their engine for Jak & Daxter 2. He said that during that time he’d had an epiphany…nothing he was doing was necessary to the making of Jak & Daxter 2. They could have done Jak 2 with the Jak 1 engine and it wouldn’t have looked as good, but it would play just the same. Nobody is going to care that Daxter now has an environment map on his eye that reflects his surroundings – on a standard television you won’t even be able to see it!
He continued to ponder and came to the conclusion that graphics is quickly becoming a dead-end. You can only make so many texture passes and add so many polygons before you reach diminishing returns and the player can’t tell the difference. Not only that, but the increased poly counts of the characters on Jak 2 meant they were taking a lot longer to model, skin, rig and animate than the ones for Jak 1, which meant the game would take longer to make, which meant it would be more expensive, which meant it would have to sell better, which meant it needed something to grab players and bring them in – and that graphics weren’t going to do the trick any more.
Naughty Dog has never been known for their innovative gameplay. Jason stated up front that Naughty Dog’s “mission statement” had always been to design games with very familiar, classic gameplay ideas and simply make them look better than anyone else’s.
And Jason concluded that this wasn’t going to cut it any more. He concluded that Naughty Dog will have to start innovating from a gameplay standpoint in order to stay competitive. And he honestly stated that the idea scared him to death – he had deliberately shied away from innovation for almost his entire career.
I think Jason came to the correct conclusion. I think this is the last “generation” of games where incredible graphics will be able to sell a title (and of course, id is also playing off its own huge reputation with gamers). Very soon excellent visuals will simply be par for the course and gamers will start asking “What else you got?”
Needless to say, id should be far more worried than Jason. After all, he did co-author “Dream Zone”.