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Game Design: Doom (2016)

Updated on October 16, 2016

Glory Killing

One of the largest features in the new Doom was the addition of Glory Killing: a new way to brutally send the demons back to the hell they came from. Glory Killing is simple: when an enemy is hit enough times with a gun, they become staggered. Staggered enemies can be instantly executed with the press of a button (assuming you are in range) with a little cutscene of horrifying death. Doing this uses no ammunition, makes you invincible for the duration of the cutscene, and causes enemies to drop small health packs, which are critical for a game without passive health regeneration.

A Glory Kill in Progress

Source

The Genius Behind Glory Killing

So what makes these finishing moves so special from a game design standpoint? Well, for one, they are simultaneously quick and satisfying. Each one is no longer than a second or two, but feels badass. This means to major things. One, glory killing doesn't break the pace of gameplay; there isn't a perspective change or much cinematic camera motion, so hopping out of gameplay, into a glory kill, and back into gameplay feels very smooth. Second, this actually helps with immersion (as crazy as that sounds). It's no secret that it takes one mean mother f*cker to pull of stunts like these, but the player is given no time to sit in awe of the badassery displayed except for the first few times these glory kills happen. This, along with the fact that they are integrated so well into normal gameplay, means that the player begins to see these epic killcams as commonplace: they become standard. Doom Guy, and really the entirety of Doom, has an epic, badass standard. This only augments it.

These glory kills are genius not just thematically or aesthetically, but deliver strong balance features to the game. For one, they drop health, which is essential. The health drops encourage players to jump into the thick of battle, and allows them to do so relatively safety. This, again, builds Doom Guy's identity, and therefore the player's identity, as a fearless killer. Besides this, they make the player invincible during the duration of the kill, which serves two purposes. One, it allows Glory Kills to be executed safely in the thick of the fight. Two, it creates a strange, ironic juxtaposition by creating a moment for players to catch a breath. Altogether, Glory Kills in the new Doom are an almost perfect mechanic. Almost.

How Could They Be Better?

Glory Kills, by themselves, are a virtually flawless mechanic in id Software's new Doom. However, when taken together with the rest of the game, some issues are present. For one, it removes the functionality of the guns besides setting up for glory kills. While many segments of the game require you to use the gun to kill each demon, many parts of the game simply use the gun as a setup for these executions. This makes usage of the gun itself not satisfying: killing an enemy with the gun feels like a missed glory kill, not a killed demon. Besides this, it makes some of the gameplay stale and repetitive, as a game about wiping demons off of Mars becomes a game about shooting a demon, pressing a button, and repeating with the next one.

How can this be fixed? Well, as I see it, there are two ways to remedy this: add gun-based glory kills, or make the guns more satisfying in a different way. If we've learned anything from Bethesda's other game, Skyrim, it's that ranged killcams are hard to make interesting, as the way the baddie dies is the same no matter what: it gets shot. There isn't as much room for variety, unlike in melee combat where enemies can be punched, kicked, truncated, both, all three, etc. So, how do we make the gun more satisfying in other ways? One way is to tone down the visual indicator for a glory kill, so shooting an enemy feels more like damaging it and less like simply staggering it for a glory kill. The second is to make the death animations for gun-based deaths more interesting, more satisfying, so that the same pleasure from glory kills is still felt, if to a lesser degree. The Super Shotgun does very good job of this.

As of right now, Glory Kills are an excellent example of how to reboot a game with new mechanics. And with just a few tweaks, it could be a perfect example of new core mechanics in remakes.

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