Five Years And Nothing To Show: How Doom 4 Got Off Track

Doom 4 is in trouble and has been for quite some time now, according to multiple sources. Although publisher Bethesda tells Kotaku it still plans to release the highly anticipated first-person shooter, Doom 4 has gone through at least one major reboot over the past few years. Sources say even today, five years after development started, the game is not even close to complete.

Rumours of Doom 4’s troubled development have been floating around for quite some time now, but over the past few months, we’ve learned a great deal more than what has circulated so far. 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 (whose main branch Bethesda is the publisher of Doom 4 and a number of other games, including The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim).

We’ve also learned that in late 2011, after working on Doom 4 for three years, the studio behind the legendary series decided to reboot their newest game completely. Bethesda confirmed this to Kotaku yesterday.

“An earlier version of Doom 4 did not exhibit the quality and excitement that Id and Bethesda intend to deliver and that Doom fans worldwide expect,” Bethesda's vice president of marketing and public relations Pete Hines said in a statement to Kotaku. “As a result, Id refocused its efforts on a new version of Doom 4 that promises to meet the very high expectations everyone has for this game and this franchise. When we’re ready to talk about the Doom 4 Id is making, we will let folks know.”

We’ve heard a great deal more about what’s happened at Id over the past few years, and bits and pieces about what’s happening now. Today we can share it all.

Call of Doom

At QuakeCon of 2007, Id co-founder and legendary programmer John Carmack said Doom 4 was on the way. In 2008 they made it official, and over the coming years, Id dedicated one team to Doom 4 and another to their other shooter, Rage, which would be released in 2011. Both games were built on Carmack’s fancy new Id Tech 5 engine.

According to one source, Id originally imagined Doom 4 as a “rework” of Doom 2. This would establish a pattern started by 2004's Doom 3, which Id saw as a re-imagination of the original Doom. In Doom 4, you’d play as an average human being who was gradually cajoled into joining the Resistance — a ragtag group of civilians and military — to help fight legions of demons that were invading Earth. It was... cinematic.

“People referenced Call of Duty,” said the source. “There were jokes like, ‘Oh, it’s Call of Doom.’ They referenced it because of the amount it was scripted — there were a lot of scripted set pieces. There was kind of the recognition that in order to be a big shooter these days, you have to have some amount of the big, bombastic movie experience that people get pulled through.“

Another source criticised this approach, telling me that it all felt rather mediocre: “The coolest part... were the horror and shock elements, unfortunately bookended by somewhat pointless and contrived shooting galleries of hoards of uninteresting enemies.”

One sequence was described to me as “the obligatory vehicle scene” in which players would take the gunner’s seat of a car and shoot demons as the computer drove. If you think that sounds rather generic, you’re not alone. But a source assured me that there were some imaginative ideas in there too.

“The big thing [Id] tried to do was not seem like, ‘Here’s a bunch of demons’,” the source said. “There was lots of concept art and prototype missions set up showing different parts of the earth being taken over, being warped and twisted into a hellish reimagining... It’s not just the demons: everything around you is changing. Humans are starting to struggle to go through an environment that is partially familiar, partially unknown now.”

These ideas might seem more than partially familiar if you’ve seen the screenshots that leaked in late February of 2012. Don’t get too excited, though. Those were all out of date long before they hit the Internet.

The Reboot

In late 2011, word came down that Doom 4 was getting a reboot. Id had just finished Rage, and according to three sources, leadership at the studio hadn't paid much attention to Doom 4 over the years. When Id's management finally did look at the game, they decided that it didn't live up to their expectations. It wasn’t good enough. And they needed to change direction.

“I kinda think maybe the studio heads were so distracted on shipping Rage that they were blind to the happenings of Doom, and the black hole of mediocrity [the team] was swirling around,” said a source.

“[Studio leadership was] coming over and looking at Doom 4,” said another source, “and it was like, ‘Now that I’m actually looking at this after ignoring it for three years, I see a ton of things I want to change.’”

All of my sources described Id as a company full of talent but lacking direction. Politics and mismanagement at the top of the studio had trickled down and negatively impacted all of their projects, so many people at Id were psyched about the reboot, even if it meant changing or discarding the work they’d done, one source told me.

“It was a very long overdue reboot that was accompanied by internal team management changes,” the source said. “Morale got a lot better during this short time as people were encouraged to participate and there were cool ideas floating around.”

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."

Meanwhile, the Rage team had already started planning out Rage 2, a source said. But when the first game was released to tepid critical and commercial response, executives at ZeniMax decided to start getting more involved with Id’s development process. Over the next couple of months, ZeniMax met with Id’s leadership, cancelled Rage 2, and downsized plans for Rage’s DLC, the source said.

The new plan, as of January 2012: refocus the studio, postpone or cancel all other projects, and get everyone on the fourth Doom game.

Rage came out, and it wasn't the splash success that everyone hoped it would be,” one source said. “Eventually what kind of came down was, ZeniMax said, ‘Okay, look, we gave you guys a bunch of chances and you guys are having a lot of trouble managing multiple projects, so you guys are gonna have one project: Just do Doom 4.’”

“There was not only effectively another creative reboot, but a tech reboot,” said another source. Although this wasn't officially a reboot of the game, there was a new team and new code, so for some staff it felt like one.

“[Id] started from the Rage code base, and took some big leaps back in certain areas of tech. [Id] spent a lot of time merging Doom features to Rage.”

One source described a meeting in which ZeniMax executives told Id leads that “Doom 4 can and should be as big as Skyrim,” as far as both sales and cultural impact. (Skyrim, Bethesda’s massive role-playing game, shipped 7 million copies during its first week on shelves in November of 2011. And everyone had heard about it — not just hardcore gamers.)

For at least a few Id staffers, the morale boost earned by the initial Doom 4 reboot didn’t last very long. One source described the scene as a “power struggle,” as managers from both Rage and Doom 4 tried to figure out how to merge their teams.

“You’ve got these different cultures and they’re all kind of jammed together,” said one source.

A different source described the direction of the game as a mess, even after the reboot.

“Larger creature ambitions turned into mediocre garden variety behaviours,” the source said. “[The story] again became lame and unfit for a late night sci-fi channel, and the team didn't feel a whole lot of ownership and contribution to the project. Cue the exodus of talent leaving ever since.”

“Most of [Id’s] top talent has left or been fired,” said another unrelated source.

“I know that people were leaving steadily through last year,” said a third.

Doom 4 is now planned for the next generation of consoles, sources told me, and the actual release date is up in the air. At QuakeCon in August of 2012, Carmack said Doom 4 will be “done when it’s done,” but sources say “done” might be a long time coming.

“[Id was] never even close to a shipped product,” said a source. “A half dozen mediocre levels was the most [Id] had to show.”

“It’s not going well,” said another source. “Poor management, poor organisation... [Id] just couldn’t nail down design... It’s just a mess.”

Two sources told me that earlier this year, frustrated with the lack of progress on Doom 4, ZeniMax came to Id with an ultimatum: make something happen, or else. The specifics of the threat are unclear, but there are plenty of rumours floating around Austin, Texas, where Id is based.

One rumour is that ZeniMax threatened to shut down Id if they don’t finish the game within the next year, but two people told me that seems unlikely.

What’s more likely, sources told me, is that if Id can’t get Doom 4 together, ZeniMax could clean house and refocus the company to work on tech like the Id Tech 5 engine, which is currently being used for multiple projects at studios owned by ZeniMax.

But Bethesda says that Doom 4 is still happening, and at least one of my sources remains optimistic that despite what’s happened so far, the game will be released... one day.

“They’ll keep Doom 4 going,” the source said. “They really believe that if they can get the internal strife and disorganisation ironed out, Doom 4 has a lot of value... What eventually emerges could be anyone’s guess.”


Comments

    I hope they get it together. After the disappointment of Rage, you'd have to worry that if Doom 4 flops then it may spell the end of Id.

    Doom needs to be metal, and it needs to be graphic. I haven't played too much of Doom 3, but what I have didn't really feel like Doom to me, so I'm kind of wary of where this will end up. Still holding out hope that it'll feel like the Doom of old though.

      They need to give it a make-over like Rise of the Triad is getting. Seems they managed to update the look, and yet keep the feel of the game perfectly! Granted I'm only going off what we've seen in videos so far, but you can already tell it just "feels" right

      Doom 3 managed to capture the scary vibe of a good horror game, but...it didn't feel like a Doom game. Someone should mod the demons into zombies - it could be the first decent Resident Evil game in years :P

    I'm not that surprised by this. When was the last time ID released a great game? My feeling was sometime in the nineties. Doom 3 was probably the closest they've come, and it was point-blank mediocre (though the graphics were impressive at the time).

    Please stop calling them "Id". It's "id", without the uppercase "i".

    For those interested it's also pronounced as the word "id", it's not an abbreviation.

    Does this story remind anybody else of a certain other sequel game that underwent years of delays and reboots that also started with a D in a very similar fashion...? "It'll be done when it's done"... I think it was "Doug Nabor's Fiesta" or something like that. Can't remember the specifics.

      nono im pretty sure it was Dave's Next Fairytale

      Haha I just realized that "Donna's Neighbour Fred" is abbriebiated as DNF. It was destined to fail from the start. In fact, it's a miracle it was even finished.

        Maybe not fail, but at the very least waffle around for a few years and then be received well by a small group of hardcore fans and a lukewarm reception from the general public.

    I really hope they steer as far away from D3 as possible, tell the Rage team to stfu, put the Doom team to task and avoid giving it a thematic feel of something like Gears of War and it's post-apocalyptic setting. Doom should be Doom, not derivative another popular game. The samey corridor shooter that D3 was, was a real disappointment to me. Whilst that element was a part of the first generation of Doom games we grew up with, it wasn't the defining aspect, not by a long shot. I've given up on holding out for a halfway decent storyline in an FPS because the scripts/dialogue is always a combination of overacting, terribly written scripts, aimed at the 14yr old male demo cheeseball bullshit that developers seem to think we enjoy. But should this come to fruition, I sincerely hope I'm pleasantly surprised. It's a difficult task as it's going to be nigh-on impossible to create an atmosphere like the first generation (or even the revamped versions for PS1 for example), so it's going to be an uphill battle for id and the lofty expectations of the fan base. Lets just hope they can get their shit together...

    They need to capture that intense feeling of frenetic action and dread that the original games inspired. Running around desperately looking for the exit/keycards, low on health and ammo, running, gunning, kiting as much as you can. Pushing through waves of monsters with nothing but sheer firepower. Then you open that door and just cringe as the Hellknight screams in your face, a horde of undead and demons behind it. The dance of death picks up in pace ...

    Not monster closets. Not claustrophobic corridors in pitch black. No ironsights. No regenerating health. Run at the speed of sound. Bring back the classic game play or don't even bother.

    id lost their real creatives a long time ago. I feel like Quake 3 was kind of their last great game, and that was basically Quake 2 minus single player, with better tech.

    Organisation wise it sounds very similar to the goings on described in Masters of Doom, but less manageable now that the company is substantially bigger. It also seems ironic that they're now struggling with trying to bring in the sorts of features that they fired Tom Hall for trying to implement during development of Doom 1.

    Last edited 04/04/13 1:30 pm

    Say hello to this decades DNF. They may as well just cancel it altogether.

    “Doom means two things: demons and shotguns.”

    Fully agree. Throw in some Metal (guitars and double kickdrums eg. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_MwbglOSlU), excessive gore and huge hordes and your good. Moving and shooting mechanics should be simple and fast to cater for co-op and deathmatch.

    You need to feel like a badass ass kicking space marine. There will be no character voice-over or smart remarks because they'll come from you the player because you are the badass marine.

    Last edited 04/04/13 2:13 pm

    Doom 4 is trapped in the same hell that Duke Nukem Forever is. And I don't mean the obvious development cycle.

    Doom 1 and Doom 2 were amazing. They were entirely dedicated to creating clever level design, killing monsters with guns and the occasional puzzle. Duke Nukem 3D, no longer a 2D sidescroller, followed the same suit. They're some of the best FPSes (IMO) because the limits imposed back then made it so the developers had to make sure each level was as tight as it was going to be.

    But FPSes have changed. These days you need stories, you need NPCs, you need big scripted events, you need vehicle sections. Thus, you just can't make new Duke Nukems or Dooms. There's no going back. (I guess, nothing is stopping them from making FPSes like the mid90s, but it just would not capture the COD audience, which is what it's all about these days.)

    Doom 3 was crap. Never looking forward to an ID game again. Such a disappointment.

    Both iD and Bethesda have been resting on their laurels for years now, and I wouldn't buy any of their products for the life of me.

    A lot of people may have enjoyed Skyrim, but I wasn't one of them. Which is annoying, considering the amount of time I spent on Oblivion. And because I got it through Steam, I can't return it. That might be Steam's fault - but it's Bethesda's fault that I want to return it. Bethesda - they STILL can't just release a game without bugs, when many other companies seem to do okay. Colonial Marines was no more buggy or crappy than a standard Bethesda release. In fact, they should probably change their name to Beta-hesda.

    I am constantly disappointed by iDs lack of relevance in the modern world, but now they're in bed with Betahesda they will see no more money from me. I love their work, but they only do shooters and they haven't topped Doom II for sheer lock'n'load thrills yet - with is either awesome, or pathetic depending on your view point.

    I'd rather give my money to people who don't constantly disappoint me, thanks.

    They should rehire John Romero and give him a chance to get away from that mobile crap and make some people into his bitches!

    Amazed at the quality of management that couldn't look at a major development project for three years because they were working on something else. Perhaps they need to hire some women for their mystical multi-tasking skills.

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