Why I Regret Beating Doom’s Ultra-Nightmare Mode

Why I Regret Beating Doom’s Ultra-Nightmare Mode

I’m penning this after defeating the Ultra-Nightmare difficulty of Doom (2016) and I’ve never felt more disappointed with myself as a person.

This is not how I pictured this moment, and God knows I’ve been imagining it for days. In the original vision, my shirt is inexplicably off. I rise from the La-Z-Boy, my arms are outstretched wide to the heavens, like a diver leaving the blocks. Somebody has released doves.

Actually, I look more like Andy Dufresne, laughing in a torrential thunderstorm, having finally escaped Shawshank prison through a river of shit.

You know what? I’m getting ahead of myself here. Before we discuss the destination, let’s rewind and map out the journey for you.

Ultra-Nightmare is the mode that Bethesda insists none of its internal testers can beat. If you die while playing it, that’s game Hendrix. Your save file gets deleted, you cry. Maybe you punch a few holes in your living room wall or spit at the TV. To each their own. Everybody has their coping mechanisms.

If you fancy a go of Ultra-Nightmare, you’ll be issued a warning fitting of Dante’s Inferno. A dialogue pops up and asks: “Are you willing to put yourself through this?”

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

If you’re intelligent, you click no. If you’re a completionist, you’ll click ‘yes’, earn the cheevo / trophy that pops when you finish the very first level, and then you stop there.

Why the hell wouldn’t you? Ultra-Nightmare is such an Everest challenge, it awards no accolade when you beat it. (Bethesda didn’t want to risk pissing off the cheevo whores by asking them to do the nearly-unachievable.)

Ultra-Nightmare is fucking ridiculous, is what I’m trying to get across here. That said, I had a few personal reasons for attempting it. Firstly, I’ve always loved challenging games. I relish anything made by Miyazaki. The Trials series held me in thrall until Serrels ruined my best run by hitting reset. I almost always gravitate towards the hardest difficulty option when starting any new game.

It’s a sickness I have. Pure masochism. Undiagnosed OCD. Nothing to be envied.

Secondly – and this is the most important reason of all – whoever coded this game monumentally pissed me off. During an early, relatively half-arsed attempt, I reached mission 3 of 13, then lost 1hr 23 mins worth of progress to the following bug.

The f-word is rarely shrieked as loudly as it was that day, my friends. I may have dislocated my larynx.

Unfortunately, I cannot stand unfairness. Falling through that floor lit a fire in me. Never underestimate the power of pure, unadulterated spite.

In some ways, I’m glad that I took one last shot at it, because there were lessons to be learned as a critic. At a much higher difficulty (my original playthrough was on Ultra-Violence) I found a greater appreciation of ID’s craftsmanship. The individual risk-reward of each weapon becomes much more pronounced, and the skill-based progression system that steadily unlocks and improves “Doomguy’s” abilities feels extra addictive. Overall, there’s a sublime “bullet ballet” to learn if you’re open to it, and not coasting through on “Hurt Me Plenty”.

Other things I wouldn’t have appreciated on default difficulty: the nefarious AI of the imps. Forget every other juggernaut in the game; they’re ponderous idiots built to run rings around. Your common, garden-variety imp is the real bane of your existence, and the rat-bastards are absolutely everywhere. They’re literally coming out of the goddamned walls.

A direct hit from one of their fireballs will chew through half your life. Two-strikes, you’re out. It’s not ideal then that they run in packs and fling their shit at you like an MLB power pitcher. Typically, you will be peppered from some unimaginable angle, because the imp has xenomorph-scrambled up a wall . Or maybe they’ll just lob one right into you from a completely unseen position half a postcode away.

I cannot explain this devilry.

Forget camping and waiting for an imp to wander into your killzone, too. These nasty buggers can unload fireballs in your face at a sprint while rounding a corner. If you’re more of a run-and-gunner, they’ll lead their shots into you with precog precision.

I actually have footage of one running away from me, flinging no-looker fireballs over its shoulder with absolute exactness like he’s the fucking Andre Agassi of the afterlife.

If you’re the AI coder responsible for imps, I have the weird urge to simultaneously praise and strangle you, you magnificent bastard.

With base enemies this lethal, clearly none of the many, many kill-rooms in Doom are a cakewalk. And I had way too many close calls. Sheer dumb luck saved my arse more than a dozen times. For example…

This shitshow is probably the luckiest thing that will ever happen to me in this life, and possibly my next three existences. We’re almost exactly halfway through the game, and I’ve just had a brain fart as to how many Hell Barons spawn in this area. If you’re unarmoured, these behemoths will easily kill you in one shot. Note my lack of armour.

As my death charges towards me, completely unnoticed, the Baron overshoots his death-leap due to the stairs I’m on. To be perfectly honest, my butt cheeks haven’t unclenched. It’s been almost a week now. My stomach hurts.

You’re never truly safe in Doom, but the deeper you get into Ultra-Nightmare, the more insurance you can buy yourself. ID aren’t complete sadists when it comes to rune challenges; dying in an attempt to unlock powerful perks is still okay. Once you find and earn runes like Saving Throw (survive one deathblow per level, but get put at 5/100 health) and Rich Get Richer (infinite ammo if you’re above a certain armour stat) both make the going easier. Sadly, they appear very late in the proceedings.

I should also point out that my run isn’t the world first, nor was it done in one sitting. I’m a married man with two young sons – me finding an uninterrupted eight-hour block of time to shoot demons is about as likely as me finding ugg boots made from the Golden fleece. Shit just isn’t going to happen.

What you won’t see in the videos are some shrewd edits that chop out where I’ve paused to go have dinner or pick up my kids from school. It also made sense to cut out the moments where I had to stop and study footage from my previous run to get a heads up on what’s coming next, and where the life-saving ammo and health is. Everything was in stages. Stages within stages, even.

You also won’t see the moment where I had to pause the game, mid-firefight, because my three year old, Ben, had an accident in his pants. Toilet-training is his own personal Ultra-Nightmare challenge at the moment, you see. Unpausing the game (after the clean up) really dropped me in the shit; the sudden spatial unawareness nearly cost me everything.

I have so much more respect now for people who speedrun these games in one sitting. As I type this, I can see that some YouTuber has glitch-run his original time down to a mere 1hr and change. A younger, more job-less and fatherless me might have done this all as one smooth take, and not a stitch together, but those days are behind me. I have responsibilities.

Which, unfortunately, brings me to why this was such a hollow victory. Rewatching the videos today, I don’t see somebody having fun and pushing themselves to the limit. I see a father neglecting his family. Ignoring his children, unfairly asking his partner to pick up the slack, and for no good reason at all.

The final boss battle in particular will stay in my memory for a very long time to come.

Picture this: I’m in my menus, gearing up for the absolute final battle when I hear a small knock on the door of my “gaming room”. There’s a note sticky-taped to said door, it’s a Do Not Disturb message as ominous as the one I clicked through to get here, all those many days ago..

I snap at whoever is out there to enter. It’s unbelievable to me that the sign hasn’t done its job. I mean – holy fucking shit – if that noise had have happened during this ultimate battle to come, and had distracted me into death, I would have been absolutely ropeable.

My six-year old, Luke, peers in. He’s been happily playing Lego in the rumpus room next door. My wife has stepped out to go shopping with Ben. She mentioned where she was going, and why, but I didn’t retain this non-Doom information. If I had to put money on it: to source some new, browner underpants.

I impatiently ask Luke what he wants. The lecture of “you need to respect Daddy’s sign” is all cued up in the back of my throat, regardless of his reply.

“Can I please go downstairs, Dad?”

I ask why, but I already know what the answer is. Grandma is down there. He, being as games-obsessed as I am, will want to go hound her for her iPad and the Angry Birds it offers.

His bottom lip quivers. “Because I feel more welcome down there.”

It’s a BFG round to the chest. I’m fucking levelled.

Out the mouth of babes…

I scoop my boy up and give him a big hug. The game stays paused. The controller gets stashed. We go outside and spend the rest of the afternoon eating Pizza shapes and jumping on the trampoline.

The next day, I vaguely remember that the PS4 is still on. My boys are at school and it’s 11 am when I pick up that Dualshock. Though there’s adrenaline to be felt in the final battle, I also feel a weird detachment to it all.

Spiderdemon dies without much fuss (mostly because I had rigorously prepared for him the day before). End credits roll. I switch off the capture device. My thumb instinctively snaps out to the Share button to take one last screen of the completed save file.

I couldn’t tell you why though. Nothing of merit was achieved here. Quite the opposite.

The only real thing worth sharing from all of this is a cautionary tale for the rest of you. Never forget that video gaming is basically an episode of Whose Line is It Anyway. Everything’s made up, and the points don’t matter.

Your loved ones deserve the best version of you. Shoot for that.

This story was originally published in 2016 and has been republished to coincide with the launch of DOOM Eternal this week.


    • Honestly, kinda fair – teaching kids at an early age about privacy and personal boundaries. Unless you want your kid to grow up thinking its chill to just move around everywhere as if they own the place?

      • Ok, this was actually ‘jump on the computer worthy’ to think about and reply.
        Growing up, we never had boundaries inside the house. My parents were always accessable at home. Fuck the game. It can be paused (excluding ‘Souls games 🙁 -had that backfire on me already ), turned off or resumed at a time when your kids are doing something else/sleeping. Perhaps my initial reaction was wrong, but it was the first thing that jumped out at me when reading the article. I’m a parent – which doesn’t make my view right, and it’s a tough gig at the worst of times, but you’ve gotta reassess the things that are important (which is what this writer seems to be implying by the final paragraph of the article).
        Ultimately, all I can imagine is walking past Dad’s ‘Do not disturb’ sign as young Jimmy thinking “wow, wonder what’s so important that my father needs to put a sign up for?”.
        Oh, and yeah it should be chill for them to move everywhere inside the house. It’s their home.

        • I meant by teaching them to respect physical privacy you treat them to respect all peoples physical privacy. In their own home yeah its cool but some people take what they learn at home and apply it everywhere else (who knew?) – everyone has different things they find valuable to teach their child/others – so there really isn’t a right or wrong. Nobody has the exact same set of morals and values.

    • yeah, im pretty sure no decent parent wants their single digit age kids sitting down and watching some doom

          • I’m kind of results pending. I normally don’t play DooM on the xbox which is where the kids are anyways but i believe in chance. The second my kids starts to act violently or do anything like that I’ll reassess but right now i got toddlers that aren’t even speaking yet and the few times he has watched me play he’s watched a bit and then just gone and done something else. Usually, ill end up pausing the game and end up acting like a zombie with my hands out and just chase him for a good hour. Wears him down for bed so I can truly play :P. I’m on nightmare right now and holy hell….i can barely make it past those missions. Screw Ultra.

      • My first video game ever was Doom, in 1993, on my fathers PC. I was 5 years old. He would let me play while he worked in his office. HE then bought me Doom 64 a few years later with the N64. IF you think a parent is bad because they let their children play video games and watch movies you’re an idiot. You’re not shooting up schools or humans for that matter, you’re shooting monsters from Hell. I had (still have) a facination with cool looking monsters and horror movies as a child, so he let me play because he knew I would love it. I own my own business now WITH my father and my mother owns her own physical therapy business. Obviously I turned out okay. Parents obsessing over what their kids play and watch is a new age thing. The only parents that did that back in the 90’s were ones everyone considered overly strict.

      • My first video game ever was Doom, in 1993, on my fathers PC. I was 5 years old. He would let me play while he worked in his office. HE then bought me Doom 64 a few years later with the N64. IF you think a parent is bad because they let their children play video games and watch movies you know nothing of parenting. You’re not shooting up schools or humans for that matter, you’re shooting monsters from Hell. I had (still have) a fascination with cool looking monsters and horror movies as a child, so he let me play because he knew I would love it. I own my own business now WITH my father and my mother owns her own physical therapy business. Obviously I turned out okay. Parents obsessing over what their kids play and watch is a new age thing. The only parents that did that back in the 90’s were ones everyone considered overly strict.

        • Parenting is THE most important factor in a child’s development. But hey people need their scape goats because if it’s not the evil games, it’s them.

  • Reminds me of a funny thing my wife sent me last week.

    “Mommy, what does ‘neglect’ mean?”

    “Shhhhh, Daddy’s playing his video games”

    Although I usually let him watch the tame games I play on Sat mornings, I found myself snapping at him after saying “Turn back into Link, Dad” for the 20th time in as many minutes.

    I think maybe he is old enough to have a try at Mario Kart. Maybe we’ll do that this weekend. I’m not sure if I will watch or not. I find it pretty hard to watch unskilled people play.

    • Get used to it, that is your kid! They will want to share what excites them with you and you’ll need provide them with encouragement, you jerk.

      Don’t be a crap dad.

      • Hmmm, the editing of my previous comment failed.

        But yes, I am pretty excited to get him into games. Mario 3D world is probably going to be the go to game once he gets a bit better at Mario Kart. TBH, him repeating anything over and over 20 times bugs me but he is getting older and better.

  • Great article, thanks.

    One correction though is that Doom was developed by id Software, not Machinegames. They did the Wolfenstein reboot.

    • Machinegames is credited in the credits for assisting them. Not sure how large a hand they had in campaign.

      • I think they actually did the campaign (level/mission design/ story)…

        Certain Affinity – Multiplayer
        Machine Games – Campaign
        ID- tech

        • Do you have any more info on that? I’d really like to find out, because the campaign was very solid and it would make sense for Bethesda to bring Machinegames into it after they knocked it out of the park with Wolfenstein. But they’re not listed as developers of the game, only id Software and Certain Affinity on the multiplayer.

          The only reference I could find to Machinegames is as a ‘support team’, here http://www.mobygames.com/game/windows/doom___/credits
          I’d think if they were responsible for the campaign then they would have received more credit for it.

          • There’s nothing specific.

            There’s a bunch of conjecture… it was mentioned on one of the multiple podcasts I listen to (I think it might have been the Giant Beast Cast, but I’m not certain). There was also a thread on Reddit discussing how Machine Games staff are credited as Level Designers in the Doom credits.

            The narrative, as I understand it, is that development was rebooted a number of times. Including at one stage being a Call Of Duty clone. Given the success of Wolfenstien Bethesda kind of threw some Machine Games people at Doom to sort it out.

            I stress that this is all conjecture, and nothing has been released about who handled what in Dooms development.

  • Man.. great article. As a dad of 2 (soon to be 3) this really hits home. I’ll keep it in mind for No Man’s Sky

  • Had something like this on the weekend, 3yr old was pestering me to do stuff with her while I was playing a game and she goes “It’s ok you can play with me when you finish your game” to which I just paused the game and turned the ps4 off she was all “what you can pause it, yay!”

  • Awesome article. I myself have neglected parts of my life in pursuit of temporary obsession. This is a great lesson to learn.

  • All I took away from this at the end was “Wh-what? Dualshock? You… you did this with a CONTROLLER?”

    You absolutely madman. You absolute fucking madman.

    • If I were his son, I’d be ashamed. No wonder he wanted to go play with Grandma. She probably used keyboard and mouse.

  • The most important question, were the pizza shapes the’new improved’ version?

    I don’t have kids, but I feel bad enough playing while the wife is around.

    • You realize the “improved” version of said shapes, are only “improved” because they are more cost effective to make. Knowing this makes me sick stupid Arnotts.

        • I know this, I cannot for the life of me understand why they can label the new product as more flavor when clearly they are just terrible. Someone should file a lawsuit against them.

          • Oh yes. “More flavour” is a god damn lie, these things have less flavour. I’ve tried both the pizza and nacho cheese ones because I forgot they’d changed them and threw a few in my shopping order. They’re pitiful now. It’s not even that the flavour changed (which it did) but that there’s just so much less of it now.

          • I feel sorry for you having to unintentionally try the new flavors out, that must of been a real kick in the teeth.

  • As a father of 2, one of whom loves watching me play monsters (WoW), cars (Car Mechanic Simulator), and moobike (Hearthstone, oddly enough), I absolutely loved the resolution to the article. Fantastic writing. Will definitely be looking out for more of your work.

  • loved ones deserve the best version of you. Shoot for that.

    Too late. My ex left me because I was addicted to games (and she didn’t like them at all). Lost a good thing because of this exact story.

    Now I can’t enjoy them at all anymore.

    • Well all I can say is that it probably wasn’t meant to be, and there is high probability that the right one for you will just stumble upon you when you least expect it. Don’t let past failures stop you from the things you enjoy mate.

  • That’s a great article and you are absolutely right. I’m 1 trophy off the Dark Souls 3 platinum and my 3 and 5 year old absolutely come first every day of the week for this reason. Thanks for your honesty Adam!

    • One of my favourite gaming memories is actually playing dark souls with my 18 month old.
      we spent the 20 minutes until dinner playing the the staircase near the giant black smith.
      Running up and down the stairs, knock knock, who’s there on the walls, just being silly. Didn’t see an enemy in the whole time we played.

  • Great article! I restrict all gaming (bar the odd game of Hearthstone) to when the kids are in bed or out of the house, because you just can’t do both at the same time once they can move around!

    Although I am looking forward to picking up at Wii U at some point in the future and playing games together.

  • Once again I’m a devils advocate. I don’t have kids, but this kind of situation sure does scare my immature little mind. The idea that kids obviously come along and change everything about you is just frightening. Of course they deserve it, kids are the future and are a top priority, I just hope that this dad will forgive himself and allow himself to not view this time as a shameful part of his history. That he’s allowed to be himself and not just ‘Dad’ and have things that matter to him very much that once in a while aren’t his kids.

    Also the kid totally wasn’t welcome, his Dad was in a separate room playing his own adult restricted games with a note on the door saying ‘don’t disturb’. I’m pretty sure once that kid is a teenager he’ll very much cherish a space where his parents aren’t welcome!

  • Hmm. So maybe I won’t be starting Dark Souls after all. (Well I did start it but only got out of the asylum; I need to be in the right spot to play it. What’s with no pausing!?) But yeah perhaps if a game demands so much of my attention, I can just give that attention to others.

  • Ugh, you play an FPS with a controller?! That’s where your son’s sense of shame is really coming from dude. :p

  • BABY BOOMER: I never knew my father. He died in the war.

    GEN X: I never really knew my father, he was at work all the time.

    SUB-MILLENNIAL: I never knew my father. He played videogames all the time.

  • While I understand the situation and can appreciate, I actually think the author is being unfair on himself. He is still an adult, and a person, and is allowed to have hobbies that he enjoys, even if they’re ultimately meaningless. I’ll never be in a famous band, but I still love to write and play music. It doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time.

    I don’t believe that him beating Doom was at all a hollow victory or a waste of time. If he had fun, THAT is the point! If as a father you feel that you need to pay attention to your kids 100% of the time that they’re awake, then so be it. Enjoy your hobbies while they’re asleep or not around.

    I’m not trying to be argumentative or slight the author. I’m simply saying that I think he’s being unfairly harsh on himself. Just because you’re a father doesn’t mean you’re no longer a person. People have hobbies, do things for fun, and enjoy their personal alone time. Becoming a dad shouldn’t mean you have to give up everything you like. In fact, the people I know who HAVE done that are actually the most miserable people I know.

    • I think the point he is trying to make is how so many “younger” mothers and fathers neglect their children over personal interests and technology. I’ve seen dads neglect their kids for CoD, and mothers for facebook. People get caught up in their digital lifestyles and forget they are the reason their kids are here. You don’t have to give up what you love because you have kids. You can share what you love with them and maybe they will love it to. Which is what I plan to do when I have kids. I would never neglect my kids over my love of gaming/music. You just gotta be responsible, I don’t want kids right now so I am being smart about it. Too many people screw unprotected or stupidly and think it will be okay then regret their kids when they have them.

  • When your kid said “Because I feel more welcome down there” I lost it.

    I knew you’d immediately get up and hug him. Good man.

  • When I first read this I thought it was just going to explain what Ultra-Nightmare is all about. I can relate to how you feel to a certain degree. I’ve been getting to the point where I realize gaming is fun but gaming is not life. I get mad at someone when they bother me when I am playing a game. Especially a game that can’t be paused like online MP or co-op. I’ve been recently thinking about how none of my gaming achievements really matter. I have 100k Gamerscore that no one gives a shit about expect me. I’ve had great times and made some great friends but is that really all I want to show people I did in my 20s? I’ve missed some great opportunities over gaming. All the girls, cool experiences, and jobs I could’ve got if I wasn’t so busy playing a game that really isn’t doing anything for me. Don’t get me wrong I love gaming and always will, but there is so much I want to do in life. I’ve been learning a gaming/life balance that is really helping me out. I’m just happy I’m figuring this out while I’m still young and not as an older man. Thanks for your insight, was a really good read.

  • That is why I have a policy of no games while the kids are awake. I won’t my son and daughter to know that they have my full attention when I am home. Hopefully when they get older and start gaming they will have the same respect for their old man.

    I also have the same policy with my parents these days or really anyone for that matter.

  • A nice read and a powerful message. Thank you.

    My brother has a sticker on his laptop saying: “Is this living?” A good question to ask when you spend too much time in front of a screen.

    One remark about your run: the ability to work towards a goal in smaller chunks, is a skill that you can benefit from in your life. In a sense it is a greater accomplishment than doing it in one sitting, because it requires planning, patience, and importantly, setting aside your plans for more important things.

  • Sweet story but…….
    I feel like playing on Ultra Nightmare with preparation is a kind of hollow victory.
    That’s not to say that i’m not impressed by the level of dedication and perseverance that went into memorizing enemy placements, power up locations, weapon pros/cons,etc.
    That’s all very impressive.
    But, personally, I feel like once you’ve reached the point where you’re putting in that amount of effort outside of the game, you’re no longer having fun.
    Which kinda defeats the point, doesn’t it?

  • @alexwalker, guess Bethesda is still holding a grudge against Kotaku, its odd seeing Doom Eternal reviews plastered on Youtube.

    It’s very hard to not click on and watch.

    • Yeah, that’s still in place unfortunately. But watch the reviews anyway! I’ll have something to say about DOOM Eternal, but sadly it won’t be until next week.

      • It’s a shame, Beth has a beef with Kotaku US and it’s trickled down.

        What i find odd about the youtube reviews is that they are coming from small gaming channels and not so much the big ones you’d normally associate with.

  • It’s a timely reminder. I actually stopped playing intense FPS shooters because I didn’t have a closed-door policy and when the kid came in to ask a question in a crazy firefight the effort required to answer calmly is blood pressure worthy. Especially when they keep coming back… (totally normal for kids). So I just gave them up entirely as it just wasn’t family compatible. I’ll still get Eternal and sit down and play when I have a quiet moment and the kids are not around. But I haven’t even finished Doom yet so you have an idea of how often that happens.

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