Doom 4 is in trouble, and has been for quite some time now, according to multiple sources. Though publisher Bethesda tells Kotaku they still plan to release the highly-anticipated first-person shooter, Doom 4 has gone through at least one major reboot over the past few years, and sources say even today, five years after development started, the game is not even close to complete.
Rumors of Doom 4’s troubled development have been floating around for a while 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 criticized 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.