Reply To: Level design

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After praising the map design in my earlier post, it’s only fair that I give some criticism of it too for balance, so expect this post to be more negative.

So far I’ve played through e1 and e2. I have to say I preferred e1. e2 levels feel a bit different to e1 levels. I don’t mean the texture differences are bad (they are just as great!), but the map layouts themselves feel poorer somehow.

It is clear that focus has been shifted away from the hub-like areas used in e1. But with fewer such landmarks to guide us, it is harder to build mental maps of these levels, which in turn makes them harder to navigate comfortably.

The designs of e2 feel more like a chaotic clustering of many small areas, which make it hard to identify where you are at a glance. Abundant use of alcoves and corridors don’t help, as turning in areas with low visible range will disorient us, so we can easily lose our sense of direction.

In a more realistic game, this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, as even small areas are regularly given unique and interesting detail with scenery and use of the third dimension. But Doom cannot escape it’s own limitations, and to me this is an example of where it’s abstract geometry becomes a handicap.

3D spaces need landmarks, but Doom is limited in how it can achieve this.

So what are the consequences of this? If the player loses their sense of direction, they have no guide as to where they should go next. They’ll run around aimlessly hoping to stumble upon something new. If that means backtracking, then it quickly becomes boring. But even if we manage to progress, encounters will feel less engaging – it’s just one room after another of monsters – as each encounter becomes less meaningful in the bigger picture.