Doom: Stairway to Badass
Doom has devoured productivity and personal relationships since id Software opened the floodgates to hell in 1993. Gatekeepers of the franchise's past, present, and future celebrate the weapons and level design that defined the classics, the pitfalls and triumphs involved in revitalizing the brand, and the community that keeps old-school fans knee-deep in new ideas.
Marty Stratton knew a good sound when he heard it. He had studied commercial music composition at University of Denver and, with bachelor degree in hand, had headed out west in 1995 determined to land a job in the entertainment industry. Writing jingles had seemed a good place to start. Stratton understood musical theory and knew his way around plenty of professional recording hardware and software.
For all his education and ability to generate dulcet sounds, none quite moved Stratton like the rush of quarters racing down the metal chute of a change machine and flooding into its tray. "I loved the arcade. Getting those quarters was the greatest thing ever," he remembered.
Stratton had set aside gaming to devote himself to his studies in college. After he picked up stakes and moved out to Los Angeles, serendipity guided him back to his childhood hobby.
"You're young, you're looking for any opportunity you can get," he explained. "I was friends with a guy who knew somebody at Activision, and introduced me. I think when I started, there were 120 people or something like that. They were smaller than id is now. I started in QA there, just trying to get my foot in the door."
Stratton wedged open Activision's door and entered a land of opportunity. Although most resources were diverted toward internal production, management had recently minted a smaller division focused on publishing games in development at external studios. Stratton cut his teeth on quality assurance for a year, then transferred to the group scouting outside teams. Three of their most promising were Raven Software, Ritual Entertainment, and id Software.
All three studios produced first-person shooters and were helmed by some of the still-nascent genre's biggest names: Mark Dochtermann, Jim Dosé, Richard 'Levelord' Gray, had worked together at Apogee and 3D Realms before co-founding Ritual. None were more prominent than id Software, pioneers following the back-to-back-to-back global successes of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake.
"I was the producer assigned to their stuff, so the Quake Mission Packs was my first experience with id, coming down to Mesquite when they were still in the famous black building," Stratton said, recalling early work on the original Quake's expansion packs. "So right around '96 I started working on id games, working with them from Activision on Quake 2, the mission packs, console versions, then Quake 3."
It didn't take long for Stratton to form an attachment to the id team. They were a fun, creative bunch, and he immediately took a liking to their penchant for moving game technology forward in leaps instead of baby steps. In 2000, id Software made him an offer to leave Activision and join their ranks full-time.
"I was just loving working with them, and jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the team," he said.
Stratton stepped into the role of id's director of business development. His job entailed managing relationships with publishers—a responsibility for which he was well-suited—and evangelizing the studio's games at trade shows. Following 1999's Quake 3: Arena, id's next big project was Doom 3, a retelling of the first two games rather than a direct sequel.
"I'm proud to say that I think we always do gun combat well, and I think Doom 3 was another example of that," Stratton said. "The gunplay was very good; the guns felt great. But stylistically, it was just a different take on [Doom]."
Published under Activision's label, Doom 3 released in 2004 to high praise from venerable critical outlets such as PC Gamer. Long-time fans were more divided. In Doom and Doom 2: Hell on Earth, players moved at ridiculously high velocities through sprawling maps and mowed down demons using chainguns and rocket launchers and space-age lasers. While select maps featured corridors draped in shadows and eerie soundtracks designed to unnerve players, the majority had been crafted as high-octane shooting galleries.
Meanwhile, Doom 3 blanketed every cave and corridor in darkness. Zombies moaned and shambled with hands outstretched. Drawing near candles and streaks of blood arranged in glowing pentagrams triggered bouts of maniacal, echoing laughter from the game's mad scientist-type villain. Monsters leaped out of dark pockets to lunge at players, attacking in packs of three or four instead of swarms of dozens.
Players inched through shadowy corridors rather than raced forward, dependent on the narrow beam of their flashlight to scan ahead of them. Weapons had to be held separately from the flashlight, forcing players to use their torch while exploring and then swap over to their weapon of choice when a monster came hissing or shambling or lunging out of its hiding place. PDAs scattered around maps functioned like key cards, able to be scanned to access gated areas, but the devices also contained emails and voice memos that players occasionally had to sift through to find passwords, bringing the pace to a halt.
In many ways, Doom 3 was ahead of its time. Its blend of action and survival horror predated Resident Evil 4 by nearly six months, and provided a template for Dead Space years later in 2008. Still, although many players took a liking to Doom 3's creative deviations, even developers at id acknowledged the dissonance between the title's slower pace and the legacy of the name on its box.
"If we would have made Doom 2016 as a direct sequel to Doom 3, I think it would have been a little confusing to people," Stratton explained, "or even felt more like it was trying to move things in a different direction because we didn't like [Doom 3]. That just wasn't the case. There are few of us left who actually worked on Doom 3, but we were all really proud of it and still are."
Shipping Doom 3 off to stores marked the perfect occasion for id's team to reflect on what they had made, and ponder their next steps. When Stratton had joined in 2000, the studio had employed just over a dozen developers. By the time Doom 3 launched in the summer of 2004, the team had grown to around 19. While the bulk of the staff laid the foundation for a brand-new id property called Rage, in mid-2006, Stratton and other managers at id shopped around for external teams to write new chapters in the Wolfenstein, Quake, and Doom sagas.
"We had started working on Rage at that point and were very excited about that," said Stratton, "so we felt like, 'We have these great brands. Is it worth looking outside [of id Software]?' We'd done that successfully with Wolfenstein. Return to Castle Wolfenstein was a fantastic game, and we'd worked on Quake 4 with Raven. We'd developed a good relationship with Raven, so it was like, let's kind of test the waters and see what else is out there."
Of id's holy trinity of brands, only Doom lacked a home. Stratton, along with artist-turned-executive-producer Kevin Cloud and then-president Todd Hollenshead, traveled to several studios to gauge their candidature for sending players back to hell. Over months of flights and road trips, Stratton and the others agreed that only their team seemed equipped to do justice to Doom.
"It came down to we thought we would do a better job growing our team and doing another Doom than another team would do with it," Stratton explained. "Or, if they were in a position to have to grow their team, we thought we'd be more successful hiring top-notch people than some other developer would be, just based on who we are and the people we had working here. If we were going to do it, we'd do it internally and grow a team around building it here."
The time had come to divide and conquer. While the bulk of id developed on Rage, management slowly filled out a second team to make Doom.
"It was two teams, and it was challenging," Stratton remembered. "It's challenging for any business to grow like that. I actually don't remember how many people were on each team, but we had definitely grown as a studio into multiple teams.
Call of Battle-Doom
In 2008, following nearly two years of in-house work, id Software announced that a fourth Doom game was in production. Details came in drips and drabs. At first, they seemed promising. Todd Hollenshead and John Carmack, the latter still being the driving force behind id's engine and technology development, promised that Doom 4 would follow in the footsteps of Doom and Doom 2.
By April 2013, fans were skeptical. Speaking to anonymous sources close to Doom 4, Kotaku published an expose revealing that development had been mired in restarts and mismanagement. Sources confided that Doom 4 had slowly strayed from its origin as a pedal-to-the-metal shooter to a Call of Duty clone: scripted set pieces, linear progression, and a cinematic feel weighted down by dialogue and character interaction that went far beyond Doom 2's "if it moves, shoot it" manifesto. Leaked footage from an alpha prototype lent credence to Kotaku's report.
More details came to light when Noclip founder Danny O'Dwyer produced a documentary confirming that the Call of Duty-style version had been primed to tell a more realistic story about the effects of Hell's invasion of earth—a similar premise to Doom 2: Hell on Earth, albeit steeped in storytelling.
"Game development is a really big bet, especially in the triple-A space," Stratton explained of the Call of Duty-style project. "You look at the market, you look at what games are selling. You've got a great brand like Doom, and I don't think it's that far of a stretch to think, That could work. And the thing is, it did work in a way."
By the time Rage released to mixed reviews in 2011, not even id Software, a legendary team celebrated for paving its own path, was immune to the realities of market trends. Stratton admitted the commercial success of Infinity Ward's and Activision's Call of Duty games had an impact on Doom 4's direction: The games were simply too lucrative for id to dismiss out of hand.
"I think that for somebody who likes a Call of Duty game, they probably would have liked it," he said of Doom 4. "For hardcore Doom-ists, Doom-is-part-of-my-being fans, which ultimately are our most important fans, I think they would have had a problem with it."
Management shakeups sent more tremors through Doom 4. In 2009, ZeniMax Media, parent company of Fallout 3 and Elder Scrolls developer Bethesda Softworks, acquired id Software and added the company's venerable properties to its portfolio. Four years later, Carmack abruptly departed id, the company he had co-founded, to assume a leadership position at Oculus VR. (Carmack cited ZeniMax's unwillingness to support the Oculus Rift headset as the primary cause for his exit. Allegations that Carmack absconded with proprietary VR technology that he had developed while still at id led to a bitter legal battle between ZeniMax, Oculus, and Facebook, which acquired Oculus for $2 billion in 2014. The battle is ongoing as of April 2017.)
All the while, id Software struggled to find its footing on Doom. The decision to scrap "Call of Doom" and go back to the drawing board was difficult but necessary. "There's a million little things that go into every decision like that," explained Stratton, "but ultimately it didn't end up feeling like what we thought the next Doom should be. I think that was the fundamental thing that happened."
It would have been easy for Bethesda, ZeniMax's proxy, to can the beleaguered project, or infest id Software with producers vested with the power to force them down a creative path. Stratton said that the publisher deserves credit for giving id the freedom to go back to the drawing board.
"A lot of other publishers, I don't know that they really would have been as supportive as they were in making those changes, because they're hard. That's money spent. You're moving away from a lot of work that was done, it impacts the morale of the team," he said. "I don't think we make bad stuff. It would have come together, but ultimately I think we made the right decision."
In their search for direction, id Software viewed Doom and Doom 2 as its northern star. "We did go through a process of asking, 'What is everything that we think are the best moments and the best elements of Doom as a whole?'" Stratton recalled. "Whether it's Doom 1, Doom 2, Doom 3, or the Doom  that we were working on previously, and then try to distill down: what does this mean? What do we keep saying? What keeps coming up? That's really what drove that decision. If we're going to come back, we're going to set a tone for the future of Doom. It really just felt right to use the original as our inspiration."
Almost unanimously, those best moments reflected memories of dozens of monsters flooding onto the screen, a player-character moving at impossible speeds, and an arsenal designed to rip and tear hell's minions to shreds. Not everyone was excited by the prospect of looking back in order to look forward.
"Once you make those changes, there are definitely people who don't like the new direction, or don't feel it's the right way to go about things," Stratton admitted.
Taking Doom back to its roots was only one source of unease within id. Parting ways with studio veterans such as John Carmack and Todd Hollenshead, who had left a few months before Carmack, caused a cultural shift within the studio—a transition that's bound to occur every time veterans leave and new owners step in. Still, most of the development team was excited by Doom's personality shift.
"When you say, 'Hey, our inspiration is Doom and Doom 2,' that's why a lot of people came to work for the company or got into the industry," Stratton said. "That was their first touchstone with making games: making mods, or WADs, for Doom. If you weren't caught up in a lot of the other stuff, it was a pretty easy change to buy into, at least conceptually—that we wanted to use that original inspiration from those games and build on that, and really make Doom something that we thought fans were looking for and wanted to play."
With Rage fading in the rearview and dust still settling from upheavals in management, id pared down its teams from one to two. Despite myriad other changes to its culture, id had seen its best days operating as a small studio—mobile and adaptable, like its shooter characters. Juggling two teams at a company that had historically operated as a single, well-oiled machine was too much to handle.
"When you go through something like that," Stratton explained, referring to rebooting Doom, "the last thing you want to do is divide your focus. We really needed to refocus as a team, and get all hands on deck making Doom the best game it should be and needs to be."
Past and Present
A new Doom engineered under new management opened up new opportunities at id Software. Marty Stratton took on the role of Doom's game director in addition to helping manage id's business relationships. A newer hire, Hugo Martin, brought his background in game development and Hollywood blockbusters to bear.
"I started out at Naughty Dog, and then I kind of went back and forth between games and animation," Martin said. "I had a chance to work at MTV Animation and Blur, and a lot of different experiences doing commercial work and cinematic trailers and stuff."
Leaving full-time work, Martin bounced between jobs as a consultant. Right around the time John Carmack and Todd Hollenshead left id Software, he was working alongside Guillermo del Toro as a conceptual artist on Pacific Rim, a Hollywood blockbuster about humans who pilot giant mechs to battle otherworldly creatures that emerge from earth's oceans to wreak havoc. Specifically, Martin helped design Jaegars, skyscraper-sized robots operated by humans as the first and last line of defense.
"Among my experiences, and I was very lucky to get to do some of the stuff I got to do, the thing I enjoyed the most was working full-time at a games studio," said Martin. "I love games, I love making games. I really enjoyed that experience, so I was actively seeking an opportunity to get back into that full-time again, rather than just being a contractor."
Martin began and ended his search at id Software. He already had an in: In between films, he had been hired as a contractor to do odds-and-ends jobs for id. Martin became increasingly excited about Doom and inquired after full-time positions. Pleased with Martin's work so far, Stratton brought him into the fold as creative director.
"I was champing at the bit to work on Doom," Martin said. "It's amazing. As a creative person, it's the best. It's irreverent, and it's comic book, and it's crazy because it's all cartoonish violence. Pretty much anything in Doom—the style and tone—is stuff that I really enjoy. I feel super fortunate, and I'm so glad to have met these people."
Working in tandem as directors, Martin and Stratton guided the team in choosing which classic Doom tropes to resurrect.
"There was a pretty clear period early in the reboot where we identified a lot of that stuff," Stratton remembered. "We determined, 'We want this to be on Mars. We want the super shotgun.' When we throw ideas up on the white board and say, 'What are the things you say out loud when Doom comes to mind?', you get a pretty quick list: demons, guns, movement, and all that kind of stuff. Then it just becomes iteration. You put things in the game."
Deciding to dust off iconic monsters like Imps, Barons of Hell, and the rotund Mancubus was easier said than done. Doom 3 had alienated some fans who refused to accept any interpretation of their favorite monsters, weapons, and tropes other than their original forms. Once again, id's artists faced the unenviable task of modernizing classic monsters while still appealing to fans who viewed their favorite classic games as sacrosanct.
Stratton and Martin encouraged the art team to forget about Doom dogma and concentrate on silhouettes. A silhouette must be unique and well-defined enough for audiences to instantly associate it with a character. A silhouette's dark contours reveal personality. The Imp is solid yet svelte, indicating agility and power dished out in darting attacks. It rakes with its claws when up close and throws fireballs from afar, giving it a fighting chance against the considerably stronger player-character at any distance. Its original form consisted of brown, leathery skin studded with spikes, so the artists incorporated those features, right down to glowing eyes and a mouth filled with jagged teeth.
As before, Barons of Hell hang out near the top of hell's food chain. The originals were powerfully built, with flesh the color of a blistering sunburn and strode forward on two-jointed legs. Their slow gait complemented their power, and they flung green fireballs from afar and shredded players up close. The new Baron of Hell exhibits seared flesh and towers over players. Still capable of flinging green fire at a distance, Barons close the gap by lowering their horned heads and charging across the screen.
Other classic monsters such as the bullish Pinky demon, the corpulent Mancubus, and the skeletal Revenant paid homage to older interpretations while bringing fresh gameplay quirks to the table.
"I'm a big believer in the three keywords," said Martin, "and this is true for story, gameplay, design, systems, visuals, anything. You write down three keywords, and you use them as guideposts throughout the process. That way when you are deep in details and very close up to things, you always have a reminder of what it is you're trying to accomplish. That was the trick. To basically make them look really sharp, modernize them while making sure they still felt like regular characters."
Symphony of Violence
Every Doom game cultivates certain instincts in players. Doom and Doom 2 bequeath upon them the agility and firepower they need to flit in and out of attacks, circling enemies and pumping them full of rockets. Doom 3 advocates caution. Enemies can come from anywhere at any time, especially from behind, and when they emerge, players fall back on their heels.
"When all the AI attacked you, your first instinct was to run backwards and shoot into the pack," Stratton said. "Guide them around the arena. We were like, 'This is not it.'"
With the new Doom, sometimes referred to as "Doom 2016" by fans to distinguish it from the original, Stratton and Martin endeavored to create the fastest and wildest Doom gameplay loop yet.
"It took us all three years. Every last minute. Every last second," said Stratton. "Our game was all about combat; that's how we introduced it, that's how we talked about it. It's what we told people we were delivering. It was the most important thing, so we spent every last second making it better."
"If we had 10 bucks to make the game, eight of it was devoted to combat," Martin added.
Doom 3 had faded far enough into the past for id's developers to examine it with a critical eye. Horror was an essential part of the franchise, and Doom 3 had steered harder into it than its predecessors. Very early on, the team wrestled with Doom 2016's division between horror and action. "'They gave us 60 bucks, so let them play how they want,'" Stratton said, referring to a golden rule of game development that id hesitated to break.
After several failed experiments, they faced facts. Doom, as a franchise, was equivocal. There was nothing objectively wrong with Doom 3's tenser, more defensive slant on gameplay and atmosphere. However, they had no desire for their Doom to treat shadows as places to hide and monsters as boogiemen. "It fundamentally ruined that power fantasy, the idea that you are a badass and you're taking the fight to them," Stratton continued.
"You kite enemies into doors when you're weak," Martin said. "That's the solution when the odds are overwhelming. The Terminator isn't kiting bad guys in doorways; the Terminator is running around slaughtering people."
Doom's developers likened their game to chess. Each level is a game board, the player and monsters the pieces. They knew the basic rules they wanted to promote: be aggressive, be fast, shoot first and ask questions later. The next step was figuring out how to implement them.
"We hadn't determined the rules for how the pieces move," Stratton added. "Everybody was all over the board, and it didn't work. It wasn't fun. We needed to develop rules for individual pieces and play into the whole. That took the whole project. We never stopped working on that and making it better."
Glory Kills gave the team its big break. Early in development, several artists collaborated on a short animation that showed players executing a flurry of melee attacks on wounded monsters—like Fatalities in Mortal Kombat, but quick and brutal, intended more for expediency than showmanship.
"That really proved that push-forward combat, Glory Kills—that tight gameplay loop was super fun," Stratton recalled of the proof of concept. "We knew it was going to be good. It was good to get one foot up the ladder very early on."
Glory Kills were not an original concept. "This started in the older version of Doom, the one they called Call of Doom," Martin explained. "They had this sick melee thing where you went up to a guy and did a bunch of stuff to fuck him up. And it was really cool, but it was slow. It was more drawn out."
Monsters must be wounded before players can perform a Glory Kill. Brought to the brink of death, a monster begins flashing and lurching. Players need only approach them and press a single key or button. A burst of violence—ripping off an Imp's lower jaw and punching it in the face, tearing of a Baron of Hell's horn and jamming it into its eye, driving a zombie's skull into the ground—and the enemy crumples and players set off again, speeding toward their next target.
"There are several components that make it work," said Martin. "It makes you feel powerful. It pulls you into the action, so as a general concept it takes the fight to the bad guys. Add the fact that health drops out of them and it's an integral part of the dance. It's an important part of the whole game [loop]."
Fear is a vital component of the Glory Kill system, but not in a fashion typical of Doom. Many players confessed to playing Doom 3 in fits and starts. Its enemies were too frightening, its atmosphere too thick with blackness and brimstone, for longer play sessions. Even older Doom games turned players into prey, such as when beaten and bloodied with no health or armor refills in sight, leaving players no choice but to run away and snipe at enemies from behind walls. Doom 2016's Glory Kills turned the tables by casting players in the role of the hunter.
"At your moments where you're closest to the demons and have put them in their most vulnerable position," Stratton explained, "you've absolutely created fear in them. They're in full-on, screaming, oh-my-God-I'm-going-to-die terror. I don't know that most players would call that out as a moment, but it was, and it really did guide everything."
"I don't know how many times we sat in meetings where it went up and down," Martin reiterated of the process of nailing down Doom's combat. "It would be right, and then all of a sudden you'd play one day, and all of a sudden [monsters] start chasing you and you're running backward and shooting. You felt like you were being chased by a pack of dogs, so we'd tune it."
Glory Kills add percussion to Doom 2016's symphony of violence. Martin, a film buff long before he broke into Hollywood, pointed out how action star Jackie Chan describes fight scenes. The casual observer sees only a flurry of punches and kicks. Chan hears music: when attacks come, and from where; the rhythm of each blow, their sounds painstakingly selected in post-production.
"If you watch any good martial arts film, you'll notice that," Martin said. "We can all picture it in our minds: Bruce Lee movies and kung fu movies, the wind from their punches and the sound they make when they block versus when they connect. It's very rhythmic. We wanted the glory kills to kind of feel that way."
Glory Kills happen in two beats. BOP-BOP. Monster dead. In Doom 2016, quicker is always better. In point of fact, monsters remain prone to Glory Kills only for a few seconds, spurring players to pour on speed. Dally, and monsters shake off their stupor and return to the fray.
Then there are Runes, passive items that affect gameplay in numerous ways. The Blood Fueled rune ratchets up the player's speed after executing a Glory Kill, and Savagery gives them an even bigger boost.
"Some people were like, 'These are going to slow down the fight!'" Martin remembered. "I'm like, first of all they're fast to begin with, but if you equip that rune that makes them faster, and you master that rune, they're lightning fast. They're almost too fast."
Executed demons break open like shattered piñatas, spilling bits of health over the ground—perhaps the most significant layer of Glory Kills. In most games, classic Doom included, weakened players flee from combat. Glory Kills reward aggression by healing players who take a risk and wade into the thick of battle.
Earning health for Glory Kills prompted more iteration. "It gave them a lot of meaning," Martin continued. "Then it was a balance of how much health. Then it was about, okay, so if I can get health for doing this, how much health should I get from shooting guys? What's the balance there? Should we penalize players for shooting guys? Does everything have to end in Glory Kills?"
The team arrived at a comfortable balance of health distribution. Med packs, another classic trope, are sprinkled around each level for players who need them in a pinch, while Glory Kills convert demons into healing source.
More than finding the beating heart of Doom's gameplay loop, Glory Kills signified a turning point in the project's long and troubled development cycle. Veterans leaving, uncertainty over how involved ZeniMax may or may not be, worry that ignoring market trends might lead to financial missteps—all of that was in the past. Like their player-character, Doom's team was racing forward, full stop.
"It was very, very important for the team," said Martin, "and for Marty and me to push the three components of the team together: art, design, and tech. You didn't want people making things in isolation, which always happens. The animators get really into doing these really cool Glory-Kill animations, but then maybe the systems guys are going off in another direction where they're not really pushing a lot of the progression items into glory kills. They're not complementing or accounting for glory kills as much as we would have liked them to."
It was important, the directors agreed, for Doom to foster a relentless momentum that drives players forward by giving them tools such as Glory Kills to kill demons fluidly. Like a roller coaster that goes shrieking through every curve and loop and tearing up every hill, perpetually gaining speed.
"Some people criticized Doom 2016 as not having enough horror," said Martin. "In order to have horror, I have to feel vulnerable. There is no horror without me feeling vulnerable and on my heels. The Doom marine is never on his heels. He's on his toes, and he puts other people on their heels."
"And you need to be slow, too," Stratton added. "Our pillars are guns, demons, and fast movement. Moving at however fast, 100 miles per hour through this game, you're not vulnerable. You're not going to get a jump scare when you're just [speeding] through the world. Once we made some of those decisions, we were all in."
Achieving breakneck speeds hinged on level design. Once again looking back in order to see what lay ahead, the developers took cues from classic Doom maps. "Our levels have to be abstract," said Martin. "That was our main takeaway from classic Doom [levels]: they're very abstract and don't necessarily have to make sense."
Martin held up Doom 2 as an example. Many maps were set on earth, but the game's urban environments did not conform to any realistic blueprint. That was due in part to limitations of its engine. Floors, for instance, could not be placed one above the other. More importantly, realistic architecture tends to be dull. Long, straight corridors, open office bullpens, staid lobbies—environments not conducive to fun.
"We need our levels to be very abstract because of where we place key cards, secrets, and the line-of-sight breaks," said Martin. "We had this issue of, oh, you know, every room doesn't make complete sense. When you play certain games, you can say, 'I'm in the atrium now, and there are bathrooms. Look how realistic this is.' That's not really going to work in Doom because, again, the player's so fast. If you put them in that type of space, they're going to be smashing into the walls."
"We have scenes where there are 10 demons or so, and it's always 360-degree combat," explained Stratton. "How much pressure units are pushing you, how much ranged units are trying to run at you—those are things that we iterated on through constant play. We'd go fairly long periods of time where it was like, 'This isn't working. We've got the right demons and the right guns. We're starting to build spaces that feel right. But the combat doesn't feel good.'"
The solution lay in constructing spaces that stimulated players to go fast and hit hard. Doom 2016's levels are rambling arenas that unspool into hallways and alcoves. Players weave in and out of indoor environments, and outdoor milieus stretch out in all directions, giving players ample room to sprint, leap, and shoot. Buildings assembled from tiers of platforms emphasize verticality. The player-character moves like a parkour artist, automatically reaching out to grab ledges and hoist himself up so that players need not bother to slow down.
With few exceptions, players are not punished for attempting feats such as jumping from the summit of a building and plummeting to the ground. Realistic damage has a place in some games, but not in Doom.
"That's why I think Lazarus really caught on with people," Martin said. "It's one of the fastest levels in the game. You can just rip through that level and feel like such a badass because there's nothing standing in your way."
Like the maps they inhabit, enemies are organized in strata. Running into a Baron of Hell in Doom is on par with encountering a mini-boss in most other games. Then there are zombies, unarmed and braindead and shambling aimlessly, only taking a swing at players if they happen to cross their paths and stand still.
Kurt Loudy, Doom's AI gameplay designer, likened zombies to white belts in a Bruce Lee movie. Martin loved the analogy; it fit perfectly into Doom's push-forward combat scheme. "Our zombies can give you a good whack, but it wasn't about them being cool or formidable. It was about you feeling cool killing them," said Martin. "You've got to have that dojo full of white belts, that white-belt class that the hero just beats the shit out of. They just make you feel cool because you're just mowing through those guys—and then the Mancubus shows up. He's the black belt."
Zombies shuffle at one end of Doom's monster spectrum. The Mancubus waddles around closer to the far end. Gore Nests occupy the middle. Resembling shrines pieced together from blood and viscera, Gore Nests hold bright-red portals from which demons emerge.
In any other game, they would be objects to avoid. Botching an objective or tripping an alarm would punish the player by unleashing a tide of demons. In Doom, players march right up to them and rip them apart. Nests explode in a spray of blood, the portal detonates, and a wave of monsters converges on the player's location.
"It's like if, in a zombie game, you touch a car and the alarm goes off, that's sweet," Martin continued. "That's exactly what you want. The more direct way is saying, 'Hey, you're badass.' You can do that, too, but the little design choice of the gore nest being something I activate as opposed to being triggered when I get near it, subconsciously says, 'You are one bad dude looking for a fight.' The Doom marine is a full battalion. He's everything you need. We don't need vehicles in Doom; he's a tank. I think that type of commitment was great."
Rip and Tear and Cut and Carve
Late one night, Hugo Martin closed the design documents open on his screen and booted the latest build of Doom. Playing Doom was his favorite late-night ritual. He played because it was fun, but also to keep his finger on the pulse of the latest changes. Within minutes he was navigating the twists and turns of a work-in-progress level and came across one of his favorite weapons, another strand of Doom DNA dating back to 1993.
"I remember this specifically because it was probably a moment in development that stands out most in my mind," he said. "I'm in this fight, I'm using the chainsaw. We've already got the [fuel system] set up. I chainsaw a guy, and health spills out, but at the time, somebody had made an adjustment."
At first, the chainsaw seemed to be working according to their latest design. Unlike its classic counterpart, Doom 2016's chainsaw kills any enemy instantly in a flashy, Glory Kill-like execution. The trade-off is that the chainsaw runs on fuel from canisters scattered around levels, and tougher monsters consume more fuel. For players who save their fuel, the chainsaw becomes an ace up their sleeve for occasions when heavyweights like a Baron of Hell or Mancubus pop up more frequently in later levels.
Martin grinned as his Doom marine carved up a Mancubus into fat, fleshy chunks—and then stared as bullets fountained up from its ruined corpse. "My head exploded," he remembered. "I was like, 'Oh my God, that felt so good.' The idea that in order to replenish my resources—it felt very intuitive. We were already doing that with the glory kills and health. In order to continue using the weapons I want, to replenish my ammo resources, I would once again have to take the fight to them: get up close and personal and saw one of these guys in half. That little moment was a huge spark."
The next day, Martin rushed up to one of the gameplay programmers and described what had transpired. Stratton and several others heard the story and thought it was hilarious. "You're always looking for the spark," Martin said. "We hunt for the spark, and when you find the spark, you dig into it. It's kind of like seeing a little oil leaking out of the ground, and man, you just drill into that as hard as you can to see if you can hit pay dirt."
At Martin's behest, the programmers steered into the chainsaw-refills-ammo mechanic. That, too, was a lengthy and iterative process. In order to spur players to refill their ammo using the chainsaw, the developers removed or reduced other methods of stocking up. Ammo packs stayed, but over time, chainsaw massacres became the optimal method of topping off supplies.
"You got a little bit of ammo when you killed guys [with guns] if you needed it," Martin said, "but we lowered that value as low as it would go, literally right up until the last week of developing the game. I remember I requested one last, final tweak to actually suppress every other way to get ammo in the game in order to allow the chainsaw to shine. I felt like the chainsaw was one of the coolest features in the dance. It wonderfully complemented the dance, and I wanted to steer into it as hard as we could."
As Doom hurtled toward its projected May 2016 release date, some of the developers got cold feet. The team had spent years balancing weapons against enemies and upgrades that expanded their functionality. Filtering the majority of ammo replenishments through the chainsaw, a weapon that ran on fuel that players might not have when they needed it, could cripple their gameplay loop.
Martin understood their concerns. More than that, he agreed with them. Their implementation was a gamble, and a big one. That made it all the more critical to go all-in.
"It's one of my proudest moments: we stood our ground as a team," he said, beaming. "A lot of developers would—and I totally understand this—they would give you multiple ways to refill your ammo, because you paid 60 bucks for the game. You could collect this certain type of wood and that will resupply my ammo, or I could go to a vendor and he would do it. There's usually five different ways to do something. In Doom, there's pretty much one way, and that's using the chainsaw."
When Doom released in mid-May, the developers crowed over glowing reviews. Magazine extracts and websites were passed around the office so everyone could look over scores and read commentary. Martin joined them, watching for one point in particular.
"It's funny because I thought especially hardcore first-person shooter fans, especially fans of Doom, would pick up on how fucking great this is and how wonderfully it complements the dance, and they are going to fucking love it," he said. "And sure enough, they did. I can't tell you how many articles were written where people were like, 'I would just like to write a little editorial about how fucking awesome this chainsaw is.' That made us so happy because that's what we were banking on."
Players and critics appreciated the additional layers of strategy the chainsaw offered. Carving up smaller enemies drains less fuel, enabling players to kill more enemies between fill-ups. But larger demons bequeath larger quantities of ammo, doubly incentivizing fuel. Spotting a Baron of Hell at the head of a swarm of lesser demons is tacit permission for players to pull out all the stops—unload their shells, bullets, rockets, and plasma cells in a glorious explosion of violence. As long as at least one big bad remains alive, and as long as they have enough fuel, they can hunt down the biggest, baddest monster on the battlefield and restock.
"My favorite thing about the chainsaw," Martin said, "and again, we suppressed a bunch of other really cool features to make this one feature even cooler, is that it makes you think. You have to make split-second decisions during the dance to resupply your ammo. To me, that's fascinating."
A Secret to Everybody
Marty Stratton strolled into Bethesda's 2015 holiday gathering feeling confident. Besides giving developers the chance to ring in the holidays, the annual meeting was a sort of show-and-tell. Representatives from studios under the ZeniMax umbrella brought along builds of their ongoing projects and outlined their progress and plans to an audience of peers and higher-ups.
Stratton had good reason to exude confidence. Just a few weeks beforehand, Jason O'Connell, one of the team's level designers, planted an Easter egg in the game's Foundry level. Crossing a bridge, players may notice a lever jutting out from a piece of machinery. Most players, O'Connell surmised, would probably overlook it. Those who pull the level will hear a chime, a cue that something, somewhere, has changed.
Across the bridge, a wall panel slides up. At the threshold, Doom's textures shift. The game's intricately detailed walls and floor turn grainy and pixelated, as if the passage is a portal into another world. Indeed, it is—an older world constructed in 1993.
O'Connell had figured out a way to merge chunks of maps from Doom and Doom 2 with Doom 2016's architecture, creating a fusion of old and new. "He put that in," Stratton recounted, "and I went in there and was like, 'Oh my God. This is unbelievable.' "
Two things stood out to Stratton. The first was how seamless and fun it was to step out of modern Doom and into a slice of the franchise's past, armed to the teeth with new weapons and facing off against modern incarnations of beloved monsters that were stationed exactly where they had stood in the original level.
"Jumping into the past, but doing it with new guns, new enemies, and new moves," said Stratton. "It still felt right: you were surrounded by old Doom, but doing new-Doom things. It was one of those moments."
The second was how surreal it felt to cross that threshold. Although Stratton had not been at id for the development of Doom or Doom 2, id Software had been a fixture in his life for 16 years, starting just a few years following the original Doom's publication. Traveling back in time to revisit pieces and parts from the studio's history was as emotional as it was awe-inspiring, like paging through albums of photos taken just before he had been born.
"It was unbelievable how far we'd come in 23 years or so since the original Doom," he continued. "In a snap you go from the old into the new. We were showing where we were at near the end of 2015, and I showed that moment, and I got so many [positive reactions]. Crossing that threshold was this stark reminder of our progress."
Rip and Tear
Doom's protagonist is known by many names. Space Marine. Doomguy. One Doomed Space Marine. Flynn Taggart. John Grimm, aka the Reaper. Stan Blazkowicz. Doom.
Call him whatever you like. His name doesn't matter. Never has. "Doom was never really about story first," Marty Stratton said, an admission that should surprise no one. "The story really kind of came together as we went."
Doom 2016 once again casts players in the pseudonym and green armor of Doomguy, only the id Software developers don't think of him as a marine, or even Doomguy. To them, he's a sports car. "We use a lot of analogies," Martin said. "I think analogies are important because they get everybody on the same page. We try to describe things in ways that people can quickly grasp. That's not a revolutionary concept; most managers and director types do that. We describe the player as a Ferrari. They don't want to slow down for anything."
If playing Doom is analogous to devouring roadway in a Ferrari, story-driven franchises like Mass Effect and The Witcher put them behind the wheel of a sedan. There's nothing wrong with a sedan; it's simply built for a different function than a Ferrari.
"When you're in a sedan and doing about 40 miles per hour, the road signs don't need to be that big," Martin continued. "The story beats don't need to be pronounced. You can pick up on subtle things a lot easier because you're able to take in everything that's happening at a comfortable speed. When you're in a Ferrari doing 200 miles per hour, man, everything has to be super loud and obnoxious."
"We had a mission statement early on: that you're hell's worst nightmare," Stratton explained. "That guides a lot of decisions. When you're basically saying that there's this entire world of demons, the most ferocious, persistent beings ever, and you are their nightmare. You become their nightmare. We ratchet that stuff up and turn you into a god."
"There's one path," Martin added, "and it's a stairway to being a badass. It's not like, 'Well, I'll go this way or choose this branch and be a different character.' No. You're going to be a badass."
Fountains of Hawaiian Punch
Doom 2016's emphasis on speed and abstract levels arose from the original game's template. To establish their tone, and by extension a narrative, Stratton and Martin removed their rose-tinted glasses and studied Doom '93 to determine how and why its visuals and atmosphere had stood the test of time.
"We felt like there was a cartoonish, comic-book quality to them," Martin said of Doom and Doom 2. "I don't think people thought that then, but in hindsight it's obviously got a very juvenile quality to it: the violence, the gore, the horror aspect to it is all what we call popcorn horror. It's all very fun. We really wanted to tap into that, but do it for ultra-high-end graphics and fidelity and all that stuff."
Few enemies meet with tame, comparatively ordinary deaths in Doom and Doom 2. Riddle a zombie or an Imp with bullets or shells, and they moan and fall to the ground. Every other death is outrageous to the point of absurdity, and intentionally so. Cacodemons pop like zits, their bloated bodies deflating as blue fluids leak out and their singular eyeball droops from a slimy string of muscle. Cyberdemons growl just before they explode in a red mist, leaving behind two bloody stumps: one organic, one cybernetic. Fire a rocket into a mob of zombies and they explode into mushy red lumps.
"You can't have a game where I rip a dude's arm off and beat him to death with it, and have a serious story that goes along with it," Martin said. "We wanted the tone of the game, the story, the lore, to complement the action, which was the star of the show. The best way to complement that was to be more satirical."
Although Doom 2016 benefits from cutting-edge graphics, its death animations gleefully cross the fine line separating disturbing and absurd. Kill an Imp with the chainsaw, and it drops to its knees and raises its arms in a feeble attempt to slow the inevitable downward arc of your steel teeth. One Glory Kill involves grabbing a monster's arm, ripping it free in one quick yank, and then backhanding the monster with it.
Doom's elaborate deaths pay tribute to films such as Kill Bill: Volume 1, which builds to a climax that pits Uma Thurman's "Bride" character against the Crazy 88—over seven dozen Yazuza-gangsters-turned-expendable-grunts. Wielding a samurai sword, she hacks off limbs and slashes throats. Cronies collapse or spin through the air, shaking and thrashing and ululating.
"The violence didn't take itself too seriously," said Martin. "We landed on a spot with the action where it had to be over the top, very much inspired by Kill Bill levels of violence, Evil Dead 2 violence: fountains of Hawaiian Punch-type blood everywhere."
Likewise, Evil Dead 2 and Robocop made appropriate yardsticks for Doom's tone. Both films break up tension and violence using one-liners. A wisecrack inserted at just the right beat can changes a scene's context from appalling to darkly comedic.
Doom 2016 is self-aware, and isn't afraid to prove it. Earth's military and scientific forces are not only aware of demons, they harvest them as an energy source. That knowledge—coupled with gallons of "Hawaiian-Punch type blood"—frames scenes, such as when all hell literally breaks loose in a laboratory, in a humorous light.
"I think the UAC spokesperson, Echo, that pops up and says things like, '221 accident-free days,' or 'If you have problems with the weaponization of demons, please see HR, and don't forget to save your work before you leave'—there's all kinds of funny messaging going on in the game," said Martin. "It's not unlike how the commercials in Robocop functioned: they really set the tone for the world, and are these little breaks that remind you that we're supposed to be having fun with all this."
After starting a new game, players rouse strapped down to a stone slab. Zombies mill about a dark, cave-like chamber. Players sit up, dispense with the white belts, and make their way to a futuristic green suit enshrined by candles. Nearby, they observe an echo, a hologram depicting a past event—in this case, a group of scientists and military personnel speaking in hushed and fearful tones of some unstoppable force that has fallen into their hands and must be contained.
Players digest the words, and realization strikes like a bolt of lightning. "At the beginning of the game," said Martin, "even the little things people say such as, 'We have to contain this. He could ruin everything'—that's someone saying that about you, the player. It's like, wow, I'm a big deal."
Early on, Stratton and Martin threw together an outline that listed ways they wanted to see their story develop. To assist with storytelling efforts, they brought on Adam Gascoine, a writer whose experience spans live theater and video games.
Speaking to Gascoine's collaborations, Stratton said, "He wrote a lot of the Slayer testaments. He's got this great writing style that makes things sound biblical in a way that is just fantastic. The Slayer testaments are some of my favorite pieces of narrative."
Gascoine got on the same page with Martin and Stratton right away. As part of their tentative outline, Martin had written a treatment for a character dubbed the Doom Slayer, a hero so powerful and brutal that he had single-handedly brought hell to its knees untold centuries ago. That hero is, of course, Doomguy circa the original games—and Doom 3, since id positioned the 2004 game as a retelling of earlier titles as opposed to a direct sequel.
"The story was even born out of the idea of the player is coming in with the expectation that 'I'm here to kill demons.' That's my motivation,'" said Stratton. "It says Doom on your screen; you're buying that because you want to kill demons. That really was the genesis of the Doom Slayer. He wakes up on the [slab], and has one thought, like our consumer: to kill demons."
"It would be an insult to their intelligence to dole out some very sophisticated story about the discovery of a demonic invasion on Mars, and what it means to mankind, and the mystery of the occult," said Martin. "Doom's been around for a while, so the best way to not insult their intelligence was to go super silly and direct with it. I think if you know you're dumb and you play with it, then you're actually smart dumb. So the best way to not insult your intelligence was to be really stupid."
Part of the brilliance of Doom 2016's storytelling is that players are allowed to digest as much as they want. Players interested in lore can ease off the gas—slowing to, say, the average speed of a sedan—and soak up Codec files and Slayer testaments that recite the history of hell's war and subsequent loss to the Doom Slayer. Meanwhile, players who prefer to keep their Ferrari going at top speeds can ignore them without missing a beat.
"We'd get them in the game as quickly as we could, and then we'd just iterate on it," Stratton explained. "Whether it was stuff around the UAC, or the Slayer testaments and codecs, that kind of stuff, it was a lot of iteration."
Gascoine popped in and out of id's office for rap sessions. Other team members contributed as well. Chad Mossholder, promoted to audio lead for Doom, had experience writing comic books and asked if he could try his hand at some of the flavor text that satirizes corporate speak, such as counting accident-free days on the job. Stratton and Martin told him to feel free.
"He wrote a good number of the UAC echoes and really brought a cool personality to those," Stratton recalled.
Graphic novels such as Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns were another pillar. "Comic books have very similar limitations in that they only have so many pages to tell a story," Martin explained. "It can't sit there for 10 pages on one scene between characters. It has to do that inside of one or two pages."
Doom's directors encouraged cross-pollination between departments. Giving developers opportunities to contribute in numerous ways helped ensure that all of Doom's storytelling devices, not just text, coalesced.
"It's not like the story team is working on the story," said Martin, "and the combat guys are working on that, and systems are over there. We're all very close. Everything complements each other. It would be one thing if [Doom Slayer] was tearing apart demons but the story I was telling you felt like some Robert Zemeckis 'Contact' [story] where he's really concerned about his relationship with his wife. That would be inconsistent."
Over the decades since Doom's release, Doomguy had become the butt of jokes by those who dismissed him as a stereotypical meathead. He never spoke, only grunted and hissed in pain. That was purposeful. Doom co-designer and id Software co-founder John Romero explained that id Software neglected to name the player-character because they wanted him to be a blank slate. No dialogue. No name. Nothing that could break the illusion that Doomguy was anything more complex than a vessel through which players could revel in the game's sense of speed and blast demons into bloody bits
Doom Slayer should be the same, the id team concurred, right down to their predecessors' decision to keep their character's mouth shut. Nonverbal cues flesh out the character better than words could achieve. The way he cracks his knuckles when characters talk to him, or the casual and uninterested manner in which he destroys priceless artifacts and technology even after being cautioned regarding their delicacy and importance.
It's not that the Doom Slayer is incapable of wrapping his head around how objects work or why they the survival of mankind may depend on their continued functioning. He just doesn't care.
"We built up the fiction of the Doom Slayer, that he's like this biblical force," Martin said. "It's his only reason for existence. We took a character whose only function was to kill demons and actually gave him a reason for it, albeit an absolutely ridiculous, over-the-top, stupid reason."
On the Nose
Not even Field Drones, box-shaped bots that dispense weapon upgrades, are safe from the Doom Slayer's unquenchable aggression.
"The truth is that as the team went on, every idea was immediately put through that filter," Martin described. "We would think in terms of: how would the Doom Slayer do it? Well, he'd punch the robot in the face and take them."
Filtering actions through the Slayer gave rise to snappy gameplay systems. In RPGs, for instance, players pore over pages and pages of text describing upgrades to their character's skills, weapons, armor, and companions. Such ponderous advancement was anathema in Doom. If players were an extension of the Doom Slayer, they too would be more interested in diving back into the fray than in reading about weapon parts or wasting time deliberating over how best to use the Argent Cell upgrade artifact they discovered in a secret compartment.
Moreover, upgrades had to be impactful, rather than doled out in spurts. "Everything you do," explained Stratton, "from crushing an Argent cell or going up to a mod bot to get a mod, or upgrading your suit, getting a rune—everything you do makes a significant difference. All of our upgrades [increase] what you have by 25 percent."
"A mod on a weapon is basically a new weapon," Martin added.
Upgrades, punching Field Drones, shattering priceless artifacts—each is a step on Doom's stairway to badass. "All of those things come together for consistency. You're not going up a little ramp. You're taking big steps," Stratton continued. "When you're watching somebody play on Twitch, and they start laughing when that happens, it's like, 'Oh, awesome. They got it.' There's an obviousness to it, even the subtleties like the way the Doom marine looks at [breakable objects]."
Argent Cells and Field Drones, along with classic maps and collectible Doomguy dolls, are just a few of the many secrets that Doom squirrels away within its intricate levels. Giving players numerous opportunities to search for collectibles might seem antithetical to Doom's push-forward design, but Stratton and Martin disagree. Exploration and secret areas are part and parcel of the Doom experience, as important as super shotguns and Imps and a final showdown with a Spider Mastermind.
Poking around levels provides occasion for the player-character, the racecar, to navigate racetracks at their leisure. "What I like about the secrets," Martin explained, "and moments like the Slayer Testaments and when you hear the story of the Doom Slayer, collectibles and things—those are pace breakers. That's the racecar slowing down, but the racecar is making that choice. We're not saying, 'You have to do this.' It's up to the player. If they want to find secrets, they can. In that case, I think it will be more satisfying for a Doom player to [explore] because they made a choice."
Players have total control over when and where their Doom Slayer pauses to hunt for secrets. Every other moment, his baser instincts run unchecked, killing and bludgeoning and maiming—except for one instance near the end of the game, where the character chooses to preserve rather than demolish an artificial intelligence.
That moment stood out to players like a spot of ink on a white tablecloth precisely because it was flagrantly out of character. Stratton and Martin hoped players might notice. After 10-plus hours of ruining everything in sight, the Doom Slayer curbed his impulse to destroy, lending importance to the moment and the object he chose to conserve.
"I think one of the things we're most proud of is we created a pretty interesting character," Stratton added. "People talk about the Doom marine and the Doom Slayer. He has a personality, and he has depth. They're getting into his head, and he didn't say a word the entire time."
"Some of the best pieces of entertainment," Martin explained, "the story [of how they're made] usually starts with, 'We had no money.' You have to be resourceful and clever and come up with some really interesting stuff. We had full support and had plenty of resources to work with; id is a tremendous team. But in terms of the brand, what is it? It's a dude who just wants to kill demons. It was a fun challenge."
In a perfect world, every facet of Doom 2016 would have been under id's control. A combination of their small team and management shakeups necessitated that they hand off Doom's multiplayer to Certain Affinity, another Texas-based studio known for developing multiplayer modes and content for games such as Halo 2 and Call of Duty: Black Ops, so that they could channel all their resources toward crafting a memorable campaign.
Unfortunately, Doom's multiplayer component ended up being the weak link in its bloody chain. Held up against the blistering pace and laugh-out-loud wit of its campaign, the online modes fell flat—not terrible by any stretch; just dull and insipid. Free-for-all deathmatch, the type of play that had put the original Doom on the map, was absent at launch, baffling and frustrating fans.
Equally concerning was the clean break between the campaign and multiplayer. Doom loaded a single-player menu by default; selecting multiplayer or SnapMap, its map-editing tool, caused the game to relaunch.
"Having to restart the game, that's just a product of some technical things that were happening behind the scenes, that I actually wish we would have addressed before we launched," Stratton admitted.
Rigging the game's modes into separate modules was a side effect of working with an external team. Doom's most memorable features and moments sprung from the flexibility of a single internal team made up of developers that were a stone's throw away from one another. When they had an idea, or if something wasn't working quite right, they could make decisions on the spot.
"When you work with an external team like that, a lot of times you have a lot less flexibility in pivoting and making changes along the way," Stratton said of Certain Affinity. "When you look at how the [modes] feel disparate, personally I think the biggest reason is, even though we constantly played the multiplayer and were in charge of it, it didn't benefit from the same kind of massive shifts in direction that we made as we steered the campaign."
Less than a month after Doom's launch in May 2016, with critics praising its single-player but taking online modes to task, id Software brought multiplayer in-house and set about retooling and expanding it. A stream of free maps and modes followed, including a proper free-for-all option. Still, none of the free releases satisfied players' demand for more story content.
"We haven't talked about much beyond the DLC, so I can't really go into a lot of detail, unfortunately," Stratton said. "I would love to talk about things that we're working on and banging around and all that kind of stuff. There are a couple of things with multiplayer that we're still working on; we'll probably talk about that at a later time. There are no current plans for any campaign DLC. I don't want to get people's hopes up."
Martin and Stratton are aware of what players want. For now, they're content to leave them hanging. "We really feel like we're in one of the best times ever for Doom and for id," Stratton said. "Whether it's VR, multiplayer, or single-player—we left people wanting more on the campaign. There's worse things than having people want more of your combat."
"We worked hard to leave it that way," Martin added. "It was an objective: to start to build a Doom universe. It's a giant canvas."
"So without saying anything," Stratton rejoined, "we wanted to leave ourselves in a great spot, and we feel like we have."