Hugo Martin interview: Doom Eternal is "nutritional content"

Doom Eternal's creative director Hugo Martin explains how his game can be healthy junk food in our latest interview.


When Doom (2016) hit store shelves it breathed new life into the series and heralded in a new age of ripping and tearing for fans of the series both new and old. It was able to capture the essence of what made the original Doom such an iconic title while adding in a lot of features that helped usher it into the modern pantheon of games. Now it’s time to see if the team at id can capture that essence once again with their upcoming sequel Doom Eternal.

I recently had the chance to sit down with Hugo Martin, the Creative director behind the Doom (2016) relaunch as well as the upcoming Doom Eternal. Hugo was chock-full of not only insightful information into the design philosophies behind the series, but also a healthy stock of metaphors and analogies ready to go at the drop of a hat. We took a deep dive into the reasons games need to challenge players and I found out that junk food can be chock full of nutritious vitamins and minerals while still being a heart-stopping ball of gooey, greasy goodness. With no futher ado, I give you my conversation with the one and only Hugo Martin.

Doom Eternal promises to bring Hell on Earth
Doom Eternal promises to bring Hell on Earth

Shacknews: Doom Eternal’s launch date is just around the corner. What have you guys been adding or polishing with this extra time leading up to the new launch date?

Hugo Martin: Certain things that are even in the build now. Little bugs here and there. Like, sometimes glory kills don’t validate when you press on a guy. Right now some of the weak points come undone… But, with gaming in 2020 there’s whole games, not just ours, they’re super complex. They’ve definitely reached the scale beyond film. There’s a lot of stuff working and it’s all working in real time.

Tons of systems and different things interplaying with one another that the likelihood of you having a bug or a crash these days is higher than ever because they’re more complex. I think the ability for a studio to take the time now to polish out the experience, to find every possible scenario where the experience might break down for a player -So you don’t even experience one crash, one single thing, one issue- it’s critical now.

Really, it’s just been going through and making sure the game operates buttery smooth no matter what you do. No matter how much chaos you’re creating it never lets you down, it’s always at 60 plus (frames per second). That all the systems are working together effectively, that there are no exploits. We certainly don’t want you to find some cracks in the armor that you’re able to beat the whole game with. Unless it’s something that’s planned for, because we do have some exploits that are planned as a reward to the player if they’re playing effectively. But, just to make sure the balance and performance of the game is as tight as it should be come launch day.

Shacknews: One thing I’ve noticed about Doom Eternal is that there seems to be a lot more emphasis on verticality this time around. Everything is much more open and there’s a lot more layers as far as the field of combat goes.

Hugo: Absolutely. We wanted to make sure that Doom Eternal was just as engaging outside the arenas as much as it was inside the arenas. We know that arena combat feels good. We knew that from Doom (2016). We made it better now. It’s bigger and it’s cooler. But, we had to make sure that the spaces in between encounters were just as engaging, what we call incidental combat. The level design will challenge you and engage you just as much as the combat will. And it’s a great pace-breaker for the experience.

The different traversal mechanics that we gave the player really allows us to open up the scope of the game quite a bit. You’ll feel that the game is larger and more epic, getting you into crazier places. And this is just the beginning, you’re only on level one. Just wait until you see what we do next. I really feel like it’s just given us more tools to engage the player with and create the most compelling experience possible for you guys.

Hugo thinks Doom Eternal is junk food with nutritional content
Hugo thinks Doom Eternal is junk food with nutritional content

Shacknews: You talk about the air-dash and all that stuff. It’s interesting to me because it feels like you’re playing a very hefty, large character. How do you balance between that weight and maneuverability?

Hugo: I think it’s one of our main pillars of Doom that we really wanted to steer into and own the contrivances that you see in video games sometimes. You know, something that’s really game-y. And I think that we need to embrace that in Doom and not shy away from it. Other games, they’re all about creating this cinematic and immersive experience and they don’t want to break reality too much during your experience.

I think that’s the strength of those games. I don’t think that’s the strength of Doom and it’s not something we should try to do. I think that we embrace being a video game and steer into the contrivances will free us up to make better levels. So, now if I want you to be dodging floating, spinning fire wheel through a sludge pit with a RAD suit on as you hit a jump pad in the middle of nowhere, where gravity doesn’t seem to apply, I can do that. And, hopefully, do it for a good reason, because I know it’s going to be fun for you. I think that’s what gives Doom its identity and helps set it apart from other experiences. We do it because it’s good for the game.

Shacknews: That seems to be the essence of Doom in a lot of ways. Having those insane over-the-top moments.

Hugo: Exactly. It’s a Saturday morning cartoon. And it should be that. I think Doom Eternal doubles down on that. I think it does a better job of that than Doom (2016) did. I think we found our voice throughout developing Doom (2016) and fans responded to certain things more than others once the game was out there. I think we’ve been able to steer into things more with Doom Eternal.

Shacknews: That’s gotta be a challenge right? You have this very iconic series and you’re trying to make it in a way that’s both new and familiar at the same time.

Hugo: I think that’s why really owning that stuff fits the brand because that’s what the original Doom always was. You’re searching for nonsensical red keys to open doors; the entire premise that you’re shotgunning and chainsawing demons from Hell that are kinda cartoonish looking, that’s where a lot of our humor comes from. I think all of it needs to be careful to not take itself too seriously. I think you see that, the humor in the game. It’s all meant to make you smile. You’re murdering demons by the thousands, it should be a fun experience.

Shacknews: The executions really seem to play towards that too. (The cartoonish-ness) They’re very over-the-top.

Hugo: Yeah. Otherwise I think it gets a little too mean-spirited. Honestly, it could get kind of disturbing. It’s great in horror games, but I think Doom is meant to be fun and put a smile on your face. And also, you’re doing so many of these executions that if they were disturbing I really think that after an hour you’d start to feel sick. I think the slapstick nature of them, the kind of Warner Brothers cartoon quality to the animations it helps make it more fun and viable.

Doom Eternal is set to launch March 20, 2020
Doom Eternal is set to launch March 20, 2020

Shacknews: Earlier when you were talking (during a presentation to the press) you mentioned that it’s okay to be frustrated with the game and you brought up Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order as an example of that Dark Souls sort of try and try again until you get it right mentality. But at the same time I feel like you’re also trying to balance that with accessibility more so than a Dark Souls game.

Hugo: Right. We’re not trying to make that game. I would say that all good games are okay with frustrating the players. I think that From Software gets a lot of press from that. But, honestly, I challenge anybody to load up any that’s fun right now and tell me if you don’t experience points of frustration in the first hour. Because the game is teaching you stuff.

In God of War I died a lot in the first hour because it was teaching me how to do the combat. Same thing with Spider-Man. The reason I hit those frustration points is because I’m trying to play the game incorrectly. I was dying in Spider-Man because I wasn’t steering into the progression items and I wasn’t unlocking the gadgets, which is clearly what they wanted me to do. After banging my head against some of the encounters I realized that my combat skills could only take me so far and I’d reached a point in the game where I really needed to invest in gadgets. I’m glad they did that because I have to trust the designers and say “Okay this really isn’t working anymore. I’ve hit this frustrations wall. Let me try this. Oh, look! This is fun.”

What’s waiting for me on the other side of this frustration wall is the design of the game. If it’s intentional. Not every frustration point is intentional and that’s what extra polish time helps you identify. We’re cool with frustration points if we have something to teach the players. A good frustration point is when you die and you know what you did wrong and you wanna dive back in. If it’s frustration where the game just screwed you like it’s just trying to kill you unfairly- then that’s not really fun.

I think it also applies to everything. In the beginning of a crossword puzzle I’m not stoked, I’m frustrated and trying to figure it out. You have to hold the player accountable too. Imagine if you just hit a button in the crossword and it just showed you where some of the words are. It kind of defeats the purpose of the experience. I think the basketball analogy too totally applies, just to take it out of video games: If I lose because somebody stole the ball from me, that’s my fault. If I lose because the ball disappeared and fell through the geo and there was nothing I could do it’s the game’s fault, so f*** that.

I think good games hold the player accountable and they all have rules. And that’s what Doom has. We’re definitely not trying to make a hard game, that’s really not the point. We have five sets of difficulty so there’s something for everybody there. But everybody will be held accountable on all the difficulties. It’s not like on easy mode you don’t have to take out weak points or manage resources, you gotta do it on every difficulty setting. It’s just going to be set at a slower pace.

There's a lot more vertical action to Doom Eternal
There's a lot more vertical action to Doom Eternal

Shacknews: I definitely felt like just in the brief time I’ve played it that I found some of those golden paths. But then there were a few I definitely did not find the right path and had to step back, rethink, and approach it from a different angle so I didn’t get overwhelmed.

Hugo: I’m seeing that: Players come upon that one arachnotron that’s sitting up at the turret at the end right before you enter the cathedral. What’s really cool is that it's a combat puzzle. You’ve been presented with a problem -How do I approach this? All of this is to just keep you thinking. If we don’t present you with some kind of skill to master, some combat encounter to overcome, some puzzle to solve, you’re just going to be bored. If it’s just “there’s a guy!” you run up to him and shoot him in the chest -I mean, there’s plenty of that, you do that to the fodder- but I think it’s more important that we get you thinking. And I want you all thinking “Okay, Imma take out his turret first, then I’m gonna take out these guys, and save my chainsaw for this guy…” It's just to keep you as engaged as possible.

What’s really important is that in the opening moments of Doom, within the first seconds, the promise is that it’s gonna feel good to move around, to pull that trigger. Within the first five seconds it feels great. I kinda use the car analogy: Doom is a race car and when I walk up to it it should look beautiful, and when I turn it on it should sound awesome and now I’m excited to take on the challenge in front of me on the race track. But if it doesn't look that good or feel good I might not be that motivated to take it out for a test drive.

Shacknews: Something that I found interesting (in the press presentation) is you said Doom Eternal is kind of like junk food, but that junk food can be healthy for you. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?

Hugo: Yeah, “nutritional content”. We’re just proud to make a game that is just silly and crazy, and it’s a comic book. But, I’m a fan of comics and I really think there’s some intelligent, smart stuff going on under the hood there. I mean, Dark Knight Returns is I think just a great piece of literature. We can be silly on the outside and smart on the inside. We can be fun on outside, smart on the inside. And when you play the game what we’re steering you into is a really sophisticated set of combat systems working together, but they start to feel natural. What’s gonna be challenging in the first half-hour is going to feel completely fluid and effortless in the next half-hour.

We are junk food, we’re giant burger with fries and a milkshake, but we are loaded with nutritional content. There are intelligent things at work and we’re going to teach you those things. We’re trying to be smart and clever in waiting to see how you figure it out, we want you to know how to do it right away. It’s in mastering those skills is where the fun lies. And those are the best type of games and those are the only type of games I wanna make. I mean, we’re id, we’re careful not to take ourselves too seriously, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create something that has just as much depth as anything out there.

Shacknews: Doom has always been one guy versus the demons of Hell. This time it feels more like you’re stuck between a war between Heaven and Hell. We’ve seen some of the more angelic creatures we’re going to run into here and there. Is that accurate?

Hugo: Yeah. I don’t wanna spoil it. The story is there if you’re interested in it. Hopefully the style of storytelling we use is that it presents a lot of questions that the player wants answers for. The main story if you watch cinematics you’ll know where you’re going and what you’re doing. But, if you want context for what you’re doing or wanna see the subtext (Who’s this character? What’s my history with them?) then those questions will be answered in the codex, but not entirely. Doom Eternal will still require player participation to put it all together. And some of it will still require you fill in the blanks. We feel that makes for the most engaging story possible, if we try to spoon feed you in a more conventional way -longer cutscenes, more exposition- that doesn’t feel like Doom. There’s an event happening of biblical proportions on Earth and I’m interested to see how people look and see into the meaning of the game. Like, who are you in this whole experience? How do the humans view you? You came down to save Earth, what does that make you? It’s cool, it’s fun, and it’s worth investigating.

Doom Eternal is set to launch on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch on March 20, 2020. Be sure to check out our recent hands-on preview for more insider info and details.

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Blake has been writing and making videos about pop-culture and games for over 10 years now. Although he'd probably prefer you thought of him as a musician and listened to his band, If you see him on the street, buy him a taco or something. Follow him on twitter @ProfRobot

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