When you think Bethesda, two names likely come to mind: Todd Howard, the studio's director and executive producer; and Pete Hines, global senior vice president. In fact, you may think of Hines first. Besides juggling countless other plates, he serves as the public face of the ZeniMax-owned studio and others under its umbrella, including id Software.
At QuakeCon 2019, I caught up with Hines to pick his brain on how Bethesda gauged id's suitability for acquisition back in 2009, why he struggles to play first-person shooters, the level of input Bethesda exercises on external projects, and how Battle Mode fragged deathmatch to be crowned the de facto multiplayer mode for Doom Eternal.
[Author's Note: This interview was pushed back to coincide with Doom Eternal's delay to March 2020. Learn more about the game's development in Hell Razer: The Making of Doom Eternal, our next Shacknews long read due for publication on March 20, 2020.]
David L. Craddock: We haven't had a chance to talk in a while, so I'll open with a question dating back 10 years.
Pete Hines: [laughs]
Craddock: What was your familiarity with id Software's games as a player prior to ZeniMax's acquisition of the studio?
Hines: I may have played Marathon [by Bungie], but otherwise I never played first-person shooters because they made me motion sick. The first time I can definitely remember trying a first-person shooter was Battlefield 1942, because they [DICE] released that demo. Todd Howard and Todd Vaughn were playing during lunch and said, "It makes me really motion-sick."
I started taking half a Dramamine half an hour before lunch so I could play with them. I got to the point where I could get by on that. I finished Rage 2, but all of the id games, to this day, makes me motion sick. I was just talking to [Marty Stratton and Hugo Martin] about how I never finished Doom 2016. I can't play it for more than 30 minutes at a time. I talked to Carmack about it a few years ago: "John, what is this about? Is it the framerate? The head bob?" We tried tinkering. Robert Duffy [id's CTO] offered some suggestions like changing certain settings. Nothing helped. It still gets to me.
As a result, I knew of id's games, but I had to say, "Yeah, I can't play your stuff." Rage might have been the first id game I finished. I'd played a little bit of Doom 3 while we were doing Doom 3: BFG Edition, but it was the same thing: 20 to 30 minutes, and then say, "Well, that's all for today."
Craddock: I also had to play Doom 3 in fits, but because it terrified me.
Hines: Yeah, I don't do great with that either. But the motion-sick thing kept me from playing most id games. Quake is just insanely fast and, for me, vomit-inducing.
Craddock: I was going to ask if maybe it was something about gaming tech in the '90s versus now, but if you couldn't finish Doom 2016...
Hines: Nope. Certain games I'm okay with. I can play Wolfenstein, but even that, depending on what's going on, like in The New Order, I'd feel queasy and have to stop. Some games bother me, and some don't.
Craddock: What I've noticed about the Bethesda catalog, and maybe this is just me, but between studios like Bethesda, Arkane, and id, you're able to put out a diverse catalog without any one game cannibalizing others.
Hines: I understand that question. We think about that a little in terms of, "Well, Doom Eternal, Rage 2, and Wolfenstein all at the same time..."
Craddock: Still spread out a little, though.
Hines: Yeah, but from a release standpoint. There's a reason why we didn't show more of Doom Eternal at E3 . One was that QuakeCon made more sense. The other was, we're showing a lot on Rage 2, and announcing a new Wolfenstein. We said, "If we showed more of Doom Eternal, people might say, 'Which id first-person shooter should we...?'" It wouldn't feel like cannibalizing in terms of which one to play, but it might have in terms of gamers asking, "Which first-person shooter should we pay attention to?" Even though they are all different.
In fairness, we think about that with [most games]. Like, with Doom versus Wolfenstein, one is a more grounded first-person shooter. But also, what is Arkane doing? Stuff we're doing around one game versus another, and could there be a cannibalization in terms of focus if we're speaking to what you might consider to be a Bethesda audience. That audience might say, "I like a variety of games. I'm interested in what you're doing next." Even if the release dates are different, too much at the same time could result in not getting their attention on everything.
There's enough noise in the industry already. Let's not exacerbate the problem by adding our own noise. We do think about staggering [games] in terms of: what are we teasing? what are we launching?
Craddock: How much does fan demand factor into that? For instance, at last year's E3, fans were asking, "Where's Elder Scrolls VI?" I know Todd came out and said, "Here's the logo. We're working on it." Was that just a way of saying, "It's happening, but we don't have any more to say right now?"
Hines: That one in particular, I and a number of folks on my team in marketing and communications said, "Look, in the context of showing off Fallout 76, if we don't give an update on where the studio is going, and you just talk about Fallout without anything else, people are going to leap to conclusions that aren't true, and that we aren't providing any information to counter."
Of course, it had been sniffed out that we had the trademark for Starfield. Everyone assumed it was Bethesda Game Studios [developing the game], but they didn't actually know for certain. I saw stuff like, "Oh, Snowfall! That sounds like Arkane" and "Deathloop sounds like a Shinji [Mikami game]." In the case of 2018, fans knew we were making something called Starfield. So we said, "Let's put a face on it: it's a single-player thing, a roleplaying game." That helped us avoid our player base saying, "Oh, BGS isn't making single-player stuff anymore." That's not remotely true, but if we don't say so, we're leaving them to speculate.
It was the time of year for our studio to lay out our next three projects. That addressed that, yes, we're still making single-player stuff, and give context for, "We're making this, and then this, and then Elder Scrolls VI." We still get the question of, "Where's ES6?" but at least people know that Starfield is our next game. We wanted to get ahead and be more transparent. We'd never done anything like that before, not just for BGS, but any of our studios. We wanted to lay that out and be clear on where we're headed.
Craddock: When you look at studios such as Arkane or id for potential acquisition or a partnership, do you view them in terms of, "Here's what we're doing internally at BGS. We don't do what they're doing, so this would be a good complement?" What are the factors?
Hines: No, not really. First of all, the way in which we go about acquiring a studio is never from a, "We should acquire them" [perspective]. In every case, it was either someone we were already working with--like Arkane with what became Dishonored--or like with id. With id, we started those conversations not with, "We don't do as much as we'd like in the first-person-shooter space, and we'd like to acquire you." It was, "We have a lot of respect for you. We like what you make, and want to see if there's an opportunity to work together."
As those conversations went down a path of talking what that might look like, at some point somebody said, "Does it make sense for you becoming a part of us? Would we gain efficiency?" It's all about, who do we want to work with? Who makes the kind of stuff that resonates with us? It's never toward an eye with BGS, because BGS does BGS stuff. It's more, "What do they make? What are they good at? Where do they want to go, and how does that fit with us?" We don't have to acquire everybody we work with. We don't own the folks who work on [Elder Scrolls] Legends. It just depends on the fit.
Craddock: Rage 2 is interesting because that IP started as an in-house project, just like Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake. But like Wolfenstein, it's moved to external studios. How was the decision made to pass Rage 2 to another studio so id could focus on Doom and Quake?
Hines: So, id had farmed Wolfenstein out. They had done that kind of thing before. In the case of new Wolfenstein games, a core of folks had left the studio, but we'd talked to them before: "Is there something we could do together? Where are you in terms of looking for projects?" They said, "We're looking to set up another studio. We want to work on a title for you. Is anybody doing anything with Wolfenstein? Because we have ideas to do something really cool with that."
In the case of Rage 2, id was fully focused on Doom and Quake Champions. We had no solid plans for a Rage sequel anytime soon, and, again, in the process of keeping in touch with studios--what they're doing, who does what--Todd Vaughn had a conversation with Avalanche: "These folks have done open-world stuff. We have this idea to do a first-person thing, and with their open-world sensibilities, Rage 2 seems like a good fit." They had cool ideas for taking what id did [with Rage 1] and adding to it and changing it.
It was all about time, place, and talent.
Craddock: After Doom 2016, what was the level of input from Bethesda into id? Given that the game was a success, was it a matter of checking in periodically and letting id do their thing?
Hines: No, no. With all of our studios, it's more collaborative. That's not to say, "We want to sit down at the table and give you all our ideas for a Doom sequel, and you can tell us yours." It's more, "What are your thoughts? What do you have planned?" Then we'll ask lots of questions: What about this? How are you addressing that?
What our production folks and people on our team do with them is, we view our job in marketing and communications as starting before a game even gets green-lit. We start with, "How are you going to talk about what you're making? How are you making sure to be clear about what you're communicating?" That's important to work out before you go up on stages and talk about a product. For example, we might say, "Well, you're saying this, but I think what you mean is this, so you might want to say it this or that way. The other way might cause people to get confused or jump to the wrong conclusions."
We work with them up-front to learn what their ideas are, and their pitch for it. "Tell us what you want to do," and then we provide feedback and ask questions to help them shore up how they're thinking. And again, this starts years before a product comes out, knowing that everything is up for being changed. We like to know what the studio wants to do, and helping them home in and refine that.
Or be prepared for, "This is going to come up. How are you going to answer the question?" Half the time, we might say, "This is going to come up from the community or press in 2019, because we're thinking about it. So we might as well figure out how to answer: 'How are you doing this?' and 'Why are you doing this?'" That gets everyone used to explaining decisions. We're just a sounding board for the studio to help them figure out, "Oh, well it's because of this, this, and this." Then we can say, "Oh, well, you should definitely say that. This is where this idea comes from."
If you listen to Hugo [Martin] explain decisions behind design, just the way he does on stage, there's so much there that provides context for things you hadn't thought about before in terms of why designers do what they do, or the way enemies involve and why that's important. He starts to expound, and we say, "Dude, that is super-interesting. We have to find a way for you to surface that and talk about it." The basic idea might be whatever, but once you get into the specifics of why it's there, you're like, "Oh, yeah, that's really cool. I didn't get that when you mentioned it, but now I totally understand it."
Craddock: I'm sure those meetings happen several times during production, and with different goals. Do they happen more often before events like E3 and QuakeCon, where larger audiences will be tuning in and messaging is even more critical?
Hines: We do weekly stuff with them, and have for years. I have a team that's focused on Doom, and they do stuff constantly. They go down to id for team meetings, to sit in with the team and learn what's going on. They might give them an update on the marketing and comm stuff, like, "Here's an early cut of the teaser trailer" or "Here's what we're thinking for box art."
We play the builds, too. We went down sometimes last year  when they had something on Battle Mode ready. It wasn't even called Battle Mode; it was, "Hey, we've got multiplayer. We want you guys to come down." They could have just sent us a build to play, but it's important to sit down and play, and ask questions with the team there and give feedback. It's a microcosm of the wider feedback they may get.
Craddock: On that note, one of the criticisms of Doom 2016's multiplayer is that deathmatch wasn't available at launch. Doom invented that mode of play, so I'm kind of surprised it won't be available as an option in Doom Eternal, either. So, as cool as Battle Mode looks, are you concerned about another Doom game missing that multiplayer staple?
Hines: No. That mode is eons old. The biggest problem we thought we had with Doom 2016--and folks can agree or disagree--was that [multiplayer] wasn't done at id, and felt really disconnected from the base game that everybody loved. That was a big thing that Marty and Hugo talked about: "Whether you're playing by yourself or with others, we want it to feel like you're all playing the same game." That's as opposed to, "I'm a badass demon slayer in single-player, but when I go over to multiplayer, there are no demons, and it's just deathmatch." I don't know what that has to do with [Doom] other than that, well, a couple of decades ago we had that, so we should just have that again.
I guess going back to my original point of working with studios: We don't want to do something just for the sake of doing it, or because something has always been a certain way. We want to make sure we're doing stuff that's interesting and that resonates. I loved the idea of what they were doing with Battle Mode. The first time I played, I was instantly hooked. I've only played as a demon, in part because as I mentioned, I get really motion-sick as the Doom Slayer. But it's super-fun to play as the Pain Elemental; I gravitate toward that demon in particular. I'm playing the game from a very different angle.
It's fun to play that multiplayer mode because at first blush, you're like, "Well, I'm just spawning demons and dropping traps. What else is there?" Actually, there's a lot. You don't want to drop demons willy-nilly because they're what the Doom Slayer uses to power up. If you're spamming that stuff, you're doing the Doom Slayer a huge favor because you're giving him or her resources. You have to think about what you're doing, when you're doing it, and how you're coordinating with the other demon player.
For the Doom Slayer, it's the same experience you know [from the campaign] with the added complexity of playing against humans who are controlling the arena and adding to the challenges you have. There's still an AI element, obviously, but what a player can come up with and throw at you can be far more interesting.
Craddock: Since you mentioned it, I'm curious: How was the decision made to develop Doom 2016's multiplayer externally?
Hines: It was decided by id. They decided in terms of the capacity of what they had to work with.
Craddock: Was Bethesda concerned about that at the time?
Hines: I just remember that when they said, "We don't have the bandwidth to do it ourselves," what can I say? "Too bad. Do it anyway?" They're the developers. They know best what they can handle and what it'll take.
Craddock: So this time, did id say, "We're doing it?"
Hines: Oh, yeah. They were 100 percent adamant: "We are doing the next game ourselves."
Craddock: The new console ports of the classic Doom games just dropped, so I haven't had a chance to try them. But I've been reading about the response to having to log in with a Bethesda ID to play the games. Not just multiplayer, but single-player as well.
Hines: Yeah, we put out a [press release] about that.
Craddock: So you are responding to it, but I'd like to go back to the initial decision to implement that system.
Hines: It should have been an option. The main reason for it is, as part of the Doom Slayer's Club, we wanted to make sure to give folks unlocks and rewards for playing the classic games. So when you play Doom Eternal, there are these cool rewards [waiting] if you played Doom, Doom 2, or Doom 2016. We're going to fix it so that it's optional as opposed to required, because that's how it should have been.
Craddock: That's the case for the iOS versions as well?
Hines: I believe so.
Craddock: I did try that one this morning, and was surprised by it.
Hines: Right. For all versions, it's supposed to be optional, unless there's a game-driven reason for it. Like, in order to do multiplayer, we need to use Bethesda.net services, so you'd have to log in. Same for other online features. Otherwise, for single-player, yes, it should be optional. [laughs]
Craddock: Since Tim Willits announced his departure as id's studio head, I wondered how you viewed the hierarchy of that studio's leadership. How do you see that shaping up?
Hines: I imagine before too long, there'll be info out there. In general, I think the studio will continue to operate as it has. Marty and Hugo are the head of the Doom team. That's the thing that id is making, so we really don't have to ask, "What do we do about new leadership?" They're already doing it for the current project.
As I said [at the press conference], Tim's a very good friend of mine. I'm going to miss him. We're all going to miss him. But the studio is going to continue to operate as it has been. I don't foresee there being huge upheaval. We survived Carmack leaving when everybody was writing id's obituary. [laughs] Turns out that might have been premature.
Craddock: Tim was very involved in the development of Quake Champions. How will his departure affect that team's structure, if at all?
Hines: Over the last year, Tim's role was almost entirely focused on Rage 2 because it had to be. That team is now rolling along. I'm sure there'll be bumps and hiccups, but otherwise we have a road map.
[Author's note: Marty Stratton succeeded Tim Willits as studio director of id Software. Stratton remains in an executive producer role on Doom Eternal and other id projects.]
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