Doom (2016) – A Return to Form

I would say the game I spent the most time on as a kid was id Software’s Doom.  I played it on 32x, I played it as Shareware (yes, kiddies this was a thing) on my hard-drive-less PC (yes that was a thing too), and I played it on my regular PC when graphics hardware wasn’t even a thing and the most important aspect of getting a game to work was ensuring your SoundBlaster was functioning.

I spent hours on Doom and the best game sequel ever, Doom 2.  After beating both games I spent hours in god-mode just running around blasting monsters.  I’d write my own narratives and, because the player avatar really didn’t have his own personality, I could pretend to be anything as I went from level to level stomping demons.

I never got into Doom 3 but I did very much enjoy Bethesda’s Wolfenstein: New Order and Old Blood.  When I heard they were releasing their version of the venerable first person horror shooter I was excited but tentative.  I couldn’t get into the grim joylessness of the franchise’s third entry and capturing the free-roaming fun of the 90s originals seemed like a tall order in the modern era.

I finally got Bethesda’s Doom (2016) in October and…I love it.  It is as close to Doom as I think we’ll get without just getting graphically overhauled versions of the original games (which I would be for).  How does Bethesda get it right?

Finding an updated take on the classic Doom Marine Armor is incredibly exciting.
Finding an updated take on the classic Doom Marine Armor is incredibly exciting.
  • Mood: Original Doom was fun. It had some brutal imagery and scary moments but it was really a power fantasy.  Your Doom marine could take on hordes of undead monsters and massive demons with a chaingun and a rocket launcher and come through with just gritted teeth and maybe a bloody nose.  The narrative, which was there despite what some critics believe, took place in text crawls between chapters.  This game has a far more “Bethesda” story, which is to say it’s involved and excellent.  But you don’t have to pay attention to any of it.  This incarnation of the Doom marine certainly doesn’t.  The tone is just as power fantasy and irreverent as the original games; except here you can literally rip off demons’ arms and beat them to death with them or shove a mancubus’ explosive cells down his throat.  It’s all done with cartoonish hyper-violence and humor.  It’s brutal and violent but in more like a bloody looney tunes episode than Call of Duty.
I know and Imp, Revenant, and Cacodemon when I see them!
I know and Imp, Revenant, and Cacodemon when I see them!
  • Design: One of the problems I had with Doom 3 was the design. It felt more like Aliens and later Dead Space than Doom.  Everything was dark and cramped.  The monsters just vaguely resembled their origin creatures.  In Doom (2016) as soon as each monster appears Doom veterans will identify them.  Imps, Pinkies, Cacodemons, and Barons of Hell all resemble the original game enough that you get excited when you first see them.  Even the guns, the super-shotgun, the chaingun, the plasma rifle, all show their 90s origins.

  • Game Play: The most important aspect of any game and the one that concerned me the most about new Doom. But it got it right.  Of course it’s updated but the elements are there but you never reload your weapons; if you have 300 shots you can shoot 300 shots.  You don’t hide behind walls to heal; you brutally execute demons or find health power ups to heal.  The camera doesn’t wobble around like a drunk camera operator is in control of your character; it’s static and the gun moves when you run.  It feels like an old school shooter in a modern wrapper.  Brighter colors, faster pace, but with all the junk that clutters modern games stripped out.  The junk that makes them more “realistic” and less fun.

I can’t recommend Doom (2016) highly enough.  It’s a terrifically fun game and is a blast from the past for classic shooter fans.

One footnote, the music is TERRIFIC!

Thoughts on Imagination

Off The Top of My Head

It may sound strange but the impending arrival of Doom 4 (and yes I’m calling it “Doom 4”) got me thinking about imagination in entertainment.

I spent years of my teenaged life bolted to a PC chair playing the Doom, Doom II, and Duke Nukem 3D.  It was the ultimate time waster and even though those games have “stories” or at least bits of text or set up between big chapters, one thing I always appreciated about them is how much time they gave the player to themselves.

Most of the time I played Doom I was running around blasting demons and crafting my own little narratives.  Maybe today I was some X-Men-style mutant on the run from monsters (this was in the midst of my biggest X-Men phase), tomorrow I’d be a trained assassin dropped into a hellish world and forced to survive.  Those games really gave you a chance to experience them in your own way.  A big open map, lots of things to shoot, but with definite goals broad enough to weave into your own little stories.  Before FarCry made it normal, Doom II provided a huge map with lots of ways to get around enemies and take them out.  Open world games now don’t feel the same, putting you in the character of a named person with a voice and a story arc.  They fill in the narrative for you as you play.  The closest I can think of to the kinds of experiences I had in the Doom era are Bethesda games and even they provide significant stories and characters, you just don’t have to interact with them and can spin your own fantasies a lot of the time if you’d like.

The more I think about it the more I find imagination is being taken from audiences, not just of games but of movies, and entertainment in general.

I noted in my lengthy Conan review that there is a lot in that film that isn’t handed to the viewer.  There are relationships, histories, and concepts that exist in the background for the viewer to decipher for themselves, allowing their own knowledge and imaginations to create their own stories or explanations.  Recently only Mad Max has done something similar.  But too often narratives are explicit, and I don’t mean “Warning Explicit Content” explicit.  I mean they spell things out and leave nothing for the audience to learn or assume; no gaps to fill in.  They show you something, say they’ve shown it, tell you why it’s important, and then tell you what they’ll do with it.

I can imagine Conan made today he’d find the sword in the crypt and either say “it’s a legendary blade!” or some wise man or witch would tell him later it’s the sword of some dead god, who was also his ancestor…and he was meant to have it because…reasons.  Instead of finding a mystical item, his physical reactions and his uses of it enhancing its mystique and value to the audience.

The same is true for video games of course.  Part of me wonders if the push toward hyper-realism in larger budget games is a reason for this.  Companies spend significant money trying to make characters and environments look impressive and want to force players to look upon these creations as much as possible.  Ben Yahtzee Croshaw has mentioned in the past how often this happens as game play is wrenched from our hands so we can experience something the developer wanted us to in exactly the way they wanted us to and negative this is to the overall experience.  After all it’s the subjective experience had by the audience that creates the legacy rather than the one the author has attempted to impose.

Even as much as I enjoyed Wolfenstein: A New Order and its story I did long for the days when I could just be a generic face holding a gun running through corridors, making it up as I go.

The story behind this image is as in depth as the players want it to be.

It’s one reason I enjoy tabletop games so much and one of the biggest aspects of my love for Warhammer gaming.  It’s noted in every GW rulebook “forging the narrative” is the most important part of any game you play and telling the story of the game is always tremendous fun.  It may look like a bunch of static models standing next to a little painted house, but that squad of Dark Angels is actually taking cover from traitor marine fire after their Rhino was immobilized.  That plastic plane isn’t awkwardly balanced on that resin wall, it crash landed there and disgorged a squad of angry, wounded Deathwing terminators to hold my faltering right flank.  None of that is happening of course but in the minds of the players it is happening.  It’s the same thing my sister and I used to do with my TMNT and dinosaur action figures; creating our own stories and adventures with little plastic avatars.

And that’s the power of imagination to me, and it’s something I just have a sense is being pulled from entertainment more and more as it becomes more “scripted” and more digital.  Less abstract and more “real.”  And the push toward only this form of entertainment might be stealing the chance for imaginations to blossom like they did for my generation.

I’ll leave it with this:

Final Fantasy VII was an amazing story and a fun game filled with memorable characters…and this was our hero:

We knew what Cloud looked like from the artwork, but for most of our experience this was our lead character and how we interacted with the world.  He, like my Warhammer models, represented the character with my own imagination filling in the gaps and remembering fierce battles and epic journeys of what was a polygon character in low-res world.

So I have to wonder…is this Cloud any better?

Will it make the game better now that he’s all shiny and “real”?  Will it make the story better?  I’m not such a Luddite that I believe advancements in technology and narratives aren’t important.  I just hope as we advance we don’t discard everything that worked, because it worked for a reason.  When you experience a piece of art or entertainment that is so scripted and meticulously created that it gives you everything you need to see and do you’re experiencing someone else’s vision, which is ok some of the time.  I just hope we are also still allowed to forge our own narratives and experience them our own way some of the time as well.

Jim Sterling Sued: Digital Suicide

Well it happened.

Our Lord and Savior, Jim Sterling, has been sued by Steam “developers” Digital Homicide.

I can actually remember watching his original play through of their terrible game, “The Slaughtering Grounds” and the immediate childish response his criticism received by these so-called game devs.  At the time it was just another case of a terrible developer having an amazing tantrum over a YouTube personality’s negative reactions, however as time went by the animosity escalated.  Jim would criticize Digital Homicide games, and they responded by adding his likeness to their games, calling him with threats, and attempting to dox him in an interview.

Now, clearly, I’m a fan of Jim’s. I think the service he provides is an excellent and entertaining one.  I purchased one of the earliest “early access” games on Steam (one that has to date still not come out) and I’ve bought some games on the service that looked terrific but turned out to be half-finished drek.

Jim is one of the only reviewers who focuses on PC’s largest digital retailer and its laissez faire policy of user developers selling on their service.  He covers those who try hard but simply lack the talent necessary to create a decent product, those who consciously make garbage in order to cash in or get publicity, those who literally sell pre-made assets as finished products, and those who make genuinely great games.  It’s through him that many of us were made aware of Steam’s lax policies on who can sell their games, the problems with Greenlight abuse, the troubling nature of asset flips, and the now widespread abuse of “early access.”

Jim’s personality isn’t for everyone.  He’s harsh in his critiques, pulling no punches in his personal experiences and disappointments with certain games or the Steam service.  At the same time you can hear the joy and shock when he discovers a decent game in early access or a Greenlight trailer to get excited about.  He truly loves the medium and his criticisms are grounded in his distaste for those who sully it with poor products.  This does include so-called AAA companies and games, and he spends more of his time criticizing the likes of Konami, EA, and Ubisoft in his work than he does anyone else.  However it’s always the indie devs who have caused him the most problems.  The likes of Digital Homicide, Cobra Studios, and Digpex Games have files erroneous DMCA takedowns of his videos.  They’ve penned letters to the media and attempted funding pages and psychotic anti-Jim leagues to stop him.  All done by devs whose poor products he merely criticized for being poor.

There has been a lot of misunderstanding in the media about the specific lawsuit filed by the odious Romine brothers of Digital Homicide.  It wasn’t for the numerous videos he did about their games but from a comment in a written article he later corrected once it was clear the facts were potentially different.  That piece of the lawsuit is the one that potentially stands a chance, based on the laws of the state in which these junk merchants have chosen to have it heard.

The rest of the case is clearly nonsense.  They claim he sent his fans to harass him.  Which not only is impossible to blame him for, is also patently untrue.  He has made comments in more than one video appealing for calm and requesting his fans NOT harass developers or those he criticizes.  He hasn’t even sought out a lot of Digi-Hom games to critique.  He outlines in another of his videos how he criticized a number of games that were published under different guises only to find out later they were actually under the Digital Homicide umbrella.  In at least two lets plays he praised the company for making products that were of acceptable quality and has stated on numerous occasions he would be the first in line to congratulate them if they ever made a decent, successful game.  Given his attitude toward the games they released that bordered on competency I’m inclined to believe him.

The worries of the “far-reaching implications” of this case aren’t really merited given the limited nature of the lawsuit and what it’s going after.  It’s not a case about YouTube criticism; it’s a predatory case a couple of hacks are using to get revenge on a terrific critic and famous YouTube personality because he hurt their feelings when he called their bullshit “bullshit.”  They’ve sought the most vulnerable part of his small corner of the internet to attack, his website.  What is more concerning is that this kind of behavior can occur and potentially be rewarded.  Jim mentioned in a recent Podquisition (jokingly admittedly) that he’s spending the money he could be saving for a settlement on boglins and collector’s edition video games.  While the nature of the law in AZ may make aspects of the case difficult for him to win, and he certainly has much better legal advice than I could give, I really hope he doesn’t have to give them a thing.

Because they don’t deserve it.

Digital Homicide doesn’t deserve anything.  Not the attention they’ve received from being reviewed, knowingly and unknowingly, on Jim’s channel; not a place on Steam; not a single sale of one of their slapdash, low-rent games.  Digital Homicide deserves obscurity and, though this may sound cruel, to have their company fail.  Steam’s attitude toward curation has been to let the market dictate what succeeds.  This means Steam customers, the tastemakers in the industry and their audiences, pick what will be successful.  Jim shows Digi-Hom for what they are.  People not in love with making games, but people in love with the idea of making easy money making games.  They don’t have the heart and soul to put time and effort into making a masterpiece, just to throw as much wet trash at the wall to see if any of it sticks.  Since they were called out for this behavior, they’re now trying to get that money from the critic who caught them in the act.  A company made a bad product and this was rejected by the potential audience for the product.  In this kind of market, the company should fail.  With or without a Jim Sterling pointing out how awful they are or even if they hadn’t proven on numerous occasions that they are terrible businessmen and pretty awful people.

As a steadfast Jim patron I hope he doesn’t have to give them anything, dooms the company to the bankrupt obscurity it deserves, and he can turn his attention fully back to being our lord protector from shovelware and, more importantly, being the Dickensian circus barker who brings the attention of the public at large to little games we may have otherwise missed.

No matter the outcome, your audience is with you, Jim.  Thank god for you…

Jim’s Patreon – Support him!

The Jimquisition

Jim’s YouTube Page

Ready Player Two! – Playing Single Player Games with Two Players

Over the last two generations of gaming on-line competitive and co-op has become the new wave. Games that probably shouldn’t have had an online mode have had them shoehorned in, and other games are essentially only online modes. Back in the day, the only way to play with multiple players was to have another player there in the room with you, playing with a second controller.

My friend Mike and I (who have been playing games this way since the early 90s) used to go head-to-head in Street Fighter 2-Alpha 3 and co-op’d the HELL out of Streets of Rage and Final Fight.

During the Playstation era and beyond we found there were actually fewer games to play that way, though Twisted Metal 2’s co-op still ranks as one of the best co-op experiences we’ve ever played. As the industry started to release different kinds of games, we found different kinds of ways to play. We became avid players of Resident Evil and that was one of the first games we started playing what I call “single-player two-player.” Essentially, one player plays, the other watches, gives help with puzzles, provides amusing color commentary, and takes over when the first player is stuck, tired, or fails. This method of playing games has been the source of some of the funniest and best play experiences we’ve had and inside-joke memes that we still reference more than a decade later.

Mike was Thumper I was Outlaw in one of the few PS1 games we could play 2 player co-op.

Over the years we’ve played Resident Evil 1, 2, 3, Code Veronica, 4, the recent “remastered” version that way. We spent hours playing the original Mercenaries, swapping off for different missions or on character death. We’ve even played RPGs like Suikoden like this, though I was admittedly playing the original PC Aliens vs Predator game through some of that one.

Recently Jim-F*cking-Sterling-Son introduced me to the terrific Angry Joe Show and I was amazed to see that other players play in the same way. Watching Angry Joe and Other Joe play Daylight and The Crew reminded me of the days when this was my favorite way to game. It makes social gaming a blast without all the anonymous nonsense or detached remote distance that can comes with modern online multiplayer. The setup is far easier too. All you need is:

  • ANY game console, since you can play this way with anything from Atari 2600-Alienware PC.
  • A friend or friends who like(s) to play games
  • ANY game
  • Snacks (optional but recommended)

That’s all. No internet connections, high-end PC components, expensive TVs, or the newest consoles.

Ever since being reminded of the fun of single-player two-player I’ve been eager to get back into it. Mike and I have queued up Outlast and Evil Within to try out, one is probably going to scare us, the other more likely to just be a swap off RE-style kind of experience.

If you’ve never played this way I can’t recommend it enough. It’s directly social, not the way online social activity takes place, you can mix in other things like board games when you want a break, and you actually go through a game narrative, which is often sorely lacking in many online multiplayer games. In my opinion it’s one of the best ways to play video games with friends and can even turn a mediocre game into hours of great experiences.

As a bonus here are some of the strange comments made during our two-player play throughs of random games:

  • “Why’s it gotta be you?!” – Said by Mike while fighting the Warlord of Blood in Diablo.  He led the WoB around a solid structure for a long time occasionally hitting one of his minions.  He turned once and the Warlord himself was there, causing Mike to flee in terror with those words.
  • “Not so much fireballs…” – A comment I made while playing Street Fighter Alpha 3 and showing Mike Karin’s “counter” ability, explaining how it could even block some special moves.
  • “F*ck me in the goat ass, he’s doing it again!” – Mike shouted this during a play through of the original Mercenaries where we traded off every time one of us died.  During a mission around a bunch of tanker trucks there were a dozen RPG enemies who fired their rockets, not caring if they killed each other or themselves, as long as they killed us.  After surviving one such barrage and feeling around a truck, another enemy raised his RPG, and Mike uttered those immortal words.
  • “You can’t quit during a cinematic!” – Said during our original play through of Resident Evil 2.  I said I wanted to get some food when a cut scene played and Mike remonstrated me with those words.  Funny aside, it wasn’t even a cinematic, just the first pan up after entering the police station.
  • “BUDDY!” – What we say every time we turn a corner in Outlast now.  Because Trager…because f*ck Trager…
The lobby in Resident Evil 2…a supposed place for a “cinematic”

Remembering Iwata: Thoughts from an NES Kid


I was an NES kid. Starting with Atari Computer I was a gamer from a young age and I came into the true world of console gaming, as many of my generation did, via the NES.

Admittedly I haven’t been a fan of Nintendo for the past decade or so. Attribute it to personal taste more than anything, but the franchises and input methods proffered by Nintendo just don’t grab me anymore.

That being said, Nintendo is the only game console and game publisher who truly concentrates on making games. While AAA publishers scramble for DLC, cliche storytelling, and the biggest and best engines and graphics, Nintendo has been essentially making the same Legend of Zelda game since 1986, just in varying wrappers and finding success.

More than anything I feel Nintendo has a continued focus on what made games great when the modern console industry began in the 80s. Their games almost never put anything above pure entertainment. Of course it doesn’t always work but even in their failed attempts the game is a game, designed to entertain. No blown up pretentious nonsense, just fun.  They can have extended depth but almost never at the expense of the fun.


The loss of Satoru Iwata this week gave me a moment to really think about the gaming industry as a whole. Nintendo’s success with the Wii (even though I didn’t care for the system) and the handheld market shows a totally different kind of thinking than other hardware companies. Nintendo has always felt inclusive rather than exclusive in its design and marketing philosophy. Even in the 8-bit days the games could be played and enjoyed by an eight year old or by a thirty-five year old. That still holds true, even after their latest hardware was toppled from primacy in the current generation, I know as many adults who love their Wii-U as I do kids.

Iwata always seemed to embody the whimsical spirit of Nintendo. He had a playful personality that undermined the stoic “cool” personalities on display from competitors.

Every company can make mistakes, read consumers wrong, and even unintentionally alienate fans with decisions. During this week too many have focused on the recent failings in Nintendo’s policies. Even as a current, distinct non-fan of Nintendo I feel Iwata’s loss was a tremendous loss to the whole of the industry. He was the human face of the “fun” side of gaming. And in an environment where frame rates, exclusivity, and fan-boyism can spark shocking hate campaigns the fun of gaming is something I think everyone could use far more of. It’s entertainment, people, and Iwata’s philosophy was that it should be entertaining always and first. It should always be just for the fun of it. Like him I’m a gamer at heart and I’ll miss him.


Welcome to the New Age Part 2: Gaming in the Current Generation

Last week I described how I took a bold step into 2014 and got a current generation console.

This week I thought I’d share some thoughts on the games I’ve played so far and general thoughts on the generation as a whole. I actually jumped in at just the right time as I was able to get a lot of big releases at discounted prices since most of them had been out for months when I finally got my PS4.

  • Shadow of Mordor: As a Lord of the Rings fan this one looked fun and even had the chance of doing predatory stealth without the strange Assassin’s Creed background or the baggage of being Batman…again. It’s a new story with a new character and takes place in a formative stage in the Middle Earth history not often covered. The gameplay is some of the most fun I’ve had doing 3rd person combat. You can string long chains of attacks, defenses, counters, and kills without missing a step and it makes diving in and carving up Uruk Hai as much fun as sneaking up and jamming a broken sword in their skull. The Captains of Mordor mechanic is both brilliant and diabolical depending on the extent of the player’s OCD and wrathfulness. Since I am both OCD and wrathful I obsessively hunted down captains and evilly and relentlessly hunted down any of them that had the luck to best me… A great game, but it didn’t feel like a big leap to the new age.

  • Wolfenstein: The New Order/The Old Blood: I played these in reverse order as I got Old Blood first and beat it before getting New Order. Both are terrific fun, and I don’t even care for 1st person shooters. I haven’t played a Wolfenstein game since they were corridor shooters that could be played from a floppy disk. It says something that these games had the “new” 1st person feel but still captured the strange charm and 90s attitude of the original games. Old Blood especially had the classic sensibility, and even had a boss fight with a big armored dude with Gatling guns on each arm. I actually recommend playing the prequel before the original game. New Order is a deeper, more complex game and Old Blood’s simplistic game play got me back into console shooting again without having as many mechanics. Again it didn’t feel “next gen” moving up from PS3 but is still damn fun.

  • Bloodborne: Good god. I haven’t played completely through a souls game since Demon’s Souls but it was my second favorite game on PS3 (the first being Valkyria Chronicles). It was tough, rewarded patience and thinking, and was ruthless in its player correction. You make a mistake…you pay. And not in the lame Heavy Rain way, in a gameplay way that makes you even more careful and extremely tense. I played Dark Souls but it was at the end of my last console gaming phase and I stopped halfway through. Bloodborne is a work of art. It’s beautiful, brutal, fast, and aggressive. The level design is truly extraordinary and this is a rare game that can make you cuss like crazy out of frustration as some human-sized hunter owns you in seconds…then moments later makes you cuss in admiration as you exit a tunnel only to appear in a location you last saw 9 hours ago in a place that was previously gated. It’s is wonderfully balanced, intuitive in its controls, and masterful in gameplay execution. It’s the first and only game I’ve played that has truly felt like a step into a new generation from PS3 era.

The system is far, far from perfect and the choice of games really shows how much things have changed. My PS2 had dozens of titles I couldn’t wait to choose from. This system has only a few games coming out over the next two years that I will probably end up with (though I DID pre-order the Pipboy Edition of Fallout 4 thank you very much). It may be the change in the industry as a whole, like the difference between boxing now and boxing in the 50s…Sugar Ray Robinson might have fought 10 times a year…but Manny Pacquiao only fights once or twice a year. Games have become too much money and too much development too much investment to release bunches of titles in a year to support a console.

This is where Steam on PC and the indie and small games on PSN have it right (though I really want some of those Devolver Digital games to hit PSN…) These smaller, more reasonably priced games can fill the gap between the more expensive releases and make a system more cost effective. I don’t care about 90% of the AAA releases coming out, but with the smaller digital games I can get plus the other 10% I can only play on PS4 I get my money’s worth.

The Alamogordo dump site in New Mexico where a number of Atari products were laid to rest after the crash

With the advancement of PC as a gaming and market delivery platform I wonder if the console market will ever be the same. I don’t know if it’ll ever crash like it did in the 80s, but it feels like console as market king that we saw in 90s and early 2000s might be slipping away as companies force us to buy weakened versions of PCs with proprietary software, exclusivity limitations, and features many TVs and media players can accomplish with less trouble. The reason I don’t feel there will be an Atari-scale crash is that always be a market for console gaming due to its relative simplicity (you can always play the game you buy at the appropriate settings without having to mess with hardware, video output, or file structure) but as each generation becomes more tech-savvy those limitations become less onerous and more normal, relegating consoles to the lowest of the gaming spectrum.

I probably won’t ever buy one of these…so console gaming may be where I land for “current gen” titles.

I won’t lie, it’s nice to have a “current gen” system and it is a vast improvement over its predecessor, just in design and usability. Still, I can count on one hand the number of times I decided to go back and play my PS3 and PS2, but I can always find time to load up Streets of Rage 2 on the Genesis or Dragon Warrior on the NES. Even as the graphics get better, the features more extravagant, and the games more “realistic,” I feel the major games that drive these systems have lost some of the iconic beauty of the games drove their forebears. I’m sure there will always be a place for “current gen” on my media shelf. Whether or not each generation stays on the shelf after their time is past remains to be seen.