An Open Letter to ID Software

Dear fellas,

My name is BT and I celebrate your entire catalogue. I’ve been a diehard Doom stan since my father brought home the first massive, beige Packard Bell monstrosity, circa Y2K. I’ve gotten through every incarnation of the game on Nightmare, from Classic to Brutal, Ultimate and Final, TNT and Plutonia, and I reveled in it. If I were a different, sadder type of man, I would probably have a Doom tattoo that I would have to avoid explaining to women.

Doom 2016 was a whole new world. The plot was getting sort of anime and increasingly indecipherable, but that’s fine. The plot I grew up with was a single barely legible page of red text once a campaign, written in second person, ending with “You grab your plasma gun and go forth into Hell to find further ass to kick!!!” And that was enough. We were thankful.

I beat that game on Ultra-Violence twice, then Nightmare over a dozen times. It was a religious experience, and not just because of Doomguy’s excessive, canon Catholicism.

I preordered Doom Eternal. The Authorities at Youtube were very upset about Doom Eternal. The marauder was the scourge of pissbaby game journalists the world over, because he has a shield. You couldn’t just shoot him a bunch. You needed to strafe around, keep the other demons at bay, strategically prioritize the marauder by keeping your distance and wiping out the distractions until you could isolate him for an old West style showdown. It was challenging, satisfying, excellent gameplay. The platforming added a fun new element, and increased Doomguy’s mobility. On some level, I think I preferred 2016, but I still loved Eternal. I cleared it once on Ultra Violence, then three more times on Nightmare.

By this point, I am a man grown. I have many jobs, and responsibilities. I have a world-renown travel blog, multivariate financial holdings, and a burgeoning gorilla-themed athleticwear empire. I have a demanding gym schedule, many fulfilling hobbies, and my very own dog whom I walk twice a day. There aren’t enough hours in the day for video games anymore. When my desktop PC broke, I didn’t bother fixing it. I replaced my computer desk with a fish tank because the industrial revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.

My gamer friends, they say to me, “BT, fix your fucking computer! It’s like a 30 minute job!” to which I respond, “Never! I have thrown off the ergonomic, rainbow-glowing shackles of gamerdom. My fingers are clean of Cheetoh dust, my bloodstream finally clear of 20 years accumulated Mountain Dew Code Red. I am a free man.”

And even still, I bought the Ancient Gods DLC. I took some issue with it being called DLC, as I’m of the belief DLC should be free shit you add to a finished game. The implication of “content” is the game contains it, and if it is contained in the game, it is part of the base game. Ancient Gods extends the story line and adds new enemies, which makes it an expansion of Eternal, and thus, an “expansion pack”. But this isn’t the hill I’m here to die on. Let’s keep going.

I skipped Ultra-Violence this time and went right for Nightmare. This was hubris. The Ancient Gods expansion is harder than college.

This made sense to me. You start the game fully upgraded with everything you had in Doom Eternal (because it’s an expansion pack). The challenge would need to scale accordingly, and does.

The story continued to career around incomprehensibly, VEGA has always been God, Samuel Hayden has DBZ-melded with God’s best friend and closest confidant, there’s an actual Devil that Vega-née-God buried in a hole in Makyrville and Doomguy has decided that he’s going to kill God (though not Vega) and incarnate the Devil to kill the Devil so all the demons have to go home. Whatever, dude. I’m here to chew ass and collect heavy metal vinyls… and I left my record player on my Hot Topic-themed space ship.

ID software. Fellas. I’m not mad. Life’s too short to be mad about video games, rest in fucking piss Overwatch. I’m just disappointed. By forcing Doomguy to take out enemies in a specific order and immediately respawning the annoying “deprioritized” demons like Hell Knights, Pinkies, and those douchebags with the shields, you’ve disincentivized killing demons in the game about killing demons. It’s like, what are we even ripping and tearing for?

The arena design suffered a little compared to previous games, but the environmental design was awe-inspiring. A lot of people seem to be bitching about the Spirits, but that has the same vibe as the issue with the Marauders. I think they were well done, and they add a level of difficulty and shifted priority that would make for a very engaging and fulfilling experience if I wasn’t spending so much time running for my life from the perpetually respawning throngs of shit-tier demons that can still absolutely one-shot you on Nightmare.

The Turrets were a fun idea, if lazy in their design. The invisible Whiplashes that you can’t meathook were the truest manifestation of Hell I can imagine.

I don’t know whose nephew suggested the Blood Maykrs, but they certainly only came onto the team in the past six months, and you’ve got to get rid of them. I’m not a big fan of aiming in general which is why I’m playing Doom, but the invulnerability, the weird timing, the reuse of the chime sound from the Marauder, and the sad little squirt of ammo you get for killing it… there’s just no reason to bother with it. It’s difficult, and annoying, but not especially fun, especially when it winds up behind waves of trash enemies that respawn as soon as you kill them.

And then, after the first appearance, the Blood Maykrs are relegated to the role of ambient trash demons themselves, and if you put in the time and effort to pinata pop them in the skull, they’re right back on the playing field while you continue dealing with the arbitrarily defined “true threat” of whatever demon is tallest.

I didn’t care for all the special demons that could only be killed by special guns, and I especially disliked how many of them were the plasma gun. Don’t make me use the plasma gun. I shouldn’t be punished for not liking an inferior gun.

In Eternal, you were rewarded for switching through guns, but if you were good enough with your preferred guns, you didn’t have to. That’s no longer available to you. You’re required to use the microwave gun, and strafe around in stupid little crisscross patterns while you wait for the target to pop. Hopefully the Blood Maykr or Pinkie you killed five seconds ago hasn’t respawned nearby, or you won’t get the microwave off, and you’re dead again. You better have enjoyed the first six waves of this arena, because you’re going to be doing them again, and again, and again.

I don’t mean to bitch, in general, or about my favorite video game series specifically. It’s a recreational activity and if I didn’t like it, I could have just stopped. But by virtue of being not mad, just disappointed, the issue is further highlighted because Doom is a game about rage. Doomguy is a fury elemental, that’s his whole deal. We’re out here to rip and tear until it is done. So why am I spending so much of this game shooting wildly over my shoulder, fleeing from demons that I’ve either already killed or demons that I have to kite out to a special segment of the map so I can use the goddamn microwave gun on?

Doomguy shouldn’t be running in the opposite direction for the majority of these battles. There’s a difference between strategic withdrawal and shrieking, tears-running-down-your-cheeks retreat, and playing Eternal then playing Ancient Gods really underscores that in a way that I wish could be avoided.

But I bought it, and beat it, and sprung for the combo pack, so I’m going to be beating Part II when it comes out. No matter the cost. By any means necessary. Fighting the Devil who is Doomguy with red eyes for some reason. I’m sure they’re going to have a better final exposition that’s going to really just blow the lid off the whole big bastard. They’ll pull it together in the last innings. They have to. Doom is good. I love ID software. You can do it, fellas.

We’ve got something beautiful here. You gotta… you gotta do it.

Love,

BT

Book Review: The Player of Games

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Imagine, if you will, a world where gamers were not the most oppressed minority. Imagine instead that they were respected as world-class academics, if academics were worthy of respect. Further imagine that they live in a fully automated luxury gay space communism where every facet of their life is provided for by sassy robot nannies.

This is the Culture. And the best gamer in the galaxy, the Jocker himself, is named Jernau Morat Gurgeh.

Gurgeh only plays real time strategy games. He is the best. He writes dissertations and research papers on how to most effectively perform a zerg rush, or proper tower defense positionings. The Culture eats that shit up. Gurgeh is a rock star, sponsored by both Space Doritos and Future Dew. The androgynous men want to be him, the androgynous women want to be with him, and vice versa.

One day, Gurgeh is pitted against a literal little girl and he realizes he can beat her so bad that he might be able to perform “the perfect web”, which is when you absolutely dunk on a 9-year-old girl in Civilization IV on national television. An insane battle droid named Mawhrin-Skel who was rejected from the battle droids for being insane tells Gurgeh that he’s already run the numbers, and he can show Gurgeh how to do the perfect web. It’s only kind of cheating. Don’t be a wuss. Gurgeh agrees because he’s an asshole.

Not only does the insane battle droid’s strategy not secure him the perfect web, the robot then blackmails him with a recording of Gurgeh’s agreement to cheat in order to trounce this “prodigy” (still very much a 9-year-old girl). Mawhrin-Skel wants to get back into the battle droids, and he wants Gurgeh to do that, somehow.

Gurgeh has no formal rank. He has no sway in the galactic government, and no control over where drones are deployed. His job title is “gamer”. But, rock and a hard place. What’s a gamer to do? He says he’ll try.

A ways down the line, a government droid comes from the government to invite Gurgeh to play a new, incredibly complex game in the empire of Azad. Gurgeh agrees, contingent on the government droid returning Mawhrin-Skel’s previous position to him. The government droid says he probably can’t but he’ll try.

Gurgeh is loaded onto a spaceship and spends two years learning to play the game, which is also called Azad. Azad permeates every facet of life for the warlike, totalitarian empire of Azad, and their stupid fascist children are taught it from the moment they hatch or crawl out of the Apexes or whatever. There are three genders on Azad: males (boring, vanilla, essentially worker drones), Apexes (the ruling illuminati elite, reversible vagina and ovum), and females (uterus and retrovirus for slight modification of the egg once implanted by Apexes). Only the Apexes are allowed to do anything. The other two genders are beaten down from beginning to end of book.

Gurgeh isn’t as effected as he probably should be by the horrors of the empire, their cultural domination/sadism boner, or the torturous slavery lived in by the overwhelming majority of the species, and all the species they’ve conquered and subjugated. You’d think he’d be doubly effected, being from Bernie Sanders’ Starfleet utopia. Gurgeh doesn’t care about anything but gaming. He’s here for one reason: to play Magic the Gathering.

Thing is, Magic the Gathering isn’t just a game on Azad. The species themselves, the whole of the empire, are an obvious stand-in for a theoretical future in which Germany won WWII. They’re a pure fascism, they have propagandists and a gestapo, the whole of their society is held together by pursuit of further conquest and elevation of the ruling elite Apexes. Most things are illegal, but those illegal things are still purchasable, and more sought after for it. There are three layers of taboo pornography permeating the planet, communicated through secret channels and only for those who can pay:

Level 1 is generic smut, banging for banging’s sake.
Level 2 is humiliation porn, where the banging is secondary to the domination of the passive party/parties.
Level 3 is torture and snuff porn.

Gurgeh is exposed to this by a chiding shrew of a robot named Flere-Imsaho, sent to help grease the political wheels and avoid an intergalactic incident. Ostensibly, Gurgeh is supposed to play the game lose quickly, and demonstrate to the roving space viking Azad empire that the Culture is a joke unworthy of their time and warships.

But Gurgeh breaks out his Blue control deck and starts stacking those Ws. Victory royale after victory royale, there’s no stopping the boy. The Azadis recognize that things are going less than ideally and attempt to assassinate him a few times, but he is saved by his human contact on the planet, Culture ambassador and drunken HST analogue Shohobohaum Za.

Za is the best character in the book.

Gurgeh knows that the stakes are for real, and that the way Azad’s political system works is governed entirely by success in this game, which takes a lifetime to learn. The emperor is chosen based on who wins the planet wide tournament. Gurgeh, who has learned this game in two years, is absolutely spanking his way through all of the established pro-Azad players in the empire: priests, judges, bureaucrats, high-ranking politicians; even when they conspire together against him, they wind up activating his Trap card. Gurgeh sweeps the boards and sets up a head-to-head against Emperor Nikasar himself.

Once it becomes apparent that he also whooped Nikisar, and all of the space-Nazi dullards are also able to see it, they break for the day and Nikisar comes to visit him in his chambers. Gurgeh is like “golly, this is such a pretty and fun game we’re playing, and a good time between friends.” Nikisar beats the shit out of him and leaves.

Gurgeh goes into the next day’s session all lumped up and proceeds to noscope Nikisar in front of the entire galaxy. Right before he administers the killing blow, Nikisar has his foot soldiers sweep in and start murdering everyone in the room. Nikisar himself tries to kill Gurgeh with a sword. Gurgeh calls upon all of the combat training he never had because he lives in paradise to kangaroo-kick the Nazi emperor in the tummy, fall on the ground, then skitter across the burning wreckage until Flere-Imsaho shows up, activates his Deus Ex Machina protocol, and creates a mirror shield around Gurgeh, deflecting Nikisar’s laser pistol shot right back into his own domepiece and toppling the entirety of the Nazi space hierarchy.

Gurgeh returns home, where his girlfriend Yay tells him she transitioned to a dude for a couple years but now she’s transitioning back. They bang it out but Gurgeh is still melancholy because the horrible space empire collapsed and now he’ll never get to play Magic the Gathering again, which had become his favorite game.

In the end the narrator reveals itself to be the crazy battle droid, who disguised himself as Flere-Imsaho after manipulating Gurgeh into going to Azad in the first place for Special Circumstances, which is like the Culture’s version of the CIA.

I have a rule where if a book doesn’t have me hooked by 25% of the way in, I quit and never look back. This book very nearly missed the mark. It didn’t get good until after he went to Azad, around halfway through the book; the setup was sluggish, uninteresting, and droning. The first 100 pages could have just been the words “Gurgeh was very good at board games” and the story wouldn’t have suffered for it.

Four stars for that experience, but still an excellent read. I might make my way back into the Culture series, but not right this second.



View all my reviews