Doom (2016) User Experience Highlights

Late to the party, I’ve just finished the 2016 release of Doom. What stood out to me was the clear amount of effort that has been put into the game’s usability and design. In this article, I want to discuss some of my personal highlights of excellent user experience that stood out to me.

Disclaimer: These views are my opinions and are not necessarily the designer’s intentions.

Game Difficulty & Tutorials

Higher difficulties reduce the number of tutorials given to the player.

Difficulty selection when starting a new game.

Doom is notorious for the names of its difficulty levels. In the case of this release, “I’m too young to die”, “Hurt me plenty”, “Ultra-violence”, “Nightmare”, and “Ultra-nightmare”, where the first three equate to easy, normal, and hard.

When choosing “Ultra-violence”, the player is presented with fewer tutorials, and if selecting “Nightmare”, no tutorials are given at all. The impact of this choice is twofold. Firstly, it serves as a difficulty increase for players who have not yet played the game and want to figure it out by themselves (i.e., there’s less hand-holding or instruction). Secondly, it reduces the frustration for players replaying the game (or that are already familiar with its tropes), as they do not have to experience the tutorials that they would rather skip anyway.

The obvious downside to this is that some players may want tutorials but also crave the challenge. In this case, perhaps skippable tutorials are a better option, but that is a case-by-case problem to solve.

Loading Screens Don’t Progress Automatically

The player must consciously begin the game after loading is complete.

Loading screens in Doom do not automatically progress. Once loading is complete, the player must consciously begin the game. I find this to be a great decision for the user’s experience as it puts them in control of when the game begins.

Personally, this is useful for two reasons. Firstly, it allows me to fully take in loading screen tips, level descriptions, and the like, without worrying about them suddenly disappearing. I cannot count the number of times that this has happened. Secondly, I may begin loading a level and leave my system entirely. If the game automatically loads me into the game, I am guaranteed to die. This is especially important to me in games that take a while to load.

Subtle Haptic Feedback on Interactions

Haptics subconsciously confirm interactive elements in the game world.

Looking at an interactive panel triggers short haptic feedback.

When hovering your reticle over interactive elements within the game world, such as panels to open doors, your controller subtly vibrates. This additional feedback subconsciously confirms to the player that what they are looking at is an interactive element. This works in addition to techniques such as animated highlights on objects.

Weapon Wheel Design

The weapon wheel is unobtrusive and efficient.

The right-aligned transparent weapon wheel.

The weapon wheel is a great invention, and Doom has nailed it.

Doom is a fast-paced game, and opening the weapon wheel to switch would almost always guarantee death. This is not fun for the player. Instead, when opening the weapon wheel, the game’s time slows to a crawl, which gives players a chance to make their decision based on the current situation. To stop players from taking advantage of this, a strengthened depth of field effect is employed while the menu is open, meaning that the player has a limited view of the battlefield and therefore can’t exploit it as much.

Perhaps the best part about the weapon wheel is its visual design and positioning. The design is very minimal, taking full advantage of transparency to mitigate the real estate that it takes up when open. The weapon silhouettes are recognizable and ammo counts are clearly displayed. Most importantly, the weapon wheel is offset to the right of the screen. This is important as it means that the player’s forward-facing visibility, regardless of the blur, is not occluded. For players that have committed the weapon wheel positions to muscle memory, having the wheel flash in the center of the screen would be obnoxious and offputting, but having it offset has less of an impact when appearing and disappearing quickly.

Navigation Hints

Environmental hints instruct the player where to go without breaking theme.

Navigational highlighting in the environment without braking immersion.

Guiding players around environments is nothing new, although I have seen an increase in color-based direction increasingly over the years. The navigation methods are usually somehow merged into the game with reasoning, some better than others. Mirror’s Edge, for instance, has Runner Vision, highlighting many elements red, but it breaks the immersion. In Dead Space, Isaac can press a button on his suit to show in-environment navigation to a destination, but this is thematically allowed.

In Doom, the right way to go is always highlighted in some way with green colors, usually in the form of lighting. This is true in the industrial sections with pipes and crates, but also holds in Hell. This means that if the player becomes lost, finding green will likely get them back on track. Personally, it helps me to avoid the correct direction and explore before I progress the game too far.

Conclusion

This was a brief discussion of a few design highlights from my time with the 2016 release of Doom. I hope that you found the comments interesting.