Thanks for joining us again for a look at our favourite games. Don’t miss next week’s interesting indie game, one of the best of recent years. As always, you can keep locked to OnlySP on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week’s games came up with 3D games as a medium, both effecting and being affected by the changes of 3D over the course of nearly thirty years.
Considering the FPS genre’s ever-presence in the video game industry, gamers can often forget that this was not always the case. The genre’s rigid place in gaming’s milieu was, at one point, a distant ambition. The notion of the “first-person shooter” was once a revolutionary idea, which is difficult to envision in modern times, with the genre’s path to widespread popularity being paved with truly exemplary games. Arguably, the most important part of its foundation is 1993’s DOOM, a title so tightly designed and polished that it still enamours today.
Developed at the start of id Software’s peak, DOOM landed at the perfect time. id’s fifth effort at an FPS game instantly became a household name, often forming the basis of talking points for “games as art” to fuelling anti-gaming rhetoric to becoming a point of reference for the viability of hardware. The question “Does it run DOOM?” was said so much on release that it became somewhat of a meme-phrase, but its existence hinted at a major cultural movement: this was the point everyone wanted to play DOOM and, by extension, the point where everyone wanted to play FPS games. Why, then, did DOOM capture the imagination of not contemporary gamers, but the entire early nineties zeitgeist?
Simply put, DOOM’s level design, pacing and inch perfect shooting mechanics made the game instantly likeable, even for those who were tourists in the genre. The level design initially feels like a simple A to B shooter, but on closer inspection, it reveals its ever-surprising winding paths, secrets and shortcut-ridden blueprints. In some ways, the consequences of the game’s multi-layered approach to what was, at that point, a linear genre still ripples out today, with titles as distant as Dark Souls borrowing from id’s “show but don’t tell” approach to upgrades and branching paths. While the level’s visuals may seem drab and antiquated by today’s standards, these are easily forgotten by the way their design facilitates rewarding play.
Interwoven into these branching levels is a degree of enemy variety that is perfectly paced, surprising players without overwhelming them. DOOM only has roughly 10 enemy types, but the timing and pacing around each enemy’s introduction keeps the game fresh; players never feel like DOOM is getting repetitive because of its pacing of monsters, weapons, and resources. By having equal brilliance in both level and enemy variation, DOOM was perhaps the first in its genre to have parity between these two central aspects of game design.
These factors were consolidated in DOOM II, a quickly developed sequel that landed in 1994. While the pacing did not quite stand up to its predecessor, the game’s addition of new enemies, larger levels, and alterations to resource management made up for devolutions in pace. What stands out most vividly when comparing DOOM II to its predecessor is the different philosophies to level design, with the sequel expanding into larger, less linear maps.
Following a similar fan response to the first game, DOOM II served to entrench the series into the mid-nineties culture more. Today, DOOM II feels distinctly more modern than its predecessor, often becoming the basis of what has truly kept the DOOM community alive: the modding scene.
The first mod for DOOM came in 1994 entitled ‘Origwad’. The mod was a simple two-room level with a few enemies, but it signified a shift in DOOM’s community from consumers to creators. After the modding community evolved in the late nineties, the game’s credibility as a tool for creation as opposed to play became evident. ‘Brutal DOOM’ is perhaps the most successful DOOM mod to ever release. In 2012, the mod dropped to massive acclaim on IndieDB, receiving plaudits for adding new animations and a fully-interactable physics engine into DOOM, revolutionising how the game and its mod spin-offs were played.
Many games based off DOOM have also been released, featuring their own stories and interpretations of the game’s palette. Experiences in this community has even birthed contemporary greats such as DUSK, which are reinterpreting the series quirks for a modern audience.
For a set of games that are approaching their 26th birthday, their longevity continues to surprise. Developing a sequel to these legendary titles was no small feat, but an attempt was made in 2004 with the misunderstood, horror-influenced DOOM 3.
DOOM 3 is considered to be the weakest title in the series but what can be said is the game doubled down on the horror and story giving making it a great stepping stone towards the incredible fourth game in 2016, simply titled DOOM. The third instalment kept the weapons and enemy types from the originals that gave players the agency on how they take down the brutal demons of hell,
DOOM 3 was not about the Doom Marine going through Earth and Hell to devastate the demons but an average person who is trying to fight back the invasion. With this change, the levels became more linear and more story was given to the player. While this was a significant difference from the original titles, DOOM 3 still held some of the Metroidvania style level design that had players dealing with traversal puzzles and finding keys while backtracking to get through an area that was previously inaccessible. What also made DOOM 3 special was the darker atmosphere; in previous entries, players would run through halls killing hell spawns, but this time the hunter became the hunted as the evil creatures pop out of the dark. The action and atmosphere came to create a new experience that made players feel powerful yet small in a world that far better explained the lore of the older games.
Many would say that the best kind of game design flows like a rollercoaster, with lows and highs, and DOOM 3 was able to capitalize on this method. The moments of wandering through the dark corridors was a tense low that would quickly ramp up to a scary high as enemies pop out of the dark or are just around a corner. DOOM 3 would keep the flow as the story delivered and then battles would ensue shortly after.
The latest entry in the series, 2016’s DOOM, is the next step up, combining the action and level design of the original with the storytelling and atmosphere of the third game to make one of the best entries. New modern systems were brought into DOOM that helped enforce exploration of each mission in the form of small open world levels with linear sections. In addition, combat has a great execution system that reinforces the rollercoaster flow to combat. When enemies become highlighted, the player can perform an execution called a Glory Kill that gives the gamer more health, but most importantly it gives people a break from the onslaught and continuous action. Some games falter because they keep players in intense situations for too long, either making the experience boring or exhausting. DOOM not only gives players a break but rewards them for earning it.
The level design of DOOM keeps the player moving forward at all times, with the few exceptions of interacting with something in the world that alters what the player has already experienced. This design makes backtracking in the game more pleasurable as new encounters will happen along with opening new places to explore. DOOM takes the best approach to level design as backtracking is never boring, and exploration is rewarded with upgrades and collectibles.
Another way that DOOM is modernized is with the upgrades to the weapons and the character’s Praetor Suit that open up more ways to play. From new gun attacks to having more jump capabilities or protection, the unlockables help make the player feel much stronger.
The story of DOOM focuses on the Doom Marine being awoken from a state of stasis that the demons kept him in and fighting off the demons that are coming to Mars once again. The story later delves into how the demons perceived the Doom Marine as an unstoppable killing machine and also discusses the original knights that fought off the hell spawns.
DOOM is one of the pinnacles of arcade shorters, from weapon design, enemies, and level layout. The game’s ability to give the player freedom in how they play and fight is something that many games can look at for inspiration. Just around the corner is the sequel, DOOM Eternal, which continues the story and is working to give gamers even more ways to kill demons. Whether someone likes story or just gameplay mechanics, the series has something to offer for all.
Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week’s game is a classic—a founding title in a genre loved by many to this day.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is truly a special game. Few titles within the industry can be labeled as a work of art, and Konami’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is, without a doubt, one of them. Being born of an ideology that a new direction could be what was best for the series after three iterations of the same style, Symphony of the Night took a leap of faith for the franchise, and looking back on its success, players will have no question that the leap paid off.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night takes place five years after the events of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, where Richter Belmont traversed Castle Dracula to take down the main man himself and once again reset the Castle’s reappearance cycle .
What is interesting about Symphony of the Night was that the game begins as Rondo of Blood ends: with the climactic battle of Richter and Dracula in the throne room. Once the battle is complete the game transitions and players are now reintroduced to Alucard, Dracula’s half-vampire son with a human woman. This game is the first time players had seen Alucard since Castlevania III (1989), and this time he is the primary playable character.
Alucard’s introduction within Symphony of the Night as the playable character created a whole new dynamic for the player to wrap their head around. Since Alucard is not a vampire hunter nor a member of the Belmont family, he does not use a whip to slay monsters. Instead he uses a variety of weaponry that players can discover throughout their journey into the castle. Interestingly, the game starts the player off at what is essentially Alucard’s peak performance, as he is able to slice and dice his way through any enemy before him—that is, until Alucard is reunited with Death, who strips him of his abilities and gear forcing the player to start their adventure empty-handed.
The developer ’s choice to start the player completely fresh and weak contributes nicely to the game’s new direction. Unlike previous playable characters, Alucard can equip different armor, weapons, and abilities to further aid him while traversing the castle. Ultimately, Alucard’s goals are to figure out why the castle has reappeared only five years after being destroyed, and locate the missing Richter Belmont. Despite a narrative that captures player attention immediately, Symphony of the Night proves that its new gameplay direction is what will ultimately steal the show.
As a revolutionary new direction for the Castlevania series at the time, Symphony of the Night was the first entry that did not end after a stage completion or boss fight . Instead, Symphony of the Night surprised players by simply continuing forward. In previous games, after completing a stage, the player would be taken to a map screen to select the next area of play; however, in Symphony of the Night, the map can be toggled with the press of a button and only indicated areas that were visited by the player, with everything else nonexistent until discovered. This promoted exploration and returning ventures to familiar areas, allowing the game to really showcase its roots and establish a formula that would usher it into the history books.
In addition to the new approach to level design for Symphony of the Night, what is most surprising about the game, and perhaps what solidified it in most gamer’s memory, is the fact that after what would seem to be the final boss fight, the castle would then invert and could be played entirely upside down. For this event to conspire, the player would have to complete specific tasks before and during the boss encounter, and whether or not those tasks were done would determine if the game ended there or continued with the Inverted Castle. As a truly remarkable feature, Symphony of the Night‘s Castle Dracula was designed to look just as beautiful upside down as it was during the normal playthrough. Not only was the aesthetic of the castle perfectly preserved in its inverted state, but it also played just as seamless as it did right-side up.
As a testament to the wonderful art and craftsmanship by the developer for this title, the gothic horror atmosphere combined with the excellent sound design of the game only attributed to how incredible Symphony of the Night‘s Castle Dracula was. That the artistic integrity of Symphony of the Night has withstood the test of time is truly astonishing. At a time when the industry was shifting to 3D models, the team behind Symphony of the Night chose to go against the grain and create what feels like a swan song for the 2D gaming genre.
Recently, director Koji Igarashi released the long-anticipated Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the spiritual successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. OnlySP had the privilege of reviewing the new game, and although it exceeded our expectations and presents itself as a worthy successor, it cannot replace or recreate the zeitgeist that was Symphony of the Night. The 2.5D graphics of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night are outclassed by the 2D pixel art of its predecessor. A style decision, yes, however one cannot help but wonder what the final product would have looked like with a 2D template.
Of course, Symphony of the Night cannot be truly praised without mention of its greatest contribution to the industry. Without this game, players would have never known that man is a miserable pile of secrets. Thanks to Symphony of the Night’s original intro battle, the industry will always remember the significance surrounding Dracula’s rhetorical question of “What is a man?”
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a stylish love letter to fans of the series. More importantly, however, is the game’s contribution to the industry and the Metroidvania genre as a whole. To this day, Symphony of the Night is recognized and referenced as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Metroidvania game of its generation.
From the outset, players might question how this game could come with such accolades, but the easiest answer is more often than not the simplest one. For one to understand what makes Castlevania: Symphony of the Night so great and worthy of a spot on OnlySP’s 50 Favorite Games, all they need to do is play it.
Thanks for joining us as we take a look at one of the founders of the Metroidvania genre. Join us next week as we look at a very different game from a different genre—but one that has remained inspirational for years nonetheless.