Some Thoughts on Doom (2016)

The new Doom game was on sale recently. I picked it up because I’d heard from a few sources that it was, contrary to everybody’s expectations, a very good game, and a very true Doom game. I was quickly enraptured and beat it in a couple of days. I wanted to write down a few of my thoughts on it, so here we are.

For context, I love the Doom games very very much. I am also very fond of the Quake games. When they announced that they were making another Doom game, I ignored it. Doom 3 was a pretty good game, and a fantastic tech demo, but it wasn’t a very good Doom game. Rage was a good tech demo, but by all accounts a very flawed game. And then John Carmack left id. The stage wasn’t exactly set for them to come good, at least not in the eyes of people like me.

But the new Doom game is absolutely fucking fantastic.

It’s fast. That’s the main thing. It’s so fucking fast. They set it up so that you can run and double jump around like crazy while you try dodge enemies that are charging at you or firing projectiles at you. You have to move, or you die. There is no taking cover, plinking at other dudes who are taking cover.

Your health does not recharge.

There are medkits, but they aren’t the main way you will regain your health.

You regain health by enacting glory kills, and you have to be in melee range to perform a glory kill.

So you run, and you jump, and you dodge. You will probably take a few hits and need to recover. But instead of running away, you are forced to stun an enemy and charge at it. The best defense is offense.

This basic gameplay loop leads to combat that feels like nothing else I’ve played. I remember hearing about the glory kills before the game came out, and thinking they were just QTEs that would get old quickly, but they’re varied enough, and have a satisfying enough gameplay outcome, that they end up gluing the whole experience together.

In fact, there is one game that combat does remind me of. I used to love playing Olaf in League of Legends. He had a mechanic where he could steal health from characters he attacked, and the lower his own health was, the faster he attacked. This lead to knife edge situations where you can see your own health going down, but your only option is to push forwards, knowing that if you stop attacking you’ll stop healing yourself; but if you keep attacking you’ll do even more damage and either sustain your health, or die trying.

Doom (2016) isn’t a story driven game, but it does do a good job of world building in a way that reminds me heavily of System Shock. You pick up data logs that you can read in your own time, or ignore completely. Ditto for the digital ghosts, that show you the history of the environments you are moving through. You are forced into none of this, but to look at even a bit of it makes the game feel a lot richer.

The soundtrack by Mick Gordon is fantastic. There’s no point me describing it, just listen.

Doom (2016) was a really fun ten or so hours. These are just some of the things about it that I think it did well. I feel bad for dismissing it before ever having played it, but when it comes to games from big studios, I increasingly feel like you should assume everything is garbage nowadays and then just be pleasantly surprised when things aren’t.

Playing Doom (2016) got me in the mood to go back to the originals. That and I recently read Masters of Doom. Would you believe I’ve never beaten Doom 2? So I’m playing that now and might move on to the Final Doom .wads soon. I’ve come across some interesting stuff on the original games and might be posting something about them soon, so watch this space/follow me if you wanna know when I post it.

A Personal Canon

I saw this personal canon on another site and thought it’d be an interesting exercise. It was very hard for me to come up with things at first, and then it was difficult to stop myself, because I guess they won’t let you take a loaded kindle. I am as annoyed as you are by the lack of women and writers of colour and am doing my best to correct it. I know this list makes me look like an asshole but I swear I am not. But then, they all do, don’t they?

Ulysses by James Joyce

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

The poems of T.S. Eliot

The (imagist) poems of Ezra Pound

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The stories of Franz Kafka

The Trial by Franz Kafka

Mrs. Dalloway by Virignia Woolf

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

The Thread in the Carpet by Henry James

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Image, Music, Text by Roland Barthes

The essays of George Orwell

The poems of P.B. Shelley

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

The short stories of Philip K. Dick

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Things I haven’t read (yet) but would take with me to a desert island

(I’ve talked before about grand reading projects)

Homer

The Bible

The Koran

The Torah

Plato

Dickens

The rest of the romantics

Tolstoy

Dostoyevsky

Chekov

The rest of Woolf

Austen

The Brontes.

 

I must stop myself, and so I stop myself.

What I Read Last Week: July 14th to 21st

Another quick reminder that I started a Patreon and that you can help support my work here.

I didn’t read as much as I would have liked to in the last week, partly because I’ve been writing a lot, and partly because I am making myself read Northanger Abbey and I found (am finding) the middle third of that novel incredibly boring. It was around that part in Pride and Prejudice that I started to better understand what Austen was trying to do, and started appreciating it. No such luck so far with Northanger.

A reprieve from that novel found its way to me by chance. I toured the Emirates stadium last Saturday (it’s fantastic, you should go), and I travelled there via the Arsenal tube station. At that tube station, there is a little free library, which I couldn’t help checking out because books, and on those shelves I found a copy of David Kushner’s Masters of Doom. I love Doom and Quake, and had wanted to read that book for a long time, so I picked it up. Unfortunately I didn’t have any books on me to donate, so I’ll have to go back and leave one the next time I am there.


Masters of Doom is the story of John Romero and John Carmack; their early lives, how they meet, and the other people they worked with on games Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake.


I enjoyed it thoroughly. Kushner includes enough details on the tech and the personalities that even veterans like me will learn something on every page, while moving at a pace that ploughs through the years with some of the breathlessness and excitement of being there.


 It goes a long way towards explaining why Quake feel’s like such a hodgepodge of ideas, and why Daikatana was such a fucking mess.

They really need to remove the casual transphobia from it though. It serves no purpose. 

What I Read Last Week: July 7th to 14th

A quick reminder that you can now support my work on Patreon, if you like 🙂

I started reading Strangers on a Train and got about fifty pages in. I am enjoying it, but dropped it (for a bit, I am always dropping books) because Bruno was really fucking creepy and I’d had enough of that with Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, which I had just read. I will go back to it, I am just not in the mood at the moment.

I then decided to pick up something short. I’ve had a copy of the first Maigret novel Pietr the Latvian on my nightstand for a while. I bought it knowing nothing about it except that it was a detective novel, and that Simenon claims to have slept with hundreds of women. I like using detective stories as a palette cleanser, something I’ve been doing ever since I binged on James Bond novels after finishing university. Pietr the Latvian got me immediately with its description of a dark, wet, bleak Paris. I am always up for some relentless bleakness. It struck me as being like Chandler with more of a sense of companionship, but I realise Chandler probably read Maigret before writing his stuff. Simenon intrigued me enough with the dead man in an impossible situation and also impossibly not being dead that I would have sped through this novel regardless of its quality, but its constant variation of a desolate coast, a seedy high-life, and a dark modernity made it an enjoyable couple of sittings.

And then I read Siddhartha.

I’d wanted to read Siddhartha for a long time. I found a public domain translation of it and read it in a couple of days. I probably should have read it slower but it went down so easy, like stories that have the quality of fable and lightness of style do. I haven’t really gathered my thoughts about this novel yet. My own (lack) of spiritual inclinations makes it hard for me to relate to some of its concerns, but at the same time I still felt like I was experiencing something profound. If I was a parent, this novel probably would have devastated me. I might write something longer about this soon. Or I might have to do a lot more reading to know how I feel about it. My knowledge of religion (and other spiritual pursuits) is limited and something I’d like to correct, and I think this knowledge might help me appreciated Siddhartha more. Maybe I missed the point.

I am about halfway through Northanger Abbey, which I am reading because my girlfriend has to for her work, and I like synchronising my reading with hers sometimes. I am finding it fine enough but find myself feeling the same way I did reading Pride and Prejudice, that is bemused at the triviality of many of the concerns of the novel, and yet also stung with the recognition that those trivialities are what make up our lives. I have, as always, probably missed the point.

What I Read This Week: June 30th to July 7th

Hello. There are spoilers on this page. I know it was published in 1938 but I managed to read it without knowing what was going to happen, so that might be the case for you as well. Look away now if you don’t want to know what happens.

 

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I didn’t read every single book I was supposed to when I was at university. I know it’s not realistic to expect everyone to read every single book on a reading list, but when there’s a seminar scheduled on it, you really should read the book. I still feel bad about the books I didn’t read, so every now and again I pick one up and give it a fair shake. Eventually I’ll not feel as bad. This week, I decided to read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and damn, do I regret not reading it when I was supposed to.

I should point out that I don’t remember a damn thing we talked about in that seminar. I knew the plot was somewhat similar to Jane Eyre (which I did read when I was supposed to, and loved), but that’s it. I knew none of the twists. It worked on me as it would have worked on someone in 1938.

And boy, did it work on me. The slow start put me off a bit, but I know that was meant to emphasise just how humdrum the narrator’s life is, and how narrow her prospects. It highlights that she has no choice but to accept Maxim’s proposal.

You know, as the narrator does, that Maxim has some dark and mysterious things in his past. You expect that some of this might become illuminated as the narrator integrates herself into life at Manderley. Not fully, of course. If you know it’s like Jane Eyre, you know there must be some apocalyptic reveals towards the end. But you expect some kind of idea. Something you can guess at.

But the narrator can’t integrate. And for the first two thirds of the book, Maxim barely speaks.

This negative space, where the reader has as little to go on as the narrator inside the text, and only a little more outside of it (shut up Derrida), leaves the reader grasping for meaning as desperately as the narrator does.

And du Maurier knows you are thinking about Jane Eyre.

The way she makes you lead yourself into thinking it’s a story about a man tormented by the loss of his life’s love is nothing short of masterful. When du Maurier floods the story with oxygen and lets the fire burn as bright as it wants, you’re just as devastated as the narrator is to find out that those people saying she was nothing like Rebecca were paying her a compliment all along. And how terrifying it becomes when you realise that it’s not some writerly trick that drew you along, it was Rebecca herself, getting revenge on the behalf of the mad woman in the attic, refusing to be reduced to a deus ex machina.

Think about it in relation to Jane Eyre, which is a novel that is about the titular character, who is allowed to have her own name at the expense of the woman who is locked away. In du Maurier’s inversion, the narrator is refused a name and the title lets us know just who the most important actor in the story is. Rebecca.

It’s just a perfect example of what leaving a void in the story and letting the reader fill it themselves (with the odd nudge) can do.

These are just some quick thoughts. It has been a while since a novel has held me in its spell like Rebecca did, and I wanted to go over some of the ways I think it did it. I’ve just started reading Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train. (Am I on some pre-adaptation Hitchcock bender? I’ve only seen Psycho and Rear Window.) I’m in the middle of like ten other books as well. I am a serial starter.

A Return to Journaling

We live in the age of anxiety. If you don’t believe me, just bear in mind that that a man you wouldn’t trust to order a pizza has the nuclear codes. Feel anxious yet?

I’ve spent my entire life trying to managing my anxiety.  Some of my strategies have been more effective than others. This is ok. I am doing my best to view life as an iterative process. There is a lot of stuff I have tried that hasn’t worked. Can I rework some of these strategies, or do I need to develop entirely new ones? I am still trying to figure it out, and I keep having to remind myself that, at 26, I have a lot of my (don’t say miserable James) life ahead of me; and while I shouldn’t be solely concerned with self-improvement, it is something I should at least bear in mind.

But there is one strategy that I have returned to that definitely has its uses, and I think that the energy and time expended in it is more than worth the benefits. I am talking about journaling.

I’ve kept a journal on and off since I was about ten years old. I still have all of them. Every so often, I go back to them and leaf through. Lots of angst, naturally. Lots of longings I don’t remember having for people I don’t remember knowing. And lots of first drafts of poems and stories.

That last point I’d like to expand on. I’ve found keeping a journal an excellent creative practise in numerous ways, but the drafting is what I’ve found the most useful. Because a journal functions as a judgement-free, and private, space, it is an excellent way of shutting up the inner critic and just getting something down. No one ever has to see it. You can go back immediately and type it up, or you can leave it there, using the journal as what Harlan Ellison calls the trunk, letting a piece of work rest before coming back to it with fresh eyes. And the act of typing up is useful in itself, as it forces you to reengage with the text in a different way, something that is essential to proofing and editing. I don’t recommend writing a 100,000 word novel this way, if only for the sake of ease, but for drafting poetry or short stories, it is an excellent method, and one worth trying.

For the other great use that I have found, I return to the anxiety angle. I am the kind of person who has trouble getting thoughts out of their head. Nagging worries, fears, fantastical scenarios. There are other strategies for dealing with this kind of thing, and I am not saying journaling is a silver bullet, but I have noticed that when I am journaling every day, and taking care to write down what things are worrying me, and what things I can’t stop thinking about, the volume of the noise in my mind gets turned down a little bit. Of course, it might be that I am experiencing a (relative) period of calm of my mind’s own accord, and am journaling because I have the surplus mental energy. I intend to force myself to stick to journaling every day for a month or so, and see which way round this goes.

And of course, I’ll have a record of it. If you’re going to experiment, you should try and collect some data.

The idea of a journal being a thought dump does just make intuitive sense to me. There is no judgement, and total privacy. It is a way of getting your thoughts outside of your head so you can hopefully see them with a bit more clarity, and the act of writing itself forces us to think differently and to focus, something that anxiety makes difficult. But it doesn’t hurt to practise in an environment where there is no fear of failure and no expectations whatsoever, bar doing your best to write down what you did that day, and what you thought and felt as you did it. Even if you’re having a bad time, don’t underestimate the power of paying it forward to your future self. One day a record of how bad you once felt might serve as a helpful highlight of just what has improved in your life, and how much better you’re doing now.

N.B: I would like to stress that I am not a mental health professional, and that your experience almost certainly differs from mine. I just wanted to detail a practise that I’ve found useful in the hope that others might too. YMMV.

I Started a Patreon!

I had some free time today, so I decided to finally get off my arse and set up a Patreon. If you enjoy any of my posts on this blog, or any of my poetry or fiction, then this is the best way to support me other than buying my books. Don’t feel pressured, I am going to keep writing no matter what happens, but it would be nice if I had more of a stable income, and this will hopefully be a step towards that.

For now, there are no special rewards because I am trying to focus on getting another book out. If the response to the Patreon is good, then I’ll have to think of something, probably a look at first drafts, or DRM-free copies of my books. If there’s anything you’d like, let me know.

This seems a good time to remind you that I am also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and probably some other stuff that I’ve forgotten. If you’d like to follow me somewhere and can’t find me, just ask 🙂