When Bethesda's Pete Hines popped up on a Nintendo Direct last year to announce a re-release of Midway's Doom 64, an often overlooked entry in the Doom franchise, it came as a pretty big surprise. As we've seen more of id's Doom Eternal in the months since, the reasoning behind bringing back Doom 64 has become much clearer. After all, Doom 64 isn't just riding the wave of hype that Doom Eternal has generated.
Midway more-or-less designed Doom 64 as a sequel to Doom 2. It picks up the story from there and, rather than stick close to the presentation of id's originals, Doom 64's levels are typically much darker and its ambient soundtrack is more foreboding. Doom 64 took the series in that direction long before Doom 3 came about, and we'll also get to see that atmosphere and story expanded upon in a brand new chapter made for the port.
Since it was only ever officially released for the Nintendo 64 in 1997, plenty of folks are going to be experiencing Doom 64 for the first time later this month. While Bethesda's recent releases of Doom and Doom 2 launched with some issues, there's good reason to trust that Doom 64 is getting top-tier treatment from the port's developers at Nightdive Studios.
You may know Nightdive as the team behind the upcoming System Shock remake, but the studio has also released a few faithful ports of classic first-person shooters including Turok, Forsaken, and Blood. These have all been powered by the KEX engine, which has its roots in work that Nightdive's lead engine developer Samuel Villareal did years ago on an unofficial PC port of Doom 64. With Nightdive's work on the new Bethesda-approved port, Villareal's work is coming full circle.
Villareal and other Nightdive developers shared some info with USgamer on the new content that's coming to the Doom 64 port, from control options to technical improvements. Nightdive also weighed in on whether the Unmaker, Doom 64's super-powerful laser weapon, is a better gun than the BFG9000—and at PAX East 2020, id's Marty Stratton gave his own thoughts on the debate while giving a hint of what's coming in Doom Eternal.
USgamer: Doom 64 first made its way off of the Nintendo 64 by way of some unofficial ports, including your own: Doom 64 EX. What are some of the most notable advancements this official port has over previous efforts?
Samuel Villarreal, lead engine (KEX) developer: There were many subtle things that were missed when I initially reverse engineered the game, such as enemies being able to trigger the dart traps in Even Simpler. Enemies having different falling physics compared to the player's. Delays in scripted events being one-frame shorter—the split door in Breakdown is a good example of that—and [the] slightly different line-of-sight logic. Getting those right also made it possible for the demos to sync up, which was something that I struggled with for years, so now users will be able to use the 'RunHecticDemo' password [a code used to watch a successful playthrough of Doom 64's hidden level Hectic]. In addition to this, the game is also capable of supporting frame rates for monitors beyond 60Hz, meaning you can choose to run the game at 120 FPS or even above 1000 FPS. Everything is now interpolated to run as silky smooth as possible.
Additionally, the way sprites are rendered is now more true to how the original game rendered them, so no more seeing the bottom of sprites being clipped by the floor or explosion sprites being partially clipped by walls. I've even employed a technique that was suggested by John Carmack in his release notes when the source code to Doom was released back in 1997. These things are pretty subtle but I am definitely proud of it.
Doom fans are more likely to have a good understanding of the original Doom engine or subsequent versions of id Tech, but Midway used a heavily modified version for Doom 64. Does it have any features, intended for the N64 or otherwise, that you find particularly interesting?
SV: There wasn't anything that really pushed the hardware per se, but the N64 was definitely capable of rendering more geometry versus previous ports. So Doom 64 was able to showcase more complex layouts in levels, and then there's the colored lighting and macro scripting system that was introduced that changed the way Doom played and looked. I also think, with Quake being out at the time and all, Doom 64 tried to do a lot with the lighting to at least keep up with Quake in some shape or form, so walls had gradient shading to simulate lights. Some enemies were also slightly changed to be either more aggressive or dangerous.
Were there any notable bugs in Doom 64 that have been fixed for this release, or perhaps some unintended tricks that have been carried forward?
SV: Not much, surprisingly. A lot of the bugs were carry-overs from the [Midway-developed] Jaguar port of Doom and PSX Doom. However, there were a few bugs that were addressed in Doom 64, such as a check to prevent spechits overflow and checks to prevent Lost Souls from getting ejected out of the level when Pain Elementals explode. There were also some changes to the collision system that resulted in new bugs such as getting caught in 90-degree corners. These collision changes also prevent the speed boost trick when running up along northern angled walls.
Doom 64 has been discussed a lot in the lead-up to Doom Eternal, especially by Eternal's co-director Hugo Martin. Can you talk about any connections Doom fans should keep an eye out for in either game?
James Haley, senior developer: On our end, persistent players will have the opportunity to unlock a new chapter in the Doomguy's saga, taking place shortly after [Doom 64's] original campaign concludes. The Mother Demon you defeated in that outing had a sister, and since you've been messing up Hell non-stop, she tries to get rid of you by sending you away. If you can make your way back and take revenge, you’ll be rewarded with a bit of lore that fans of both series, new and classic, should enjoy.
In playtesting, how have players felt the difficulty of Doom 64 stands up to other classic Doom releases? Do mouse and keyboard or modern controllers make it feel easier?
Leo Mikkola, quality assurance lead: It very much feels like Doom—with some key differences in level design when comparing to the older games. I don't think the game necessarily becomes easier with modernized controls for keyboard and mouse—it becomes more accessible. The learning curve is lower compared to the Nintendo 64 version though, as movement feels more fluid overall and there's a distinct reduction of input lag in our version, which makes the game feel more fair.
Have any notable tweaks been made to the controls or gameplay, and if so, are any of them able to be toggled on or off?
Edward Richardson, multiplayer developer: Some little things here and there, such as an Autorun toggle, and the automap can be navigated with the [Switch] touchscreen or [PS4] touchpad. Otherwise, the keyboard and mouse controls will feel very familiar to classic Doom players on PC, and also on Xbox if you hook up a keyboard and mouse.
The original game was quite dark, so while we haven't permanently changed the lighting?—that would be sacrilege?—there's a couple of new brightness settings that change the overall brightness and the environment brightness which will help make the game far easier to see on modern displays. There's also an option to change the blood color between red and the lesser-known green from the original Japanese release.
JH: Optional motion control support on the Switch and PlayStation 4 is my favorite addition. Using it to fine tune your aim gives a sense of really being there in the moment.
What's the better gun, Doom 64's Unmaker or the BFG9000?
JH: Going to give my vote to the Unmaker, so long as you get all the Demon Keys to power it up. Its ability to stunlock even the big bosses is great.
LM: For me, it's the BFG9000. While I really do appreciate the Unmaker, nothing can beat a well-timed BFG9000 shot annihilating the horde of enemies standing between you and the exit.
ER: The Unmaker can become an overwhelming beast once it's fully unlocked, however, the BFG9000 is just more fun to use, personally. Though that may just be the years of playing around the BFG's weird behavior talking.
SV: 3D lasers are cool. That blew my mind back in the day.
Marty Stratton, co-director and executive producer on Doom Eternal: Both are awesome, and [this is] hopefully not a spoiler, but you'll get to decide for yourself in Doom Eternal, because they're both in there. You get to unlock the Unmaker if you complete all the Slayer Gates, and those are badass combat encounters.
Doom 64 will release alongside Doom Eternal on March 20, 2020 for the PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4. It's a pre-order bonus for Doom Eternal, but it will also be available as a separate $4.99 purchase.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.