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Mary Clark

Myst and DOOM's Legacies

This week working on the Console Living Room was mostly researching and reading, since we’re still establishing meetings times. My reading for the week was Making the Water Move (2008) by Andrew Hutchison, which I picked as an introductory piece into 90s games. The article compares and contrasts the developers’ priorities in Myst and DOOM—two games I would super love to install and play on the Console Living Room’s computers—and how these requirements shaped the iconic audio-visual experiences of the two vastly different games. Less related but still noteworthy, he also provides an argument for game AI (particularly NPC interactions with the player) as the next obstacle in creating an immersive gaming experience, now that audio-visual aesthetics have so vastly improved.

I was fascinated by the radically different approaches the developers’ took to their respective games. Myst is more of my kind of game: thoughtful, deliberate, detailed compositions of images and audio, woven together to create (what was, at the time) an incredibly immersive puzzle. It used a lot of data for this—too much for any lone hard drive to handle at the time—and streamed its images and audio from the CD-ROM. This made the game relatively heavy and slow, but what was lost in speed was made up for in aesthetic quality.

On the other hand, DOOM’s fast-paced action required immediate response to user input, and had to immediately render the results for the user. It was more important that the developers make a fast game, not a pretty one; while Cyan Worlds’ development team was using every byte of memory to their advantage, id Softwares’ was making enormous aesthetic sacrifices to use as few as possible. Textures were re-used, objects were simple, and the resolution was low. Fortunately, it paid off: DOOM’s free player movement, quick response time, and real-time 3D rendering made it one of the most iconic (and controversial) first-person-shooters of all time.

One aspect of DOOM that was sparsely discussed by Hutchinson in the article was the online multiplayer feature, which I assumed, based on how important online multiplayer is to the first-person-shooter genre today, would have to be pretty reliable. Turns out, it wasn’t! It sucked!

I did some additional research and came across this article on the evolution of game networking. During and prior to DOOM’s time, games frequently used the deterministic peer-to-peer lockstep networking model. In a nutshell, this model exchanged player commands instead of the game state, so for example, instead of exchanging the player’s location on a map, you would exchange the player’s commands to move several steps forward, or interact with this object, etc. It’s a cool concept, but one of the major drawbacks is that the minimum latency is equal to the latency of the slowest player because communication is done across all peers. DOOM multiplayer was great over LAN, but playing online was usually a laggy disaster.

It quickly became apparent that peer-to-peer gaming was not going to work for the first-person-shooter genre, and a new model needed to be created to support a faster, more reliable way of communicating the game state. In 1996, id Software released Quake, which used the client/server topology. Now, instead of each player running a game on their computer and communicating their moves between every other player’s computer, there was only one game on the “server” computer that communicated with the “client” computers. Since then, the client/server model has undergone several improvements to further reduce latency (and even give the player the illusion that there is no latency at all). DOOM may not be the game to thank for popularizing online multiplayer, but its faults led to a revolutionary development in the way we experience multiplayer games today.

So in conclusion, my research this week was focused on how the technical limitations of 90s games influenced their aesthetic experience and performance. Since most of my further reading focused on game networks in the 90s, I would like to do some more research next week on games more along Myst’s genre.

Sources

Here’s a list of important articles from this week:

I also found some useful resources for Myst and DOOM on archive.org