[Unit 12] Week 6 – Practitioners Report

Reflecting on my experimentation for fear and level flow, I have decided to research into games that had key influences in level design. Id Software’s Doom (1993), Doom 2 (1994) and Quake (1996) were the pioneers of their genre. The classic Doom games have excellent and innovative level design that used their new technology to create 2D/3D environments that introduced new gameplay, techniques, challenges and ideas.

Quake (1996) was the introduction of full 3D maps. Everything in the playable space was 3D and no sprites were used for detail like in the classic Doom games. The biggest addition was the ability to look up and down and also have structures layered on top of another which was impossible on the classic Doom games as they were technically 2 dimensional with no Z axis movement. This addition of fully 3D environments was a big shift in the way levels were designed, created and played.

The gameplay of Quake (1996) was not as ground-breaking or new as Doom’s was. Some of the levels and design features seem rushed and the boss battles are not interesting. Lots of the levels have a brown and boring colour scheme compared to Doom’s bright and clashing colours. The setting is a unique blend of sci-fi and fantasy with castles, tombs, factories and industrial fortresses. The world has a very gothic and medieval feel with some Doom-like satanic symbols.

A key influence of Quake’s design and atmosphere is inspired by H.P.Lovecraft. Lovecraft was a novelist in the 1920’s era that published many short stories that were later well known for their horror and dark themes. Lovecraft wrote many dark fantasies set in fictional and real-world places (mainly New-England).

I think the level designers for Quake and H.P.Lovecraft both did a great job at storytelling, setting a mood and environment design within their own disciplines (level design and novel writing). I have decided to compare them as similar artists that lived in different times with different ways of expressing their art.

H.P.Lovecraft

Howard Philips Lovecraft, born August 1890, was a horror-fiction novelist who wrote and published many dark stories. He was born an only child with no siblings. His parents both had English ancestry. At age 3 his father was hospitalised for becoming psychotic so he was raised alone by his mother. Throughout his childhood he only attended school for a year because of his sickly conditions. He was not as popular while he was alive and only achieved fame after he died. His first commercially published book was in 1922. His most notable works included “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth”.

This documentary on H.P.Lovecraft covers many of his works and stories. I have used this as a source on his writing as his work is not visual but is written. However like many good writers he is able to paint a very vivid picture of what he is describing and set a mood very well.

18:47 – Dagon

Lovecraft’s first published story. It takes place on a remote bit of land in the middle of the ocean. The setting is very remote and is described as “unending”. This description makes it seem like some kind of limbo where the narrator in the story is doomed. This creates a very unnerving mood and makes the reader feel isolated. The story also introduces a monster that is described in detail which is a recurring theme in Lovecraft’s stories.

24:33 – The Outsider

This story is confusing at first as the narrator does not know fully what is going on. The story also includes a monster that people fear and are fleeing from. It includes a twist ending where you find out that the narrator is the monster and the story will make sense the second time through. This story may be inspired by/motivated by Lovecraft’s dysfunctional childhood where he was very isolated and did not feel like he fitted in.

28:41 – Herbert West – Reanimator

This story was written for a comedy magazine that lovecraft was comissioned for. The editor reminded Lovecraft that the episodic story needed to be comedy. The story is seen as funny by many but still has dark themes and a creepy atmosphere. This shows that even when creating a humorous story he still has some horror themes.

36:10 – Necronomicon

The necronomicon is a recurring element in Lovecraft’s stories. The necronomicon is a book that contains all sorts of forbidden knowledge. While it does not actually exist, the idea of such a book that holds greater knowledge is very interesting and intriguing. This concept has been adopted by many other artists and has been seen in books, films and games.

John Romero

John Romero, born October 1967, plays a key role in the games industry. He is a co-founder of id-Software that worked on many of their games including “Commander Keen”, “Doom” and “Quake”. John Romero designed many levels for Quake. Most of his levels were the second episode (chapter) of Quake, which is arguably the best set of levels with many fan favourites. In 1999 John Romero was fired from id-Software because he did not like the direction the company was going and was “not working hard enough”. He went on to form many of his own games companies such as Ion Storm and most recently Night Work Games.

 

E2M3: The Crypt of Decay is a level for Quake 1 by John Romero. It takes place in a dark and run-down castle with many water canals and a tall central tower. Parts of the level have meen infested with the undead. Most levels, including this, have a hellish sky with red clouds sailing by. Like many of the levels of Quake, this really gives a hellish and apocalyptic feel and the whole mood of the level is very dark. The castle setting explores gothic architecture and adds to the mood of the level. It is set in another world from earth which gives the level more of a Lovecraftian feel.

American McGee

American James McGee, born December 1972, is a games developer who worked at id-Software between 1994 and 1998. He worked on many of the levels for the third episode of Quake and also some additional deathmatch levels. After leaving id-Software he went on to work at EA where he was creative director on the game “American McGee’s Alice” and then went onto design “Alice: Madness Returns”. McGee had a difficult childhood which he says he uses as an inspiration to his games.

E3M6: Chambers of Torment is a Quake level by American McGee and Tim Willits. It is known for being a particularly creepy level. There is a main outdoor area that is filled with lava with bridges and walkways going over. There are other parts of the level which feature many corridors and rooms to explore. The level also features traps and dangerous routes for the player to take. Some of the textures on the walls show skulls and satanic imagery. The death traps and dangerous lava give the level a very dangerous feel and you feel like you are not welcome in this place at all.

After working at id-Software, he went to EA to become creative director of American McGee’s Alice. This game shows more of his past childhood driving him to create more of his work. The game takes a dark twist on the Alice in Wonderland story. The game is a 3rd person fighting game where you must complete objectives and fight enemies to progress through levels.

Sandy Petersen

Sandy Petersen, born September 1955, is a games designer that worked at id-Software as a level designer. He joined the compani in 1993 after being impressed by Wolfenstein 3D, he worked on Doom and Doom 2 as well as Quake. Sandy is one of the main Lovecraft fans in the group of level designers, his was responsible for most of the writing, monsters and enemies in Doom and Quake. He worked on the fourth episode of Quake which contains the most Lovecraftian references and themes. Episode 4 is the most visually interesting and is different from the other episodes.

Many of the monsters in Quake match the descriptions of some monsters from H.P.Lovecraft’s stories and novels. Here are some of the creatures that have strong Lovecraftian influences.

Quake’s Scrag

“The nethermost caverns’, wrote the mad Arab, ‘are not for the fathoming of eyes that can see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; til out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth’s pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.’
– HPL, ‘The Festival’

Quake’s Shambler

“Shuffling towards him in the darkness was the gigantic, blasphemous form of a thing not wholly ape and not wholly insect. Its hide hung loosely upon its frame, and its rugose, dead-eyed rudiment of a head swayed drunkenly from side to side. Its forepaws were extended, with talons spread wide, and its whole body was taut with murderous malignity despite its utter lack of facial description”
– HPL and Hazel Heald, ‘The Horror In The Museum’

Quake’s Chthon

The name is a reference to Brian Lumley’s mythos ‘Chthonians’. The word cthonic means “dweller under the earth” which is what id-Software has created for this boss. The monster itself has not got a mouth but just a vertical jaw. This may have been inspired by one of Lovecraft’s creatures “the Gug”.

 

Analysis and Reflection:

After researching and comparing these artists that are able to create such strong atmosphere in their works. I have learned more about the processes they use and their inspirations. I can use themes similar to this in my own work if that is the mood I wish to go for or I can research other themes and influential art pieces to create a different mood. I think that these people all try to create the theme of fear in their works which is relevant for my Week 4 Fear blog post.

Designing a level to create a specific feeling or mood in the player relies heavily on visual design. The textures and colour pallet of a level make a big difference in what the player will interpenetrate the environment as. Lighting falls into the visual category too but can also add gameplay elements and other visual keys. The architecture and shapes in an environment can be in many different forms to fit the theme. Castles and gothic buildings fit the Lovecraft theme very well.

The layout of a level does not really change the mood much, it is possible to create some fear with the layout which could include bottomless pits or unreachable areas which would invoke fear of the unknown. This is very situational though as a pit in a platformer is not very scary but a dark corridor in a horror game is. I will need to rely on visual design if I want to make create atmosphere and set the mood for the level.

Infographic:

To show some of the similarities and differences of the Quake team and Lovecraft and all factors of their works, I have created an infographic so that you can easily see the information all at once. I could have created a more inventive infographic that incorporates themes of their work but I feel that all of the data and information is too broad to optimise it for a specific set of information. I have gone with a classic Venn diagram as it is able to show all of the information I need and sum it up in one image effectively.

References:

Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown Documentary – SnagFilms 2016: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jg9VCf5einY)

Lovecraft in Quake – (no date): (https://www.quaddicted.com/webarchive/kell.quaddicted.com/stuff_lovecraftinquake.html)

Quake Wiki – 2017: (http://quake.wikia.com)

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