What was the fairest way to compare two franchises a generation apart? How could you honourably put the two side-by-side without delving so far into the abyss that the entire exercise became irrelevant? How on earth could you possibly determine a fair winner?
Like a bolt of lightning, the answer came to me: if it wasn’t for one, the other wouldn’t exist. This isn’t an abstract comparison, or a strictly historical analysis in that Doom came first and underpinned everything thereon. It’s a more considered look at what the two games set out to achieve, what ideals and benchmarks the two companies tried to accomplish with their respective franchises, and the legacy each has left behind.
Firstly, credit should go where credit is due. Almost all of gaming today owes something to Call of Duty, or more specifically, the original Modern Warfare.
The middle part of the noughties – the worst title ever given to a decade, incidentally – was marked by developers doing two things: looking at World of Warcraft, and wondering, “How can I get me some of that?” Seeing millions of players throw money hand-over-fist into the Blizzard crack factory resulted in all kinds of weird and wonderful experiments with multiplayer, many of which failed completely.
What was great about WoW was that it was the ultimate expression of what a good PC game should be: value for money. The PC bested out the arcades decades ago thanks to games like Civilization, which proved that the high expense of a game was better for your wallet than dumping coins into a cabinet.
How many hours have gamers gotten out of Blizzard’s leviathan of a MMO? Thousands, even tens of thousands, I’d imagine. In contrast, players might get about fifty to a hundred hours of out a single-player RPG. Many games provided far less entertainment. Shooters in particular were especially threadbare: you were looking at a campaign spanning a meager four to six hours, coupled with a piddling 20 or 30 for the multiplayer afterwards.
Besides a few staples like Halo 3, genres were struggling to harness the mass appeal that WoW managed to attract. Even titles like Team Fortress 2 functioned within the standard framework of what a shooter should be. There may have been a fresh context and a new coat of paint – but fundamentally, you kept playing because you enjoyed the game’s core.
Modern Warfare took that core and hid it from its audience, dangled the true meat and bones away from gamers and enticed them to keep playing well into the night. In one fell swoop, the entire industry learnt from a simple shooter how the concepts of an MMO could be used in all games, and the results were staggering. Reports a few years ago claimed that the average gamer spent around 170 hours playing Call of Duty, and given the franchise’s popularity has remained relatively stable, I’d expect that figure to still hold true.
It’s an astonishing amount of time for one person to inject into a game, but for the average person? What a phenomenal achievement. The best part is that Modern Warfare’s success was purely by design. As much as we all love to hate the franchise now, and there are many, many bones to pick – one cannot begrudge Infinity Ward for what they did: they changed the industry for good, and they deserved to reap the rewards.
Doom was equally historic but much more technological, a befitting legacy for a company as obsessed with the nuts and bolts of engines as id Software. John Carmack’s annual keynote speeches at Quakecon are evidence enough of id’s mathematical wizardry, although I’m certain the majority of that is spurred on by his obsession with optimising absolutely every aspect of the gaming process. Carmack’s near savant-like genius spurred on several major breakthroughs for the industry, so it’s understandable that many of the non-id Software shooters that followed Doom (Hexen, Heretic, Dark Forces) were built using the core Doom engine.
Innovations were implemented, like full texture mapping for all surfaces, multiple changes in height throughout the course of a single level, varied lighting, and advancements in the soundscape. Doom’s WAD design continued id’s philosophy of catering to the modding community, and the game firmly established deathmatch in the gaming lexicon.
Doom gave developers and gamers new tools to play with, but it also opened the doors for id to become a cornerstone of the industry by licensing out their engine. This was a major step forward, and until the advent of the Unreal Engine in the late 90s, id was synonymous with cutting-edge technology. It’s worth mentioning now that despite the many advancements made since the original Modern Warfare, the recent iterations to the Call of Duty franchise were all built around a heavily updated version of the Quake 3 engine.
That hyperactive pace at the core of Call of Duty? That can be traced back to Carmack’s obsession with eliminating the unnecessary, shaving every possible millisecond and sharpening every possible action. The longevity of Modern Warfare to this day is also chiefly down to the belief of some within id that players should be able to delve into the game’s core and tinker at will. Call of Duty has diverged down a different path: the franchise now represents the complete opposite of a modder’s paradise, with yearly releases, no official mod support, limited LAN play and no longevity beyond twelve months.
These things are all fine if that’s what you want from a game, but it’s a complete reversal from the foundation that Call of Duty was built upon. Furthermore, most of Call of Duty’s enormous success had nothing to do with the cannibalisation of its features: gamers just fell in love with a really good shooter. Even at its lowest point, the Doom franchise always took gaming a step forward even at the expense of itself. Call of Duty deserves its position atop the hill, but many of the changes in the franchise since Modern Warfare have done little to advance gaming technologically or ideologically.
That’s not to say what improvements have been made aren’t impressive, but in a historical context they’re not worthy of note. That’s the ultimate comparison between the two; if you look back at the legacy of Doom, only good things came forth. Better games like Doom 2, Strife (I refuse to hear arguments to the contrary on this one), Dark Forces were made as a result.
What games became better as a result of Call of Duty – or to put it in another perspective, what games were made better by trying to be more like Call of Duty?
And the winner is …
The hyper-twitchy shooter franchise hasn’t led to breakthroughs in game design and even the technology is beginning to age. You could never level either of those arguments against any iteration in the Doom franchise. Id software’s iconic FPS moves forward to the second round, the better man, the better game.
So Doom gives a rocket blast to Call of Duty, knocking it out of the FPS division of our Video Game Face Off Tournament! What are your thoughts on the decision? Chime in and let us know in the comments below!
Also be sure to follow the bracket for the latest in the tournament.