Thought we eventually got another Doom game in the form of Doom (2016) , Doom itself was something of a lost franchise for a while, desperately searching for its place in a rapidly changing landscape it helped paint and supply the canvas for. Thankfully Doom (2016) answered the question of what it meant to be a Doom game outside of the original style of titles like Doom II and Doom 64 without having to be the beautiful and dark Half-Life inspired mess that was Doom 3.
id Software can use the carefully crafted and modern formula from Doom (2016) and combine it with fan feedback to keep titles coming at a more steady pace than we saw in years leading up to it. We likely won’t ever have to go more than a decade without a new title again, which is exactly what happened while Doom 4 was being created before it met its own, ahem, doom.
Doom 4 can be traced back to 2007, which is when id Software co-founder John Carmack first spoke about the title publicly. Carmack shared some details on Doom 4 at Quakecon 2007 by saying, “There will be a Doom 4, we don’t have it scheduled or a team assigned to it, but there will be a Doom 4. There’s going to be a Quake Arena sequel. There’s a Wolfenstein thing in production. We’re following along with all those. This game doesn’t have to be Doom. It’s going to be something different.”
The wrong kind of hell
It’s already clear even from that statement that id Software likely had no idea what the hell they were doing for the next title in their long-running series. Carmack saying the next Doom game didn’t need to be Doom and could be something different before it’s even fully in development just wasn’t a good sign on the franchise or sequel’s future.
id Software absolutely didn’t need to make a Doom game but if they were going to develop another outing to hell and back, it should absolutely have the hallmarks of what made those games famous in the first place. Why even make a title with the name and setting if it’s not really going to resemble the series? My first thought is easy money through name recognition but id Software had plenty of other intellectual properties to use outside of Doom. They also had the Quake, Wolfenstein, and Commander Keen franchises and that’s before we get to the fact that id Software was a technology powerhouse with public confidence. They could create a new IP if they wanted to. They created how many view first-person shooters and knew how to inject them with exciting ideas.
Anyway, they eventually made a new franchise after many years of chatter, releasing it to mixed results and reception with 2011’s Rage. That was the company’s only major release for a long while, but in the years since we’ve also learned what Doom 4 was going to be before it was killed off. And while it’s certainly interesting to explore what could have been, it’s ultimately good this was sent to hell; and I’m probably one of the world’s biggest Doom 3 defenders so I have a pretty open mind to the series.
Almost two hundred images from Doom 4‘s development leaked online in February 2012, which gave everyone a little glimpse into the game but it was still hard to say how far along the sequel was. Communication between id Software and the public wasn’t happening outside of other games besides Doom 4, and the images were all from different points in the game’s development. Some images were characters and environments but others were just concepts. Furthermore, many of the images were unfinished.
If anything the images all provided a thousand words each on how rough Doom 4‘s development was going. It didn’t look like it was even moving in a consistent direction and it also didn’t look like a Doom title half the time. Many of the images look like they could have been from Gears of War, Call of Duty, Battlefield, or even Darksiders. I could probably show someone who doesn’t even play games a picture from Doom (2016) and ask what it looks like and they would most assuredly tell me it looks like the game Doom they used to play on their family’s computer.
id Software attempted to quickly get in front of the spiraling narrative the images shed a light on. id Software design director Matthew Hooper spoke about the leak on Twitter with, “Those images have nothing to do with [what you’ll see] in Doom 4. When we officially show things, you’ll see …”
Who knows if this was just from the company trying to prevent the public from making assumptions about an in-development title or if these images were all truly unrelated to the game’s current direction? Either way, things weren’t looking good for Doom 4.
Carmack’s statement from years earlier makes perfect sense. This may have been a cool game if it was developed outside of the Doom IP. As much as I love a good Doom game, developers should have the freedom to experiment with new ideas if that is what they are wanting to do. This looks like it was going to be a cover-based military shooter with hell mixed in the middle. I think Gears of War more or less gave us just that, and that’s a ridiculous amount of fun that we’ll talk about at a different time. It doesn’t belong in a Doom article just like it doesn’t belong in a Doom game.
Zenimax Media acquired id Software in 2009, which eventually prompted John Carmack to leave id Software. He was happy with the acquisition as a whole, as it allowed him to focus on work more than the business side of things, but the new parent company refused to let him work on games for the Oculus VR hardware. His passion was really being pulled to the VR side of game development so this caused him to walk away from id Software in 2013, nearly twenty-five years after he helped start the company.
A few months before Carmack’s full departure from id Software, new information on Doom 4‘s long and winding development road came to light from Kotaku, after years with no news or details officially shared from id Software.
Jason Schreier reported the following, “We’ve also learned that in late 2011, after working on Doom 4 for three years, the studio behind the legendary series decided to reboot their newest game completely. Bethesda confirmed this to Kotaku yesterday.”
Pete Hines, Bethesda’s Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations, provided the following details to Kotaku in a statement,” id [has refocused] its efforts on a new version of Doom 4 that promises to meet the very high expectations everyone has for this game and this franchise. When we’re ready to talk about the Doom 4 Id is making, we will let folks know.”
Highway to Hell
Schreier’s reporting revealed everything from “a company full of talent but lacking direction” to sources telling him top talent had been leaving through resigning and being fired.
A Polygon article in 2015 gave additional details on why Bethesda canceled Doom 4. There were a few things at play but the biggest reason seemed to be that the game didn’t feel like a Doom game and instead felt much more like a Call of Duty title, which makes sense considering Carmack’s earliest remarks surrounding the title and of course, id Software was under Activision when development first started and through most of it.
I remember people being upset at first. Without any context it certainly looks bad to see a larger outside studio canceling a developer’s most well-known project shortly after acquiring them. Everyone wanted a new Doom game, especially the fans that didn’t enjoy the third title. In the end it all worked out though; Screenshots and internal rumblings suggest Doom 4 was on track to be a game build around a group of soldiers banding together to take on the hordes of hell that were fighting for control of Earth. I absolutely think that could work as a spinoff, but am relieved it didn’t release and steer the series as a whole in that direction. Who knows how it would have went down? Maybe poor sales would have told Activision or Bethesda (depending on when the title hypothetically released) that people didn’t want a new Doom game. It’d be a foolish conclusion but certainly possible in a fickle and profit-driven AAA sector.
Fast forward a few years though and Bethesda encouraged and allowed id Software to create one of the greatest experiences in the first-person shooter genre with Doom (2016), just like the developer had done in 1993 with the series debut.
Revisiting Hell the right way
It also looks like ideas from Doom 4‘s hellish takeover of Earth ended up in 2016’s sequel, Doom Eternal, which makes sense considering both games were channeling the energy of Doom II: Hell on Earth.
It remains to be seen what happens next with Doom but I haven’t worried about the series since it climbed out of wherever Doom 4 was dragging the series. Maybe all those Skyrim ports helped fund a much warmer title for us all to enjoy after enduring the cold climate of Tamriel an untold number of times. In the years since, Microsoft has acquired ZeniMax Media, which was the parent company of Bethesda, id Software, and several other studios. We may not know what’s next for the series but we can all rest a little easier knowing Microsoft’s deep and infinite pockets will keep the chainsaw-filled parties of hell with a good budget and development time. Microsoft needs games to fill its Game Pass shelves and we all need consistent demon-slaying action to keep Earth and Mars free of evil.
Noclip has a fantastic documentary series that goes into Doom’s history, including Doom 4’s troubled development that is absolutely worth watching.
Check out the first article from our ‘Canceled’ series if you haven’t yet. It’s on Obsidian’s canceled Snow White Prequel RPG, which I’m hoping gets funded by Microsoft someday. Disney may not be interested in it anymore but Snow White is public domain and Xbox has the cash to spend.