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Doom 3: Phobos

Doom 3: Phobos started out as an idea for a small episode that would be a direct continuation of Doom 3. The purpose of that would be to gather experience and get ready for a bigger and more comprehensive mod. It didn't take us long to realize that we were up to the challenge and decided to skip the first step. Since then, Doom 3: Phobos has evolved into a very extensive and ambitious project. We are well on our way of creating an unofficial expansion pack of top quality.

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News & Development
Devblog #14 - Reflections
We know it has been quite a while since the last devblog. More than a whole year. So why has it been so long? To start off, it has been a very eventful year for the members of the team. People have been moving, buying a new house, there have been tragedies. Close family members lost. Operations. Busy times at work - so something had to give. And instead of sacrificing our productivity for the actual mod work, we have cut back a little on the public relations side of things. So all in all, this doesnít mean we have been idle, we have simply prioritized not being idle higher than not looking idle.

So what have we been doing for all that time? Well, quite a lot. First off, we finished up E1M8 - the last level of the episode. This involved a wide array of our abilities and pressed us to evolve new ones as well as refine the existing. We had to ensure that the episode ends with a bang. One of our main challenges when building this level was the ever changing progression style from linear to nonlinear.

Next up we decided it was time to remake E1M2. This was, after all, the first level we created since practically rebooting the project in 2009. While there were good ideas and segments in the level, we opted for scrapping it entirely and replace it with something new and much better. Certain parts of the old version was saved and reused for the new. We finished the map in a reasonable amount of time and the subsequent result was much better. One of the problems we had with the old level was that it was too fragmented and didnít portray that part of the martian base in a manner where the player would know exactly where he was and what he was supposed to do. While we like to have a certain level of nonlinearity, we need to have a greater sense of direction in this part of the story.

Lastly, we had to create E1M1, the start level of the game and the last level of the first phase of development. We already had a few pieces of the level ready, so all we had to do was to settle on the style and build the rest of the areas of which were already planned. The first level of Phobos has been planned to have no action. While itís not set in stone yet, we are attempting to create a level thatís large and completely open to explore, but you donít have to spend too much time there if youíre simply craving to progress to the levels with action. Itís a delicate balance to get right, but if we succeed it should be very interesting. For the story seeking player, spending more time in E1M1 will pay off dramatically. We are putting great care into the opening of the game.

And that was it for Phase 1.
Before we head off to Phase 2 in this here devblog, itís worth mentioning that somewhere in between all of this work, the writers finalized the first draft of the entire detailed story with flow, characters and direction. Now, this doesnít mean we waited until now to write the story - far from it - the rough story as it is was completed back in 2005 or 2006 and we have been following this plan ever since. Not much has changed in this regard. Whatís new is the amount of detail the document goes into with the characters, what scenes the player witnesses and the interconnections between the characters. The document details what each character is doing at any time, what their motivations are, what they let others know and so forth. We would have loved to have had this earlier, but time didnít permit it. So far it has been a tremendously useful tool. We are really excited about it.

And now on to Phase 2. Please note that all illustrative images are work in progress and do not represent the final quality of the areas, but are merely here to show what kind of processes we go through with Phase 2.



We started by planning out how the workflow would be. This didnít take long as we had been discussing the phase for 4 years at that point. What basically goes in is we have all the levels ready, playable from start to finish - complete with puzzles, monsters, items and weapons. They all look decent and all the shots we have released show that there is a certain level of quality throughout. Now, with these levels in the bank, we go through them one by one, analyse their strengths and weaknesses and then proceed to write a solution document which goes into detail on how we can fix any problems the levels may have. That is not to say we look too much at texture misalignments, less than perfect lighting or anything like that. Phase 2 is a rough pass over the levels, fixing uneven quality, things that are broken, implementing details to reinforce what weíre trying to convey with the story and so forth. An example of this is how we in E1M4 completely scrapped an old cargo system in order to replace it with a new, carefully crafted cargo conveyance system. This involved a few new areas and overall the level has been doubled in size.



So does the mention of E1M4 mean we have finished 4 maps for the second phase? Sadly no. When determining the order of the levels in this second phase, it was an important point for us that we did not work on levels that had fatigue. This basically means levels we have almost just completed within a year and havenít had time to show its weaknesses. We need some time away from the levels for us to brew up great ideas and clear vision on their qualities. This meant we decided to start on E1M4, then take E1M3 and continue with E1M5. Long story short, weíre doing them in the same order as with Phase 1.



As of this devblog, we are in the finishing stages of E1M3, that soon makes it 2 levels in the 2nd Phase bank. It has taken a little longer than we wanted, but these two levels are the oldest and in most need of work, after all. We hope and intend that the process will speed up over the next levels, but itís important to say that at this point, 9 years after the release of Doom3, we donít really have any deadlines anymore. Our most important goal is to deliver an expansion pack that exceeds that of Resurrection of Evil and the Lost Missions. To elaborate on this, it has been a year since we played the fan-made mod/game Black Mesa. Anyone who has played this will recognize and appreciate the amazing work that went into creating it and the breathtaking quality that - in many places - are apparent. We were as inspired by this as any, but a year back while we were hammering away at rough roads, garages and caves for E1M2, this kind of quality seemed unreachable for a team our size. Now we can safely say that itís not entirely unrealistic that we will have the same level of quality in our work, if not greater yet. It certainly is our intention to try. In many ways we are attempting to have Doom 3 Phobos be to Doom what Black Mesa is to Half-Life. A solid, high quality product that further nuances an existing base game. The biggest difference is that the story and events in Phobos are all new.
A part of the vision and the improvement of quality is also to differ from our base, Doom 3. While it was a good game, we feel there are lots of ways to improve. We are putting back a wider array of colors, weíre brightening up the place, we are improving the sounds and the general action & interaction with enemies. We are deepening the story. Our levels are larger, less linear and more varied in style and theme. Weíre aiming for a less depressing audio side. We have more action. All monsters wonít be grey. Betruger is taking a vacation in our mod (He wonít be laughing at you, locking and unlocking doors). Progression and game events are based on your actions, not the current areaís monster count or developers unlocking doors after a monologue. Great care and detail is put into the world around the player to make it feel like a real place you can interact with rather than a pretty backdrop with 6 ft. tall clip brushes.



We donít have a lot of manpower for this vision though, as times are rough for Doom 3 modding in general and our team specifically. We are down to 3 active members as our long time level designer, DoomUK, decided to call it quits for personal reasons. We wish him the very best on his future endeavors and thank him for his wonderful contributions to the mod.



While we make progress every day and all-in-all our work rate is really good, we would benefit greatly from new talent. We are looking for practically anyone with a decent skill set and - almost more important - the will to work his or her ass off and the enthusiasm for getting better, improving the skill set and be willing to take on different assignments. Itís a free mod, so we canít offer any monetary benefits, but youíll get the chance to work on something that will actually be completed and released. Itís no longer a pipe dream with this project, it is reality. Youíll be working on something with high, aiming for higher, quality. If you think you fit this description, donít hesitate to send us an email at infoteamfuture@gmail.com with your background, area of expertise and examples hereof.



Furthermore, we would appreciate any help we get with the public aspect of this. Tell your friends about us, like us on facebook and follow us on twitter. There is something special in the works and weíd like to reach as many people as possible with it.
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Devblog #13 - Realization Time
As Lead tester on Phobos, I've been asked to write this Devblog about our testing process, what goes into it, what comes out of it, and, more often than not, goes straight back into it again. It's a constant cycle of improvement and refinement, which can be fairly gruelling at times, but is pretty rewarding.

What goes into testing?
Playtime. Quite a lot of playtime. Most recently we've been nearing the end of Phase 1 on a lot of maps, which means they're getting rigged up for combat. What this means to me is playing through a lot of the same sections multiple times, working with a fellow team member Caffeine to try and get the right balance of challenge throughout the maps. Sometimes this happens quite quickly, Caffeine will set something up and it will be great first time. Others involve a lot of back and forth, changing the number of enemies in an encounter, or swapping them out for different ones, over and over until it feels great to play, and most importantly, feels right in the map.

Quite a lot of attention to detail also goes in. While we're not at the incredibly nit-picky stage of Phase 2 yet, I also keep a constant lookout for graphical errors, stuff like texture problems and other things that aren't exactly show stoppers, but aren't up to the level of quality we're aiming at. When we're ready to go back over the maps with a fine tooth comb in Phases 2 and 3, I'll bring these things up, in an effort to produce the best quality work that we can.

What comes out of testing?
First and foremost: A much, much better game experience. While the work that the mappers do is really very good in the first place, the process of having someone look over what they've done with fresh eyes really helps bring out any problems. To give an example, one of our mappers added a small section to a map recently, and when I came to test it, the new room stood out from the rest of the map - it wasn't the same standard, and needed more work. I gave this feedback to the mapper, and after a couple of iterations, it came out not just looking as good as the surrounding areas, but better. See below for before and after shots.



And straight back in again...
Nothing is ever perfect. Especially in a huge project such as this. While I can lock off a lot of things right now and say they are ďgood enoughĒ for Phase 1, I know that Iíll be going back to a lot of the same things in the latter stages of development, and seeing what can be improved. Weíll have to be careful not to fall into the trap of endless refinement; but I think we have a good grip on what is ďenough polishĒ, so I think weíll be okay there. It will be interesting to have a larger testing team later in the development, to see how the decisions I have made fare against much fresher eyes.

Testing Phobos is a massive double-edged sword, for me. On the one hand, it is a great chance to get in and see the project, see the awesome stuff the guys are doing with Doom 3, and see it all as it unfolds. Itís also great experience for me as someone hoping to get into Game Design as a profession. The downside, of course, is that Iíll never be able to play the final product with a completely fresh perspective. Some of the magic will be lost, and thatís a shame. However, the brilliant feeling you get when you put out a great product, knowing you had a hand in it, is well worth it. Iím sure all you guys out there working on your own projects know exactly what I mean.

While weíre still a good stretch away from releasing Phobos, Iím already proud of the contributions Iíve made, however small they are overall, and Iím looking forward to bringing it home as a quality product that I would be happy to pay money for.

- AirRaid
Quality Assurance and Lead Tester
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Teaser trailer and Q&A
We have been working on this mod for so long. It took us 5 years to get to the realization that we needed to radically change our work structure. 2Ĺ years later we are at a stage where we can just jump in and record stuff without having to first spend hours polishing things up to a higher standard. This is something weíre really excited about, so itís a great pleasure to be able to unveil the first teaser trailer for Phobos including the first action footage of the mod. Itís only a short glimpse of it, though, as more will follow later.

Watch the Teaser trailer on youtube here

Celebrating this, we have compiled a list of questions and answers about the mod and the team. Enjoy!

Q: How far along are you now? Last update said internal demo was at 6 of 8 maps.
A: Weíre a few weeks ahead of 7 out of 8. The map we have been working on since that update is the last one - the big one, so itís a pretty time-consuming process. There is a bit of touch-up work on one of the other maps, but we have phase1 (which is what all this is about) scheduled for January 2012, so weíre pressing on. Even though we are still technically on 6/8, this has been the most productive summer ever.

Q: We haven't really seen any AI or combat screen since 2009/8, just map designs. How are the AI/models different in the last two years?
A: We havenít shown anything yet because we werenít ready. We are constantly tweaking the current AI and testing out how we want it to work. I would say a lot of things have changed over the last two years and they will keep changing, but weíre narrowing things down. We have been trying to find our feet with monster placement, monster introductions and so forth. Finally it has paid off! We wanted more natural encounters and less spawn-ins as well as more monsters in general. Things have really picked up in this area and the hard work was worth it. We are at a stage where nothing drastic has yet to happen, so you will all see AI and combat soon.

Q: Are there any new weapons and/or removed weapons from Doom 3? And is anything changed?
A: Weíve thrown the old doom3 shotgun in the bin and replaced it with a version that is much closer to the original doom/2 shotgun in both behavior and visuals. You can pick off imps and maggots at a medium range with no problems. As for the other weapons, we have done a lot of work to increase the enjoyment of the action. The plasmagun sounds more like the old one, the bolts look more electrical again. The chaingun has had its rate of fire increased and if you run out of bullets, itíll spin like in Predator. There are quite a few small surprises here and there. Other than that, we have removed all the artifacts, but thatís pretty much it.

Q: How many new enemies will we see in Phobos besides the already shown Arachnotron?
A: We had a few new enemies planned right from the start. We donít want to tell too much and itís not all final. Apart from the Arachnotron, we have 3 fully modeled and textured enemies ready. One of them is ingame and needs a few adjustments, but two still lack animations and scripting. We hope weíll get to them before the end of development. It all comes down to the extra help we can get and the time theyíre able to put into the job.

Q: Assuming you don't want to give a solid release date, could the Doom 3 GPL release possibly impact the features you'd implement in to your mod by modifying the EXE to add new features (similar to how newer Quake 2 mods use features in new Quake 2 engines, for example)?
A: I donít think we are going to add or change anything the player would notice. As of right now, we have a few problems with the hard coded limitations of the engine. Some of them are really holding us back in terms of map size and complexity. We had a map at 56 thousand brushes, but it wouldnít compile and we had to make quite a few cuts here and there to get it through the compiler and into the game. Our maps are far beyond the originals in terms of detail and size, but the engine doesnít scale so well.

One thing we have discussed doing, though, is ďhireĒ some hotshot shaders guy to write and implement mod-specific solutions that would add the mod that final touch of modern rendering. Nothing concrete has been decided though.

Q: How are the newer members of the team working out?
A: We never had a big team, and we never had that many new members coming in and actually doing something. The latest ďhireĒ we did was made in way back in January and heís our current animator. He has remade some of the animations for the Arachnotron. The main problem we have had with new members coming in is that they donít really do anything before deciding to quit again. A lot of people are really poor at estimating their own worth in terms of work rate, morale and available time. Another problem when dealing with modding is handholding. Itís just not possible for a small mod team to have dedicated hand holders who take care of every little detail for new members, so these have to naturally curious, engaged and able to work on their own. That said, we are always looking for skilled new members, so be sure to contact us if you are committed and feel like you can contribute.

Q: How has the experience of making this mod changed what you (the team) thinks of modding?
A: Most of us (if not all) have almost always been modding. Even before Doom 3. A lot has changed since then of course, and modding is not as straight forward as its used to be. At least not with Idtech4. The engine is customizable and the tools are free and available, but make no mistake. Idtech4 was made for Doom3 and Doom3 only. Going beyond that requires a lot of work, battling back and forth with the tools and the engine itself, trying to bend it to your will. It can be frustrating at times, but we still love making games. Not much has changed there. Something that has changed, though, is our commitment to getting things done. Itís only gone up since we started. The amount of repetitive work is enormous and only hard work will get you through.

Once Phobos is done and released, weíre going to take a thorough look at the market before making any decisions on where to go next. We might go with something completely different or start up our own engine. We just donít know at this time.

Q: What was your biggest, overall hurdle for the team so far during development?  What really held you guys up?
A: As previously mentioned, the engine itself has challenged us through various hard coded limitations. Apart from those, weíre a really small team with few dedicated workers. Theyíre quality people. no doubt, but Idtech4 and its tools require brute force work to get stuff done. Thereís not a lot to be intelligent or crafty about, so we have poured hours on end into this. Because of the teamís size, it is extremely noticeable whenever one of the members has to focus on his job or girlfriend for a while.

We try and work our way through it all though, and I think we are at a stage where we handle it just as well as anybody could. It was never easy, but weíre not quitters!

Q: Years in development without a release is a long time for a mod. If more Doom 3 mods released content earlier in their life there would currently be more excitement about Doom 3 modding like there is for Valve, Epic or Crytek games?
A: There are quite a few problems with Doom 3 and Idtech4 as a base. Even if the three large Idtech4 mods had released beta versions a few months after starting, you will still have the same challenges and drawbacks as you have now.

Doom3 was a remarkably unspectacular game in the eyes of the public and it never gained any sustained public appeal. In fact, the game has become a running Internet joke. No matter how much we like Doom3 in the local community, itís never going to draw in people from the outside communities. So then what? What could draw people to the Doom3 (idtech4) modding community?

Changing the game completely into something contemporary and popular _could_ do the trick.
Sadly, this has been tried and proven not to work. Idtech4 was custom tailored for Doom3, the game. This is very apparent in the games produced utilizing the engine. Quake 4 looked a lot like a poor manís Doom3. Prey looked like Doom3 with a few sparkly shaders. They both played somewhat like Doom3.

Most popular mods are multiplayer by nature, but as we all know, Doom3 MP turned out to be something of an afterthought. The netcode was buggy and anything serious produced on the engine would have to receive extensive work. Even if we imagine all of this was achieved by some talented people, you would still have to overcome the art barrier.

There is no engine in the world where you can just throw random assets at it and itíll come out looking great, but some engines are more grateful than others. Idtech4 is extremely picky in this aspect. If you want something to look good in the engine, you have to work really hard. The lighting itself requires a great amound of skill to pull off. This level of difficulty works as a hurtful barrier for new modders.

Couple this with a toolset that leaves nothing to automation and you have a really bad cocktail for modders. Itís no that Idtech4 is a bad engine, it just wasnít scaled for anything thatís not Doom3. Itís no that the tools for Doom3 arenít working, theyíre just very basic and rely heavily on brute force work.

The reasons behind why Doom3 modding never became a big thing are too many to list.

Q: Speaking of development time. How long have you worked on Phobos?
A: 2 years ago we would have said 5 years (since October 2004), but we recently realised that after having started the internal demo(2009) and worked away on it, we donít have any maps from before 2009 left. We barely have content from back then - so these days we like to say 2Ĺ years.

As mentioned idtech4 has a very steep learning curve in terms of art and assets and we pretty much spent the first many years getting settled with the tech as well as getting used to 3D game creation. Most of us come from a classic Doom 2.5D background, so it was quite the challenge in the start.

However if you count the first 5 years, The mod has been underway for 7 years now. Thatís a long time and weíre aware of it, but you also have to realize that itís something we do in our spare time, so some times it has to take backseat for other, more pressing things. The good news is that ever since we ďrebootedĒ development with the internal demo, we have spent our time well.

Q: When this mod is ďdoneĒ what are the plans for the team and mod? Will you form an indie company, release the mod assets and code for others to look at and use, etc?
A: Currently we donít have plans for anything after Phobos. I guess it all depends on where people are in their lives and what tech is around. We have a few members wanting to get into the game industry, and if they do, they definitely wonít have much time left for modding.

Speaking for only the two leaders, we would very much like to start our own thing, but thatís a huge step and we donít want to waste our time. Weíre looking in to a few possibilities and they all range from Phobos Episode 2 through modding on another game&engine to creating our own game from the ground up.

Weíre not keeping any info about this from the public. We just donít know at the present time.
As for assets and code, all of that will be released alongside the mod. We currently donít have a policy for using and reusing those assets. That depends on where we decide to go after releasing the mod.

As a general rule though, we donít have anything against providing said assets and code as a base for future work.

Q: Will your release support Windows, Linux, and OSX?
A: Windows for sure. We have had a few people offer to create Linux and Mac compiles throughout the years, but we donít have any concrete plans at the moment. We spend a lot less time thinking about releasing the mod than we do creating it.

Q: Is the lighting in Phobos going to be as pitch black as Doom3's was?
A: The quick answer is no! Weíre trying to brighten up the maps a bit and today's hardware can easily handle a higher light complexity. We were never really fans of the constant darkness in Doom 3 and we have added quite a bit more contrast in the lighting aspect in an attempt to spice things up.

Also, using the flashlight to take a thorough look at the original Doom 3 maps, you will notice that a lot of bland/detail-lacking areas are covered up in darkness. We donít do this.

Q: Are you going for a more action loaded game or dark and scary like Doom 3 was?
A: We like having contrasting levels. Thereís a really spooky one that has you on the edge of your seat throughout the map, but we also have maps that are more action packed and even maps that lend more to puzzles and exploration. The key is to have a consistent, but evolving tone that isnít all over the place. Right now it seems weíre succeeding.

For the areas and sequences that actually are scary, we try to reach a better level of quality and overall less contrived design.

Q: Should we expect a musical soundtrack to accompany the gameplay?
A: We will definitely have music in Phobos. This is something we missed in Doom 3 as well as many other titles at that time. We have an amazing composer called Julian, who also worked with us on our previous project; RTC-3057. We already have a few tracks lying around, but weíre pushing back the implementation of the music to phase 2. It really is a post-build thing for us, as it was with RTC.

Weíre heavily considering a sounds&music devblog for the future.

Q: What will doomguy look like?
A: Currently we donít have a face for him. We do however know that he wonít look like any of the other two doom3guys. This is a completely different guy with a different background and story. One final option is actually to place a helmet over his head throughout the episode, should all else fail.

Q: Will there be any homages to classic doom?
A: Of course! We all started with Doom, and we still love the game. You just wait and see!

Thanks to The Happy Friar from Planetdoom and our fans on Facebook and Twitter for asking the questions. If you have any other questions for us you can ask on Facebook. And weíll answer what we can.

The next devblog is already planned, and will be made by our lead tester AirRaid. This time around youíll read about how testing is done on Phobos.
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