Sunday, 20 August 2017

Doom (2016)


Many years have passed since I last thought of The Cardigans. Do you remember The Cardigans? They were a Swedish indie guitar band from the mid 1990s. As was the fashion back then the band consisted of a bunch of anonymous men who played the instruments and a lady singer, Nina Persson, who looked like a Japanese cartoon girl and sang as if she was on tranquilisers. Here in the UK they were initially marketed as a Swedish lounge band, but eventually they found their niche as a lightweight, low-key contemporary pop act with an iconoclastic bent - they had a peculiar yen for easy listening Black Sabbath covers, and their musical weltanschauung wasn't far removed from Stereolab or The Sugarcubes, but with a more commercial sound.

I will never know, 'cause you will never show / come on and love me now, come on and love me now

For a while they were spoken of in the same breath as The Wannadies, who also came from Sweden, but whereas The Wannadies had trouble capitalising on the success of "You and Me Song" The Cardigans had a second act; their 1998 post-Britpop album Gran Turismo sold more than three million copies and "Erase/Rewind" made the top ten in 1999. Along with Catatonia they were one of the few female-fronted bands from the Britpop period that retained their popularity afterwards, although ultimately The Cardigans' career as a chart act fizzled out before the turn of the millennium. No-one hated them and they periodically reform, and Persson herself was fab. Nowadays she is grown up and married and living in New York. I think I can speak for most British men of a certain age when I say that I wish her well.

The Cardigans had one final top ten hit in 1999, a cover of Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House" with Tom Jones, before taking a haitus. Their comeback single, "For What it's Worth", was terrific, but for whatever reason the band never recaptured its commercial appeal and essentially retired in 2005.

Do you remember lounge pop? It was one of those stillborn musical genres from the 1990s that people talked about but no-one liked. No-one misses it. Lounge pop was steeped in irony, which was huge in the 1990s, and today we're going to have a look at Doom, a terrific and very successful reboot of Id Software's venerable Doom franchise. It has recently come down in price so I decided to check it out. It's really good!

Doom was originally released in 2016. At the time no-one expected great things of it. The original Doom was ages old and Id Software's previous attempt to reboot the series, the ponderous underlit jump-scare-heavy Doom 3 (2004), sold well at the time but hasn't aged well. Publishers Bethseda Softworks seemed to have no faith in the game and refused to give out review copies, usually a bad sign. Prior to release Doom was also criticised for its uninspired box art, which made the game look like a Call of Duty spin-off rather than the return of a giant from the past.

In which I play some of Doom (2016). Ultra-violence difficulty, on the PC.

I remember that the game emerged without much fanfare. It was launched the same month as Uncharted 4 and Overwatch, which overshadowed it; by the end of the year everybody was talking about Battlefield 1 and the remastered re-release of Grand Theft Auto V. In the UK Doom topped the sales charts for a couple of weeks and went on to be the fifteenth best-selling game of the year, a far cry from the original Doom, which was massive in its day.

Reviews were good but not ecstatic, most reviewers praising the single-player campaign and pooh-poohing the uninteresting multiplayer, with special nods to the excellent soundtrack and clever level designer. Nonetheless there seems to be a general consensus nowadays that Doom was something special and deserved more; I can confirm that the single-player campaign is great fun, and the game works equally well as a reboot of the original, a clever homage, and an excellent jumpy-shooty action game in its own right. Nowadays Doom 2016 is generally regarded as the best pure action shooter in years, a refreshing change from scripted, quicktime-event-based, franchise-extending interactive movies.




Doom is rendered in rich solid slabs of colour.

Doom is available for the PC, XBox One, and Playstation 4. I played it on my PC, which is modest. It has an Intel i5-2500K plugged into an ASRock H67M-GE motherboard, with an Nvidia GTX 750 graphics card that I bought more recently. This setup runs Doom just fine at 1920x1080 although curiously it slows to a crawl at one point - an arctic-themed level - and only that point.

The original Doom was available on 3.5" and 5.25" floppy discs and latterly CD-ROM. It took up about 14mb of hard drive space. In contrast the new Doom is a 55gb download that expands to 70gb or so. The game is available on DVD, but it's a bit of swizz because the DVD only has the setup program. It still has to download the vast majority of the game.

I'm old enough to remember the original Doom. Back in 1993 it was a giant leap for 3D action games, an epoch-making step-change that's impossible to appreciate nowadays. It was revolutionary in so many ways. It was one of the first 3D games that was pure action from start to finish, without any role-playing or simulation elements. It was one of the first PC games with a fast-moving texture-mapped 3D engine. It revolutionised multiplayer gaming; it revolutionised the modding community; some amateur map designers got jobs in the games industry on the back of their Doom maps; it made the PC hip; it made 3D gaming hip; it made Id Software very briefly the most important games design team in the world, with John Romero the most important games developer in the world and, if you were a young games fan, the most important man in the world, nb other people helped him write Doom. 1993 was a long time ago and much has changed since then.




Rebooting Doom in 2016 is difficult because the original is so old; notwithstanding its technical limitations - you couldn't look up and down, for example - the original game predates most of the conventions of modern first-person shooters. The designers compensated for the rudimentary monster AI by flooding the levels with monsters, or alternatively by making the monsters very, very tough, in the hope that the player would make a mistake in the time it took to grind the baddies down. In contrast Doom 2016 makes the monsters smarter but thins down their numbers and concentrates them in enclosed arenas.

In fact it's essentially a set of arena fights punctuated by bursts of exploration. As with Doom 3 (2004) the scenery is hyperdetailed, although unlike that game there's far more variety. The interiors are packed with illuminated computer terminals and futuristic industrial detritus, as if the designers had studied the first two Alien films on Blu-Ray and set out to outdo them. The mixture of red-blue neon-tinted lighting and giant industrial fans casting volumetric shadows into clouds of steam give the game a distinctly 1980s aesthetic, while other levels seem to draw inspiration from System Shock 2 (a hydroponics plant) and the clean look of the Halo titles, although Doom's levels are generally smeared in blood and gore.




Later in the game the player is sucked into hell, which has the colour scheme and piled skeletons of a Frank Frazetta painting mixed with the floating rocks of Roger Dean.




I've illustrated this article with images of the scenery rather than action shots, partially because the scenery is lovely but mainly because I was too busy moving around to hit F12 half-way through a battle. Why didn't I just record myself playing the game and extract still frames from the video? That's a very good question. A very good question.

Doom gets better the harder it is. After installing the game I started my first playthrough on Ultra-Violence, the original game's one true difficulty level. The easier difficulties are boring; the harder difficulty levels (Nightmare and Ultra-Nightmare) are frustrating unless you know roughly where everything is. The original game had a novelty difficulty level that made dead monsters come back to life after a short period of time; Doom's novelty difficulty level, Ultra-Nightmare, makes everything harder and adds perma-death, whereby if you die your save game is erased! You have to start from the beginning again. The professional gaming community took three days to beat Doom on Ultra-Nightmare. It took me roughly that time to finish the first level, restarting over and over until I got it right, and I have no plans to go any further.

In which I play the first level on Ultra-Nightmare difficulty, almost dying several times. The first level.

The problem is that the skills I honed on the original Doom are irrelvant in 2016. But I have distant memories of Unreal: Tournament, and after memorising the following four rules...

(a) always keep moving
(b) ignore impossible shots
(c) score hits, but don't get target fixation
(d) always be executing the next action

...Ultra-Nightmare got easier. Not easy. In general the game's difficulty curve is a kind of flattened U-shape, hard easy hard again. When Doom was new there was an infamous video going around the internet in which a professional games journalist tried to show off the first half-hour of gameplay without having the slightest clue how to move and aim at the same time:


The internet laughed and laughed. I laughed too, but on my first playthrough I died in the first room, at which point I stopped laughing and instead sobbed in rage and frustration as I felt the cold wind of irrelevance and old age sweep over me. An explosive barrel killed me. The barrels explode harder than the barrels in the original. Furthermore the cannon fodder imps are a lot more dangerous than their 1993 equivalents. The original game's artificial intelligence was simplistic. The baddies were just mobile turrets that couldn't aim ahead of their targets, and you were much faster than them, so unless you were overwhelmed with monsters or taken by surprise it was easy to master the game. Instead Doom 2016 has the kind of bot-based AI that became common in the early 2000s whereby the baddies clamber over the scenery, take cover, rush you and retreat as appropriate.

Is that a mistake? I think it is.



In Doom 3 the display screens were often interactive - in Doom 2016 they're either simple on/off buttons or they're just for show. Judging by the various personnel lists througout the game, Doom 2016 takes place in a future where the white race has largely exterminated all others (or alternatively the UAC's human resources department is staffed with... genetic connoisseurs).

At times the illusion of intelligence breaks down. As with the original Half-Life, Doom appears to divide each room into a series of waypoints that the monsters try to reach, and over time you can anticipate where the baddies will leap. Furthermore the monster waves are learnable, and the battles usually follow a formula, although less slavishly than Doom 3. At least on Ultra-Violence the game seems to get easier as it goes on - in later levels you fight bigger monsters, but they're bigger targets and you have stronger weapons. Doom has a small arsenal of mostly useful guns that each have two upgrade paths, beyond which you can also upgrade your suit, although you need to find secrets and successfully kill off waves of monsters in order to earn upgrade points. You can also upgrade your points by carrying out special challenges - killing multiple baddies with a single shot, for example - and you're allowed to go back and replay levels in order to explore them more thoroughly.

The game also has runes, which act as permanent power-ups. Your suit can run three at a time, and you earn then by playing challenges in a miniature arena. In one rune challenge you have to blow up zombies with explosive barrels, while in another you have to kill monsters with a rocket launcher, with the caveat that you have no extra health and the rocket explosions hurt you as well. Certain combinations of runes and weapons actually unbalance the game. One rune gives you infinite ammo if your armour is above a certain value; a second rune makes the baddies drop armour when you kill them, which essentially means that you have both infinite armour and infinite ammo if you equip both runes. A third rune makes the baddies occasionally drop BFG ammo, which means that the boss encounters become much easier. If you equip all three of those runes the arenas turn into a chore where you stand in cover hosing everything down with an upgraded chaingun, or blasting everything with an upgraded gauss cannon.




Ah, but if you just play the game it's excellent fun. I am years out of practice playing first person shooters and I imagine that a more seasoned player would prefer the game's Nightmare mode. Some of the boss fights become a bit tedious - you repeat a pattern of moves until the boss dies, or you die - but the arenas are entertaining and diverse. The early-mid game has an unfortunate emphasis on platform jumping, which I have always hated in first person shooters, but it's not so bad given that the physics are forgiving and the clambering-onto-ledges mechanism works well. I never once felt that I missed a jump because the game had screwed me over.

Incidentally the game's physics engine is rubbish. When you knock over chairs and other scenery items they start bouncing hyperactively against the floor. It's as if the developers had a distant memory of the physics-based gameplay of Half-Life 2 and the Portal series and decided that Doom wasn't going to have any of that, thank you very much. Doom doesn't have physics puzzles. Instead it has exploding heads. In Half-Life 2 you had to stack bricks onto a see-saw so that you could jump onto a ledge; in Doom 2016 you twist off the monster's heads and crush their skulls and rip off their legs and beat them to death with their own limbs and cut them into pieces with a chainsaw and punch them so hard their heads go SPLAT. It's exactly like being trapped in a Brazilian prison but there's also a slaughterhouse and a butcher's shop and there are floating, flaming skulls and actual demons as well, but otherwise it's the same.

Did I mention that you're no longer a human being? Doom 2016 is a hard reboot of the Doom series, taking placed at an unspecified point in the future where you are THE DOOMSLAYER, a supernatural warrior who has STALKED AEONS OF TIME in order to SLAY THE DEMONIC FORCES OF HELL, and I'm using capital letters because at certain points in the game the Doomslayer's backstory is DELIVERED BY A HEAVY METAL VOICEOVER. It should be cheesy but it's awesome.



It becomes apparent early in the game that THE DOOMSLAYER is literally us. He's an amalgam of the heroes of Doom and Doom 3 and all of the people who have ever played Doom. It's touching. He never speaks, and only interacts with the world by punching and kicking it, but he does so with gusto and is by far the most likeable character in the game.

The game has a complex backstory told with PDA entries and voiceovers. It's standard Warhammer 40,000 with some of the names changed, about a bunch of bastards doing unpleasant thing in an awful future where everything is shit. With the exception of helpful computer ally VEGA every single non-player character in the game is a bastard, or a weakling, or a corpse; in the course of the game you kill everything you meet, except for the big boss enemy, who survives to set up the sequel.

I hope there will be a sequel. Doom is a breath of fresh air and well worth £9.99 for the single-player campaign. Unless you're using a walkthrough the levels are complicated enough to explore twice. I admit that I haven't bothered with the multiplayer - I would lose, badly - and I haven't tried out the SnapMap level editor. Unlike the original Doom, there's no way for amateurs to create entirely original levels; it appears that that texturing, pathing, lightsourcing, hyperdetailing etc is impractical for home users. It's a shame. I realise that the gaming industry operates on a scale unimaginable in 1993, and is now fully professional, but without punky homebrew level designers where will the next generation of talent come from?



Doom 2016 has secret recreations of selected original Doom levels - you can explore parts of them during the game, or go back later and explore the whole map. They use Doom 2016's monsters, which changes the difficulty slightly (the one exception is the Cyberdemon, who looks like the Doom 2016 Cyberdemon but has the rocket-spamming AI of the original). For some reason the texturing has some mistakes and the lighting is very flat.

Also, did I mention the soundtrack? It has a fantastic industrial metal soundtrack mostly done by a chap called Mick Gordon. The original Doom had a set of memorable but cheesy MIDI imitations of contemporary metal; Gordon's music has some clever references to the original tracks but otherwise sounds likes a heavier, bassier version of Terrible Thing to Taste-era Ministry, or a slicker version of Sonic Mayhem's Quake II themes, except that this time it's context-sensitive. The guitars buzz like chainsaws and the drums have so much compression that they punch holes in the fabric of time. It switches into high gear when the action heats up and overall it lifts the game up a couple of notches.

Doom teaches us that disabled people and women - especially disabled women - are weak and can't be trusted.

This being 2017 I have to cover the political aspects of the game. The original Doom was released in 1993, just after the first Gulf War, and was an extended metaphor for the United States' self-image. In the game a lone survivor of demonic possession single-handedly destroyed the forces of Satan, just as the United States had single-handedly destroyed Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and Saddam Hussein's Iraq while the rest of the world was either seduced by those evil ideologies or was simply too weak to resist. The game did not however have an obvious take on feminism or issues affecting the trans or queer communities. Doom 2016 is in contrast a clever satire that simultaneously embraces and skewers the subconscious fears of the alt-right. The game's chief villain is a lady scientist called Olivia Pierce, who is not only a woman but also disabled - she has scoliosis - and thus has to wear a robotic suit. Throughout the game physical weakness and deformity are conflated with perversion and weakness; the other main character, corporate boss Samuel Hayden, also wears a robotic suit (in fact, his whole body is robotic) because he was stricken with brain cancer.


Pierce resembles Tilda Swinton, e.g. she is codified as a short-haired intellectual lesbian, and is modelled as a hunched crone who can barely walk. She attempts to cut a deal with the forces of hell, but her simple, treacherous womanly mind is overwhelmed by the masculine power of Satan - a man - and at the end of the game she is turned against her will into a giant spider.

Spiders are traditionally portrayed in Western culture as feminine creatures. Along with housecats they embody many of the negative stereotypes Western society has about women. They are vile, suspicious, weak creatures that lurk in the darkness, capturing innocent flies in a treacherous web; unlike tigers or honey badgers there is nothing courageous about them, they are passive menaces akin to quicksand or venus fly traps. They embrace their prey in a deadly web and live only to consume. At the end of the game THE DOOMSLAYER defeats the giant spider by ramming his most powerful weapon into her mouth and pulling the trigger, blowing her brains out. The symbolism could not be more obvious.



Of course, this is 2017 and not 1993. The portrayal of Olivia Pierce - the equation of unnatural sexuality and physical deformity with evil, requiring that Pierce be repeatedly violated both mentally and physically before being exterminated, because she's too soiled to save - is so extreme that it must be satire. It's the kind of thing The Taliban would find too extreme. I'm not even going to touch the game's racial dimension, but suffice it to say that DOOM is an anagram of OOM'D = OOM PAUL = Paul Kruger, and I think you can tell where this is going. On the other hand the game's treatment of transexual issues is highly progressive, so in summary Doom gets 3/10.


Memories of Doom
A quarter of a century later it's impossible to recapture the impact Doom had in 1993. Imagine if the first ever talking film had been The Godfather, but in 1927. Imagine if audiences in 1927 had been hit with speech and colour and a great film at the same time. Doom took the basic gameplay of Id Software's earlier Wolfenstein but vastly improved the graphics and environments. I remember playing the game for the first time in early 1994 and just walking around the first room, admiring the lighting and the way that the player's viewpoint bobbed up and down. I admit that I was on powerful tranquilising medication a the time, but even so Doom wiped the floor with the crude polygonal virtual reality demonstrations that had been fashionable just a couple of years earlier.

Until Doom came along 3D games had either been sprite-based fantasy adventures along the lines of Dungeon Master or The Bard's Tale, where the environment was a series of still pictures, or they were ponderous simulation games in which the player slowly explored a set of untextured square rooms. The only exception was Ultima Underworld, which had a fully texture-mapped environment rendered in proper 3D, but it was a boring old role-playing game and furthermore it was slow and visually monotonous. Doom on the other hand was a fast-paced visual feast. It had a simple but effective 3D engine that supported variable light levels and complex architecture, and a clever audio system that let you track baddies by listening to the sounds they made. Beyond the technology Doom stood out because it was refreshingly uncomplicated. Unlike Ultima Underworld it didn't have an inventory or any role-playing elements, or cryptic interface icons that were so beloved of games designers back then.



The game's ending credits sequence is a thing of beauty.

During its development phase Doom had an elaborate backstory with multiple characters, but this was continually pared-down because the designers realised that no-one cared. The end result was a technically state-of-the-art game that was easy to pick up and fun to play. It was also a welcome change from the wave of graphically attractive but hollow FMV CD-ROM titles that were all the rage in the early 1990s. They died; Doom survived.

Furthermore there was the community aspect. Doom's novel multiplayer deathmatch begat countless LAN parties, and when players realised they could replace the original maps with their own levels, and share them on the internet - because the maps compressed well, and didn't require much bandwidth - an online community emerged which survives to this day. In summary Doom popularised the first-person-shooter genre, brought local and eventually online multiplayer into the mainstream, briefly made the PC the must-having gaming platform, and gave the modding community a massive boost, and it was just one game. About the only thing it failed to do was establish the homebrew shareware model as a viable mainstream publishing avenue; from Doom II onwards Id's publishers sold the team's games exclusively as boxed commercial products.




In Doom the player was a space marine sent to investigate a research base on Phobos, one of the potato-shaped moons of Mars. The enormous United Aerospace Corporation had developed teleportation, but unfortunately their machines had gone wrong and opened a portal to hell. Monsters had come through, killing everybody. Your goal was to kill them back. You didn't have to rescue anybody or carry out any quests, you just had to kill demons, which was fine by me and millions of people who also played Doom.

The other thing was the "rule of cool". Doom was an over-the-top mixture of ideas drawn from other games and from films such as Aliens and Bad Taste. It had the typical demons and imps from fantasy titles, plus a futuristic plasma rifle from the likes of Shadowrun - surprisingly, given the release date, it didn't have any cyberpunk elements - but it also gave the player a real-life chainsaw and a pump-action shotgun. Men love the idea of fighting demons with a chainsaw and/or a shotgun, and Doom's development team understood this perfectly. The team were mostly in their twenties, but the still understood the mindset of teenagers. The modern Doom has something of this. It reminds me of Mad Max: Fury Road, which was a rock-hard action film directed by a 70-year-old man who wanted to make a series of car crashes as if they were an awesome kinetic sculpture. Doom 2016 is a thrill ride but there's a self-conscious maturity to it as well.



Beyond its technical merits Doom was also an entertaining game that aged well. When the single-player campaign got boring there was a huge library of user-generated levels, and when single-player fighting became tedious there was the fun, uncomplicated multiplayer. On a technical level it was quickly surpassed by Duke Nukem 3D and the other Build Engine games, and then Id Software's own Quake and Quake II, and then the likes of Unreal and Half-Life, but people continued to play Doom because it was simple and fast-paced. It has a following today, indeed Doom 2016 was inspired partially by Brutal Doom, a gore-enhanced remake of the original game running on a custom-made engine.

The original Doom is essentially the grand old man of PC action games. It's debatable whether Doom is single-handedly responsible for the PC's survival as a gaming platform - there were plenty of games for the PC prior to Doom, and competitors such as the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST were already on their last legs in 1993 - but nonetheless Doom revolutionised PC gaming and established the PC as the coolest gaming platform around. The pre-Doom PC gaming scene majored in flight simulators, point-and-click adventures and role-playing games; Doom essentially killed off the first two genres and forced the third to change its ways. It was released at a point in time when the PC had a technological edge over games console, and within a couple of years there was an explosion of PC-based first-person shooting games, such as Star Wars: Dark Forces and Duke Nukem 3D. All of a sudden the idea of spending more than a thousand pounds on a new 486DX2/66 didn't seem so bad.


Looking back, 1994 and 1995 were great years for PC gaming. Command and Conquer, Mechwarrior 2, TIE Fighter, the FMV-heavy, not-very-good, but-CDROM-drive-selling Wing Commander IV, plus System Shock, Civilization 2, Diablo, etc, all justified the relatively huge expense of owning a PC purely for gaming. The PC's other killer app was the internet, and within a short space of time the combination of great games, X-Files discussion boards, internet porn, and easily-available MP3 rips of entire albums meant that PC sales experienced double-digit growth until the turn of the millennium. The internet also allowed fans of Doom to share user-made levels, and to play against each other in multiplayer games, although by the time the internet became ubiquitous the audience had moved on to other games. Nonetheless Doomworld.com still hosts user levels from the 1990s and people still release new levels.

Id released an official Doom sequel in 1994. Doom II felt disappointingly unadventurous at the time but in retrospect it was a perfectly-judged expansion of the original. The new maps were solid without being flashy. At first the decision to add just one new weapon felt misery, but the new double-barrelled shotgun was genuinely useful; competing first-person shooters tended to load the player down with an arsenal of useless novelty weapons that the player never used. The double-barrelled shotgun was powerful enough to clear most of the levels by itself, and furthermore it made a great bassy booming noise. The new monsters fleshed out the game's mid-range, and although some of them were uninspired clones of other monsters, the surprisingly sophisticated Revenant was particularly clever.

The Revenant always reminded me of one of the robotic prototypes from Robocop II. Unlike most of the other monsters he's man-made.

It's notable that of all of the baddies in the original Doom games the Revenant has had the least changes over the years. It appears in Doom 2016 more or less unchanged, although now it has a rocket pack. The other monsters were incapable of deflection shooting, but the Revenant was fast-moving and could fire homing missiles, and at close range it had a mean punch. Furthermore its blood-stained, skeletal design was more horrific and less cartoonish than the other monsters. The Revenant was a harbinger of first-person monsters to come.

Doom II was a big success, but Id then seemed to lose interest in the franchise. The original game was given some extra levels and re-released as Ultimate Doom, in which form it is still available today. Id also released mission packs for Doom II composed of home-made levels for which Id had bought the rights (The Master Levels and Final Doom, respectively), but although the maps were entertaining both titles were generally seen as barrel-scraping exercises, especially given that Final Doom was released in the same month as Quake, which was Id Software's Next Big Thing.



Quake was a first-person shooter built around a new 3D engine, and although it was graphically monotonous and had a so-so single-player campaign it was nonetheless a peek into the future, in a way that Final Doom was not. With the right hardware Quake was fast-paced, and as a multiplayer game it quickly overshadowed Doom. The relationship between the two franchises mutated over time. The original Quake borrowed heavily from the works of H P Lovecraft, although the end result was basically Doom with slightly different monsters. Quake 2 (1997) was developed as a completely name game, with the Quake name added at the last moment; it was essentially Doom with quasi-robot monsters in space. Quake 2 was a big success and also sold well on the strength of its support for then-new 3D graphics cards.


Id subsequently concentrated on the Quake franchise. Quake III Arena was released in late 1999, but it was multiplayer only and I remember ignoring it at the time. By 1999 Id no longer had a dominant position as the leading developer of first-person shooters, and I remember thinking that Quake III Arena was a tacit admission that Id had decided to forgo total spectrum dominance in favour of a niche market. In practice Quake III had strong competition from Unreal: Tournament and Counter-Strike, and although it was very popular it never had the field entirely to itself.

A third Doom game, Doom 3, was released in 2004 but found itself overshadowed by the likes of Half-Life 2 and Far Cry, at which point Id seemed to give up on the series again. In fact Id seemed to disappear. The company wrote the engine for Quake 4 (2005) but otherwise left the game to an outside development team; where once Id's titles had been major events I recall that Quake 4 just came and went. There was a gap of six years before Rage (2011), which I admit I haven't played; the reviewers called it a clone of Fallout: New Vegas, and bear in mind that 2011 was also the year of Portal 2, Batman: Arkham City, Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, and lots of other games with 3 or 5 or other numbers in the title. It sold in modest quantities.

However they were working behind the scenes on a new Doom game. The team spent several years in the late 2000s and early 2010s developing a fourth Doom game that was eventually scrapped because it was boring and felt like a copy of Call of Duty. Judging by the trailers it would have been set on Earth, and would probably have involved squad-based combat and lots of dialogue - a bit like Quake 4 as well. Whereas Doom 3 and the original Doom 4 took the franchise in new directions, Doom 2016 is firmly in the mould of the original games, with elements of Quake 2 (the colour scheme, most obviously, but also the iconic quad damage power-up) and and Quake III Arena (the arena fights).


Is Doom any good? Yes, it is.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Fujica Half: Demi-Siècle


Let's have a look at the Fujica Half, a surprisingly capable half-frame camera from 1963. Back in the early 1960s there was a fad in Japan for half-frame cameras. It was sparked off by the 1959 Olympus Pen, which I wrote about back in 2013. Unlike other miniature film formats half-frame used standard 35mm film, but the frame was half-sized and turned on its side.

In theory the image quality should have been half as good as standard 35mm, but film has resolution to spare, and the 18x24mm frame size was good enough for ordinary prints.* Half-frame is appealing nowadays because it scans easily, the resolution is more than enough for the internet, and as in the early 1960s it makes economical use of film.

* The frame size is almost exactly the same as Super 35 motion picture film, a format used extensively in the 1980s.


Half-frame never took off in the West. The internet contends that half-frame was killed off by the likes of Minox and Rollei, but I'm skeptical; a more likely explanation is that Kodak was wary of anything that might result in consumers buying less film, so instead of embracing or extending half-frame they developed the 126 Instamatic format as an attempt to extinguish it.



Kodak's business model in the late 20th century involved making people pay more money for less film, which meant making the film smaller and putting it in a plastic cartridge of non-standard size. Furthermore the world was a lot more parochial in those days, and Japanese products still had a stigma about them in the West. That's my theory and I'm sticking with it.

The Half was launched in 1963, so mine is probably half a century old. The glue has seen better days but the lens is bright and clear. Surprisingly after all this time the solar-powered selenium meter was spot-on. The 28mm f/2.8 is slightly wider and faster than the typical 30mm f/3.5 of other half-frame cameras.

I'm digressing. The Olympus Pen was a very simple camera with manual exposure controls and no lightmeter. It was followed by a second wave of more capable cameras which included the Fujica Half. I was impressed with the Half, although it tends to be overshadowed by the Fujica Drive, which had a clockwork film winder, and the Half 1.9, which had a faster lens.




The Half has manual exposure control plus a selenium autoexposure system. I'm generally wary of selenium meters because they wear out with time, and lots of cameras from the mid-century are now unusuable because the meters are broken and they didn't have manual exposure. However my Half's meter seemed to respond to light so I decided to try it out, and it worked! All of the photographs in this post were taken with autoexposure. The Half has a program system ranging from f/2.8 + 1/20th to f/22 + 1/250th. With ISO 200 Fuji Superia it generally selected f/11 + 125th or thereabouts. Oddly the viewfinder shows shutter speeds up to 1/250th, but the manual speed control has 1/300 instead. Perhaps the autoexposure system is stepless.

In London only men or women are allowed to cross the road.


As always I scan the negatives with an Epson V500 and use the gap between frames to set the black level, which works a treat.

I've always assumed that selenium meters gradually lose their puff when exposed to light, but it seems that the real enemy of selenium cells is corrosion. Perhaps the owner(s) kept the camera away from moisture. Hooray for that man or woman. I have no idea how much the Fujica Half cost when it was new, but it feels well-made and has a specification that was, at the time, at the higher end of the scale, so perhaps the first owner treasured it.

If the gods of Blogger's content management system are smiling down on me there should now be an interesting article / eBay shopping list from the July 1989 Popular Photography about second-wave half-frame cameras:


The Half has scale focus, with détentes at 2.9 feet (marked P, probably for Portrait) and 14.9 feet (marked G, probably for Garmonbozia / "pain and sorrow"). The aperture ranges from f/2.8 - f/22, with an A setting for autoexposure. The shutter speeds are B - 30 - 60 - 125 - 300, but you have to select an aperture before the shutter control will stick. It has a leaf shutter which makes a quiet click, and the frame counter is on the bottom of the camera. There's an off-centre tripod socket, a self-timer, and a PC socket. And a cold shoe, and some kind of flash automation that I haven't experimented with.



The lightmeter control only covers ISO 12 to ISO 200, so if you have a box of Fuji Velva 50 you're in luck; Ilford 3200 not so much. In my experience 400-speed negative film works just fine exposed at ISO 200, in fact some people overexpose by a stop to lift the shadows.

Film loading requires a bit of faith - it's one of those systems that doesn't work unless the back is closed - but it hasn't failed me yet. Is the lens any good? After poring over the scans it seems to be consistent across the frame when stopped down, although not as razor-sharp as the Ricoh Caddy I took for a spin back in 2016, and at f/2.8 the borders aren't all that great, but I can't be sure if that's the lens or mis-focusing on my part.

The shutter button feels a bit spongy, perhaps because it also has to operate the aperture/shutter needle in the viewfinder as well as tripping the shutter. Nonetheless I was impressed with the Fujica Half. Perhaps the only downside is that it doesn't have a filter thread. If you want to use a polariser you have to hold it against the lens. This isn't an issue in the United Kingdom, where the sun comes out but once a year, but perhaps when we have left the European Union we can export our clouds to extra-European nations that are short of clouds, such as e.g. Kenya or Egypt, and they can sell us sunshine in return.