I'm Nicholas van der Waard, host of "Hell-blazers: Speedrunning Doom Eternal." My blog is about horror, but also sex, metal and videogames; this article explores some of those idea in Doom Eternal. What follows is my interview with DraQu, a Twitch streamer & FPS Speedrunner.
"Hell-blazers" interviews Twitch streamers, speedrunners and Doom fans about Doom Eternal (2020); it asks them, based on their own experiences, to compare the game to the rest of the franchise, and what effect it will have on speedrunning and gaming at large. General information about "Hell-blazers" can be found, here; a compendium of the interviews as they are published can be found here (which also includes interesting videos, break-downs and other articles).
Nick: What got you into Doom? Do you remember the first game you played?
DraQu: A close friend of mine introduced Doom to me back in middle school. I think the source port we used back then was Doom95. He introduced me to Doom (1993), Doom 2 (1995), TNT (1996), and Plutonia (1996). I have very fond memories of playing all of them repeatedly, but a particular memory that sticks out is beating Plutonia's 32nd map, "Go 2 It." Good times.
Nick: Pre-Doom Eternal, what is your favorite Doom game? Soundtrack? Individual track? Monster? Gun?
DraQu: I love all the games in the series, but Doom 1 and Doom 2 have a special place in my heart, and the same goes for their soundtracks. My favourite track would have to be a tie between "Sign of Evil" and "Into Sandy's City." The Mancubus has always been a favorite enemy of mine. Choosing a favorite gun is a bit harder, but I guess you can't beat the classic Super Shotgun.
Nick: Do you like horror movies and/or heavy metal? If so, what are some of your favorites?
DraQu: I used to be big into horror movies, with movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and the Nightmare on Elm Street series being my favorites. With metal music, what I like listening to comes and goes in waves, but I've been listening to a LOT of Devin Townsend for a while now.
Nick: In terms of the classic, '90s games, do you prefer early Doom or early Quake (1996)?
DraQu: Definitely Doom. I'm also very biased from having grown up with it, but still. I find Doom's gameplay much more satisfying and relaxing. Quake is very cool too, though!
Nick: When did you start speedrunning and why did you decide to speedrun Doom?
DraQu: I started speedrunning in 2014 after watching Hiddendistance's SGDQ run of La-Mulana Remake (2012). His stellar commentary inspired me to instantly pick up and learn the game's run. Doom 3 (2004) was my first speed-game in the Doom series (although I had learned the Ultimate Doom run earlier at some point). I don't think I had a specific reason to start running Doom 3, apart from it being a fun game and the speedrun looking decent enough. It's still one of my favorite runs to this day.
Nick: Do you speedrun non-Doom games?
DraQu: Yes, I've done runs of 40+ something games at this point. Mostly various FPS like the Wolfenstein series, Bioshock (2007), Daikatana (2000), No one Lives Forever (2000), etc.
Nick: How would you describe your speedrunning style compared to other Doom runners?
DraQu: Casual and definitely not as hardworking as other runners. I don't know how other Doom runners think of themselves—and I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a Doom runner per se—but I like to bounce between different games a lot. When I'm focusing on a certain run, I don't mind being the "middle man" who does some routing and a couple decent enough runs that hopefully ease someone else's time learning the game or inspire a new person to pick it up, who then goes to improve on my poopy run.
Nick: Do you have any favorite Doom runners that you like to watch and/or learn from?
DraQu: I don't really watch other speedrunners of whichever game I'm running at the time. I've already got my hands full with routing and running, so during off-time I'd rather just relax with things not related to that particular project. If I'm interested in a specific section/strat while routing a run, I'll look at what others have discovered, but in general I prefer trying to figure things out for myself as much as possible.
On Doom Eternal, Casually
Nick: Doom Eternal is less minimal than Doom 2016. It's also campier. How do you feel about this?
DraQu: It doesn't bother me. Sure, the story feels too in-your-face and fan service-y for my taste, but the core gameplay loop is way too satisfying for me to pay attention to any of that.
Nick: Should Doom be scary? What’s your opinion about Doom for the PSOne (1995) or Doom 64 (1997)?
DraQu: I don't think it necessarily has to be, but I've certainly enjoyed the games in the series that lean more on the horror and atmospheric direction, and wouldn't mind seeing that style be explored more in the future. I'd be interested to find out if some younger players found Doom 2016 and Eternal scary the same way I did Doom 1 and Doom 2. I haven't played Doom PSX (yet), but Doom 64 is very neat! I like the overall atmosphere and ambient soundtrack. It could do without the doughy clay models though. Poor Mancubus...
Nick: Was there anything about Eternal that surprised you, was bad when you thought it'd be good or vice versa?
DraQu: I was on the fence about the monkey bar swinging and climbing on walls when they were first shown in gameplay footage, but neither of them bother me while playing [the game]. The increased amount of platforming in general I don't mind either, and on some maps [like Mars Core] it's pretty fitting. I was surprised that they added swimming sections. Where's the demon fish?
Nick: Is Id Software's "speed chess with guns" from Doom 2016 an accurate analogy for Doom Eternal's combat? If you had to guess, which monsters correlate with which chess pieces? Which are the most dangerous "pieces" in your opinion?
DraQu: Sure, if you flip over the board and toss the pieces at your opponent. I don't play chess.
Nick: If you had to pick one of each, what is your favorite level, gun, and monster in Doom Eternal?
DraQu: Favorite level is definitely Mars Core. I don't think I have a favorite gun; they're all pretty fun and satisfying to use. I'm partial to the classic look of the Tyrant, although in combat they don't do much.
Nick: Which glory kills do you like the most?
DraQu: The one where you push over an arachnotron is pretty funny.
Nick: How do you feel about the Marauder? Do complaints about him upsetting the combat feel justified? If so, why?
DraQu: I didn't like fighting the Marauder at all initially, and I still feel like he's way more of a nuisance than other demons and brings the fights to a halt.
Nick: I’m sure you have several, but is there one fight in particular that you couldn’t believe you survived, but was unbelievably fun regardless?
DraQu: There's a lot of clutch moments in Eternal's gameplay, and I can't really pinpoint a particular one. And honestly, a lot of the time I don't even notice.
Nick: During Eternal's development process, the developers mentioned their game being made with Twitch and speedrunning in mind. A recent video by Karl Jobst is also convinced Doom Eternal is the next Big Game in the speedrunning world.
Do you agree with them? Will Doom Eternal rank up there with popular speedrunning games like Super Metroid (1994) or Goldeneye (1997)? Or will it (and Twitch) help change speedrunning into something we haven’t seen before?
DraQu: I don't think Doom Eternal will hold a candle to the classic runs. Where it'll end up, we'll see, I'm just here for the good times.
Nick: Was your mind made up to speedrun Doom Eternal before it was out, or was that a decision that came to you naturally?
DraQu: I don't go into new releases thinking about speedrunning at all. I'll take my time with a game and if I enjoy it enough, I'll consider speedrunning it. Anticipating Doom Eternal's release, I was expecting the Any% run to be fairly broken, so I made the conscious decision to focus on 100% Nightmare/Ultra-Nightmare.
Nick: Is the game "developed to be speedrun?" Or can speedrunners exceed developer-intended speeds by ignoring the "Doom dance" aka armor-removal game, but also not using major glitches?
DraQu: "Developed to be speedrun" honestly seems like a buzz phrase to try and capitalize on the popularity of speedrunning. And sure, speedrunners always find ways around what the developers intended.
There's been a few games specifically marketed as "made for speedrunners," most likely due to the hobby becoming very popular and mainstream due to events like GDQ. Same goes for trying to monetize speedrunning in general with different leagues and tournaments around popular games like Super Mario 64 (1996), The Legend of Zelda series, Celeste (2018), etc.
All of this irks me as a runner. I feel that developers usually completely miss the point when they specifically target speedrunners with their games' marketing. They've usually reduced what makes a speedrun a speedrun to going from point A to point B as fast as possible—which sure, that is simply put what your task is—but all of the nuance surrounding that task within the confinements of a given game is what makes a speedrun special instead of just a race circuit.
I don't think there's anything bad about trying to make your game speedrunner friendly, but it shouldn't dictate your design decisions. I don't have much of a formed opinion on the whole e-sports side of speedrunning, other than it'll breed competition between runners—both good and bad—and third parties, who don't understand the hobby, but only seek to monetize it and aren't good for the scene. There's already a lot of fragmentation happening between different speedrun communities.
Nick: I'm not so sure the game's combat can survive the speedrunning approach, unless categories are made that discourage so-called "major glitches." What constitutes a major glitch like clipping or slope-boosting versus something more minor?
DraQu: It depends completely on what the game's moderation team and community decide.
Nick: Is Gauss-boosting still possible with the ballista?
DraQu: Yes, Gauss-boosting is very much still a thing, although not as powerful as in Doom 2016.
Nick: Are invulnerability-frames enough to keep the player reliably "safe" when glory killing?
DraQu: Yes, you just have to be aware of your surroundings, like where you can dash after the glory kill, which enemies are in play and how close to you they are.
Nick: Are there any moments in Doom Eternal's gameplay that feel cheap? Anything that might make it a chore to speedrun without skipping fights altogether?
DraQu: Not really. The biggest annoyances are when a Marauder or the Gladiator ignore getting staggered, and some of the glory kill challenges required for 100% completion.
Note: For this section, I refer to an interview on stream I had recently with King Dime.
Nick: After a certain point, every demon in the game can drop armor, ammo and health. Eventually. Early on, the player can't blood punch or flame belch, which makes them potentially harder than later levels. Civvie complains about the beginning of the game being too hard.
Is it "too" hard, or is King Dime right when he says the beginning to Doom 2016 was more challenging? I myself remember the so-called "gore nest of truth," how imps in that game were huge jerks; the first fight is probably one of the hardest fights in the game!
DraQu: I don't think the beginning of Eternal is too hard. Sure, it'll take a while to get the hang of using the chainsaw frequently to stock up on ammo—which I was very frustrated with at the start of my first playthrough—and the enemy aggression can be daunting, but it's not too far off from how 2016 played out in the first few levels.
Nick: King Dime mentions there being no challenge to follow-up Doom Eternal playthroughs, once you know how to play the game. To paraphrase: "You're fighting a super heavy demon. You have 200 health and 150 armor before getting hit. You get nailed and lose some of each. Go and find a low-tier demon. Flame belch. Get everything back. The game constantly spawns low-tier enemies (which all can drop armor, health and ammo) and your chainsaw fuel regenerates." According to him, losing armor and health in Doom 2016 is more "permanent."
Keeping this in mind, do you think should NG+ runs be allowed; or will this be "too easy"?
DraQu: Sure, why not. NG+ is fun and I wish the game had a proper way to start a New Game+ playthrough instead of using the mission select screen (looking at you, Id).
Nick: Conversely, will the first levels of a fresh playthrough be too hard anyways, making speedrunners reset too often, discouraging speedruns as a result?
DraQu: Speedrunners play the same game on repeat for hours, days, months on end, so I think they can handle a few resets. And they'd reset anyways after messing up one input, because you have to get that perfect start.
[editor's note: This type of resetting is especially true in highly optimized runs/categories, like those for Super Metroid Any%. Videogames are not movies; they cannot be played "backwards" in a literal sense; during a speedrun, the player must always start from the beginning of the game, and play forward. As a result, early-game practice is more common during committed runs, and it's not uncommon for runners to have to force themselves to finish a run they cannot hope to PB on just so they can stay "fresh" mid- to late-game.]
Nick: To stay relevant in combat situations where the player is constantly growing stronger, enemies need to climb in strength and abilities, a la Dragon's Crown (2013). Because those in Super Metroid do not, they are soon eclipsed by a fully-upgraded Samus Aran.
Does Doom Eternal operate like Super Metroid? What I mean is, is there a point where the game's casual difficulty lessens, allowing speedrunners to focus on runs instead of not dying?
DraQu: It's a bit of a mix. There's different tiered enemies that get gradually introduced as the game progresses, and there's specific stronger variants of enemies like hell knight/dread knight and mancubus/cyber mancubus. And obviously the mixtures of enemies start to range wider as more are introduced. On the other hand, you also get more weapons, upgrades, health/armor. How it all balances out when it comes to a speedrun depends on the category. The default Any % category, which is run on the easiest difficulty, is going to feel quite a bit different than say 100% Ultra-Nightmare.
Nick: Would you recommend Doom Eternal to players who are new to speedrunning but want to give it a try?
DraQu: To someone interested in speedrunning, I would recommend whichever game they enjoy playing, because you'll be spending a lot of time with whichever game you choose, and when first starting to speedrun, you might run into roadblocks and get frustrated. Having a game that you very much enjoy helps alleviate that.
Nick: On Ultra-Nightmare, many runners beat Doom Eternal one level per stream. Should segmented runs be allowed in the Ultra-Nightmare category based on its difficulty alone?
DraQu: Doing a segmented run just to work around the difficulty of a game seems like more effort than what's necessary. Ultra-Nightmare isn't that hard, just do it. In the end, the game/category rules are decided by the moderation team.
Nick: Your initial UN run has you beating the game in under six hours. How did it feel to beat the game in that amount of time?
DraQu: I felt a bit surprised. Leading up to that point, it was looking like the playthrough would take around eight hours.
[editor's note: DraQu's current best, 3h 08m 06s, is the current world record for 100% Ultra-Nightmare on Speedrun.com.]
Nick: I know Byte Me is also speedrunning Ultra-Nightmare on 100%. Besides he and you, are there any other speedrunners doing Ultra-Nightmare that we should watch out for?
DraQu: The Modern DOOM Speedrunning Discord server is probably a good place to follow if you're interested in discovering runners.
Nick: What made you decide to speedrun the game on Ultra-Nightmare 100% specifically?
DraQu: It all goes back to how the Doom 2016 Any% run evolved. I much preferred the earlier iterations of the run where you had a nice mix of combat and a few neat skips instead of going out-of-bounds at the start of a map and platforming to the end. I was anticipating Eternal to get to that same point much sooner after release, and wanted to focus on something that I would find more enjoyable. I was going to do Ultra-Nightmare from the start because I enjoy the challenge and people seem to like watching it, and 100% is just the icing on the top.
[editor's note: The current world record for Doom Eternal Any% is 23m 58s.]
Nick: How do you feel about the game's climbing mechanics? Do they help or hinder speedrunners?
DraQu: The wall-climbing mechanic has proven useful in multiple spots in the run, allowing you to bypass small sections of a level. Monkey bars on the other hand, I find hindering me amidst combat more often than not. I didn't mind them in casual play but when I'm trying to optimize fights, they're mostly an annoyance.
Nick: What are some of your favorite speedrunning runes and weapons? Are there specs that suck under normal circumstances, but work better for speedrunning play? Which weapons/runes suck no matter what?
DraQu: Most of the weapons get used during the run, and of course I'm still figuring things out, so we'll see what the weapon usage is like after optimization. Rune-wise I use the top row of runes, which are all glory-kill and speed related, with a few others that I swap to based on need. I don't think any of the runes necessarily "suck"; they're more down to your preference in style of play. [In terms of weapon mods] the Microwave Beam weapon mod for the Plasma Rifle is pretty doodoo.
[editor's note: Compared to some weapons, the mastery challenge for Microwave Beam is also pretty difficult to achieve during No Mastery Token runs.]
Nick: Are there things you prefer about speedrunning Doom Eternal versus Doom 2016, or vice versa?
DraQu: Not really. I had a lot of fun with Doom 2016 and Eternal is also a blast.
Nick: Which enemies are the most annoying to come up against during a speedrun? Which ones are you the most happy to see? Can any of them be manipulated to behave in predictable ways?
DraQu: Marauders can be annoying when they decide to not attack you or they ignore getting staggered. You can definitely manipulate some of the enemy spawns to an extent, and the attacks they use.
[editor's note: Under normal circumstances, the Marauder is no match for DraQu. King Dime has probably my favorite strat for handling the Marauder, however.]
Nick: Doom Eternal forces you to switch from weapon-to-weapon because of the low ammo counters, but also because of the monsters having specific counters. Is this “Doom dance” easy to maintain while speedrunning once you get the hang of it?
DraQu: I come from a background of FPS where situational weapon choice is paramount to your success, so this is nothing new.
Nick: Glory kills seem essential; they also slow runners down. There's a rune that makes them perform faster. However, is there a point in the game where glory kills can be skipped by speedrunners altogether (i.e., acquiring the blood punch, the meat hook)?
DraQu: Possibly. It'll also depend on the category. I don't see anyone skipping all glory kills past a certain point when doing Ultra-Nightmare. But you never know, the game's life cycle as a speed game is just starting.
[editor's note: Glory kills are the prime way to heal, in Doom Eternal. However, beating the game sans health damage is no easy task. This video shows it being done after 807 checkpoint resets—on Ultra-violence. On Nightmare, the enemies are faster and nastier, and on Ultra-Nightmare checkpoint resets are impossible! In short, if you're playing on Ultra-Nightmare, you're going to take health damage, and plenty of highly-skilled Ultra-Nightmare players die regularly.]
Nick: In “Way of the Gun,” Rune Klevjer describes Doom's gameplay according to the relationship between the player, monsters and items. He calls this relationship "a search for the optimal pattern of movement." Given how monsters can be killed for resources, can you explain what you think this optimal pattern is when speedrunning Doom Eternal?
DraQu: I don't think the mechanics are in conflict. The whole point of speedrunning—and part of what makes speedrunning special—is working with and around the given mechanics of a game. The mechanics don't have to be "speedrunner-compliant." It is the runner's job to figure out how to best benefit from them.
[editor's note: Based on my own research, game mechanics are simply whatever cards the player was dealt. They can be challenges to overcome, or speed-boosters from the offset. As a game's speedrunning history starts to unfold—a process that can take many years—these elements tend to remain in use. How this use occurs can vary tremendously throughout a game's speedrunning life cycle.]
On the Pandemic
Nick: With the pandemic going on, it's important to maintain physical distance, but also to keep our social bonds strong. Why do you think videogames, including speedrunning them, are so important in doing this?
DraQu: Games are a great way to connect with friends and forget about the worries of the world for at least a while. Speedrunning communities can be a great place to hang around and make new friends.
My name is Nick van der Waard and I'm a Gothic ludologist. I have my MA in English Studies: The Gothic from Manchester Metropolitan University.
Check out my interview series: From Vintage to Retro: An FPS Q&A series, Hell-blazers: Speedrunning Doom Eternal, "Giving My Two Cents: A Metal Compendium," and the Alien: Ore" Interview Project.