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Vintage to Retro: An FPS Q & A series - Cynic the Original

This interview for "Vintage to Retro" asks YouTuber Cynic the Original about vertical gameplay (re: platforming) in FPS like Doom Eternal, but also Prodeus and Ultrakill. The interview itself is divided up into several sections: 

  • Call of Duty
  • Doom: Eternal, 2016, classic
  • Vintage/Retro FPS
  • Ultrakill: Rise of the Vertically-oriented FPS Platformer 

"From Vintage to Retro" interviews FPS players and developers. In terms of vintage FPS, the series covers includes single-player "Doom clones" and Build titles; to multiplayer frag-fests like Doom deathmatch, Quake arenas, and Unreal Tournament(s); to "pure," arcade-style shooters, "looter shooters" and FPS-RPG hybrids. In terms of retro FPS, it examines Dusk, Ion Fury and Prodeus, as well as Nightdive Studios' latter-day revival of classic FPS.

Click here to access the entire series and read about its research goals.

Introduction

Nick: Hi, I'm Nick van der Waard. A Gothic ludologist, I write about horror in videogames. My specialty is Metroidvania, but I also research FPS. 

Cynic, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Cynic: Sure. I am a small gaming YouTuber. My channel right now primarily revolves around Doom and most recently Doom Eternal, which has helped me become a little better known in the Doom community. I'm not a "Doom channel," per se; I'm just a 24-year old that has a passion for video games, especially those of the FPS genre. I grew up on Call Of Duty and still have very vague memories of the early Medal of Honor games. So the FPS genre is very much part of my childhood.

Call of Duty

Nick: You've mentioned how your household didn't have any gaming PCs, that you and your family were all console players. You specifically grew up on Call of Duty, Halo, and Counter Strike on Xbox, but the latter two are just fuzzy memories for you.

My uncle had a PC in the early '90s, so I did get to experience vintage Doom. When FPS became more online and multiplayer, I played quite a bit of Team Fortress Classic and Medal of Honor multiplayer. When I was a senior in high school, Half-life 2 deathmatch and TF2 really appealed to me. I vaguely recall playing Call of Duty 1 and later, Modern Warfare 2

Do you have a favorite Call of Duty game? 

Cynic: Ah man actually, the Halo/Counter Strike memories were all from my cousin. He was a massive Halo fan and I remember his excitement of sharing that game with me, haha! Sorry to get off topic. That just sparked some memories there. My favorite Call of Duty game, as a complete package, would definitely be Black Ops 1. It was the first game to introduce me to multiplayer, Zombies to this day is phenomenal, and the story is one that [the studio] hasn't been able to recreate. I have some other favorites up there, but I think that Black Ops 1 is king.

Nick: Can you elaborate a bit more on that?

Cynic: I think, base game wise, Black Ops 1 had some awesome maps. Some iconic weaponry, and the shout outs from the comms on both sides was great. It's not perfect; I do remember some issues regarding ping, TTK, and complaints—of sniper rifles being too difficult to use. But it was the most fun I ever had in a Call of Duty game.

Nick: TTK?

Cynic: Sorry. Time to kill. Basically the window of time a player has to turn on someone who has shot at them, or how lethal weapons are. Modern Warfare 2019 has a very low TTK since all the guns can virtually two-shot you. For Black Ops 1, I think the complaint was it also had a very low TTK.

Nick: Gotcha. Sort of a twitch shooter in that respect, then.

Cynic: Yeah. It definitely has a big role in multiplayer games—especially Call of Duty, the crowned king of twitch shooters.

Nick: I remember early Call of Duty having some vertical elements (re: elevated combat), but nothing comparable to Titan Fall or Doom Eternal. What drew you away from Call of Duty exclusively and more towards Doom EternalProdeus and Ultrakill?

Cynic: I'd been back and forth on Call of Duty for a while. Modern Warfare 3 in 2011 was the last one I really played until 2015 when Black Ops 3 released. Back then, I had stepped away from Call of Duty because I was tired of the monotony. Same game over and over. Black Ops 3 brought me back because I wasn't really having any fun with any other FPS [that was] out at the time. But my "attachment," for a lack of a better word, has really been going downhill with their strict "skill-based matchmaking" system. I think out of trying to appeal to everyone they're really hurting the game and its growth.  The days of relaxing with friends and playing a few games have disappeared; now it's all about playing every match like your life depends on it. 

While Call of Duty has strayed away from its "casual" feel, Doom Eternal, Prodeus, and Ultrakill all stay true to what they want. They know who they're appealing to, keeping that fast-paced action or "arcade" feel that's synonymous with Call Of Duty while also making the player rely on their skills, [mechanical knowledge] and whatever tools the game gives [them].


Nick: I grew up playing Metroidvania with a controller, but decided that I prefer Hollow Knight with a mouse and keyboard on PC. Conversely I grew up with Doom and a mouse and keyboard; I recently played classic Doom with a controller, but could barely get out of the first level! 

Do you generally play FPS on a controller, or did you make the switch to mouse and keyboard even on console? If so, how does a mouse and keyboard effect the FPS experience for you?

Cynic: I was very adamant about staying on a controller. It really wasn't until this last year that I've actually given mouse and keyboard a go. After getting comfortable on both, I do think they are pros and cons for both. I would prefer mouse and keyboard on a competitive game like Call Of Duty or Doom Eternal, where fast weapon combos do very much impact the gameplay.

Nick: Based on my own experience I'd say that mice are less important in 2D games, because you don't need to rely on peripheral motion to quickly target enemies or platforms.

Doom: Eternal, 2016, classic

Nick: Doom Eternal is quite a bit different than classic Doom and Doom 2016. What inspired you to give the game a shot instead of the older Doom games? What kept you coming back for more?

Cynic: For Doom Eternal it was a lack of a good FPS that got my interest. Doom 2016 was a great game but it did not capture me like it did so many others. Glory kills were awesome, the soundtrack was great, and the gunplay was tight and impactful, but it just didn't feel all that engaging. Doom Eternal brought me in immediately because the game instantly "felt harder"; I always knew I was doing something "wrong" when I died, even when I couldn't put my finger on it. 

I continue to come back to Doom Eternal for the same reason it caught me on day one: There's more to learn. It's a linear FPS, yes. But there's so much more under the hood sort to speak [than Doom 2016].

Nick: I'd describe Doom Eternal as a FPS with platforming elements. It has vertical components, but nothing as vertical as the extended tower sequences from Doom 2016. If it did, would this, in your mind, help address the Doom Eternal problem of segregated platforming (re: platforming outside of combat)? 

Cynic: I think it'd definitely help, and it would also keep in the spirit of, say, having to learn how to multitask and be aware of your surroundings at all times. But, I believe those were purposely made like that to give the player a breather—a break away from the combat yet still keeping you engaged. It sounds like id might be incorporating combat into the platforming sections in [the game's] DLC. Maybe from there the team and everyone else will have a better feel for platforming and how it best ties into the game more broadly.


Nick: Much of the jumping in Doom Eternal is either separate from the main stages of play (re: kill boxes), or reduced to actions separate from the jump button. Even during arena combat, the player doesn't exclusively hit "jump." Jumping as an action to perform is offset by standing on trampoline-style jump pads or using the meat hook to pull the player through the air. This isn't the same idea as classic platformers like Mario, Castlevania, or Mega Man, whose platforming requires players to gather momentum and physically time jumping with the controller. 

Doom Eternal's jumping methods are simple to perform, effective when executed, and safe. As explained by Byte Me, there's nothing that can kill you when you jump:

Eternal is a very fun game, but I feel that it could have used more polish.  For example, the Meat Hook is your get-out-of-jail-free card.  With certain rune combinations (say blood fueled and air mobility), you can launch yourself into the air for 3-5 seconds and become an unstoppable cyclone of death.  There's nothing in the game that punishes you for escaping into the air, so you're free to do that whenever you need.

There's no "anti-air" hitscanners to shoot you down, and 1-hit kill landing spots to worry about (re: spikes, bottomless pits or lava) in arenas.

Do you wish jumping in Doom Eternal were harder, but also more dangerous?

Cynic: Truthfully yes and no. In my Ultra Nightmare guides, I always promote being airborne for that exact reason. But there's always a handful of people that say, "What about this enemy or that enemy who can hit you while you're airborne?" Not everyone plays on the same level, and not everyone is capable of multi-tasking or keeping track of multiple things while being airborne and watching out for hazards. Maybe if lava was more punitive or [there was a] height threshold where, when crossed, you the player would come under attack by Lost Souls or something. It's a bit of a tricky answer because it's something that's easy to abuse but [also] something that not everyone really does.

Nick: Do you think platforming would work better if the player's reload mechanics (re: health, ammo, armor) weren't tied to kill animations that freeze the player in place?

Cynic: What do you mean? How are you tying platforming to glory kill animations?

Nick: A game like Metroid or Hollow Knight generally doesn't fix the player in place and give them I-frames; for them to heal, they have to be able to do it while constantly moving, jumping and attacking. Would the platforming in Doom Eternal benefit from this kind of approach?

Cynic: Yes, I think it would work better because [platforming mid-combat without I-frames] is a sharp contrast from "Here you are, flying around at lighting speeds killing everything." [Differently than glory kills, that is]. The chainsaw and having to use it for ammo replenishment has been a big complaint. [Then again,] what's more gory and badass than sawing something in half for ammo? 

Come to think of it, if id chopped the platforming sections (in certain areas) in half—not having them as main pathways but maybe making them lead towards optional fights that only the best of the best players can complete—then no one would complain. Make it a five-second intense platforming section with tons of hazards to say, "Hey, IF you can get through this, congrats! But that's not the hard part." It would be perfect.

Nick: Funny that you mention that. Doom Eternal clearly has a hardcore base—but there's so many casual-friendly developer decisions when it comes to platforming specifically! It only makes me want a hardcore version of the game, platform-wise!

Cynic: Haha, yes! A game mode called "sadistic" where only top tier players can beat it. And yeah, it's incredible how much consideration has been added to this game [for casual players]. The other day I replayed it for a big one-year anniversary video and I remember saying, "Man, the first 3 levels are pretty slow! Challenging on ultra nightmare, but slow, I wish it was faster!" 

But I don't think that would've been a good move for id to make: By the 3rd level you have a new resource management system to learn, but also: a weak point system, runes, blood punch, dash, five weapons, praetor suit points, meat hooking, the weapon mods, slayer gates, secret encounters, and fives heavy demons! It's a lot of information in a small span of time.

Nick: Have you had a chance to play the classic Doom games and Quake since playing Doom Eternal and Doom 2016?

Cynic: I've played a bit of Brutal Doom and Doom 1 and 2. Not too much, though. Should I go back and finish them?

Nick: If you played Doom 1 on Ultra Nightmare and got all of the weapons (re: the chainsaw up to the BFG) then the game play doesn't vary too much (re: kill baddies, collect keys; ammo, health, armor). I know the level designs are what mainly shake things up in those games. So it depends on how much you liked the combat loop. Doom 2 (1995) is basically a megawad (except for the super shotgun and the new monsters). Final Doom (1996) is pretty cheap; same game play but meaner map design to compensate. Supposedly Romero's Sigil map pack is really good—especially the music, but also the maps themselves; they were designed by John Romero himself. 

Sigil  uses the classic engine, and takes it as far as it can go with basically no mods to speak of. Brutal Doom is a great way to shake things up because it shows how damn moddable the engine is. I think it's a bit of a visual mess, and really needs vertical combat to work. There is a mod of sorts for that, one called Embers of Armageddon.

Doom 2016 had some vertical elements, but Eternal expanded on them tremendously. This vertical assent is nothing new, and can be seen in older games like Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. As Karl Jobst puts it, Perfect Dark had a more complex, vertically-oriented level design. For speedrunners like him, this enables players the chance to exploit the world in complex ways. For players like yourself, or someone like Under the Mayo, the complex level design in Doom Eternal lets you FPS more vertically through intended gameplay.

Cynic: Oh, man, that sounds amazing! I'll be sure to dive in and check all that out, and spend a bit more time with some of the mods and the OG doom games. 


Nick: What appeals to you about vertical gameplay in FPS games?

Cynic: The advantage you can get on an enemy and depending on the game how you can achieve that advantage. some games you can even get really flashy with it. In Doom Eternal you have meat hooking and jump pads and can chain those together to open up the whole arena in a nice panoramic view. In CoD, there are occasionally boost jumping or thrusters. So if an enemy is behind cover you can literally wall run and double jump over them and flank the entire team in situations. Which in that case really brings a whole different dynamic of play to the game (re: tactical depth and strategy)!

Ultrakill also has a panoramic view that's really necessary in a game where enemies move quick and the situation is constantly evolving. It adds more to your playstyle and how everything is handled in a way that just straight hallways wont ever be able to do.

Nick: Yeah, it's fascinating to see how verticality changes how an FPS is played. Unless you want stairs and more stairs, you're gonna be jumping a lot!

Vintage/Retro FPS

This next section shall explore gameplay—FPS or otherwise—in Quake, Prodeus, Ion Fury, and Blood

Quake / Prodeus

Nick: You've played Prodeus, which has a lot more in common with classic Quake than classic Doom (re: true 3D levels and controls). You'd played classic Doom but haven't tried Quake, which Prodeus is based off of. Do you feel like Prodeus is just a bigger, better version of what single-player Quake could ever be?

Cynic: See my understanding of Quake was that it's primarily multiplayer based. Clearly I was wrong, but that misconception, plus Quake's age, has turned me away from really trying it. It's not so much I think Prodeus is a "bigger" version, per se; I just see Prodeus as a way for me to really experience the old games in a way that old school players probably remember Quake. What I mean by that is similar to how Doom 2016 probably looked and felt when compared to the 1993 classic for all those who experienced it back then.


Nick: Quake levels are 3D, and introduced vertical concepts like "rocket jumping" (re: later bastardized by TF2's Soldier class) and "bunny hopping," a popular technique in online FPS games. Colloquially it's used to dodge player attacks; in Quake it lets the player physically boost their speed in emergent ways (re: unintended, but not exactly glitches). This serves an important role in speedrunning but also in arena combat. High-level Quake players use the specialized variant of bunny hopping to aggressively attack each other.

Along with double dash, jump pads and the meat hook, I've seen bunny hopping used in Doom Eternal speedruns and multiplayer. Have you ever used bunny hopping during single player campaigns?

Cynic: Yes, and funnily enough it was multiplayer games that got me into that habit, one that I pretty much do all the time. And for a real laugh, [consider how] my early days of Doom Eternal [forced me to] play like that since my controller had a horrible drift and the only way to move was via jumping!

Nick: Weapon usage in Quake-style games isn't just to do damage. It includes movement manipulation. In this sense, weapons play an important role in making players move faster and jump higher. Doom 2016 allowed for Gauss-boosting. However, rockets were "nerfed" in Doom Eternal to discourage spam, including rocket jumping. Curiously no other weapon can damage the player, including grenades. The end result is a lack of damage-boosting weapons, replaced with environmental aids (re: jump pads) and damage-free, all-purpose movement tools, mainly the Meat Hook. This makes the game less like Quake and more like Unreal Tournament.

Compared to Doom Eternal, how easy/mobile is the player in Prodeus

Cynic: Well, Prodeus is still a work in progress. You have a pretty fast base speed; then you have a sprint. Like classic Doom, you feel like you slide a bit after [releasing the movement key]. The devs are also adding in a dash ability which I am very excited for.


Nick: Movement- or combat-wise, can Prodeus players get by with a single-gun?

Cynic: Any one gun? Yes. That game is pretty dependent on community made stuff right now, and you can get through any of that with a pistol. Granted it'll take you a while, but I think it's still viable. If not, the quad shotgun annihilates everything and movement is more than fluid enough to dodge enemies.

Nick: One reason I asked is because Doom Eternal seems to require the player to use all their guns.

Cynic: Prodeus kind of weirdly plays like Eternal. You move first, shoot second. And there's definitely a "right weapon for the right enemy." But Prodeus isn't as punitive as Eternal [in that respect]. Typically things like headshots do more damage, for example. Prodeus has Eternal's movement minus the meat hook (and for, now its dash system), with a more lenient weapon system. Both games are very fast paced, if anyone is looking for good engaging combat!


Nick: You mentioned in a previous video on your channel how Prodeus feels too easy. I think you mentioned bullet sponges in your vid, but I don't recall you saying anything about hitscanners. Hitscanners can definitely make a FPS harder. Sometimes too hard. Do you think they have a place in modern/retro FPS like Prodeus?

Cynic: I do definitely think there's a place for [hitscanners] in [Prodeus]. It definitely captures on the nostalgia factor, which shouldn't be omitted—especially if you're trying to pay homage to a game that came before you! It would have to be an enemy that's thought out, though, and not just placed there for the sake of, "Hey, remember the unfair deaths? Here ya go!"

Nick: A common vintage solution to cheap enemies is the so-called Big Gun. These include the room-clearing BFG from Doom, and the Quake damage runes. At worst, these trivialize encounters; at best, they force the player to wait—for the exact moment to fire the big shot, or use the "I win" rune. The latter scenario reduces a portion of the encounter to the same spectacle each and every time.

What's your thoughts on Big Guns and damage runes in FPS, be that Prodeus or Doom?

Cynic: I like that it's there but I'd prefer the option of being able to clear a room with my own knowledge and my own tools. Doom Eternal, for example, has the BFG and the Crucible. Both delete anything you want and in the final level there are ammo pickups for both scattered throughout. I love that they exist and that you can go crazy with them if you choose to; I also love how you can clear the entire level without either. It's more challenging for sure, but at least you're not forced into it. 

I think that's what's most important for all skill levels. Sadly I can't recall if Prodeus has anything of the sort. Maybe when more of its story is released they'll share some possible super weapon concepts with the community!


Ion Fury

Nick: Ion Fury is a Build engine game, thus 2.5D; its levels are functionally 3D, but the sprites are 2D—a big difference from classic Doom. At least in terms of level design, Ion Fury is basically the "final boss" of Build games. Its levels allow for sequence breaks, vertical exploration, and secrets galore—more even than old school Build games like Blood, which were known for their complex (for the time) level design.

You haven't played Ion Fury yourself, but say the game seems interesting. Is the complex level design a part of that appeal?

Cynic: Yes. [It goes] back to me having this honeymoon faze with modern retro games. For Ion Fury especially it's the level design and how Voidpoint was able to push that game's engine to its limits.

Nick: There are several aspects to Ion Fury that really appeal to me: someone who was raised on classic FPS and Metroidvania. Classic Doom places items on the ground for the player to find, but secrets, open-ended worlds and backtracking are even more integral in Ion Fury. I especially like how Ion Fury ties resource management to level design; exploration and secrets are part of the grander combat loop (re: shoot, move, explore). 

By comparison, Doom Eternal separates map-based secrets from the grand scheme. Resource management is tied directly to enemies. The trade off is that, while secrets help the player, they tend not to carry over from room to room; the player can't stockpile ammo, and their health and ammo are constantly fluctuating up and down.

As far as Doom Eternal goes, what's the appeal behind small resource counters and constant pressure?

Cynic: On the surface I think it's just because it looks cool. But underneath there's a lot more to it. 

To tie in secrets into this answer it would've been great if you can find an extra ammo pouch in, say, Eternal's second level. In that level you get your dash and it's not until acquiring it that you can then backtrack and find an ammo pouch that otherwise would've been out of your reach. But the trade off would be that the combat encounters and resource management might've changed. For example, I can run straight into a horde knowing I'm going to use weapon X,Y, or Z because their ammo pool is so large. So the decision of firing a few shots then chainsawing something for the extra ammo on the ground—to feed my lost ammunition preemptively before I start wasting more—is a good decision in terms of keeping up the pressure and staying in the fight. 

It's unfortunate there aren't secrets that carry over, for sure, but to be able to make decisions like that on the fly is worth that omission in my opinion.


Nick: All FPS stake survival on resource management. Ion Fury rewards the player who is frugal and investigative across an entire map, even episode. Doom Eternal restricts resource management to individual rooms, specifically the fights that occur inside those rooms. Secrets in Doom Eternal are merely things to collect as part of a checklist, and hardly impact a player's odds of survival.

Do you ever wish secrets were less about merely being a completionist, and more about assisting the player in meaningful ways (re: helping them survive across an entire level)?

Cynic: I do actually. I'm not sure if this goes too far away from what Eternal was trying to achieve, and what Doom the franchise is about, but having collectibles that give you certain attributes would've been amazing. Like picking up the Cacodemon toy for example giving your extra damage with the ballista, or letting the full-auto shotgun have more of an affect on Cacos. That would've ben neat. Maybe some nice end game content to fool around with [for dedicated gamers].


Blood

Nick: If Ion Fury is the 2.5D "final boss" for its intricate level design, then Blood is the hardest for its enemies: Hitscanners, in particular, threaten unavoidable damage. Luckily there are many secrets squirrelled away to help the player survive. These include normal secrets, which are tallied at the end of every level, and Super Secrets, which are not. Accessing these Super Secrets is incredibly dangerous, but the equipment you acquire is incredibly valuable.

There are no hitscanner minions in Doom Eternal, no former humans (re: zombiemen, shotgun guys, heavy weapon dudes) like those from classic Doom. Could Doom Eternal's combat benefit from having hitscanners that make secret items more valuable, thus incentivizing players to explore?

Cynic: Oh it sounds delightful. But I think having a hitscanner enemy in the game would be detrimental to the design of "I know how to move and react; these deaths are fair" that Eternal is really going for. Maybe a hitscanner enemy as a guard of the more useful secrets—ones that do help or affect the gameplay beyond the completionist role—would work? That could be a nod to its origins of using hitscan enemies while also making you work harder for the good stuff.


Nick: Apart from hit scanners, Blood also has bullet sponges. Like, really, really bad bullet sponges (re: stone gargoyles). Have these elements ever discouraged you from playing Blood, other Build games, or any FPS that you can remember?

Cynic: Discourage? No I wouldn't say that; I'm big into looter shooters so health and wearing it down isn't that big a deal. I guess the only one that really comes to mind is Doom 2016. I haven't played it in a while, but I do remember complaining a bit about enemies being spongy. I'm sure looking back, its by sin of just using two  weapons. I should go back and see how true that really is in hindsight!


Nick: Blood, like classic Doom, is a classic mish-mash of music, monsters and iconic guns (re: sawed-off shotgun, Tommy gun, dynamite). Classic Doom modeled it's own guns after toys made for children, and much of the music was based on popular heavy metal, alt rock, and postpunk. Blood's music mirrors composers like The Goblins and Graeme Revell (re: The Crow).

Blood's aesthetic is fairly dark and serious, despite campy elements every so often. How do you think this compares to the straight-faced comic book feel (re: no irony or satire) seen in Doom Eternal

Cynic: Man, I actually love the darker look. For a while, even though I was addicted to Eternal, I preferred 2016's darker aesthetic by far. It's a look that I hope gets imitated more in videogames. Eternal is beautiful in its own ironic way, but at times I do wish they leaned more into the gritty satanic iconography.


Nick: The FPS brand of metal, monsters and mayhem remain as popular as ever in recent days. Did it help acclimate you to FPS like Doom Eternal, but also Prodeus and Ultrakill? Do they hold a candle to the older stuff, or are the new games better in your eyes?

Cynic: Oh man. I don't think you can ever top the originals. I mean, OG Doom is still played and looks great to this day. I think id's done well at capturing the spirit of the old games while bringing it to the modern era. Homage with a modern spin that makes it welcoming to the newer generation. 

As for music and monsters, [classic] Doom [is] insanely iconic, but Eternal and even 2016's sound track has also captured [that iconic feel] well: The essence was captured and homage was paid, while still having its own distinct sound.

Ultrakill: Rise of the Vertically-oriented FPS Platformer 

Nick: Ultrakill and Doom Eternal aren't the first games to combine FPS and platforming elements. Metroid Prime married FPS action to Metroid exploration all the way back in 2002. Prime isn't open-ended like classic Metroid, but the FPS elements nevertheless take a backseat to platforming inside a giant, interconnected world. Conversely Ultrakill and Doom Eternal feature FPS gameplay that takes precedent over exploration; the difference between them lies in their emphasis on platforming mid-combat. 

Whereas Doom Eternal flirted with platforming more aggressively than Doom 2016 did, the game isn't a perfect marriage. The shooting sections (re: kill boxes) are divided by empty platforming sections with little in the ways of challenge. In other words, non-DLC Doom Eternal fails to integrate platforming into its main FPS combat loop. The same cannot be said for Ultrakill, which feels more akin to a genuine FPS platformer. Unlike vintage/retro FPS, its platforming and shooting occur in unison. 

Would you consider Ultrakill to be vintage/retro, or does its FPS/platformer hybrid make it feel unique compared to other FPS you've played?

Cynic: Ultrakill is definitely its own thing. I can't think of a single game I've ever played that gives you so much freedom to kill and be glorious-yet-safe at the same time. The freedom of movement, and at the speed that game gives, is not like anything else I've ever experienced up to this point.


Nick: 
Ultrakill does not appear to have item pickups. Instead, the play heals by standing in enemy blood. IA good way to produce blood is through big damage and stylish kills. There's also a letter-grade performance system for points. In this sense, the game feels more arcade-y and performance-based than Doom Eternal, behaving more like Devil May Cry or God of War.

Does the Ultrakill performance healing system feel appropriately balanced at higher difficulties, preventing button spamming and emphasizing clever and accurate play in order to survive?

Cynic: I'd say so. I actually went against that game's first boss just sliding, dashing, and using only the game's melee to kill it. I think Ultrakill is the ultimate high-risk/high-reward FPS.


Nick: I think one of my favorite abilities I've seen in Ultrakill is the coin toss ability. If the player can hit a tiny coin they toss into the air, it will fly towards a group of nearby enemies and explode like a bomb. It seems really hard to do, but seems to give the player an instant Ultrakill for their efforts. Apparently you can spam it. Not only that, you can combo the ability with other attacks to utterly annihilate anything in your path, bosses included.

What are your favorite abilities/combos? 

Cynic: It's hard to pull off, but: slide past a group of enemies, jump up, turn around, fire a shotgun shell, hit it with your fist to make it explode on impact; then, depending on what's around, the [follow-up] will be a railgun, coin toss, or nail gun combo. I think it's a great opening move for a decent crowd of enemies. I'd also follow up that jump with a timed ground slam to toss them back in the air to keep the combo going even longer.


Nick: FPS campaigns need maps. For example, level design in Prodeus is community driven, with contests and prizes being given to the best maps. Similarly Final Doom was a collection of fan-made maps. Can this reliance on community support help explain why Prodeus and Ultrakill are still early release?

Cynic: Definitely. If it wasn't for that I think they'd both be works-in-progress with no one being able to play them. Plus with how crazy word of mouth is these days, indie games are able to be more self-sufficient on the coverage provided by YouTubers and community posts.

Nick: Ultrakill features rush-down, swarm-type enemies. This reminding me a bit of Serious Sam or Painkiller. More than level design, both these games relied on different guns the player could use to handle swarms. 

How big a role does Ultrakill's verticality play in combat variety? Does its map design mesh with its weapon variety well enough to allow the player multiple playstyles when handling various enemy types?

Cynic: I'm curious as to how later game levels look because it seems like Ultrakill was pushing that a bit too far. It does rely pretty heavily on verticality and ability usage, so in arenas where you can't get as high or are in tighter spaces you see that issue become a bit more abundant. Not unfair or horrible by any means. Just, you start to notice it's a bit more restricting.


Nick: Unlike Prodeus or classic QuakeUltrakill also has bossesUltrakill emphasizes headshots during boss encounters and swarm attacks. Are headshots always "better," or can a player aim for center of mass with a chaingun and still get the job done on the highest difficulty settings?

Cynic: Headshots are better. But I believe for the bosses it's more setting yourself up creatively while moving. Utilizing your abilities while taking advantage of, say, the nail gun to set a trap, while using some other methods on top of that, is best. Especially on the higher difficulty settings!


Nick: Jumping in FPS is historically bad for the technical limits mentioned above (re: no Y axis, claustrophobic levels, awkward controls). Those reasons are disappearing inside retro games, which have more than just bunny-hopping through hallways (re: Quake); they also have avatars that are expected to jump and shoot from a wide variety of heights and angles, at airborne as well as grounded opponents!

Ultrakill features jumping as a core gameplay element, including wall jumping! In fact, the style of wall jump reminds me of Super Metroid or Super Mario 64. How intuitive and easy is wall jumping to perform?

Cynic: It's very intuitive, surprisingly so. And when you take into account that the game doesn't tell you that's a mechanic, the way you find out and then go about experimenting and including it into the combat loop is a testament of how confident the devs were about that wall jumping and how it can make for some exciting gameplay moments for those that utilize it.

Nick: Do you think a game's tutorials should be separate from the main campaign?

Cynic: I think certain cases they shouldn't be—i.e., in Ultrakill, wall jumping and binding it to the combat to make some epic escape moments or instantly grant yourself an advantage [re: hitting a shotgun shell with your fist causes it to travel faster and create and explosion on impact]. Things that are neat but unnecessary should be more for the player to learn. More critical elements that are tied to the game's core should have a tutorial system that instantly makes you do that thing to actually get the player comfortable doing that action and seeing how it impacts the game.

Nick: Ultrakill's combat occurs in hallways and chambers that keep the player grounded at least half the time. Is there a good balance in terms of open arenas and claustrophobic hallways?

Cynic: It's been a bit since I last played it. I think with what's currently in the game there's less open areas than I'd like. I think Ultrakill has just enough going for its movement that it can excel in both claustrophobic hallways and bigger more open arenas. I'd hope with the later episodes that we [can] see bigger sky boxes and wider areas with deeper "valleys" to really let the ground-slam and wall jumping/dashing excel.


Nick: Ultrakill's lack of ammo, reloading or pick up system really allows the player to really show off their abilities in Cyber Grind mode. Admittedly the steam Cyber Grind leaderboards seem a little vague, but the niche, "sweaty" gameplay really harkens to the old arcade days (re: high scores) and the "Quake arena mindset": constant movement and twitch shooting. Cyber Grind isn't just a survival mode. The game has a speedrun community with a ton of different categories, including those for Cyber Grind mode: Travis (aka Travis_Boi on Speedrun.com), has many WR records specifically in Cyber Grind. 

How far have you gotten in Cyber Grind personally and how does it compare to Doom Eternal's unofficial "Horde Mode"?

Cynic: For Cyber Grind I cant remember the furthest I ever went. I actually remember putting more time into it to see the different variations you get from the start and how the layout changes with the enemies thrown at you. 

I think [Cyber Grind and Horde mode are two] beasts of their own. They're both challenging for sure and they both show what each game excels at. With Cyber Grind for me, its really all about those abilities and how you move. With its health system you're encouraged to be bled on in order to replenish your health, but I do like to keep a bit of distance and take advantage of the air. So I find myself chaining the wall jump, dash, and ground slam with some good weapon combos that are meant to get me closer to the enemies while having them bleed as I push forward. 

With Doom Eternal's unofficial Horde mode, it really is that "chess game" Hugo Martin talks about. Both modes are about moving and staying somewhat close to replenish [resources]. But where Eternal differs is in how it's all about multitasking (re: health, armor, ammo) [while] trying to identify what the biggest threat is on "the chessboard" and figuring out the most effective way to take it out with the tools that you're given.


Nick: This combat prioritization that Cyber Grind and Horde mode each magnifies, how well does translate into the regular game in both cases? For example, the DLC for Doom Eternal seems to be more about straight ahead combat, but also platform combat; but the base game seems to have less of either of these.

What about Ultrakill. Is it more to the point straight out of the gate?

Cynic: Oh, 100%. You  start in a room, learn that you can melee and slide. Then you're presented with a pistol on a podium. As soon as that's picked up its time to go; you're flooded by the first enemies [of many]. I'd say even Ultrakill's "downtime moments" have enemies spawn and kind of take your attention off of [whatever] traversal you're doing.

Nick: Speedrunning and FPS go hand in hand, starting with Doom and Quake in the mid '90s. The hero in Ultrakill can damage boost to travel incredibly fast (and high), a speedrunning staple. What's more, the in-game timers account for the thousandth of a second (comparatively Quake had no in-game decimal system). 

Do you have any speedrun experience with FPS, and is Ultrakill a game you could see yourself running in the future? If you did, what category might you run?

Cynic: Truthfully I don't have any speedrunner experience. I'm aware of some big names but not so much so with anything really outside of 100% runs. With that being said, with the speed that Ultrakill provides can I definitely see myself doing a 100% speed run of the game. It's inherently a game that's just asking to be pushed to its limits—so addicting it'd be hard to not accept that challenge.

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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. My blog is about horror, but also sex, metal and videogames.

Check out my interview series: Hell-blazers: Speedrunning Doom Eternal, "Giving My Two Cents: A Metal Compendium," and the Alien: Ore" Interview Project.

My favorite posts: Dragon Ball Super: Broly - Is It Gothic?, Mandy (2018): Review, Gothic Themes in Perfect Blue. Also check out my guest work on Video Hook-Ups.

Follow me on Twitter! Watch my Gothic podcast! Purchase a commission through my art website! Or support me on Patreon or Ko-Fi!


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