The multimedia game I reviewed is a highly popular shoot'em up action game for the IBM compatibles platform called 'Doom'. The company (ID Software) that created this game is a producer of shareware software, and the reason why I picked this game in particular has more to do with the community of programmers surrounding it than the interaction itself.
This game exploits an algorithm its programmers developed that allows the player to walk through a 3D texture mapped world in real time on a consumer IBM PC. Their first game using this technique was called 'Wolf 3d', whose setting was in a Nazi headquarters. The goal of this earlier game was to maximize the death of Nazi soldiers, the discovery of secret treasures (found by randomly pressing on walls), and to pick up keys to eventually open the escape door to the next level.
Doom offers the same basic goal, but improving the graphics, sound, and art. Doom is also networkable, allowing players on several machines to play in the same game. I haven't has a chance to play it in this network community setting yet, but I can only imagine that the sense of group experience is a contributing factor to the growing size of the game's cult of addicted players.
A friend who had been to Walnut Creek's 'Virtual World' claimed that the 3D graphics in Doom are "ten times better" than those that the theme park's expensive machines can generate.
For one thing, the graphics here are texture mapped, compared to the jaggy polygonal structures at VWorld. Perhaps Virtual Worlds does more graphics processing while this game 'cheats', but the perception is what important.
The intention behind all the art in this game is, of course, violence. The setting of this game is no longer in the past of the WWII era, but in the future. You are (as in all futuristic war games) on a foreign planet, and have to battle your way past a myriad of assorted aliens. This futuristic setting offers their artists unlimited possibilities in the creation of strange new creatures and places (and ways they can be destroyed). This game also has improvements in the 'intelligence' of the badguys, such as the floating eyeballs which hide around corners to delay their death a bit longer, and flaming skulls which attack in rapid stings.
Your point of view is from out the eyes of your virtual body, which now bobs up and down and pants as you run. You can move around in all directions, but only migrate vertically via elevators or stairs. Your current weapon is pointed outward in the lower foreground so you can see the blasting cylinder in conjunction with the blood-bursting foes and the exploding gas cans in the background. Most sounds consist of alien grunts and screams, or of gunshot. Even with the menus, the game keeps the player in a state of aggression by providing the gunshot audio feedback with every option click. Not to worry, though, for a number of shareware utilities allow you to add your own soundtrack (such as Homer Simpson's voice for instance) The artists have taken great care in the creation of the sound effects and animation for the enemy death sequences, for they become the feedback rewards that keep the player addicted.
However, there are shareware utilities that also allow you to alter the graphics, such as the highly popular Barney Doom.
The goal to achieve bigger weapons is another driving factor in this game. They are kept in secluded (often secret) rooms to keep the player exploring. Bigger guns have more fantastical sound and visual effects surrounding them to reinforce the greater magnitude of badguys that are wiped out at once.
The music isn't that great (these guys are programmers), so I had to lower their MIDI soundtrack and replace it with some compact disc Terminator 2 music pumped through the speakers.
Beyond the game and the content, beyond the elegancy of the brutality and the addiction to the audio visual feedback is the fascination with the reality generator itself. The knowledge that this game is not real, yet it is so addictive, gives some powerful programmers great incentive to master it without playing.
One of the most interesting aspects of the game is not the software itself, but its cult following and its surrounding software support. Among those who worship the game and are thoroughly addicted, there's a community of hackers who spend their valuable energy dissecting and adding new features to it. On wuarchive.wustl.edu for example, there is a directory (with several layers) dedicated to the game, filled with over 150 different files filled with new sound, graphics, and world editing and viewing programs. As well as a newsgroup, there's also an extensive FAQ which is trying to keep up with the emerging software.
There are also 'saved file' editors that advance the player to new levels, and/or give them infinite resources (such as the largest weapon, 100% health, etc..) In order to advance past hard levels in the game one either play the game for many hours to get really good, or cheat. That's where the hackers outmaneuver the aliens by intelligence, not by hand-eye coordination. For example, rather than blindly pushing every wall to find a secret room, it is easier to look at a map (only made possible by a viewer some addicted hacker wrote)
Once they write a program that accomplishes this, they almost always post it to this growing site. There are some that cheat to escape the indefeatable aliens. There are others who break into the code to see how the program works, and then there are some who break in to add their own content and repost it. So while the quest to break down doors and destroy aliens takes place on one level, the larger more vigorous quest of breaking into the program, modifying and creating new realities takes place on the next.
This game I believe truly offers us the next glimpse of Virtual Reality, not just with its precedent setting reality engine (and definitely not with its pre-packaged content), but with the emergence of the community of people who have grown around it. VR is not meant to be a stale solid environment, decided upon by a couple of people, but is intended to grow and change in time with the contribution of each player, as demonstrated by the persistence of hackers to break through those barriers. This emerging subconscious (non mass-media) group of independent programmers is going to be important to the shaping of future VR.