Just in case you missed it, you can now experience DOOM Eternal in an all-new way with optimisation for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. This free optimisation update comes packed with improved visuals, increased performance and support for ray-tracing, or 4K resolution at 60 frames per second, or an optional 120 FPS mode. Upgrading your eligible copy of DOOM Eternal is easy. Once an upgrade is available, the Xbox Series X and Series S will use Microsoft’s Smart Delivery system to upgrade eligible games automatically.
This applies to both physical and digital versions of DOOM Eternal. To upgrade your PlayStation 4 copy of DOOM Eternal for PlayStation 5 systems navigate to the (…) overflow menu and select “PS5|Full|DOOM Eternal: Standard Edition”.
To learn more about this free update and understand how the team at ID utilised next-gen hardware for Doom Eternal, we sat down with Marty Stratton, executive producer and Billy Khan, Lead Engine Programmer at id Software to chat about the technical ins and outs of utilising ninth-gen hardware, what’s next for DOOM Eternal and what the team over at id are most excited about going forward.
Where did the team start when looking at pushing DOOM Eternal even further on the new consoles?
Billy Khan: When we make plans on a tech side, it’s usually a long process, we have a five-to-seven year plan. So any new console, new hardware that’s on the horizon, it will be built into our schedule. We knew that we were going to make an implementation. We didn’t know to what extent but high-level goals are always on the horizon, they’re always tasked out. Then when the hardware came online and we looked at it, we made choices of what makes the most sense for our title. So what you see now is what we felt was what would give the user and the player the best visuals and that would take advantage of what we currently have and also just make meaningful contributions for the player and for the game itself.
Marty Stratton: Just to add onto that real quick. I think one of the cool things – and the engine team and tech team is always thinking about this because, you know, it’s kind of PC development at heart and always has been going back in the history of id [Software] – I think one of the cool things with this release is bringing a level of choice to the console players. The next-gen hardware really gives you a lot of power to play with but it wasn’t just about, like, this is the only way to play the game, so, you know, whether you go for ray tracing or you go for the more balanced mode in an ultra high resolution or you want unbelievable performance at 120 FPS, which is pretty uncommon on the consoles, we’re giving players the choice to play how they want and to switch between them very easily.
BK: Yeah, the ability to give the player flexibility in how they want to play is really crucial. Marty makes a very good point here; that’s always on the forefront. You saw we certainly had that in 2016 and we continued our trend with [DOOM] Eternal and you know there are lots of great things like accessibility options that we now have in Eternal. You know the goal is to have lots more players enjoying our titles on as many platforms as we are able to deliver here.
How much work does go into bringing this sort of update to the next-gen consoles?
BK: There’s quite a bit of work there because it’s not just a vanilla port. I want to be frank about this, this is a native implementation of the lowest level we can get on each of the hardware. So, it’s the lowest level version of Direct X 12 that we can use on the Xbox Series consoles and it’s the lowest level implementation we can do on the PlayStation 5, we did not use any of the intermediate layers. So what you’re getting is the scalability that you’re used to; running as fast as possible and utilizing all of the hardware, basically saturating all of the hardware capabilities we have and using them all as best as the engine can. So we take full advantage of all the cores, we take full advantage of all the V-RAM it has, we take full advantage of all the hardware features that the new hardware has. On the Xbox for example, we utilize variable-rate shading to a great extent. We use variable refresh rate, we take great advantage of the SSDs in a sense that our load times are exquisite now. So when you play on the DLC levels, for example, with a difficulty ramp up for our black belts, that reload time is just right there, so you can stay in the game. So everything is native, there’s quite a bit of work involved, so it’s not just the vanilla port. It’s basically that we had a next-gen engine and we just added a couple more platforms, you know, but it’s the native implementation there.
DOOM Eternal is one of the fastest games that I’ve ever played. Was that the starting point when looking at this? Was it to ramp up the frame rate? What was the first thing that a team looked at?
BK: I think the goal is always to maximize playability, fluidity, visuals but gameplay can never take a back seat.
How do you get that balance between improving things like performance but then also adding that extra shine to the game?
BK: The way you do that is you collaborate with the other teams; you collaborate with the designers and you collaborate with the production staff and the artists and we sit around and be like, “Okay, here’s the stuff we have; we can give you all this power, here are the feature and then you tell us where you want to use it,”. We did that here with ray tracing, for example, we went to the artists and rather than just like, “okay, am I going to add this? I’m going to add ray tracing and then crank everything by five or 27 or some high amount of smoothness,” We collaborate with them and they’re like, “Wow, we didn’t know we could do this and we had to make sacrifices in very specific spots in the game or alter our art but our true visual was something entirely different,” So when you play Hell on Earth, for example, what may not be 100% obvious out of the gate, but it is a boost in fidelity is that wetness look they wanted on the wood. They weren’t able to pull that off with the material choices they had before ray tracing came online. That’s just another cherry on top of the awesome visuals we already had. So I think it comes down to what the team feels are the right choices for the title. The 120Hz mode, for example, you’re like, okay, here’s an opportunity, we can run it to speed and if you play the game, you know that it’s a true 120Hz implementation there and it’s very hard to find any drops when you play it. We wanted to give players that high-octane gameplay that we enjoyed under PC and the hardware allows us to do that now. So, I think it’s a combination of lots of different things. You don’t just dictate, we collaborate.
MS: To summarize that, I think it’s just really knowing our game and knowing our players and we play the game all the time from top to bottom. It’s just really, really knowing what feels right, what looks right, how much detail. You always want great visual fidelity but the game is a fast-paced game, so it’s like, how do you balance all those things? If we were kind of a slower plotting game, 120Hz may not be as important but because of the type of game we make 60Hz is minimum and you go from there. So, yeah, I think it’s just really knowing the style of the game and how the game feels.
Looking back on development now and knowing that you’ve got all this power unlocked for these new versions of the game, did the team feel like the previous-gen consoles held anything back? Is there anything you wanted to have on-screen that maybe wouldn’t run on base models of previous-gen consoles or anything like that?
MS: I mean, you’re always balancing. I’ve been in the games industry for a long time and so has Billy [Khan] and you know, I think as developers, you’re always like, “Oh, can I have one more AI in the, in combat? Or can I see just a little bit further? or a little bit more unobstructed views?” So, I think that’s just the nature of things you, always want more power to either do more or do more, more easily. I think the current-gen or last-gen are really phenomenal machines and I think just even when you look at the step from DOOM  to DOOM Eternal and realize that those two games are running on the same hardware effectively, I think that shows the power of those machines and how just even as developers and certainly our engine team, as they work with a piece of hardware over time they just get better at it. They understand the hardware more, they get closer to the metal, so to speak. Certainly, Billy can talk more about that, but you know, I’ve seen it, console cycle after console cycle where the more time the team has with the hardware, the better the stuff gets. I think we really saw that in the difference between Eternal and [DOOM] 2016 and just their capability there gives the team that additional capability to spread its wings to, to do more, to show more, to have more on-screen, to do all of those things that they want. I think the team felt quite liberated as we went into DOOM Eternal with the types of things that the technology group was delivering. As we begin to work on future projects there’s a new level of elevation there, we get to do more, we get to do more, more quickly or easily in another cycle.
BK: Yeah, if you look at each of the three modes, a lot of people commenting that balanced mode looks amazing, right? A 4k look, that image quality you get there it’s because of the scalability and the amazing artwork that our team, that the designers did. The game already looks amazing as it is even without this patch. If you played on the last-gen, you might be missing out on some of these new features but the game plays fabulously on older hardware and that speaks to the tenacity of the team working together also to the scalability of our tech. Now we’re just unleashing more of that power with some of these new features and going into whatever we’re going into next, that would just be that much better.
Ray tracing is a big part of a lot of next-gen updates and next-gen games that I’ve released so far. DOOM Eternal is a first-person game, which in my opinion makes it a little bit trickier to have ray tracing be instantly noticeable. How did you make sure that Doom Slayer looked the best that he could in reflections? Was that a lot of work as well?
BK: Are you asking about the third person model specifically?
BK: Yeah, so we had, obviously for our battle mode, we have a third person model running around. The content there is tailored for that mode, we don’t generally render that mesh and skin that at the same time but we felt that when we tried it out, we were like, “wouldn’t it be cool to see the DOOMicorn in the reflection?“, and when we turned it on we were like, “Oh, wow, that’s awesome – I spent all this time in battle mode, unlocking the DOOMicorn or using the Zombie DOOM Slayer, I would love to see that. You see the AI, why can’t I see myself?“. So that grounded the experience, I think.
You know, there are some caveats yet to make but I think the overall benefit, the enjoyment that you get out of having that work has superseded any kind of little anomalies you might encounter. When it comes to the reflections themself, we started off just rendering everything as we would in a render raster path. So we started off like, “okay, what if we just rendered the game with ray tracing on as if we just used ray trace?” And we proved that our unified shading and lighting model worked out, so all the lighting and shading that you enjoy in the normal view is done exactly the same way with very, very minor caveats in some very specific areas to give you that same look. So if I were to look at the Doom Slayer as he is there or as an AI as he stands in front of me and then I see the same AI in a reflection, it’s the same kind of detail you get, you get the multi-composite materials, you see all the same lighting and shading elements. That was very important, that took quite some time. We wanted to prove that that was possible and then we were like, “well, that’s what we want, we want it to look exactly like that because that’s real ray tracingat that point, we are rendering it,”.
You’re not just rendering diffuse, we’re not just rendering a piece of that, we are rendering exactly what you would see if there was something reflective in the world. Then from there we just optimized. Then another big thing was the particles, the particles are supercritical. Transparency is one of the toughest problems to solve especially when you cast rays; you have to traverse to the scene in quite some depth and accumulating the lighting and shading there is quite costly. So we have to simulate all those things prior. In the raster path, we actually code out when you’re too far away off-screen. So anything that’s not visible, it’s not around. but for ray tracing, you have to have all that running. So it was quite some optimization to get that all working. If you look at Arc Complex, there’s a lot of glass there. The glass specifically is a really hard problem to solve. Especially when you’re playing the game and you’re looking around the corner, you might see an enemy in the glass, or if you just look at the health phials, for example, you see the character reflecting in there, all that stuff is basically rendering the exact same stuff you would enjoy if you just didn’t have ray tracing on.
The PS5 version of the game takes advantage of the adaptive triggers, which I think is one of the coolest features of this gen, especially for shooters. How did the team go about incorporating that and deciding what level of support and making it feel less of a gimmick and more like it enhances the experience?
MS: I think you hit the nail on the head right there. We just got a number of people around it, playing with it. Again, knowing the game is critical. You’re obviously using the triggers a lot, you know, even more so than other shooters. So it goes to making sure it doesn’t feel like a gimmick but also is it exhausting? Is there a level of hand fatigue that plays into it? Then just playing it a lot and really trying to to dial it in. Credit to Alex and Peter and our design team for doing that. I think it’s super cool and like I was saying before kind of giving players some level of capability to choose what they want. We added some variability there that gives players the option to dial it in a bit to their liking. I’m glad you like it. I think it’s one of those things you think will be pretty straightforward but you’re right, it is a very robust feature of those controllers and you can do some pretty cool stuff with it. It’s really just about making sure it fits and feels right for the game specifically.
You announced that there is a horde mode coming and traditionally we have seen these as co-op experiences. Was this ever looked at or did it just not fit into the nature of what this would be?
MS: Yeah, it didn’t fit with how we were approaching it. We’ve messed with co-op in the past a little bit, tried little experiments and prototypes it really just, quite honestly, it doesn’t, it doesn’t feel good generally. I think Hugo [Martin] always says it best, playing DOOM is like an Eddie van Halen solo and when there’s another Eddie van Halen up on stage with you trying to solo at the same time it’s just like you’re kind of stepping all over each other. I understand the sentiment when people are like, “I want co-op“. We’ve said that internally many times and we’ll go into it a little bit and it’s just way, way, way different than I think people think it would be. I mean, We know how people have loved master levels. They’ve really embraced the depth of the combat experience in Eternal so [Horde mode] really felt like a good way to give more of that with a twist; really allowing people to go deep, as a horde mode lets you do, and push yourself from the beginning, starting easier and then all the way to something that is pretty nuts. I think people will enjoy it.
You also announced that Battle Mode is getting a refresh, we would love to know a little bit more about that. Will there be new playable demons or is it more about just changing the structure and rankings and that kind of thing?
MS: It’s a structural change, I really can’t go into too much detail. As I said in the post it’s more of a competitive structural change. You know, there’s more to talk about there so we’ll get into that as time permits.
Having a little bit of taste of developing for these new consoles, what excites the team moving forward for whatever is next? Does it feel like there are fewer limitations now or if you’re developing across both generations is it even more difficult developing for base last-gen consoles and then having to develop for ninth-gen consoles as well?
MS: I’ll speak generally, Billy can talk more technically speaking. I think it’s just like, anytime you get new hardware or you see a new GPU that, it’s like I was talking about before. There’s a bit of freedom that you feel. When you play DOOM Eternal or a game like DOOM , certainly things like AI and the “think process” of the large number of AI that we have on-screen and trying to create an experience that feels really, really large. A lot of games do it where the AI is a smaller number and the outside actors are running kind of lesser routines and such but we run a lot of AI, right from the edge of thinking and moving and all of that just is about as fast as we possibly can do. I think things like that are exciting. Certainly being able to create an even larger scope and scale. I think if you look at the progression of what we’re doing as far as expanding the DOOM universe and, and the feel and tone of the games. You can see from DOOM 2016 to DOOM Eternal and then even into the DLCs how we like to just give the player a sense of space and activity that’s happening around them. Like, the end of DLC two Immora that battle that is happening is amazing. It’s happening around you and it’s really unlike what we’ve done at id so I think as developers, to be able to create that type of experience, whether it’s DOOM or something else is really exciting when you can just put more on the screen and take players into the universe in a more meaningful and engaging way that’s really what excites the team.
BK: From the technical side, I mean, it’s all about the engine team or just the programmers in general. We always feel like we want to empower the content, the content teams, the designers, and the artists, too and to be able to realize their visions, that’s our goal. To make the technology accessible for them to create the content but also make it meaningful for the player. So how could we leverage that? How can we leverage ray tracing hardware? It doesn’t have to be always visual stuff, it could be enhancements to the gameplay, it could be allowing us to push more polygons on screen. Whatever it might be, it’s all within the vein of trying to make the product better, make the game better and make it feel better like when our concept artists draw and there’s some nuance there, and some details that we are not able to push but the closer you get to that concept art the better. So when Emerson or Colin draw these awesome, fantastic pictures, we want to realize those visions and some of this hardware will allow us to push that closer than we have ever been able to do. So I’m super hopeful and excited as always and just expect that we’re not going to stop. The goal is to continue on the path of trying to push forward on the visuals and on the gameplay and the feel. The feel is very important, we can never lose the feel of our titles.
Any copy of DOOM Eternal purchased on Xbox One or PlayStation 4 is eligible for a free next-gen upgrade on the same console family. The next-gen versions are also available for direct digital purchase from next-gen platforms on the Microsoft Store and the PlayStation Store. Additionally, free upgrades are available to Xbox Game Pass members who have the Xbox Series X or Xbox Series S. Click here to see a breakdown of the respective upgrades for each console.