The long-awaited public unveiling of Doom III is already being referred to as one of the highlights of E3 this year, with screenshots of id Software's next game and engine passing around the Internet like wildfire. There may be only three certain things in life - death, taxes… and the fact that even the slightest titbit of information about a new graphics engine from id Software will have techies and fanboys alike setting the 'net on fire with wild speculation, critical analysis and - more often than not - rapturous praise-singing of John Carmack, perhaps the most unlikely-looking chap ever to receive the description of "kick ass" from thousands of American teenagers. So it's no surprise that no matter what else was announced at E3 this year, Doom III was what set the 'net on fire. Those four screenshots (if you haven't seen them already, then you might want to click here) have ended up being dissected on every web-board in the world, and everyone from skilled graphics programmers down to 14 year old Quake fanboys with a gore-lust has passed comment upon them. There's even a 90mb movie floating around, although given the amount of PR puff interviews it features and the appalling framerate it's encoded at, you probably won't glean a great deal from that even if you manage to find a download site for it which isn't maxed out. Ultimately though what more do we know about Doom III now that we didn't know last week? Well, from a gameplay perspective, not a lot. We know that the plot is vintage Doom - scientists play with Things They Don't Understand and teleport hideous abominations into this world, which of course proceed to wreak havoc and turn everyone into zombies. This being Doom (and judging from some of the character art sketches which have popped up), you can be pretty sure that the full-scale forces of Hell aren't far behind, either. The game looks a lot less like a frantic blast-fest and more like a survival horror title, however, which is likely to upset some fans. Although comparisons with Resident Evil are inevitable due to the shambling-zombie nature of the characters in the screenshots, they may be more than slightly fair; id Software is keen to emphasise the "fear" element of the game, and it's certain that given the high detail of many of the models and the level of effects being employed in the game, we won't be seeing them throwing hundreds of enemies at you at once. A more suspenseful, moody experience than anything id have done previously seems like a fair expectation - although given the standard of their singleplayer games since, well, Doom II, it'll be interesting to see if they manage to pull it off. More interesting, at the end of the day, is the graphics engine. The Quake III engine is currently the de facto choice of engine for anyone who's serious about writing a decent first person shooter on the PC, and many of the games created using it are a lot better than Quake III itself. Doom III is likely to go down a similar path, with the real money for id coming from licensing the engine to third parties. So, what does this new engine appear to offer developers? Well, for a start, the lighting effects are superb, certainly surpassing almost anything we've seen previously. Although it probably won't seem such a giant leap ahead in a year's time when we finally see Doom III in its finished form, this lighting is certainly astounding, allowing for subtleties of light and shadow previously unseen in real-time graphics. Particularly impressive is the system which Carmack is employing which seems to allow objects to cast shadows on themselves, as well as handling coloured lights and specular highlighting (er, that's "shinyness" to you and I). There's also plenty of bumpmapping in evidence all over the place, and while the actual polygon counts aren't that astonishingly high, every special effect in the modern graphics card book is being used to enhance the visuals and make things look as detailed as possible. Look at the edges of faces, where the detail is considerably less than the areas facing directly at the camera, for evidence of this. Of course, at this early stage in development there are some glitches. Shadows don't look right just yet, and the shadows in the rooms don't always match up with shadows on creatures; there are even some ugly self-shadowing glitches, if you look closely enough. There's even a hint in some of the screenshots that they may have been touched up in Photoshop prior to release - although that's understandable, given that the finished product is still a year off. One thing is certain though; while other games in the near future may try some of the same tricks, Doom III is the engine to watch, and will set the new benchmark for graphics in PC games, just as every other id game since Wolfenstein 3D has. And of course, the other certain thing is that many of us will need to invest in new hardware in order to run the damn thing. Related Feature - Doom III screenshots
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