Chase Long, an Environment Artist who worked on Doom Eternal, talked about the working process during the creation of environments and levels for the game.
My name is Chase Long, and I’m an Environment Artist in the game industry. I have an undergraduate background in Photography and Media Art from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga where I was given the freedom to teach myself 3D as my study. I then studied art creation for games at SMU Guildhall, a fantastic community that helped launch me into the games industry!
My first job as an artist was actually at a web and media design studio, L2D, which was where I was taken under their wing and given the opportunity to develop my 3D skills. After a couple of years there, I attended the Guildhall for their master’s program and landed a job at a small outsourcing studio, Nerve Software. My first project there was assisting Arkane Studios to develop Prey: Typhon Hunter.
This project then led us to Doom! Our art team went over to id Software and assisted them in developing Doom Eternal in the creation of their environments. After that project, I ended up going over to id Software full-time where I worked on The Ancient Gods DLCs.
Becoming a Part of the Doom Eternal Team
Working at Nerve gave me the opportunity to go over to id Software to assist in creating Doom Eternal. We were treated as part of the team and worked alongside some of the best talents in the industry. It was truly an exhilarating experience that both skyrocketed my art and design skills and accelerated my career. We worked alongside what I would consider, a smaller art team for a AAA studio, but this team made up for lack of numbers with ingenuity and talent.
After the project launched, I spent a couple of more months at Nerve before going over to id Software full-time, where I worked on The Ancient Gods DLCs.
We had a relatively small environment team, so we were given a lot of ownership and responsibility. In putting trust in their team, id Software enables the artists to work as autonomously as possible to solve problems and collaborate creatively. Small groups of artists would team up with the levels’ different designers to progressively create the various areas of the level, with each individual artist “owning” a section or sections. Doom typically has a curated level layout, which gives the environment artists plenty of opportunities to make distinct areas and leave their mark on the game. Sometimes, there are very specific design needs for an area or specific concept art, and other times, we are just told to go nuts. There is certainly a fun sweet spot in there where you get to work closely with designers to creatively fill in the area together.
Some of the first assets I got my hands on were a variety of environmental props for the Cultist areas. It actually became a bit of a running joke in the studio with the silly amount of doors that ended up in my lap. I was the designated Cultist-doorman. These were actually a blast to work on as they were just some pure Doom hard-surface sci-fi to model and trim. Modeling is one of my favorite aspects of the job, so it was great to get the opportunity to work on these.
This aesthetic in general both challenged me and allowed substantial creative freedom. Fortunately, the studio is jam-packed with talented and supportive artists so I had plenty of help if I was feeling unsure about something. I continued in the Sentinel style for much of my time on Doom Eternal, working later in the Taras Nabad area doing yet another throne room and later in another cinematic area. I won’t post spoilers, but I was also able to do a mash-up with the Sentinel style, which was a fun challenge.
Efficiency is key when creating a game like Doom in both asset creation and stress on the engine. Most of the environment pieces relied on a workflow that leans heavily on tiling materials and trim sheets. This process not only allows fast creation and iteration but also plenty of sharing all around. I relied on these materials as much as possible, as we could get good first visual reads from our modeling, and secondary and tertiary reads from our materials.
Because of this, I would say the key process for creating environments came down to collaboration wherever possible. Given that the Doom team was a bit smaller, and the scale of the game massive, we relied a lot on springboarding and KitBashing off of each other’s work. One of the first steps I would take in filling in an environment was going through the growing library of environmental assets and seeing what I could use for its original intended (or unintended) purposes. We playfully called this “stealing”, but KitBashing was a great way to keep visual continuity, save time, and spin-off new ideas for our areas. Sometimes bespoke pieces would be needed for the areas we worked on, but even then we would have a place to start with all the references we had from one another. This led to a process that was both highly creative and collaborative.
Working on such an established franchise is similar to what I said earlier; it is equally exciting and terrifying. Because the Doom world and style were so well established, creating art for the game had a solid foundation of what is and what isn’t Doom. It is certainly a game that knows itself inside and out. With the project’s strong established identity and collaboration, a whole team of artists is able to maintain a unified result across a wide variety of environments.
Working on a well-known and established franchise also comes with the added pressure of continuing to live up to what everyone loves and keeping true to its identity as a game and universe. The Doom identity comes from being big, loud, and fast, and the art certainly adheres to that philosophy. By continuing to add to that world, as an artist, you are also simultaneously trying to push it forward in new and exciting ways. The challenge then becomes, “How can we stay true to its identity while offering new and exciting experiences?”
The environments need a balance of being intriguing while also not distracting. It was interesting that in such a fast-paced game, anything that didn’t “feel” like Doom quickly stood out. There is a balance with guiding the player into certain areas whether that be the main path or alternate secret locations. Artists play a big role in pathing players with subtlety needed to push just enough, but not too much to be blatantly noticed (unless it needed to be obvious). Doom Eternal had a grand scope that needed big shapes to make areas feel huge and imposing. The secondary and tertiary details follow suit by complementing these big details without detracting from them, giving the full range of detail while not cluttering the player’s view.
Working alongside other artists on the same level is as simple as splitting it into separate workable streams or layers. However, working collaboratively is a conscious effort by everyone to not only create a cohesive world but also assist your teammates in creating the best art they can.
I touched on this a bit before, but working with other artists and designers in mind was key. While it was really important for a team our size, it can be equally important for any sized team or project. It’s easy as an artist to get lost in your own work and try to get your area done as quickly as possible, but working with reusability in mind was huge for the entire team over time. An example of this could be as simple as putting in the extra bit of work upfront to create a reusable pillar and wall kit, as opposed to a one-off mesh chunk specific to your area. You never know when you could save someone else an hour or two, or when someone else could help you. Pay it forward!
Getting to run around and play in an environment you created is what I believe inspires many people to pursue working in games. It certainly did for me. Doing so in a game like Doom Eternal was really a dream come true. It was definitely an honor to get to contribute to it and to be able to see my own hand in it was rewarding. I was initially inspired to work in games by running out onto the plains in The Ocarina of Time, or the impact the environments had on me when I first picked up World of Warcraft as a teenager. The feeling of being part of creating those experiences, whether to transport someone to a fantasy escape or to face-smash the forces of hell, is definitely a rewarding experience.
My favorite part of the production process is certainly when art production is in full swing. The look has been established and it is a matter of filling in all of the grey-boxed areas to create the world that was envisioned. There is a buzz about the studio too during this time that is energizing and I have certainly missed during the current work-from-home era. This was something during Doom Eternal that kept me inspired because it is the people that created that buzz. Everyone was in there to make as great a game as they could, and every one of them loved Doom for what it was: loud, ridiculous, and many times, humorous.