doom2Wanna live dangerously? Play a PC game from 1990-1995 that has “2” in the title.

Companies used to have almost no idea of what a sequel to a computer game should look like. Should they be like level packs? Should they be entirely new games? The “shareware” model further complicated things – you’d have part 1, the free version, and parts 2 and 3, which you paid for. Publishers were cutting up and slicing games like lunatic sushi chefs, and “sequel” could mean absolutely anything.

Doom 2 was part of the problem. It has 32 new levels, one new weapon, and a few new enemies. Do you call that a sequel? I call it a glorified level pack. Some accountancy particulars set Doom 2 apart from the original (chiefly the fact that it was sold in stores rather than through mail-order), but so what? Imagine if Street Fighter II was Street Fighter I with a new character and some new backgrounds. You’d call shenanigans.

The new weapon is the super shotgun. It’s very satisfying to clear a room of zombies in one blast, but it disrupts the balance of the game. It’s just too effective – you never again use the regular shotgun, so why still have it in the game? (Yes, the shotgun has a tighter spread and is better for long-range fighting, but the chaingun’s better in that category).

The new enemies are a little mixed. The pain elementals and revenants are just tedious and annoying, no fun to fight. The chaingun zombies are neat. The arch-vile is the most inspired creation: a “healer” that can revive dead enemies. All the old enemies are back, including a fair few cyberdemons. At one point you have to face a cyberdemon and mastermind at the same time (the battle becomes anticlimactic when you realise you can trick them into killing each other).

The new levels are the meat of the game. Most of them are either designed by Romero or Peterson. Romero’s levels are aesthetically beautiful, and actually evoke the feeling that you’re in hell. Peterson’s are ugly, slapdash, and gimmicky. The contrasting approach to level design gives the game a bipolar feel – Romero actually gets what Doom’s about (bringing the atmosphere of a Cronenberg film to your computer screen), while Peterson is intent on dragging id Software back to the arcades.

There’s not much to say about Doom 2. If you liked the original game, this has more of the same. But it doesn’t push the envelope. The envelope remains super-glued to the table. If you’re new to the series, you might as well start with Doom 2. Once you have the super shotgun, it’s awfully hard to play a game without it.

But normally the genre-defining classics and the cheap cash-ins are made by different people. Who would have thought that in this case they’d be coming from the same studio?

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scriptThis piece by Douglas Hofstadter was funny, but I don’t agree. I think common usage is the king, and people should only contravene the king’s orders under dire circumstances. I also don’t agree with Vihart’s tweet that “Gender neutral pronouns have failed again, and again, and again… which means they have the persistence to someday succeed.” So the more I fail, the more likely I am to succeed? Doesn’t sound mathematically rigorous. The English language changes to whatever form it wants, nobody can predict it, and none of those changes are intrinsically better or worse – the Grimm’s Shift of ancient times was no different to the “ebonics” of today. Just a mutation that seems to have survived.

But if we were able to redesign the English language to be as convenient as possible, what would we do?

Graphological changes

– Make every character unique – no mirrors or flips. Make it impossible to mistake b for backwards d, or M for upside down W.

– Rearrange the alphabet so that commonest letters are at the front, and less used letters are at the back. There’s no reason the alphabet should run A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-J-K-L-M-N-O-P-Q-R-S-T-U-V-W-X-Y-Z instead of E-T-A-O-I-N-S-R-H-D-L-U-C-M-F-Y-W-G-P-B-V-K-X-Q-J-Z. Maybe then we won’t call it the alphabet, we’ll call it the epsilontau.

– Optimise the English script for handwriting. Make it so that x (for example) can be written with one stroke – perhaps by connecting the two lines with an arch.

Linguistic changes

– Incorporate Japanese’s honorifics. They’re useful as hell. They let you add trick out sentences out with emotion and color and nuance. “Yes, Spongebob-sama” is a nearly the opposite of “Yes, Spongebob-chan.”

– Add some pronoun modifiers so we can tell multiple people of the same gender apart. You want effective anti-gay therapy? Imagine giving yourself an embolism trying to puzzle out gay erotica (“He pressed him closer and ran his teeth over his neck…”). Maybe call the subject him1 and people in further proximity him2, him3, etc.

– Fix “w” so that it isn’t three syllables long. Have you ever tried to give someone a website address and had your mouth block up with dubya-dubya-dubyas like a jammed printer? This article suggests a pronounciation of “wu”.

– Remove the indefinite article, like Greek does. And if we get get away without the definitive article, so much the better. I hate a‘s and the‘s sitting in between the real words. Somehow they cause my trypophobia to flare up.

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book-burningAnswer: read his books. It will happen sooner than you think.

It works like this. You start reading a Haruki Murakami book. It doesn’t matter which one. You’ll be blown away. You might even think he’s the best author you’ve ever read.

Then you’ll read a second, third, and fourth book. At some point, the bloom will leave the rose. You’ll become bored of his style, bored of alienated male characters eating spaghetti and listening to records, bored of the way he invokes the warmth of the Beatles and Respighi to cover up the emotional coldness of his stories. You might read a fifth book. But you definitely won’t think of him as the best author you’ve ever read.

I’ve had this experience many times.

When I was 7 I was a huge Goosebumps fan. It was revelatory that books could be as exciting as a cartoon. Somewhere in Goosebumps 2000, I started to wonder: why does he give his characters names? They are interchangeable. Call them “The Boy Character” and “The Girl Character”, “The Oblivious Father/Mother”, “The Bully”, and so on. Why not? Wouldn’t it save mental clock cycles if you didn’t need to figure out which character occupies what role in the story?

When I had this realisation, I could take no pleasure in Goosebumps. I’d seen what was behind the curtain. I started to feel a bit resentful, as if RL Stine had swindled me.

When I was 12 I read Stephen King. The realism of his stories appealed to me. No matter how bizarre and surreal they get, he never forgets to give his characters dry mouths and headaches.

But after many books, he lost me. I’ve read him for so long that I’ve learned all his tricks, and now he seems like RL Stine 2.0 – a sophisticated manipulation artist who presses buttons and jerks you around. I don’t hate him. Put me in a cell with Doctor Sleep and I’d read it. But only after I get bored with playing the cell bars like a xylophone.

When I was 22 I discovered Junji Ito. Extremely atmospheric and frightening HP Lovecraft-inspired manga. I read about 3,000 pages of his stuff, and then suddenly, lost interest. He can’t tell a story very well. I found myself speed-reading through the dialogue to get to the next gory image. I was desensitized to his good points, and chafed raw by his bad points.

Does this sound familiar?

It’s been said that Mad magazine was the last time anyone took fiction seriously. They exposed and deconstructed the machinery of telling stories, and it was now impossible to see a romance scene in a movie without thinking of the inevitable Mad parody. But truthfully you’ll arrive at that realisation without Mad, it just takes time.

Do you have a favourite author? Do you want him to remain your favorite author?

Then never read another of his books again. Not a single one. Even reading another word is contraindicated. You can’t allow the novelty to dissipate. You can’t allow yourself to realise that your favourite author sucks golf balls through a garden hose.

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