Smooth Doom - Featuring an interview with Gifty

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Smooth Doom - Featuring an interview with Gifty

Post by kevansevans »

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For today's spotlight, we're featuring Smooth Doom. An impressive overhaul of the sprites and animations used in Doom to look smoother. Since the name on the box is what you get, plus a few prizes inside, we decided to conduct an interview with the creator!


In a short sentence, explain to our readers what Smooth Doom is.

Gifty: Smooth Doom is a comprehensive visual update for Doom, specifically targeting the quality of the game's sprite animations rather than more sweeping changes to game resolution or art assets. It has grown to include some other general-purpose optional features like particle effects and enhanced gore.

What gave you the inspiration and or motivation to work on Smooth Doom?

Gifty: The original concept was actually Sargeant Mark IV's idea, he had created a small proof of concept after taking inspiration from Perkristian's "smooth weapons" wad, and, if I remember right, from playing the Earthworm Jim games (which have pretty slick hand-draw animation). The original pitch was, "Perkristian's smooth weapons, but for everything." Since the idea was such a huge and exciting prospect, and briefly looked like it was going to become a big community effort, I started contributing work of my own to help get it finished. At this time (I think around 2014) my modding and graphics-editing experience was basically zero, but I started learning on-the-job by contributing to this project. However, by the time I came onto the scene, the project was actually stalling out and was basically about to die from lack of interest. I PM'd Sargeant Mark to ask if I could start maintaining the project myself, and got no response... so I kind of just started my own thread and started finishing the idea entirely by myself, and that's basically what led to where it is today! (I almost feel I dodged a bullet by not ending up collaborating with him.)

What are the tools you use for making this mod?

Gifty: The two main tools that have gotten me through 90% of the mod's history are GIMP, for the actual graphics editing, and SLADE for packaging everything together. In recent years I've started experimenting with Pixel FX Designer for creating some fluid particle sequences (like blood, smoke, and sparks), and have found it to be hugely useful and timesaving for certain applications. I've also started experimenting with a little-known tool called "Interprite", by MarkeyJester from the Sonic Research forums. It's specifically designed for the type of sprite edits Smooth Doom is centered around, and while there's still an enormous amount of work involved, I'm hoping it will let me overhaul a lot of my older work in better quality than what I've been doing in GIMP all these years.

What were some difficulties you encountered working on this project?

Gifty: My early, naive impression when taking on this mod in 2014 was that I'd be able to command a draw of community contributors as big as Sarge had in his original proof of concept--not true, as it turns out! Being a celebrity modder is definitely a huge advantage, and I was basically just a kid, so I ended up needing to do nearly everything by myself, outside of some really generous DECORATE scripting help from folks here and there. (I should point out that when I say "everything" I mean the bulk of the actual animation work; I was pulling on a lot of other peoples' sprites for optional goodies like monster skins and extra decoration variants, but those were more bonus extras to the main mod, and anyway I often had to smoothify those myself as well!)
These days I feel that I've become a much better spriter and overall developer, and the main difficulty at this point is just time management. Smooth Doom is no longer my only project, and I often feel like I can't give it enough time.

Kev: Would you still consider it actively developed on?

Gifty: Very, very slowly, but yes, I've never consciously put it on hold and still try to respond to forum/youtube messages as promptly as I can. I seem to have a biological clock around this sort of thing, at least once a year I get the bug to work on it really feverishly for a couple weeks or couple months, then I lose focus and my time goes to something else, and the cycle begins anew. Finishing things is the worst part, but it is really important for the learning side of things. I have to repeat the Stephen King mantra "done is better than perfect" to myself constantly. I have an entire 30-level megawad that just needs a final boss level, haha. Pretty egregious

Opening up your mod, the sprites you use respect the Doom Image Format, is there a reason this was chosen over alternative or modern assets, and did this add to the difficulty working on your mod?

Gifty: There was really no thought-out reasoning behind that; for the majority of the mod's history I didn't know how anything worked, so I kind of made decisions mostly by feeling my way around and avoiding things that didn't look good. I think I tried converting some monster sprites to PNG one time, found that the palette broke with certain level sets, and sort of blindly went "huh, I guess I won't do that again" and never really revisited the issue, haha. Things like that I definitely would like to go back to and straighten out now that I'm older and more knowledgable.

Do you have a personal favorite part of your mod?

Gifty: Working on the zombies in Doom is probably my favorite part, and I've probably given them more attention than any other creatures--partly just because I like them, and partly because they're some of the most common enemies and that helps me prioritize which monsters to spend time on. I'm a big fan of the Metal Slug games, and have always had a dream in my head that one day the zombies could have a wide range of little flavor animations like the soldiers do in those games; I love enemies that feel like they're able to react to things around them in varied ways, it makes them feel more charming and intelligent. That gets into territory of possibly a whole other mod, but it's something I often think about.

Kev: Inversely, is there a part you really hate?

Gifty: Most of the really awful parts of Smooth Doom are prisons of my own making, I really hate chasing down scripting bugs and tangled If/Else webs that have grown monstrously out of control because I started the mod with zero coding experience. There are entire features I had to cut because I simply created a giant mess for myself that I couldn't clean up. A lot of the actual animation work itself is often very tedious, and can often become drudgery. Part of my decision to include more (optional) custom particle effects is simply because it's easy and I get to be more creative and have more fun.

Is there a part of your mod you wished more people talked about or mentioned that they saw?

Gifty: I really can't complain as people have been extremely nice to me and the longevity of the project has exceeded anything I expected, but there does seem to be a perception in certain corners of the internet that I'm leading some sort of team (probably, understandably, because they see the credits sheet and see all the folks I've credited for some of the bonus options, like extra decoration sprites), but nope, it's always been just me! All the animation work in the entire project is me, there's never really been a team. It's not a huge deal, but that's the only thing I can think of! Well, except for the first-person weapon sprites, which are kind of a big stew of Perkristian's original weapon animations mixed in with a tangled web of my own edits mixed with years of community edits. But as far as world objects go, pretty much just me!

What made you decide that your mod shouldn’t just be the vanilla sprites re-animated? (in regards to the skins, alt deaths, slight game tweaks, etc.)

Gifty: I started realizing two major things early on into this mod; 1) that any mod this comprehensive is going to be a total compatibility nightmare, because it has fingers in so many areas of the game. And 2) I'm not going to have the time or energy to maintain multiple major mod projects. With that in mind, it seemed way smarter to compile all my efforts into simply making Smooth Doom as much of a full-featured self-contained package as possible. There's pretty much no way to combine it easily with the other major "general enhancement" mods, so I figured I may as well make Smooth Doom into a full-on general enhancement in its own right. My main stipulation is that I do want to keep any gameplay tweaks as modular and optional as possible; this is still primarily a visual mod, and any "mutators" to the game proper should be considered as just that.(edited)

What were some things people requested you add or stuff you considered to add in but didn’t? What were the reasons?

Gifty: In the early days there were a lot of requests for skins and optional visual baubles that I was initially super enthusiastic to accommodate, because I was just so excited that people were invested in the mod. Over time, partly due to my own back workflow habits, the skins thing became a monster that just caused tidal waves of bugs and glitches that I thought reflected really poorly on the quality of the mod. For that reason, I've had to massively downsize the number of skin options in the game and sort of turn away a lot of incoming requests in that area, as much as I'd like to include them in my heart. When I initially decided to make SD a full-on general enhancement I also considered adding Perkristian's high-quality sound effects pack, as it seemed to fit the spirit of "vanilla, but better" that I was going for. But due to some backlash about file size (which feels a little silly now), and my own lack of scripting knowledge about how to make sound assets optional, I quickly scrapped it.

Kev: Do you get asked for Brutal Doom compatibility a lot like any other overhaul mod?

Gifty: Hahaha, yes, still yes, always yes. I'm actually super stoked that Jekyll Grimm Payne actually put in the effort to incorporate the Smooth Doom animations into his own mod Beautiful Doom. I don't know if it was due to compatibility requests or just his own artistic impulse, but playing Beautiful Doom was a really big formative mod experience when I was younger (and partially inspired me to take the general enhancement route for Smooth Doom), so it was a really nice full-circle moment for me.

Do you exclusively play Doom with your mod? If so, has it ruined your ability to go back to playing it vanilla?

Gifty: I constantly go back and forth through periods of feeling like vanilla Doom is either too plain, or feeling like "man, they really got everything right the first time, why am I fucking it up with my mod?" Haha. My ultimate dream-goal for the mod is to polish it to SUCH a high standard that I could never think of going back, that it would be such a perfect reflection of the game's original artistic intention that it would feel like the same image going from black and white to color. I don't know that it will ever get there, and some people will never accept any replacement no matter how good it is, but that's my goal! Although honestly, with the newly-updated PC ports that Bethesda released last year I feel like my ability to enjoy classic, no-frills Doom has never been better. It hits just the right balance for me of feeling retro and chunky but not being a total pain in the ass to play.

Kev: Do you pick the Unity ports over something like ZDoom with no mods or something like PrBoom or Crispy?

Gifty: If I just want to play the standard game, definitely, the Unity port has become my de-facto way to play. For mods or custom levels outside the official mod page, obviously Zdoom is way more convenient.

How surprised were you when Civvie-11 did his Doom series using your mod?

Gifty: I was delighted! Seeing it appear in the wild always warms my heart, but that was definitely the most high-profile place I'd ever seen it crop up. On the flip side, whenever a known youtuber makes a comment about anything, people on forums turn it into a copy-pasted talking point that sort of becomes the bane of your existence until the end of time, but I suppose that's not his fault [:stuck_out_tongue:] I also really enjoy his videos, I'm glad he doesn't seem like a douchebag like most other gaming youtubers I can name off the top of my head.

Do you have a favorite bad take of your mod?

Gifty: Oh man, delicious. Several people have trashed on it over the years (which is fine); I think the funniest take to me is that it's somehow a cheapo effort cobbled together from other peoples' frankensprites, possibly over the span of a weekend. Even if this is a bad mod, and all the animations in it are junk, this is a bad junk mod that took YEARS to make!

Kev: How accurate is the frakensprite accusation? (Not to imply that's a negative aspect)

Gifty: I think it mostly comes, again, from people seeing the credits sheet and seeing that a lot of community custom sprites are in the mod. The thing is that those are pretty much all in the bonus extras corner of the mod, and comprise hardly any of the actual animation work that is 90% the bulk of the mod. So I think some people get the impression that it's kind of just this hacked-together frankenstein's monster. Which, to be fair, when I was about 19 or 20 I got so jazzed up and excited about the mod that I was briefly hoovering up every single weapon and monster skin I could--not without credit, but just with a sort of creative abandon. So there was a little bit of bloat in that regard, but I've matured and downsized a lot of that extraneous stuff, partly because it was so difficult to maintain.

How much would you have to get paid to make 16 directional sprites for Smooth Doom?

Gifty: So, there's a funny story about that; early, early early in the mod's history, a community member actually did approach me to basically pay me to finish it (is that legal? I feel like it isn't. I don't even know), because they thought the concept was so strong and they really, really wanted to see Doom get that kind of complete overhaul. I actually accepted, but there was a miscommunication about the style of work they expected and the tools they were expecting be used--I was always about the old fashioned Gimp setup, whereas they were hoping to see a kind of procedural/morphing style that would generate incredible frame counts for all 16 rotations. Anyway, the deal basically fell through with no hard feelings from anybody, and that's the story of the only time I ever got paid for modding! In a total dream scenario, if someone officially tied to the game ever did hire me to "complete" the project to a retail standard, of course I would probably drop everything else in my life for about 9 months and just focus on that, no matter how low the pay was. [:stuck_out_tongue:]

Kev: So you'd do it more for the honor of working with someone from id Software than a collaborative project with other modders?

Gifty: Either scenario would be great, as I would love to see the project reach some kind of complete "retail quality" state. But yeah, I think the glory of official recognition would outweigh the pay for me There was a really brief window where I manically thought OH MY GOD, I NEED TO POLISH THIS UP SO THAT IT WILL BE CONSIDERED FOR THE UNITY PORT! But I think the technological limitations of that port basically preclude that from ever happening, haha.

Smooth Heretic? Hexen? Strife? Chex Quest? Duke?

Gifty: Specifically for Hexen and Heretic, I've gotten multiple requests over the years. I really love the process of trying to restore old things, and I did briefly work on a prototype of smooth weapons for Heretic (because I feel like awkward weapon-feel is the #1 thing holding that game back from greatness), and another prototype for Wolfenstein 3D (which saw a little more progress), but truthfully the amount of work involved in starting a whole other game is just mind boggling and probably super unrealistic for me. Maybe I should take Smooth Doom off the web and devote myself solely to Chex-related mod pursuits just to mess with people

Will there be a sequel called Hairy Doom?

Gifty: Hahaha, yes, and it will replace every asset in the game with Kevin Cloud's arms. Was there a backstory for that one?

Kev: I sent one of your trailers to a friend of mine and her first response was "Looks pretty hairy to me"

Gifty: hahahaha. God, I actually am kind of tempted to make that now. It would have to be just like this, but all arms.


Thank you all for reading! See you next spotlight!
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Re: Smooth Doom - Featuring an interview with Gifty

Post by Redneckerz »

Really enjoyed reading this one on the idiosyncrazies and thought processes behind someone's mod. @Rachael, i know these are posted on, but perhaps they can be more prominent on the frontpage?

I realize that these topics do not get much responses and perhaps its because of that. Or maybe its something else.

Kevanevans, thanks for this! I'd love to see more of this stuff forthcoming :)
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Re: Smooth Doom - Featuring an interview with Gifty

Post by Vostyok »

Second this. Didn't realize a new one had been put up. Really interesting read, however. Good stuff!

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