Doom III Mini Review (Sort Of…)

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The article below was originally published some time ago and now remains online as an informational resource and archive.

Introduction to Doom 3. As mentioned in the home page of Quake3Bits the following write up is basically an assessment of Doom 3 and how it plays on low end PC systems at the time of its release by Activision and id software c.2003/4.

Note: Helpful console commands (most common options can be turned on/off from the in game system menu, inc. bump maps, etc.)

g_showhud 1/0
g_showplayershadows 1/0
ui_showgun 1/0

  • Official minimum specs
    • 1.5 Intel/Athlon
    • 384MB system ram
    • 2.2GB HDD space
    • DX9 compatible sound and graphics card
    • ATI 8500/nVidia GForce3

It should provide a bit more info on whether to buy Doom 3 before upgrading for all you folks out there that have been hanging on, waiting for word on this sort of thing. There won’t be any game play/story spoilers by the way, this is just a basic performance overview. For a more technical analysis see the links at the bottom of the page.

Setting the scene

Doom 3 launch screen imageThe machine Doom 3 was loaded onto is my main work rig with the following system specs.

  • Test machine specs

    • MD XP2000+ (1.67ghz) CPU
    • ATI 9000Pro 128MB gfxcard
    • 1GB system ram
    • Generic DX9 compatible onboard sound

As you can see it’s basically just above the lowest recommended set-up mentioned above, the only thing that may be a bit of a saving grace is the amount of system ram, the more you have the better Doom 3 can pre-cache and load game data. By the way, it’s worth mentioning here that the game was loaded to the HDD after it had gone through a defragmentation session, apparently that helps (it does for normal windows operation so it should for the game). I didn’t do a ‘before and after’ for this.

Initial reaction

The first noticeable thing is that relative to Quake 3, Return to Castle Wolfenstein or any other game, Doom 3 is dark, really dark. Normally gamma adjustment isn’t needed but for this it was increased to 1.5; the default is 1.0. All the screens shots below were gamma adjusted to 1.5 to reflect the game setting mentioned above.

Doom 3 being so much darker by default than other games is an indirect result of the way lighting works in the game, there’s no longer an overall ‘ambient’ light value that effects everything because lighting is dealt with on an individual basis, each light matters, it directly effects what’s drawn on screen, the more lights the harder the FPS hit – if you want a more technical overview of lighting in Doom 3, search the forums at where this topic has been discussed in detail.

Flashing light warning

As we’re talking about lights and lighting it’s probably worth noting here a serious point, there’s a lot of flashing light effects – broken lights, flickering lights, blinking lights and so on – so if you’re prone to health issues related to that take heed of this minor warning. It’s actually made worse in some respects on bottom end spec’d systems because of the low FPS making the game visually stutter a bit on screen. Actually, it’s surprising there’s not been an official health warning about it, it might sound trite to some but it can be quite a serious issue for others.

Graphic quality settings

Does changing the quality of the graphics effect the FPS?

Not really, there may be a 4 or 5 FPS difference between ‘low’ and ‘high’ quality but that’s not a guaranteed increase, it wasn’t consistent enough for it to have been any benefit at this level.

What FPS can be expected?

Leaving the settings on ‘low’ @ 640×480 yields about 20 FPS generally as you move about the different areas, in the thick of action though that drops by about 50% or so, expect your FPS to hover around the 10 FPS mark.

Does altering the quality make any visual difference?

Yes. It might not be apparent at first glance at the 3 screen shots below but if you look more closely at them you can see the sharpness increases as you go up the quality setting, even @ 640×480. It’s most noticeable on the upper part of the building directly in front of the viewer, the detail is much higher in the last screen shot when compared to the first.

The opening sequence @ 640x480 on 'low

The opening sequence @ 640×480 on ‘low

The opening sequence @ 640x480 on 'medium'

The opening sequence @ 640×480 on ‘medium’

The opening sequence @ 640x480 on 'high'

The opening sequence @ 640×480 on ‘high

Is that it?

The Interesting thing now is, is that it?, is that all that can be done to make this game playable at low end PCs? Short answer – ‘No’. If you’re willing to do a little fiddle with a text file sitting in Doom3s ‘base’ directory folder (DoomConfig.cfg) then there are things that can be done, settings that can be switched off to gain a few more FPS.

There are a tonne of other config settings that can be used and optimised to squeeze the most out of your FPS but the basic ones are to turn off the specular maps, bump maps and shadows which effectively turn the game into something resembling Quake3. The funny things is the game still looks good like this.

640x480 on 'low' - no specularmap

640×480 on ‘low‘ – no specular map

Specular maps add the shiny highlights to objects and surfaces in the game world, turning it off makes everything look matt and flat – although shadows still show depth.

640x480 on 'low' - no bumpmap (+no specular)

640×480 on ‘low‘ – no bump map (+no specular)

Bump maps add depth to the objects and surfaces, adding ‘micro’ surface details. Turning them off flattens everything and makes the game world look a little more like Quake3. It’s difficult to see in the shot above but if you look at the end of the crates in the foreground you can see the difference between this and the previous shots.

640x480 on 'low' - no shadows (+no bump, +no specular)

640×480 on ‘low‘ – no shadows (+no bump, +no specular)

Shadows, or more correctly dynamic shadows are by far the most expensive element of the game. As you can see above, combined with deactivating the bump and specular maps, switching off the dynamic shadows gives almost a 100% increase in FPS, jumping in this case from 11 FPS to 21 FPS.

640x480 on 'low' - no shadows (bump and specular turned back on)

640×480 on ‘low‘ – no shadows (bump and specular turned back on)

The interesting thing here is the game still has shadows but they’re not dynamic in the classic sense of what Doom3 is about. It looks like certain aspects of the lighting is based on vertex shadows which are very cheep to use (not 100% sure about this). It’s worth noting here that a lot of the light ‘effects’ are still active (projected lights, swinging lights, etc.) you just don’t get shadows cast by them.

In the shot directly above and below you can see just how atmospheric Doom 3 still is even with dynamic shadows turned off and, as an added bonus, this set up doesn’t really drop the frame rate back down either.

640x480 on 'low' - no shadows normal game play shot

640×480 on ‘low‘ – no shadows normal game play shot


Doom3 is a new game that’ll push your low end system more than the older games but, and it’s a big ‘but’, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth getting hold of – quite the opposite in fact, and as the screen shots above have shown, you can still get a fantastic experience without the dynamic shadows for now; after all you can turn that stuff back on once your system is up to speed.

To be honest, I remember Quake3 being like this when I first got it, so to, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, so in that respect Doom 3 is no different, both those older games ‘forced’ a systems upgrade of some sort, initially just the graphics card and then eventual CPU; Doom 3 will do the same (incidental info – Quake3 forced a graphics card upgrade from a voodoo3 2000 to a GForce2 MX and a Cyrix to a PIII600 CPU, RtCW forced the GForce 2 to be replaced by an ATI 9000Pro with the CPU upgraded to an AMDXP2000).

So far I’m glad I got the game even if at the moment it means disabling certain features to get a decent frame rate. I’m happy doing that knowing I can change things later. So if you’re hovering around the minimum specs then don’t worry, all is not lost, you can get a good game play experience right now, it may be a little rough but that’s to be expected at this level of hardware specs.

I hope this info is of some use for you to determine whether to get the game or not, if that’s a ‘yes’ you can click on the logo above a buy direct from amazon. You won’t be disappointed (don’t quote me on that though..!).

Apropos Conclusion

Q : cannot connect to doom3 server

A : Me neither. I suspect it has something to do with having an ‘impure’ install meaning there is custom content that’s not recognised by the server so it boots you (or in my case completely shuts down the game). Try a clean install and see what that does, or at least remove any custom content in ‘exposed folders’ (i.e. not in pk4 folders) out of the base folder.

[addendum] As suspected it is to do with custom content in your installation folder. If you connect to a server that’s set to ‘pure’ it will check the files you have on your PC against the file it has on the server, if there’s a difference the server will see that as a potential ‘cheat’ and boot you (or in most cases simply not connect you). REMOVE ALL CUSTOM CONTENT BEFORE PLAYING.

This hasn’t been confirmed happening with Resurrection of Evil or the latest Doom 3 1.3 patch installed.

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