Sunlust: An absolutely beautiful level set following abstract sensibilities, often eschewing typical Doom landmarks, light-sourcing and so forth, establishing a new look for Doom which I hope inspires others to do… not the same thing, but rather to find their own niche. It’s been 22 years and it’s hard not to groan when you see a mapper trot out the same old texture themes AGAIN. Even the E2 “corrupted facility” theme is dead and done at this point. (grin) Gameplay-wise, Sunlust is ferocious, dense with monsters usually placed in positions which are either tricky or overwhelming, with semi-slaughter style progression, IE, thinning hordes enough to find a switch which unfolds the next level segments, which traditionally will overlook the rest. The type of map set I play on HNTR, then return to on higher difficulties only to get flattened repeatedly 😀 Bravo to Ribbiks and Danne who both seem to have a very high turn-around when mapping in this style.
Erkattaenne: very fun throwback level set – it’s a bit nostalgic for 1994/95, both in terms of theming and its difficulty, which is slightly less taxing than it could have been, but the map designs are angular, dense and surprising, and Mr. Monti’s continued love for the game shines through. Sometimes that’s all you need for an earnestly good map set. Not quite sure about the music, however, but I can’t afford to criticize when so many people love putting my compositions on blast. =P
Skulldash: Nice concept! I always wanted to be collecting treasure in Doom, ala Wolfenstein’s gold treasuries or Strife’s scramble for pocket-change, so from the moment Dragonfly began posting Skulldash screenshots I was intrigued. Having played the set I believe that Skulldash doesn’t really have enough content – so many of the levels are necessarily short to capitalize on the gimmick (item hunting/optimal route finding under a time-limit) that it’s all over far too quickly, especially if you don’t play like a completist. Skulldash’s boss segments were also lost on me, being a sort of mousy map exploration, scavenging and puzzle-solving fan – the action was just too overt and plain! Still, congratulations to Dragonfly for the award – he’s still developing the WAD, and a level pack for Skulldash would be very welcome indeed.
Swift Death: rather merciless action pieces. Perfect if you love to desperately waggle the mouse and scream at your monitor. I should hate this, but the levels are so short that I actually enjoyed making multiple attempts at each. No, I’m not telling you whether I actually beat them all! Despite being very action-oriented, most of the levels are (or seem, heh) solveable primarly through good route-finding after an initial burst of frenzied dodging and chaingunner murder. One thing I do admire about the levels is that they’re not just symmetrical arenas, the author FranckFrag preferring tight little curio maps with multiple tiers and strange, instantly-moving machinery which might seem a little gauche in a more “professional” map but seem perfectly apt in a set like Swift Death. Well deserving of its award and a must-play to see where you stand with modern Doom difficulty. (I stood about six feet under.)
Breach: rather gorgeous! A single map absolutely filigreed with attention and care, fashioned out of stock textures by the author Viggles, over what you’d guess was a period of about a thousand years. The main thing that struck me is that all the detail is worthwhile – so often you see an ornate Doom map made in a style which would both have been easier to craft and have looked better in another, more modern engine, but Breach is Doomy to the core. As well as good looks it also contains a somewhat cinematic storyline, with your character being whisked between a wrecked outpost and the frightening home of the denizens that did the deed. My favourite part is watching a certain ceiling rupture and crack as you walk below but everyone section of the map has its charms. Breach is rather short and necessarily linear but it’s hard to phrase that as a criticism in this particular case and I really admired the patience and skill of the author. Quite the masterpiece!
Valiant: A good megawad with some gameplay ideas of its own. The vistas are bright and bold, the music melodic and fast-paced, just as frenetic in fact as the action! I wasn’t a fan of EVERY new enemy, but there’s nothing quite as irritating as Scythe 2’s “Mr. X” and the flying Arach head deserves to be a staple of Doom 2 maps for quite a while in my opinion! Skillsaw’s approach to level design is well-known by now, with many maps tasking the player to find all three keys in any order to leave and challenging them with both generously-stuffed traps and allowing generous provisions to see them through. I could say that Valiant wasn’t really enough of a step upwards from Vanguard in terms of design, but I wouldn’t say Skillsaw is stuck in a rut, either – what we have here is simply a great megawad in a trademark mapping style that’s still fresh. My favourite map was “Candlecove” – a gorgeous blood-lined cave lit with a panoply of torches lining its contours – I quickly found out that it’s the level at #1 on all the speedrunner’s hate-lists but that just gives it an even better reputation in my eyes. 😉
50 Shades of Graytall: I adored this map set. As announced, it was probably the strangest mapping limitation challenge since Congestion 64 but the project grew into a mini-megawad with surprising variety and charm. Every mapper had their own thoughts on how to get a pleasing visual effect out of a combination of textures with bad reputations – “FIREBLU”, an animated Pollockian collision of primary red and blue splats, “DOORTRAK”, a patch traditionally seen only as the machinery under Doom’s garage-style doors and the titular “GRAYTALL”, an absolutely worthless smear of grey punctured haphazardly by a misaligned red stripe. Congratulations to anyone eliciting a sensible aesthetic from a palette as silly as this. The other thing is that the maps are really quite difficult – lots of times you’ll find yourself on the run to find supplies, or dealing with monsters in amounts you might not be able to handle. Well, at least if you play like me, you will. Great level set, maybe my favourite of the year after Sunlust.
Sheer Poison: a rather humble entry on this list by yours truly. I was shocked to realise that KMX’s write-up on this level was intended to precede a Cacoward! Thanks to the crew, and to Alfonzo for his second take on the map. Sheer Poison can’t stand up to the beauty and design of anything else awarded this year – it was intended more as a strange mind-trip, a single adventure map with a cruel, anti-completionist bent, literally an exercise in telling the player that they failed, allowing them to “leave” the level with less than 20% kills… the Doom version of having your funding pulled, or of getting an achievement which gives you negative points of XBox gamer score. In a word, frustration, or perhaps alienation, which is always my theme on any canvas. The “man” you meet at the end of the level, even if you jump through all my irritating hoops, is there to represent actual success, the slimy sort of shit success that actually gets you on the scoreboard of life, rather than the “success” that Doomguy attains, which only ever rewards him with more pain. So, no, the combat wasn’t breezy, and the sights were not beautiful (although I do hope they were interesting…) and I can only say that I’m very happy that a few people realised there was a small vision concealed inside this bizarre puzzle map.
(download via Dropbox) Here’s the .MID from Sheer Poison, if you can’t bear the idea of playing it. =P
Dead.wire: Xaser is my favourite mapper on the modern scene and this stands up as a great and interesting work. The route around the level is less free-play than perhaps intended, because supplies are tight in some directions, but it’s all about the atmosphere, and this is a great mood map. It’s hard to type much more than that without spoiling what actually *happens* in dead.wire, so grab ZDoom and jump in to see for yourself.
(Also check out Xaser’s MAP32 in 2048 Unleashed from this year – I say this not because he used my music, grin, but because of its fantastic angular design, so sharp in fact that the bloody razor-like textures make total sense. I avoided them for fear of losing skin!)
Return to Hadron: Cannonball’s best attempt at really getting modern gameplay out of the Doom 1 resource set. What I mostly remember from this level set is tall, expansive architecture… I remember playing his episode one draft and thinking it a little boxy and TNT-like and, well, he has outgrown that mapping stage by several orders of magnitude now. Well worth a playthrough.
(my mouse died)
(don’t ask me about Deathmatch maps, I have no idea)