thoughts on 22 year anniversary Cacowards

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)



demo, MIDI

H2H Czech Series 1, from March 1995 (and CAYDE.MID)

Some authors cottoned on to clean, sane map design earlier than others – here’s an early example of a map which feels IWAD-worthy while introducing its own small quirks. H2HCZEK1 provides pressure by piling on the zombie grunts while restricting the health supply and punctuates that with Revenants, to deliver knock-out blows to anyone who scrapes through the crossfire! The locale is base-y and reminiscent of Knee Deep despite heavy usage of sequel textures; space to fight is provided, but slip out of that space too early and you’ll be waking up the deaf enemies hiding around every corner. Another comparison to Doom’s shareware episode you could make is that there are hardly any traps built into the map – excepting one sneaky cupboard full ‘o Demons, the enemies are already at their battle stations and it’s Doomguy’s choice how to approach each battle.

Also includes a one-way barrel deathtrap for players who have become a little to accustomed to gleefully throwing themselves off cliffs and down holes, because there’s “always” an escape route. Bravo! 😉

I wrote CAYDE.MID over the past two days and the overall idea of the song changed many times, leaving it a little confused, but it’s built on a doomy Doom reference and unfolds into something that sits squarely in the middle of the funk/prog/crap spectrum. In a good way.

demo, MIDI

DMOMEN, June 1994 (and ROBFRIPP.MID)

An early map by a husband and wife team who later contributed to the fascinating and incredible Eternal Doom, DMOMEN is a hellish base replete with red-brick and toasty human remains. Love that dark tunnel full of demons and vines – such simple design but perhaps the optimal place for snug pinkies to live!

The opening room is the hardest part because of the nature of the shotgunner – sometimes they just kill you! Luckily, rushing over to the rocket launcher room creates a safe strategy where many of the enemies approach you and get caught up in little fights of their own. The rest of the map is largely clean-up, but it’s pretty clean-up in an environment on par with the IWAD hell maps. Just thought I’d share this interesting little level with everyone – grab it here! I couldn’t find any demos for this WAD on DSDA but I’ve learnt that all levels from 1994 go by many names, some less intuitive than others. =P

ROBFRIPP.MID is an incredibly disingenuously-titled funk tune, since I love the idea of dark funk accompanying doom guy’s jaunts to the underworld. There’s a little humour and Parliamentary formula thrown in, plus not too much guitar!

map, MIDI

Sheer Poison and POGCHAMP.MID

OK, here’s a level I made! Don’t expect me to review it or do a demo, that’s your job! =P

SHPO1.ZIP (i’ll get this up on /idgames/ when that’s functional again)

Using Ultimate Doom, pick E2M1 to play and I recommend Hurt Me Plenty. I’d be impressed by anyone finding their way through to the secret exit first time around!

The tune inside is all orchestral-progressive stop-start sometimes-rock, intentionally fragmented and hopefully interesting enough that it can loop for a whole hour while you wander around levels at least this strange. 😀

demo, MIDI

D2RELOAD MAP 11 “Phobos Lab” and THISASA.MID

“Phobos Lab” is a reprised name from Doom’s history, but the old map didn’t have a zillion chaingunners. Your reason for traversing the labs this time around is to find the means to teleport yourself to the planet surface below, and the trip takes you through dark, infested labs, storage areas and the level set’s trademark corridors, neatly book-ending the episode.

The level is dense with monsters in general, with the lobby fight on your way back from unlocking the warehouse appearing to be the stand-out encounter; the ambush is volatile and resistant to a simple solution because an incredibly PSYCHIC Arch-vile seems to naturally step in and cause chaos as soon as you’ve decided how to approach everything else! That’s the sign of a well-planned encounter, especially as the battle can get entertainingly out of hand without ever quite rendering the level unbeatable.

THISASA.MID overbears with nonsense chords and anti-orchestral instrument usage to mock old synth units. Poisoned rock in 20 sugary flavours. I’m proud of it but at the same time I know how lazy the tune is and how much better it could be with actual transitional work and and and

I won’t be continuing to make tunes for the next episode of Doom 2 Reloaded, or at least not for quite a while; I remembered that the blog is meant to be about levels from before the year 2000, so it’s time I revisited some old Doom 1 PWADs next!


Doom 2 Reloaded, maps 1 to 11

D2RELOAD’s strict adherence to the plot of the original Doom 2 is both a blessing and a curse because, as a single-author megawad, the three major themes the plot suggests become familiar too quickly and tiresome before the episodes are over. On maps one to eleven, surgical grey and brown are quite the fashion, as are linear pathing and straight corridors filled with breather enemies, all contributing a degree of predictability to the gameplay although you could suggest that it’s a way of maintaining a certain pace. Other key recurring traits of D2RELOAD are secrets which mollify key battles by overfeeding the player with ammo and/or armour.

This all sounds bad, but all these traits also argue in favour of the casual player, who will know exactly when to save, when to search for secrets, where to go, when to jump off crates (always, in this case =P) … generally the maps do an excellent job of being learnable and intuitive. They also seem deliberately designed to resist speedrunners – a lot of the secrets involve jumping or squeaking along tight passages/ledges, many corridors force you to face down chaingunners which, at high speeds, are too deadly to risk missing with the SSG and the linear nature of the maps tours the player around every single enemy in the level, making UV-Maxing less frustrating but harder at the same time!

This scoring system doesn’t really mean anything in the real world, but purely for tie-breaking various megawads against each other, I’m giving the first episode of Doom 2 Reloaded a 65% score. What I mean by that in this case is that these are very confident levels which ultimately play a little too safely – the only surprises arrive in the form of enemy ambushes. I’m a Doom player who welcomes amateur design choices, whereas the author here has chosen to steer clear of any unintuitive pieces of progression or unfairness. So 65% is about right in terms of me respecting the levels while preferring other styles.

Map 9 is an exception, that’s a 95%. Go play map 9. =P