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)




“yak 001”

im lazy

I’ve collected my fave recent tunes and put them here on bandcamp as a £whatever release. Not really expecting money since the Doom community is rabidly pro-FREE EVERYTHING and I don’t at all disagree, but it’s there as a donate button if you like the site or for any other reason!


gameplay, whatever the hell that is

(MAP 08 of D2RELOAD will have to wait – recording an UV demo with no saves is actually proving to be quite difficult as all the major battles feature multiple revenants… coupling that with the many moments it’s possible to fall into slime and have to backtrack and you have one mean level!)

As the Doom community grows ever more close-knit and hardcore, the idea of “good gameplay” has been honed to certain elements – monster pressure from multiple directions and ideally from above, abstract asymmetrical play-areas which constrain Doomguy – but not so much that he gets constantly stuck on corners – areas that loop in on themselves and repopulate with teleporting monsters at certain dramatic moments, with imps, chaingunners and revenants being the most frequently encountered of the bestiary. The optimal point of monster thickness could be characterized as “mini-slaughter”, with forming crowds complex enough to cause combat puzzles but, once controlled, minimize the need for clean-up time – hunting down straggling monsters who have ceased to ply pressure. Downtime is minimized, eschewing scavenging, puzzle hunting and maze gameplay in favour of funnelling Doomguy to the next set piece. Essentially, arcade gaming, but taking place in architecturally-striking and cinematic locations.

It all sounds wonderful and solved, but note that that’s a description of the modern Doom ideals which totally fails at explaining how the original levels work =P Doom 1 mostly pits non-threatening enemies against the player, usually even activating them within Doomguy’s eyesight. Any really good player can plow through Doom without the need to hide behind doorframes or be particularly tactical about weapon selection, since every level typically contains enough ammunition to kill its denizens twice over. Furthermore, a lot of the stock levels ask the player to back-track or use the map to discern their next move and occasionally feature buttons which, upon activation, give no immediate information about what they changed. Doom 2 improves the strength of hell’s armies by introducing the revenant, the vile and many other stern enemies that make safe positional movement a lot harder to maintain but deploys them on a lot of fairly daft maps which are, variously: inscrutable and difficult to escape long past the point where all the enemies are dead, spacially massive so that monster pressure is defeated by the sheer distance you’re allowed to stand away from enemy fire, or downtime-creating backtrack-athons where no route through the level creates a particularly sexy speedrun =P Ultimate Doom’s extra episode does create shining moments of true modern gameplay, but usually in pernicious ways, ie. the lack of health on E4M1 or the immediate caco-mobbing on the following level, probably the first time the game has presented the player with a fight that’s a losing proposition, forcing Doomguy to plunge into a level whose signatures include treacherous walkways and Barons of Hell too meaty to be removed by a panicking, fleeing player! Good luck with that!

My point is not to be rough on the original levels because frankly I still adore them. I’m just wondering why the original levels are now disallowed from affecting modern gameplay! Speaking as a player who doesn’t become frustrated by repeatedly riding the same lift, looking at the map, sniping monsters from afar, being killed by death-traps, switch-hunting, searching for required, unmarked secrets, pulling off crate-jumps, solving mazes or using the Tyson weapons, it’s a little dismaying to see so many great levels be dismissed as “having bad gameplay” or being “untested” for straying from the formula. It’s a good formula, of course, that gives us BTSX and Valiant but, as far as I am concerned, Doom having such a good basic system means that just about any competent map you care to design in it has good gameplay, because it’s a Doom map! I do worry that these visionary map sets like A.L.T. will become a thing of a past because they simply don’t press the correct few buttons – I know I would be dissuaded from mapping if a genuinely great project I was a part of was received so badly. I don’t mean this as criticism of the community, but the current guidelines on what’s “good gameplay” seem to have unwittingly created a state in prospective players where they are slightly less willing to indulge imaginative levels with imagination of their own. A.L.T. is probably a dreadful experience if you don’t allow it to unfold in your mind, whereas something like Speed of Doom kicks ass on an immediate level without really holding any deeper secrets.

I’m rambling now. I’d just like finish by appealling to the strange mappers to keep bringing the strangeness, whether or not it’s strictly good gameplay. 😀


no news today =P

No videos or anything from me for the last few days – that’s because I’m working on a very secret MIDI which ain’t for the D2R project or anything like it. Meanwhile, check out the great video below by ellaguro – it’s about A.L.T, my favourite level set anyone has ever made for Doom 2!


yer random observation #1

Doom’s one of the earliest 3D action games I can think of where wild animals are not a threat to the player – Wolf3D had its attack dogs and Ultima Underworld its giant cave creatures like bats and rats but Doomguy only has demons and zombies to avoid! I always really appreciated how fighting animals was handled by Ultima 4 – if you can fend them off then their urge to survive will override their territorial instincts at which point you get penalized if you DON’T allow them to flee. Animals don’t actually want us dead!