Seriously, am I the only one that played this that felt like the wad felt nothing like an id levelset at all? It looked kinda similar to id levels, but it just didn't feel anything like them at all when playing.
Am I the only one with this view on the project?
I'm with you here. I thought it was much closer to Wonderful Doom or NMD than DOOM.wad.
It is, of course, easy to say that and not elaborate, but I really can't be bothered. Just look at E1M1. In Doom, you can name a distinct purpose for each and every room. You've got the starting position that right away introduces you to the concept of varying heights, with floors (including steps) and ceiling at different heights. Walking forward on your right is a window foreshadowing the possibility of going outdoors and a strange looking item, and further still in that line of sight another window tying back to the main area. On the left a bunch of stairs leading to a green armor that is, much like the blue armor, not only obvious to spot but directly drawing attention. Left goes up, right goes down, another thing that helps reinforcing the height concept.
The main path is north, in the direction the player is facing, but not directly in front of him, not directly visible thanks to a pillar, which lets the player's attention
go to the left and right rather than plunge forward. Following that is a sharp corner and right after it, so it's really in your face, the first door. Opening it shows the first enemy in a well lit area, far enough that you can see it moving towards you and shooting, with no visual clutter blocking your line of sight. At the same time you've got on the sides some computer detail, making a stark contrast with the uniform walls of before.
After that you've got that path leading to the next room, with a second zombieman to really make that enemy concept sink in. And just as you get used to that you've got that completely different looking thing on a tall tower far away that starts throwing fireballs at you. All the while being in a different looking room, completely open yet with a zigzaging path that puts you at risk to fall into the slime (yet another new concept). At the same time, you've got that window that ties back into the very first area and puts the whole thing together as a building, some space-looking place as opposed to a random maze.
Going forward and stepping back into the darkness, a different and smaller looking door leads to an imp, this time on ground, which eventually can let it scratch the player, and barrels around, giving you the first situation in which you can kill a monster with that. More barrels on the sides, behind the midtextures, can help introduce the concept of, well, midtextures, and shooting through it. Well lit exit door, with the corresponding sign. Switch. Exit level.
It's worth noting during the whole thing, before the exit room you almost always have 128 pixels or more to move, basically lots of space to maneuver and get used to your bearings.
I could go on about the lightning or the secrets, or higher difficulties. There has been numerous better E1M1 analysis, and the point isn't to make one as such, but rather to say, this is what I personally saw when I first played E1M1 and this is what I can still see today. Those are things I can objectively point out and say, whether it's by design or by chance, it just worked as a gaming experience back then and still does as of today.
Now what happens if I try to do the same for DWITD E1M1?
From the start position, it seems more cramped. Not far in front of you you've got a wall, and two windows, and an additional window beyond the left window, without being able to see anything except the sky. Sky that is also seen right on top of the first room. You've got a path on the left that goes down and a path on the right that stays on the same level, computers and tech walls textures, green and brown on the walls and gray, white and brown and black on the floors and really that's quite a bit of visual clutter already. The brown flat from the first window blurs with the brown texture from the window behind, and so on.
Where do I go? What do I look at?
The path going down on the left is sort of pointing towards it being the main path, which is good as that's what happens. Going to the room on the right first you've got that lit alcove that doesn't seem to serve any purpose. Finally we see stairs leading upwards, hugging the wall, almost if they're hiding, shameful to be seen, a stark contrast from Doom's E1M1 stairs that are almost pompous in the way you can't ignore them. Looking back doesn't do much either, leading to that small lowered meaningless alcove.
Now picking up the green armor and looking to the outdoor area is a bit better, you've got that outdoor area, that shotgun telling you there's definitely something to be done here, that same tie-in to the building as in the original ; and yet it is so cramped, everything huddled together. The window on the opposite side of the building is ridiculously small and shows some confusing floors and that complicated tech wall texture. To even see the shotgun you have to press yourself onto the barrier. There's two different heights of brown floor in a relatively short space and as a result you just can't clearly see what's in there. Two doors on the sides of the slime show possible entry points, that part is good.
Moving back to the main path you've got the same sharp corner and door that I like, no argument here, and after that a slime room. The layout is nice, the following exit is slightly to the left so you can be inclined to just move forward and find the secret, and the brown path circling the walls while leaving the slime in front, in your face, is another nice way to introduce that. What sort of ruins that is when you've got your first zombieman that pops up five feet away as you move forward, from behind the corner. Why not have him on the other side of the slime? It really feels like a missed opportunity.
Moving on to the next room, with stairs going back up (could argue it's not very consistent going down then up right away, but even I would have to admit that'd be a nitpick), and the next room is... Um. Visual clutter all over the place, two imps on platforms so neither of them is going to scratch you in melee, that blue floor drawing attention to the back of the room, that itself leads to nothing save for windows that are too high to see anything worth looking.
Going to the stairs on the left, that first step with the same metal texture as the floor seemed fairly odd to me, coming out with a room with two barrels and a zombieman (again, good to me). Pushing a bit forward there's an outdoor window to the left, which almost seems like as an afterthought, as really by this point are you going to stop and look at that? The exit door is lit, has that specific texture, can be seen for a while away, there's an exit sign, that's all good. Stepping inside, white on white switch texture... Eh.
Another complaint about the textures is that whereas Doom's E1M1 put widely different looks on each room, in here you've really just got either the green walls or the startan walls, with some degree of detail thrown in. What's kind of intriguing to me is that looking at it in the editor, I now see DWITD E1M1 leaves almost as much minimum room to move as Doom E1M1 ; and yet it just feels so much more constricted, as a whole or taken apart (save for the slime room which, again, I like).
Now perhaps the argument could be made we aren't in 1993, anyone going to play this is well aware of how Doom plays and unlikely to play on skill 2 anyway, and there has to be some kind of difference for things to remain interesting rather than just an exact copy, and that's probably a valid argument. At the same time, introducing so many new concepts Doom was built as a learning experience to an extent, and trying to emulate the id mapping style without taking that in consideration can lead to a dissonance to some of us.
Besides, chalking up negative opinions about this wad as mere nostalgia is well and good, but can anyone honestly say nostalgia hasn't any positive effect either? Anything oldschool tends to have a warmer reception regardless of actual quality, which doesn't necessarily mean it's not also great stuff in its own right, but certainly does play a role in overall approval.