Top Ten - Page 2
2015 has been a year of extremes. I saw what must have been the genesis of Swift Death in 2013, when the French Doom community released their first megawad. As a bunch of speedmaps made around a three hour timeframe, franckFRAG's levels were pretty homely and small, but there was something intriguing about the way their action was choreographed. Franck isn't a stranger to larger levels, with works like "Vertigo Plant" and Muskadet under his belt, but it seems that he has also found a passion for crafting bite-sized death traps. This won't mean much for anyone who leans toward Doom's more adventurous side, but for those of us who love picking combat apart like solving a puzzle, there's Swift Death.
This megawad marks the worst period of Doomguy's life, held prisoner in a series of torturous scenarios that repeat over and over until each one is conquered. The only relief that exists in franckFRAG's nightmare is in the length of the levels. This is Doom, but very hard, and very short, except for the last couple of maps. They're still horrifyingly challenging, but they're also a little meteor. Much of the difficulty comes from starting in the middle of a bad situation and only making it worse as you run around, trying to get some sort of purchase from which you can strike out. You'll quickly find out what doesn't work.
It's easy to make a mapset that quickly kills players. Carefully arranging things to make sure that they're in some way manageable is another thing entirely. franckFRAG (along with guest stars Memfis and JCD) has thoughtfully employed the lower difficulty settings, giving the same sort of dynamic that Super Meat Boy has between the Light World and the Dark World, so you're free to engage Swift Death on your own terms. You don't need to know all the secret speedrunning tricks; all you have to do is give in to this twisted rendition of Groundhog Day. Don't Doom angry.
Detail is a word that comes with a lot of baggage, part of a balancing act between knowing that it looks great when it's done well and recognizing that it's really easy to miss the point. The crusade against "overdetailing" is thus the counter-electromotive force that keeps the community from burning out on absurd greebling. The admittedly arbitrary distinction is cut between tasteful and tacky, which is to say that having a ton of detail in a level is not intrinsically bad. It's just rare to find someone who both walks that fine line and has the determination to see things through. Fancy that Viggles, who returned to authorship after a nineteen-year hiatus, lays proof positive right on the table.
Breach looks absurdly good and it doesn't even add any new textures; it just uses the same old ones in various, ingenious ways. Nowhere is this more apparent than when you survey the battle damage that scores the early portions of the level. You'll be walking in an architectural wonderland from the moment you start on the monorail station to the time you enter the exit elevator, including the author's excellent execution of atmosphere as you blink back and forth between your world and the other dimension, rendered in pitch black minimalism. One very cool sequence leads you down a draining well of blood, leaping from cage to cage of interred monsters until striking down a Baron of Hell with supernatural authority.
It's easy to lose sight of player mobility when you're injecting your level with breathtaking pararealism, but Breach bears few if any unsuspecting obstructions to maneuverability as you blast your way through the haunted UAC base, and while it does lay some monsters on the player, the difficulty is never what I'd call oppressive. And that's another part of what makes this level so great - the almost seamless integration of detail, architecture, atmosphere, and gameplay. When it's all done so well, it's an experience to behold. Dare we dream what sights yet unseen remain in Breach's second half?
- Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
Most Doom releases stray very little from the robust monster mechanics of Doom II. It's a versatile yet comfortable standard, and people are still figuring out new ways to challenge the player using the same monster behavior engineered some twenty years ago. Occasionally, though, we see a large project that attempts to play with the dynamics, like STRAIN and - to a lesser extent - Obituary. It's a hard road to travel, since finding new niches for enemies is tough with such a cast of characters. In spite of all this, Skillsaw rose to the challenge, combining his fluid layouts and manic action with a pantheon of perturbators designed to shake the rust from a community that is overwhelmingly used to the balance of vanilla. It may not be the megawad that people were clamoring for after Vanguard's release, but Valiant has more than earned its right to existence.
More than anything, Valiant is about agitating the player to keep them moving, an ethos most clearly represented in one of the most fundamental changes. Skillsaw's super imp - the only imp you're going to see - throws faster fireballs and two at a time, one right after the other. Considering that its regular mannerisms have been seared into our muscle memory, this violation of the player's comfort zone sets the tone for the rest of the stuff to follow, whether it's swarms of suicide zombies, blackened Hell knights unleashing streams of flame, or the dreaded arachnorb, a fairly fragile flier that excels at providing cover fire and has a chance of fleeing the wreckage of an arachnotron walker. All of these things - and more - force players to learn a new style of gameplay where the ol' combat shotgun isn't quite as useful. That's why Skillsaw included a bitchin' minigun, the better to stunlock with.
All of this action takes place across five different episodes, ultimately ending on a moon not dissimilar from Paul's own Lunatic, complete with an iteration of "The Final Countdown" featuring the new breed. You'll be able to witness Paul's own brand of visual wizardry, most stunningly rendered in "A Lightbridge Too Far", which is graced by what appear to be actual, factual wireframe platforms of light. There are also molten seas suspended in the void, which appear toward the end of your sojourn through Hell, as well as the cinematic showdown at the deployment platform of the finale. All of it is wrought in Skillsaw's now familiar style, looking very clean and playing quite smoothly. After all, it would be a shame to put all this emphasis on player mobility and then get caught up on every little bit of detailing.
While it's great to see other authors wringing every drop of juice from a bestiary that some find stale, Valiant serves as a fantastic example of nudging Doom's mechanics in a slightly different direction; a potential template, perhaps, for other authors to build on in the future. At the very least, it's fun to see an author of Skillsaw's caliber playing around with new beasties when most tend to stay within their comfort zone... which you can totally do now with the release of Valiant: Vaccinated Edition, a conversion that's fully compatible with gameplay mods. If that's not sporting, I don't know what is.
Espi Award for Lifetime Achievement
Top Ten - Page 1
Top Ten - Page 2
- Swift Death
Top Ten - Page 3
- 50 Shades of Graytall
- Sheer Poison
- Return to Hadron
- Don't Be A Bitch Remastered
- ChaosCore CTF
- Best Gameplay Mod
- Mordeth Award
- Mapper of the Year
RUNNERS UP: THE SEQUEL
Ethan "Gooberman" Watson
Watson pushed Doom's ability to portray a narrative in 2003 with his first episode of The Gateway Experiments. After a twelve-year gap, he gives episodes two through four a miss and goes straight on to five, pushing the same concepts even further as you root out a branch of the UAC that's continued the teleportation research that caused so much death and agony. The emphasis on super-lethal space marines gives gameplay a more tactical - and masochistic - edge, combined with a progression that has echoes of Metroid Prime as you unlock segments of the military base, weapons, and... infernal abilities. Ethan has also more or less realized the radio / dialogue system that felt so superficial to the activities in the first episode. It's a pretty good example of the raw components we might use to make more Tales of Doom.
Pinnacle of Darkness
When we last saw hobomaster, the cat with a tin foil hat, he was clunking out some awesome maps for DTWiD and gearing up for the sequel. In April 2012 he went walkabout, though, only to reappear two years later to promote his super cool frontend for Doom... and this killer map for GZDoom, Codename Gothic. It's a beautifully realized level, quite traditional; a series of forts set deep into the mountainside of a bleak nowhere - red, oppressive, and nigh on gargantuan. It's impossible not to be impressed by the scale of the adventure or struck with a sense of majesty, and these evocations are not long detracted from the experience as you are made to contend with some gruelling encounters and skirmishes. In some ways the epitome of high-end, classical map design for ZDoom, this is not to be passed up!
For as long as Doom's existed, people have been porting other media and franchises to it, usually slapping "Doom" at the end of the name. We've got Goldeneye Doom, Ghostbusters Doom, Batman Doom, and of course the legendary Aliens TC. As of late, though, there's been a lot of really neat conversion attempts. While they're not exactly 100% in many ways, we can still give 'em a nod! Thanks for keeping the love alive!