Top Ten - Page 1
Tech Gone Bad
- John Romero
When John Romero released E1M8B: Tech Gone Bad in January, we had a pretty good idea that it would end up in the Cacowards one way or another. There was some discussion among the Doominati about whether a new Romero map deserved a full-fledged Cacoward, or if it was better served as a special honorable mention or other sidebar. (One joker even argued for a "most promising newcomer" award for Romero, since he'd never worked with a modern Doom level editor before.) On one hand, it seemed unfair to deny some other hard-working Doomer their shot at a 2016 Cacoward slot; on the other hand, did you hear that fraggin' John Romero made a new fraggin' Doom map?! The only reasonable solution was to break the glass on the fabled 11th Cacoward, only intended for use in emergencies and/or long-awaited returns to glory.
E1M8B turned out to be merely the first of two all-new maps Romero dropped upon the community this year. Heralded as warm-ups for his new FPS project Blackroom, the Lore behind the maps (such as there is) is that they fill the spots in the Knee-Deep In The Dead pantheon where the original maps were either not a Romero creation (E1M8, which was a Sandy Petersen joint) or a modification of an existing layout (E1M4, which was adapted from a Tom Hall design). Between the two levels, I find E1M8B to be the more compelling: both for its bolt-out-of-the-blue release which resulted in widespread news coverage, and for its fiendish, uncompromising nature. Despite being a single-level PWAD, E1M8B has a "final showdown" mentality, which is immediately apparent upon entering the map: not only must the player immediately watch out for nukage pits and teleporting enemy ambushes, but glowing hell-cracks criss-cross the floor to punish the unwary player who thinks to venture too close. Gaining the first foothold in the level is an accomplishment in its own right, and I saw dozens and dozens of Youtube Let's Players get thoroughly mauled within the first sixty seconds.
From there, the level opens up into a sprawling base that is largely familiar to connoisseurs of the Episode-1 style, but often cranked up to 11 (or to 8B, I suppose). One of the most interesting aspects of the map is that the Knee-Deep design style has become its own thematic subgenre, with lots of mappers trying their hand at the classic "Romero style" over the years. Here, however, we have the Actual Romero returning to the drafting table after a two-decade hiatus, and he pulls out lots of new tricks and motifs that have no analogue in the original 1993 maps. Which provides a Ship Of Theseus-esque quandary: if Episode-1-style maps draw from a certain list of thematic elements, and Romero makes a new Episode 1 map that contains new elements, does the Episode 1 style now contain those elements? Or does it mean that Romero's new Episode 1 map is... not really an Episode 1 style map?
Headscratchers aside, E1M8B is a wonderful map that is all the more astounding for being Romero's first foray back into the FPS mapping world since Quake 1. If this is just a warm-up, I look forward to seeing what he can do with all cylinders firing.
Oh, and if you noticed that the Cacoward graphic looks a little, er, different:
- Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
Ancient Aliens is a Skillsaw mapset released in the year of our Lord 2016. Right, that's it, everyone move on.
...Eh? You want more? Well, all right.
Let's be blunt: this is more of a formality at this point. It's really just kind of accepted around here nowadays: the sun is hot, water is wet, grass is green, Skillsaw makes damn fine maps. Vanguard, Lunatic, and Valiant were already three incredible megawads in their own right, but for Ancient Aliens he decided to gather up a small crew of helpers and create a magnum opus. With some guest maps by other alumni (hi, Essel!) and a magnificent soundtrack by Stewboy, Ancient Aliens came out in May and promptly settled itself in playlists across the globe.
The colorful screenshots alone certainly stand out among the seas of techbase maps, but it's straight from the first map, where the player takes a puff of peyote and then gets thrown head-first into a locked-up Cyberdemon, where it's clear that the maps are going to really pack a punch to back it up. Skillsaw's mapping ability has never shone brighter, and is artfully demonstrated here through many imaginative maps that make use of creative texturing and color choices. Jumping from Native American deserts to cosmic liners to Egyptian landscapes to some incredibly surreal hallucinogenic trips manifest as their own little worlds, each chapter blends both aesthetics and gameplay together into a deadly whirlwind that wows the player with how damn pretty it looks and tops off with a lot of enemies. Like, a lot of enemies. A LOT of enemies. I guess maybe if you really hate dying maybe you won't like this? But dying's great, guys.
Simply put, Ancient Aliens is a great mapset that goes far beyond the typical mapset expectations, dancing about all the while. Listing off bits and pieces of individual features like bulletpoints would keep us here all day. Every year Skillsaw seems to come out with something that yanks the rug out from everyone else, and this year produced probably the grandest accomplishment the community has seen in a long time. The damn maniac.
Nihility: Infinite Teeth
Nihility: Infinite Teeth is an episode which has reverence for the levels that it replaces - episode two of the original Doom - but it's also a mapset that has its own clear ideas about what it wants to be. Years emerged from the void to offer this experiment, a release that shows how much wiggle room there is to expand upon the tried and true Doom formula. It's odd, of course, because the first thing that will confront you when you start your game is... silence. It's almost as though the author rendered the vacuum left in the absence of the expanded Doom II bestiary. The code is still there, though, and Years is all too eager to show you how it has been twisted to fill the empty spaces.
At the risk - no, certainty - of repeating myself, Infinite Teeth establishes an atmosphere that eschews the MIDI metal that Doom is famous for, and even Bobby Prince's more sinister pieces. All you have are areas of ambient noise, from dripping fluids to humming machinery to bleeping computers. It's a bold move, but it pays off in accenting the "infested techbase" theme and how utterly alone you are, creating an aura of dread and an improvised soundtrack composed entirely from the noises the player makes, what the map makes as you explore, and the grunts and groans of your enemies... some of which will not be familiar.
That's the follow-up punch to the tension Years establishes - uncertainty. Infinite Teeth has new monsters, and while many are a shade close to being super-powered recolors, the differences will leave you wondering what other unwelcome twists lie in wait. Muted kamikaze zombies, perhaps? Or the wraith, which stands as a melee monster with enough threat to demand your respect? That's not even accounting for the new textures, some of which hail from the now familiar Alpha resources but work seamlessly as part of the Nihilist UAC base. There are a lot of changes, appropriate for an author who cites S.T.R.A.I.N. in the list of influences, and I can hardly wait to see how these differences manifest in the episodes to come, given how engaging these maps are to explore and expire in.
There are Doom collabs, and then there are maps that someone else finishes because the original author couldn't be arsed to complete it themselves. I've seen a lot of the latter, I think, and less of the former. Mutiny fully intended to be a product of mutual collaboration, inspired no doubt from project organizer 40oz's own experience with UAC Ultra, but it ended up pulling from both categories. That's cool, though; it's just another detail cribbed (if unintentionally) from cyberpunk classic S.T.R.A.I.N., cited along a list of influences that also includes Hacx, Dystopia 3, and the less techno-industrial-minded Perdition's Gate.
40oz and company create a great first impression with the ruined cityscape in the first level and soldier on through rusting, rancid machinery; the vast, earthly holdings of the UAC; the remnants of New Orleans; and the infernally infected ranges of cyberspace. The huge environments create a sense of adventure; in particular, I think of that early run of city levels - Warzone, Slums, and Faceless Corporation - as really nailing down the character of Mutiny's metropolis, whether it's the vast, urban decay, or the idea of the UAC brazenly tucking their facilities into the heart of the futuristic dystopia . The decision to keep the mapset at a tight sixteen levels removes what might be one of the largest potential stumbling blocks encountered when playing a megaWAD: the sheer scope of the journey you have before you.
I also find Mutiny's tag team mapping to be an overall success, regardless of how torturous the process may have been for some of the groupings (judging by the handful of levels with the touch of a third hand, either Vail's or dt_'s). Doom authors seem to have such distinct styles and appear to exercise the authoritarian extension of their authorship that crossovers seem if not rare then relatively uncommon. The output of Mutiny is so vibrant, the unions so whole that I can hardly tell where one leaves off and the other begins, and the novelty of these new artistic fusions is not lost on me. I imagine that's why 40oz created the project as he did, rather than let a bunch of people sign up and do the same things that they've done before with a new gloss of paint.
That's probably the most important reason why Mutiny deserves a Cacoward - 40oz taking the already existing resource of the Doom community and then marshaling, almost tricking it into generating unique, hybrid expressions that avoid running afoul of patchworkism. Hopefully, should his optimism erode his better judgment yet again, we'll see more Mutinies in the future.
Espi Award for Lifetime Achievement
Top Ten - Page 1
- Tech Gone Bad
- Ancient Aliens
- Nihility: Infinite Teeth
Top Ten - Page 2
- Absolutely Killed
- Elf Gets Pissed
Top Ten - Page 3
- Alpha Accident
- Japanese Community Project
- Blade of Agony E1
- Best Gameplay Mod
- Mordeth Award
- Mapper of the Year
Father Ed is known in recent times for his single levels of outstanding quality Valhalla and Putrefier. In 2016 he delivered a Deimosian take that shares its predecessors' knack for enormity and... slopes; a brilliant mess of details and stock textures that looks as though a whirlwind application had torn through the editor to produce them, churning out at random a ransacked approximation of the model world. It is a charming ugliness, for all that we love about The Shores of Hell, and however you think, it does little to detract from Ed's greatest skill as a level designer. The architecture is simply superb, as is the way the level plays for its forty minute runtime: a devious assortment of traps and onslaughts, with a particular affinity shown for teleporting monsters. Purveyors of the classic and newfangled alike will find much to celebrate in this remarkable adventure.
THT stands for Ty Halderman Tribute; Chris Hansen began Threnody shortly after Ty's death in 2015. Refreshingly, only one of these levels contains any direct homages to Ty's works. I say that because Ty was dedicated to giving the Doom community a voice, whether it was as the /idgames archive maintainer or as the leader of TNT. The New Technology's megaWADs featured works from a variety of authors, and where some members of today's Doom community might prefer that some of them had never opened a map editor, their unique voices are preserved in the likes of Evilution and Icarus. Threnody is just as much a collection of different perspectives, and with enough people contributing multiple maps that it has a roughly contiguous character. There's a gem that should not be forgotten for every lukewarm outing.
WHAT ARE WE STILL WAITING FOR?
Does this enormous list suggest the boundless enthusiasm for Doom and its relations, or the hubris that will inevitably lead to the community's downfall? Is this the same boilerplate text as last year's column? The answer to at least one of these questions is "yes."
Action Doom 3
Adventures of Square E2
Back to Saturn X E3
Curse of Blood
Deus Vult II-2
Doom 2 Redux
Doom 2 the Way id Did: The Lost Episodes
Doom64 For Doom II
Doom: The Golden Souls 2
Final Doom the Way id Did
Heretic: Curse of Darkness
Hexen: Curse of the Demon Lord
Kama Sutra 2
New Gothic Movement 2
Orange Is The New STARTAN
Revelations of Doom
Scroll Down For Screenshots
The Shores of ZDoom
Slaughterfest 2013 (bit of a misnomer now, ainít it?)
The Space Pirate
Tarnsman's Projectile Hell
Threshold of Pain 2
TNT 2: Devilution
UAC Ultra 2
Ultimate Doom In Name Only
Ultimate Doom The Way id Did
WolfenDoom: Blade of Agony E2
THE THIN ZEN LINE
After a mere 14 years in development, the project formerly known as D**mRL was recently hit with a lawyerly nastygram from ZeniMax Media, the corporate overlords of Bethesda / id Software / etc. Turns out they were displeased with D**mRL's use of a certain registered trademark, but rechristening the project as "DRL" appears to have soothed the savage beast. On an unrelated topic, is "dworld.com" available?