Top Ten - Page 2
Also known as the WAD most favoured by John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton.*
Let's talk about gimmicks. The word, the myth, the fallacy. An unsympathetic person might look at the community and see a word that's used by unenlightened critics to dismiss all kinds of novelty in level design. Creations of substance that are framed by dangerous ideas? Why, that's a gimmickin'! Your map is a noble attempt that is so easily summarised for its reliance on these strange new things...
Perhaps this points to a truth about Doomworld's obsession with terminology, and it may even be correct in its interpreting a cynical "gimmick" (patently, desperately correct)... but can we argue that it's wrong to use the word? Gimmicks require that there be some sort of familiarity to begin with, and we've all played Doom long enough to identify the sorts of paradigms against which new ideas stand out. Maybe we can carry out this reckless misuse in good spirit.
Some of the ideas in Ryathaen's Ultimate episode will be familiar to the player, like M7's Pain Maze: no description needed. Others are unique for how they change the rules of the playing field or make demands of the player, sometimes to such an extent that they cannot be ignored when the music kicks in. In Hold the Hots the player has to avoid standing on brightly lit rocks that are cindered by the glow of nearby REDWALL1 reactors, a gimmick(!) that took me as far back as Alberto Barsella's Wasteland series for comparison. Similarly with M6's Don't Go Into The Light, which triggers all sorts of interesting scenarios. The number of ways in which these gimmicks shape the experience is what's really impressive here, and at least some of them will fall into favour with whomever cares to beat them. My personal favourite is the finale in M8, which is for technophiles only: a desperate attempt to activate tag 666 before the baying hordes of demons are sent spilling into the arena.
Far from being just a collection of disconnected ideas, Absolutely Killed is a complete experience. There's great synergy between the levels. A couple of them, like M5's Battery Park, are normal enough that the whole feels more like classic Doom than many of the WADs that purport to be, bouncing back and forth between fun new tricks and unadulterated action. Indeed, it may also be said that while all gimmicks tend to innovate, Absolute gimmicks innovate absolutely.
Elf Gets Pissed
Like its sister peculiars HeXen and Strife, Heretic is a game that survives mostly by the grace of its cooler predecessor. To some it's not even a game but a total conversion that has staked its claim to relevance in the grounds of history, an understandable sentiment given the backdrop of the 2010s modding rollout, though also ignorant: Heretic has been working up some depth over the last decade or so. It has drafted slowly from the community expertise names like Lutz, TheCupboard, Worst-vd-Plas, kristus, and now Rottking, who have all decided to pay more than just a passing interest to the prospect. Piece by piece, Heretic is starting to reveal more of what it could be, if were allowed to grow. Upon the slopes of Doom? Yes – but with life of its own!
Curse of D'Sparil explored a Heretic that was sprawling with monsters, and in the process found some interesting things about the way the world operated on that scale. What might an angry Elf tell us? Rottking's episode takes things in a very different direction with a menagerie of smart and daring ideas – some of them entire maps – that puts one in mind of Doom 2's more Sandy outings. It works hard to take advantage of Heretic's most entertaining moments without too much care given to detail (it looks good!), so it's all very good fun, and you can tell Rottking had even more fun making it. From the word go you are beset by outrageous offerings. Mummy Roaster pits you and a tomed phoenix rod against a horde of golems – the first piece of the set; Minotaur Spitroast sees the player become more "intimate" with the game's bovine antagonist. The whole plays bigger, bawdier, and with more freedom than anything previously seen for Heretic, with the possible exception of History of Fruit. It is unapologetically barefaced in its methods, and exactly the punch up the guts the game needed.
Elf Gets Pissed is one of the few earnest attempts to let loose with the game and help realise its potential, but that doesn't preclude it from the usual Cacoward considerations. It's a tremendous work by one of the community's finest veterans despite the narrative, and you owe it to yourself to don the cloak and crossbow, folks. Just don't get too Pissed when you figure out what you've been missing!
In a sense, Comatose may be the weirdest, least Doom-like project on the list this year. Sure, it's got standard Doom weapons and monsters, it targets vanilla limit-removing ports, so all of the classic game mechanisms remain the same, but it's also categorically different from most of the community production in core conceptual and a few more tangible aspects as well.
Lainos, the author, is Russian. Over the last decade or so, Russians have developed a specific school of mapping that accentuates limited realism in structural design. Pardon the snobby wording. It practically goes in the opposite direction of the prevailing trend that favours abstract, gameplay-oriented layouts of the Plutonias or Speeds of Doom, and goes far beyond even the parodic reality of Kama Sutras. If the map's supposed to be a dock, a fortress, or a military techbase, it will look the part even under the Doom engine's strict limits no matter the costs - which may or may not include sacrificing interesting monster placement, fun, and potentially the mapper's sanity. Well, Lainos is the most Russian mapper and Comatose is the most Russian map ever.
It is a single map of such gargantuan proportions and obsessive detail that it maxes out the linedef limit and exceeds the sidedef one, sending (GZ)DoomBuilder into a frenzy of panicked noises when loading it. It brings ZDoom and Eternity to crawl even on decent rigs, limiting the port of choice to prboom-plus, OpenGL renderers, or Retro. Lainos presents a stunningly impressive derelict town on a river somewhere in the wilderness, a deeply moody and somber setting under a heavily overcast sky. It's full of rather grim-looking, austere, utilitarian architecture of the old worker class brick house sort, which gives it a sense of beauty even in a state of disrepair. There's a lovely park in the middle of the city, a section with garage houses that used to be so common in the Eastern Bloc, a train station, a few abandoned industrial complexes, and several bridges across the river, including a railroad one that leads to an entire small village that's not used for gameplay at all, turning a fully detailed third of the map into a distant decoration! And there's overgrowth everywhere made of thing grass - there's over 26000 things in the map, most of them being grass!
The map builds a small world, heavily inspired by Silent Hill, and it's actually a deep one. Lainos is very subtle about it and no story is given, but you constantly feel like you've stumbled into a larger conflict. Walls are adorned with gang tags, and the way zombified monsters are grouped it's like the status quo was crashed by a demonic invasion. But so much is left to exploration and interpretation that it'd be wrong to assume too much here. It should also probably be mentioned that all the monsters are specterized. This turns the standard gameplay on its head and some people may utterly hate it. It's not easy to swallow some of the unfairness and cheapness it brings to the table, but it's an integral part of the wonderful, slightly pretentious, but refreshingly different and deeply personal artistic vision Lainos gave us. Consider me a big fan.
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
RUNNERS UP: THE SEQUEL
Pavel 'Pipicz' Tvrzník
Have you inspected the blades on your lawnmower recently? They may need replacing.
Here is a megaWAD that shuns the shaky cavalcade of themes we've had to endure throughout history, opting instead for episodes like autumn, ice and Alien Vendetta; a challenging and beautifully crafted journey with a telling development. It's a relic that started around the time of Plutonia 2, and it displays more than a few hallmarks of the era for all its charms and flaws. At its best, it sees the player strategize his way around tight, interconnected playgrounds at a methodical pace, breaking down the high-tier resistance of a level with smart positioning and massive stocks of ammo. Its more questionable parts are by the same token plodding; sardine cans of monsters filling out entire maps. For such an inspired piece of work, however, it's a problem we'll just have to overlook... or ignore entirely on Hurt Me Plenty.
Get ready for a Lovecraftian journey across time, space, and the Dreamlands. Strange Aeons is a whopping 45-level adventure (five episodes!) through ruined cityscapes in the ether, barren wastelands, the Earth's shadowed past, the Plateau of Leng, and concluding in R'yleh in a cosmic coda. Impie assembles a weird and wild cast of Definitely Not Doom monsters, including some of H.P.'s heavy hitters (the worst by far being those speedy spiders of Leng), and exploits the relatively alien textures from Chasm: The Rift to fabricate its otherworldly sense. While some of the levels themselves may not be too novel, the more imaginative moments include battling through a colossus as it crawls west ("Juggernaut"), battling purple tentacles in a mysterious chateau ("Maniac Mansion"), and a level patterned after the island from Myst.
EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
Doom's art direction has always been incredibly strong. With cool weapons, iconic enemies, and memorable levels, Doom struck a balance between simplicity and beauty. But as with all works of art, a lot of people wanna take their own stab with the paintbrush and tweak things... slightly, see if they can fill in a couple missing holes or see what would happen if you used blue instead of red.
Smooth Doom is a take on filling in a lot of the empty frames of animations for Doom, reducing the jerky animations and making everything...well, smooth. If the unique snap of the weapon animations isn't appealing for you, give it a try.
The Particle Fire Enhancer Mod is an old one, but still a classic. Despite its name, it enhances far more than just fires, also handling electricity and magic and barrels and rockets. Many mods have borrowed from it in many ways, but it still holds a lot of shine.
The Doom 2 Minor Sprite Fixing Project is, as per its name, dedicated to fixing the sprite errors, misplacements, and misalignments in Doom and Doom 2. Despite their strange insistence on using the wrong Lost Soul sprite, it's great for the folks who never liked the Chaingunner vibrating angrily in place as he shoots.