Top Ten - Page 3
"It's like Ribbiks got drunk and banged Jade Earth"
– Octavarium, March 2nd
Good call! This meticulous green nightmare seems in many ways a love letter to that terrible duo, whose penchant for bloodshed in buxom environments has left the whole of Doomworld woozy. Hell, I feel weak at the knees just looking at this thing. From top to bottom it's an absolute stunner; a bashed-in base of green trim and pipes set deep into a valley of black rock and poison, and other bits of rogue technology (usually with revenants on top). Also, did I mention it's green? Not a completely unfamiliar theme, for all that, but scarcely has it looked this good... or played this well.
Miasma is great for many of the same reasons as Ribbiks's Swim With The Whales, but not for lack of distinction: the balance between smaller, more busying encounters and memorable set pieces is simply a delicate one that's hard to pull off without upsetting the pacing or sense of anticipation, especially when the level is so open-ended. That's the most striking thing about the way Miasma plays, and what really sets it apart from its immediate inspiration (the other being Community Chest 2's mythic Mucus Flow by B.P.R.D.): individual components are precisely choreographed, yes, but to progress you'll need to pick a route at the expense of half the level. Reaching the finish on the first go 'round you'll likely have a kill percentage somewhere in the fifties. A conveniently placed teleporter will take you back to the vanquished battlements to prompt a second tour of the nightmare and a fresh string of disasters. Perhaps you had missed the silver key, this time? One of the skull key variants? If the imposing difficulty doesn't delay you sufficiently to provide a sense of accomplishment, then the sheer amount of content in the level will. And all of it's green. Did I mention that yet?
That tourniquet has stepped up and delivered something so brilliant after just two years in the community blows me away. It's not the work of some enamoured fan boy, or a restructuring of a modern classic for ease of recognition. There is a uniqueness to it that spurns the claim of imitation and proves that, once released, an idea belongs more with the outside world than its legendary founders alone. We've already seen as much in the wake of Erik Alm's Scythe series. What do we suppose might happen here?
Alpha Accident: Terra Nova
If I knew Wraith for anything, it was as the dude who made Wonderful Doom, which isn't titled as a statement of the quality of his mapping as much as for an affirmation of Doom--that Doom is wonderful. But that's a megaWAD of maps that barely deviate from the original levels. Alpha Accident's first episode, Terra Nova, is quite a different creature. Nihility used the leftover Doom II DeHackEd frames to create an expanded cast of terrifying foes. Wraith reincarnates this dead code as well, but only adds three monsters--a sentry gun, mobile drones with organic brains, and the boss--and uses the rest of the frames to add more interactive objects. Barrels devoid of toxic goo can serve as temporary cover, soaking up enemy attacks, and storage crates can contain a variety of pickups from ammo to armor. There are two different kinds of destructible pillars, one of which can only be damaged with splash damage, and both of which usually lead to some kind of secret.
The thing that surprised me was how intricate and large these levels became when the author was unbound by his devotion to the IWADs, leading to a run bordering on the legendary in the last three levels as you battle through an enormous storage facility complete with outdoor crate yard, a space frontier cityscape, and the underground terraformer facility that services Mars, which might explain why the planet is no longer so red. The rest is slightly more typical techbase with a unique flair given Wraith's edits of Alpha resources, but with a sort of techno-industrial-nightmare feeling of research-driven expansion, as if vast facilities were suddenly supplanted and mothballed once something more up-to-date was built on the other side of the colony.
Where some projects tease out the horror aspects of Doom, Alpha Accident takes the quasi-realist trappings to a different extreme by creating labyrinthine layouts that mirror the nightmarish working environments of the original Doom's UAC personnel while keeping that elusive sense of purpose. The switch and sector machinery isn't quite up to the notoriety of Eternal Doom, but it definitely enhances the feeling that you're traveling in some scientific dystopia with little concern for the human element; Doom à la Brazil, perhaps? It's an identity I can get behind, particularly when I'm using it for cover against those flying hitscanner robots.
Terra Nova is a joy to explore with a variety of environments and plenty of cannon fodder to ease you in before all the drones and Cyberdemons. Before you know it, you'll be battling monster after monster in the octagon, the author's foot pressing harder and harder on your throat. With so many wild Doom episodes, it's tough for the classically-minded - like Jan Van Der Veken's No Sleep For the Dead - to catch a break. Hopefully Wraith continues to wear those mad scientist goggles into the future acts.
Japanese Community Project
The Doom community is quite international, something I discovered for myself when looking at the credits for the Plutonia Revisited Community Project back in 2011. A lot of folks that speak English to some degree tend to congregate on Doomworld, but there are a lot of satellite communities like the Russian and French boards. In 2016, a new community announced themselves at the table: Japanese. I'm reminded again that this is important because it can only be tough to have a national modding community for a nation that has historically treated games on personal computers that aren't virtual novels as... less than novel.
If I had to ascribe any sort of overall character to the Japanese Community, it would be... cheeky, but in a way that celebrates Doom. I mean, how else would you describe Toooooasty's "54-pit", which has a comic created from sectors baked into the very geometry of the level in a way that actually works as part of the environment? Or Kurashiki's "My Fav", featuring a Doom marine conducting a chorus of evil eyes and a pointed questionnaire that asks how you feel about cacodemons? It's not something that dominates the project as a whole, but the fact that it hasn't been excluded from the release says a lot about what's important to them, and it's nice to see people not being so deadly serious with their level design.
The community also came out in force to show that they can make some pretty neat levels that are thematically disjointed. That's explained in the plot as the fabric of reality fraying to the point where a single step can take you across time and space. It's not a true theme, but you can see it realized in Toooooasty's visually busy but stunning "Hazmat Hazama". I already knew something of what to expect from Kurashiki, though I feel that her selections here offer a stronger essence of her character and some, like "Cakravartin's Miscalculation", are just wicked cool. tatsurd-cacocaco acts as the most grounded of the bunch with his more traditional maps, and also worked as the project organizer. And then, there's burabojunior, whose rock-solid compositions form the backbone of the project together with the others.
All of this leads to JPCP having a varied but palpable character, even with the less prolific contributors, enough to make a splash when they cannonballed into the community. Sure, tatsurd-cacocaco has been in the pool longer than most, notably as one of the PRCP authors, but it's great to see some fresh waves. For what it's worth, I hope that the lot of them keep splashing around.
WolfenDoom - Blade of Agony Episode 1
- Daniel "Tormentor667" Gimmer et al
On this, the thirteenth year of these awards, I have awakened from my slumber to ensure greatness is, once again, recognized. My hand-selected 'A' team of Cacoward replacements seriously contemplated snubbing Blade of Agony: Episode 1, arguing it had "dull and uninspiring combat" with an aesthetic "all over the place, mixing models and Wolfenstein 3D sprites." Let me tell you why all of them were wrong.
One of the biggest criticisms of Blade of Agony was the gameplay. Does Blade of Agony have dull combat? Probably?... but that opinion comes from a community that has spent the better part of two decades dissecting the core gameplay of Doom and distilling it into perfect mapsets like BTSX and Ancient Aliens. I'm not ready to claim we've reached "peak Doom", and I believe the community's best work still lies ahead, but when your friend asks, with utmost surprise, "people are still modding Doom?" and wants to see what people are creating, you ultimately have to show them projects like Blade of Agony.
Right from the start it's clear; this isn't Doom, and that's not a bad thing. Blade of Agony's appeal is to modern gamers who enjoy scripted, story-driven, cinematic adventures. Call of Duty meets Doom. Like most modern games, each level is a set piece designed to show off a specific theme while a base of operations acts as a hub between each mission. You'll fight Nazis in a Byzantine desert city, on the streets of Paris, and even the forested French countryside is fully realized. You'll spend hours wandering the central hub and listening to the jukebox, finding hidden crates in each mission, discovering secret files that unlock an additional level, and just absorbing the beautifully rendered maps and models.
Blade of Agony might not be your style of gameplay, but it's a disservice to say it isn't one of the most significant releases this year. From the opening cinematic through each scripted event until your final Indiana Jones-themed serial encounter, you'll be inundated with an attention to detail most projects never receive. Every line of dialog is spoken, every location dripping with charm, and there are so many custom resources you'll never see them all. Blade of Agony: Episode 1 is a real work of art that everyone needs to experience.
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 THREEQUEL
Sverre Andre Kvernmo
Echelon is another "same old story" Doom II megaWAD, but with a few twists like going to the moon to release Earth's fleet, and a wife subplot that isn't resolved within the story but which the author assures has a happy ending. Other features include a unique city theme complete with community crowdsourced graffiti and a few new monsters, including a snake-like demon called "viper" that shoots gouts of flame. Echelon's original incarnation involved crafting levels that could be 100% completed within the original Doom II's PAR times. As a result, many of these maps will blaze by at the speed of light; you'll probably spend more time in the beginning reading the intermission texts. The penultimate level ("The Elder") is the major exception, feeling like an epic more due to its presence in a fun-sized megaWAD.
Shadow of the Wool Ball
Shadow of the Wool Ball was done as a first-timer project, entirely improvised, without any major planning, and in development for four long years... sounds like a recipe for total project disaster. Yet, despite coming out of nowhere, it sure left an impact. A total conversion taking extremely heavy inspiration from Wolfenstein 3D, Shadow of the Wool Ball boasts three whole episodes of fun and surprisingly interactive levels. Shootable decorations, destroyable walls, and death traps are features rarely seen in modern wads, much less something aping Wolfenstein, but they feature prominently and give the levels a lot of personality despite their simple design. Combine with straightforward weapons and unique enemies to shoot, and you've got a fun romp through a delightfully cartoony world. Well, actually, there's a lot of blood and guns; does that still count as delightfully cartoony...?
MOST PROMISING NEWCOMERS
...And to think it was only a couple of years ago we had to pick one! 2016 has seen a tremendous influx of new talent on all fronts, no doubt in part to the Big New Title; everything from modding to mapping to jeering on the sidelines. Benjogami is an imaginative busy bee who almost found favour in the ceramic masterstroke of his Toilet of the Gods series of levels, an all-senses maddening for players fond of slaughterworks. He has a great eye for landscaping and continues to evolve his style in this year's Mayhem (Juneheim :)) installment, amongst others.
While JPCP introduced a variety of new faces to the community, two especially stand out. Burabojunior was a big lifter of JPCP, working on nine(!) maps, all beautiful and entertaining to go through. Toooooasty contributed "only" four, but all are among the most memorable, gifting us the adorable "What The...Creepy Bone" comic in map08 and the breathtaking beauty of map29. They sculpted almost half of the mapset's roster, but that's not slowed them down. Both of them are still doing more work in the community (Toooooasty's DUMP maps and Burabojunior's Water Spirit), and we're eager to see what's next. Ganbatte, and such.
Impie isn't exactly a newcomer, making his biggest splash with the initial release of Strange Aeons in 2015, but he's shown himself to be a boundless source of imagination when it comes to Doom clones, producing a "remake" of Nerves of Steel, a TC called Project: Einherjar, and the crazy Surreal Killer, not to mention doing the raw work to try to kickstart a community project based on Splatterhouse. I don't know what the future holds, but with Impie there, it's... promising, to say the least.
THE CURE IS DONUTS
Ploink for charity! TheMionicDonut continues to do himself a mischief on the 12th of November each year, rolling out a barrage of 24-hour Doom content on his Twitch channel for children in need. This year's event included sufferings of Perdition's Gate, Icarus: Alien Vanguard, and Zone 300. Please support his initiative by marking the date down in your 2017 calendar and prepping the bank notes. Also, if you plan on watching the show in its entirety (you're mad!), be sure to ignore the Hell out of that British-sounding guy that pops in from time to time: I hear he's secretly a member of the Cacowards writing team and cannot be trusted.