Doom 2, Zandronum/ZDaemon, 33 maps
Much like the other awarded team, YEDS is a repeat offender in this section. In fact, both eclipse even the likes of skillsaw and Eternal for most Cacowards in history. Unlike MXU though, it takes a lot of stars aligning for 32in24 to hit a homerun. This year, YEDS's leader @Shaikoten made sure there would be little doubt.
32in24 is a traditional mapping session in which the good people of Doomworld get a poorly pre-announced 24-hour limit to hand in maps on a given topic, and they go to town to hopefully create at least 32 maps to fill a megawad. Then the layouts are examined and collaboratively improved via expert feedback and playtest sessions over the next week or two. Then the result is presented to the public, and everyone fears but expects the crickets of disappointment.
In a year of plot twists for MP, 32in24 led the way. The session was more or less commissioned by Multiplayer Doom Federation's leader @HumanBones and his desire to revive, hold on to your chairs, 3-way CTF. In past decades disregarded as a gimmick game mode, it was given a test run by the MDF, and the results were in: the mode is competitively viable, but it needs better maps than the crap available so far. And since the only bolted-down rule was 3-fold symmetry, who else could provide surprisingly inventive genius than the unwashed hordes of Doomworld?
After years of indifference to his own child project, Shaikoten made sure this time the production pipeline was prepared for the insanely short development process and mappers were treated like royalty. 32in24 was just the third project to be given access to @ukiro's beautiful OTEX texture pack, and additional texture variants for team colour symmetry were created on the fly. Testing sessions for feedback were planned weeks in advance. There was a design document and a strict timetable.
The results were amazing. Traditional participants like Mechadon, Xaser or Marcaek provided expected highlights, but even relative newcomers like DJV or worst contributed maps that by now have already been played in MDF's tournaments with plenty of success. In a casual CTF session, the wad is confidently playable into its first 20-25 maps, which is a success rate unseen since at least 32in24-13, or perhaps ever.
It is truly exciting that the project managed to beat back the insinuations that 3-way CTF was "not a real mode," and it was fascinating to watch mappers wrestle successfully with the demanding task of 3-fold symmetry. It was also amazing to see teams win by a hair's breadth in a dedicated tournament. Live long and prosper!
Doom 2, Zandronum, 15 maps
Guess who's back? The Mechanix Union led by @Decay, MP Doom's Eminem if Eminem was still relevant, returned in full strength after a lull year with perhaps their most impressive offering yet.
NeonDM presents fifteen meticulously detailed and balanced deathmatch maps for Zandronum that take liberties with its advanced 3D floors and hardware graphics support. There's a major twist this time, however. MXU joined forces with @Dragonfly, the mad mapping genius behind Skulldash and Eviternity! And that's not even the twist I wanted to bring up first! What sets this project truly apart is that every map has different item placement for SIX difficulty levels representing support for different game modes. If we apply Sigil maths, that brings us to a 90-map ultramegawad, right?
As usual with MXU, the maps were primarily designed around the Eon Weapons mod, the current defacto go-to standard of Doomified Quake-like arsenal. Predictably, another skill targets vanilla weapons, but the ride gets wild from this point on. I will graciously ignore the gimmick all-BFG placement and move to two very exciting options: items for Death Foretold and Quake Champions: Doom Edition. The comets of yesteryear definitely deserve some mapping love, and as far as I know, the latter is already in use by the mod's dedicated community. The last skill, best suited for duels, is basically the vanilla placement again, but this time with an invisibility sphere plopped in as a central power item. Once, I coined this the predator mode, MXU went with "Neon Hunter." The most maligned powerup in Doom creates a shocking imbalance of control, and whoever currently holds it dominates the map mercilessly, forcing the opponent to hide in mud and wait for a chance to turn the tables.
The dev team made sure both the gameplay and artistic side are well represented. Verticality and room-over-room design are front and center again. Tweaking and playtesting was going on for months and the maps are very varied, so players are unlikely to get fatigued by sameiness à la Greenwar. Decay, @Razgriz, @killerkouhai, Dragonfly and the rest of the team also created the prettiest, sparkliest mapset of their stable yet, often inspired by @esselfortium's "Blade Runner but tidied up" SpaceDM9 NeoTokyo-style. You know, aesthetics.
This year's different in other aspects as well. Usually I try to predict success for projects, but NeonDM has already made it into tournament rotations and casual play sessions. There is little to fear about its future. And I could get through a Cacoward article for MXU without joking about jokes made the last time.