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    6_cacoward.png?_cb=1544228975The Magenta Spire - @thelamp

    Doom 2, MBF-compatible, 16 maps


    Set on a remote listening outpost somewhere in a forgotten backwater of the galaxy, The Magenta Spire takes place concurrently with and essentially functions as a retelling of the story of the original Doom. Far from a classically-minded project, however, the mapset twists and distorts its familiar premise into a maximalized monster of graphic spectacle, complex and adventurous level design, and furious action.


    Of course, with a name like "The Magenta Spire", one reasonably expects a look that's perhaps a mite out of the ordinary. Far from being just a little odd, or, Hastur forbid, simply using a non-standard color scheme, the presentation here has a palpable sense of production design, with a suitably grindhouse-inflected cosmic horror angle that fits a re-imagining of the core Doom scenario like a gore-soaked glove.


    The earlier levels, meant to reflect various utilitarian areas of the UAC outpost, have a blown-out, dilapidated, and curiously-outscaled look immediately reminiscent of the "old-future-tech" stylings of a Nostromo, or perhaps more fittingly, an Event Horizon. Forging deeper towards the source of the invasion, the more or less recognizable trappings of human construction give way with unsettling speed to alien influence, immediately evoking the eeriness of the classic Deimos aesthetic, cranked into visual and thematic overdrive. Bits of monitoring equipment, substations and shattered husks of entire buildings seem to grasp helplessly at the sky like drowning victims being relentlessly subsumed into surging waves of unnameable alien biomass, creating unstable, geometrically eclectic landscapes that make for unorthodox and often epic traversal. Even this is only the tip of the iceberg; as the story progresses, and more and more of the Outside bleeds through to our reality, the progressively unfiltered demonic influence is embodied via bright colors not traditionally conflated with "evil" in the Doom sphere -- magentas, purples, yellows, mauves -- and mushrooming clusters of truly bizarre and uncomfortably organic, cyclopean geometry, for a vision suggestive of The Colour Out of Space melded with some Cronenbergian fever-dream.




    Swarming like vermin through this roadkilled carcass of a world borne of two realities undergoing a gruesome head-on collision are veritable legions of otherworldly creatures, many of which fill familiar roles in the Doom combat loop, with some interesting twists and additions to lend the game its own unique inflection. Winged imps flit and flock in veritable murders to fill out the much-welcome 'flying fodder' role, and nearly every creature on the roster wears a noisome new skin. Some of the mechanical changes are fairly subtle -- many enemies have a 'backpedal' ability to make them a little more adaptive vs. berserker tactics, cyberdemons have a defensive concussive blast to protect them from, I quote, "BFG hugs", etc. -- while others are quite a bit wilder and wackier, with the functionality of pain elementals and lost souls entirely reinvented in a way which seems innocuous at first (oh sweet summer child...), and arch-viles given a random chance to self-resurrect, which adds an element of unpredictability to proceedings which cannot be understated.


    Indeed, "unpredictability" is the watchword with the Spire's pacing and design. Particularly early on, plenty of time and space is afforded for creepy, relatively slow-burn chapters of exploration and skirmishing with the demonic presence, reminiscent of the original Doom's steadily escalating stakes, but as with any true grindhouse production worth its salt, The Magenta Spire knows when to insert a spike of visceral violence, when to escalate the pitch of the action into the red, the slyly measured horror-adjacent action of the early game contrasting with flash ambushes of impressive cheek and fullscale massacres of almost hilarious violence later on. Yet, it's just as confidently willing to de-escalate back to a state of reserved unease for extended periods, or to sidestep from one form of manic action to another entirely different one, making time for tonal and mechanical diversions as varied and unexpected as a rocket-dodging sprint course, or a quiet, vaguely unsettling puzzle map. It's no exaggeration to say that, until you've seen the whole journey through, you cannot possibly predict where it will take you; you'll think you've seen everything when you find yourself allied with a phase-shifting dog who holds the key to a massive arsenal (or perhaps he's a literal ghost; either way, indubitably a very good boy), but baby, you ain't seen nothing yet, as proceedings barrel inevitably towards a conclusion of utterly unhinged, bombastic lunacy that must be seen to be believed.


    An inspired, original, and thoroughly lurid vision of the Doom apocalypse, The Magenta Spire has all the makings of a cult classic.


    - @Demon of the Well


    1964591608_10_silvercaco.png?_cb=1638902Bellatrix: Tales of Orionis - @franckFRAG

    Doom 2, vanilla-compatible, 11 maps


    From the very first step, Bellatrix: Tales of Orionis presents a dreamy, subtly eclectic and slightly fantastical sense of heightened reality with a masterful grasp of level design authentically redolent of the golden age of the first-person shooter, reading as neither obviously old-fashioned, nor readily identifiable as 'modern' in its rhythms and moods.


    13_bellatrix.png?_cb=1670522003Crash-landing on the mysterious planet Orionis, which you find in ruins and overrun by hellish miscreations, you are left to search for arms, ammo and answers as you trek through fallen villages, floodlands, mountains, caves, and even the despoiled carcass of what would seem to be a holiday resort of sorts. Throughout the set, and using only stock textures with a couple of practical additions alongside very aptly chosen music tracks from around the community, franckFRAG has created an unusual and compelling atmosphere contrasting the whimsical and the morbid, blending 'Doomcute' scenes and images that recall a lost sense of idyll and a generally soft, sleepy ambience with spans of darkness, tension, and demonic imagery for a fresh and subtly rural take on the time-honored (and mordantly comfy) "Hell on Earth" theme.

    Built for exploration foremost, the layouts are consistently clever, and occasionally outright brilliant, and even the smallest maps in the set are rife with three-dimensional complexity, tantalizing visual foreshadowing, and accommodation for many possible routes and approaches. The focus is more on atmosphere than on constant action, but a 'walking simulator' this most definitely is not. Throughout, the game maintains a carefully measured pace interweaving a steady stream of traditional run-and-gun action with compelling secret-hunting and satisfyingly involved pathfinding, all of which scales steadily over the playthrough from interesting smallscale gunfights framed in compact and deceptively layered maps, up to devious traps and fullscale ambushes punctuating a series of epic forays at the tail end of the journey, before reaching a sardonically minimalist conclusion with an unusual problem-solving flair.

    While the intricacy of the map design in Bellatrix keeps it from being an entirely casual sort of playthrough, its confidently measured sense of pacing and subtle approach to worldbuilding lend it a unique voice and a certain timeless quality, sure to find a place in the hearts of Doom fans both new and old.


    - @Demon of the Well


    6_cacoward.png?_cb=1544228975JUMPWAD@Grain of Salt & @Ribbiks

    Doom 2, MBF-compatible, 7 maps

    And this year's Cacoward for the most prosaic title goes to...


    But can the issue be as straightforward as what's written on the tin? Can I finally feel like Tony Hawk in Doom? A traditionally controversial topic, jumping is not native to Doom and usually gets mentioned along the lines of hopping up the exit platform in Dead Simple using the enhanced physics of ZDoom. At its vanilla base it requires certain assistance, be it rockets (more of aggressive horizontal pushing), or the inscrutable archvile blast. Mapsets dedicated to jumping started as a niche interest particular to online MP ports. Zdaemon players developed increasingly intricate DeFRaG-style rocket jumping maps requiring skill and precision, whereas the Skulltag/Zandronum community drifted in the direction of Jumpmaze's racetrack-style nimbleness challenges for basic jumping.


    With all that historic knowledge under the belt, this dedicated fan of the genre can now impress on you, dear reader, just how good Jumpwad is. Similar to another notable awardee this year, it recreates many of these advanced concepts in a shockingly well realized, convincing genre demake on a "lesser" engine. Back in 2017, when Grain of Salt first showed off her dehacked idea for a gun producing self-aimed archvile blasts and teased a possible map to go along with it, I expected perhaps a spritual sequel to termrork's Arch-Vile Jump, a vanilla-compatible obstacle course exploring the limits of vile bomb physics. Instead she teamed up with the mad hermit wizard ribbiks and the duo switched over to Boom, and eventually the MBF engine to gain access to features that enabled more creative hackery and a wider repertoire of concepts and tricks.


    The result certainly took its time in the oven, but it's a beautiful set of 7 maps with highly stylized visuals synonymous with ribbiks, and more importantly a joy to fool around and kill time in. The maps are monsterless playgrounds with gems small and large strewn around, locked behind jumps of various difficulty. The player must collect a certain amount of large gems to unlock the exit, a feat of reasonable challenge for anyone familiar with Doom movement and at least basic straferunning. But the real fun begins with trying to collect the gems eluding you. Maybe they're behind a particularly long or precise jump. Or there's a well hidden path, or a timed sequence. Maybe you need a mid-air boost, either from an air-suspended orb, or a vile-blasting evil eye prop, or your own doublejump. Or maybe you need to find numbers hidden around the map, inspect the notation of the map's midi, then insert the sequence in a secret room revealed by the judgment of worthiness from a cartoon bear. Not joking, what the hell was that, ribbiks?




    The detective work needed to figure some puzzles out, the grind when repeatedly failing a demanding jump, it is not for everyone. And some challenges will be too tough or obscure for many. However if you ever enjoyed hanging around in Zdaemon's RJSpace servers or maxing out stars in Super Mario 64, or running up the score in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, then you'll recognize the zen-like process of exploration and practice, and the endorphin release upon getting it right. Be it the THPS-like simple clowning around in the dark-lit cityscape of map02, a variety of pushfloor puzzles in the stylized settings of 03 and 04, or the vile blast shennanigans in the haunted mansion of 06, this mapset can provide hours of fun and discovery. And 07's grand finale is a chapter for itself, an entire eerily beautiful land, intimidatingly large and pervertedly complex, with secrets within bizarre secrets.


    Grain of Salt and ribbiks went above and beyond with a niche concept and made a lovely art piece out of it. Beside the visual beauty there's gameplay assembled by two skilled authors that will make even veterans of rocket jumping and jumpmaze overcome with a familiar sense of belonging. Furthermore it's a technological achievement that requires its own design document to explain all the hackery behind the scenes.


    - @dew


    1964591608_10_silvercaco.png?_cb=1638902Solar Struggle - @ViolentBeetle et al.

    Ultimate Doom, vanilla-compatible, 36 maps


    From the creators of Skulltiverse comes a brand new adventure, a world-hopping sojourn that trades the last outing’s multiversal scope for a gritty, industrial interpretation of our interplanetary future. Spanning four celestial bodies across as many episodes, Solar Struggle is as varied as its predecessor, manifesting a hybrid vigor attributable to its dynamic lineup of authors; a mix of Skulltiverse alumni and fresh talent, representing a range of styles and proclivities from all corners of waddom. 


    1703504029_13_solarstruggle.png?_cb=1670Despite this variety in authorship, the set maintains a distinct narrative throughline throughout that carries the player across the solar system; from a dismal detention facility on distant Titan, to Ceres, the crown jewel of the asteroid belt, to our own Luna and ultimately to the sky-cities of Venus, the source of the extra-dimensional threat. All four settings are distinct and fleshed-out, each featuring its share of Doomcute detailing and representational architecture, ranging in scope from classic office fixtures to decorative spacecraft to a full-blown space elevator.


    This attention to worldbuilding is the set’s greatest strength, allowing each participant a chance at defining their own piece of this gritty future. Techbases, offices, prisons, underground ruins, industrial facilities and other similarly ubiquitous staples of waddom abound, interspersed with wilder ventures – including floating cities, a slickly corporate stock exchange and the afore-referenced space elevator map – all distinct in style but unified in narrative intent.


    Regardless of what this focus on setting may imply, Solar Struggle’s combat is nothing to be snorted at. Here, as in every other domain, a range of approaches manifest, ranging from classic incidental skirmishes to grand set-piece encounters to anarchic freeform brawls to elegant mixtures of the above. This variety in tempo shreds any possibility of tedium, engaging the player at different levels from map to map and making the adventure feel just that little bit more exciting.


    Solar Struggle is almost the platonic ideal of a community project: stylistically diverse, yet unified by consistent threads of narrative and intent; open to all, yet surprisingly consistent in quality. Personally, I cannot wait to see where ViolentBeetle and co take us next, what grand adventures yet await.


    - @Omniarch



    Doom 2, Boom-compatible, 32 maps


    Blockbuster megawads of the past decade have definitely had a type, leaning towards nonstop, frenetic action. Ozonia, being a gorgeous set that doesn't shy away from popular modern aesthetic tropes -- BTSX-like strips and slabs of metal and brick are one of its favorite building blocks -- is already an outlier, then, in its embrace of silence and stillness. 


    Maybe its signature stroke is making these understated moments so stylish and diverse: whether you're peering across remote vistas at all sorts of towers, fortifications, shrines, and runes that float atop the world or lie soaked at the bottom, or you're dashing across catwalks and beams that have a knack for letting you feel nimble; whether you're all by yourself piecing together hints of story in the mysterious messages left behind, or you're swimming in the lush atmosphere of caverns and cloudscapes while grooving to the jazzy OST. 


    If the typical Scythe- or Plutonia-like megawad aspires towards conceptual breadth in its range of encounters, Ozonia's m.o. is exploring all sorts of ways the downbeats, rather than just signifying an absence of action, can have a tangible character, infused with ideas and crafted out of positive design like any combat setpiece. This is on top of exploring many ways the smallest fights can be invigorating and tactically nuanced, A-sides in their own right rather than pacers between the main attractions. 




    Which is not to say it's incapable of exploding into a storm, far from it. The wild moments are exactly the payoff of the calmness -- boisterous battles that strike like forte chords. In the end, my absolute favorite thing about Ozonia is the rhythm and fun value of its combat. It can be violent and treacherous, but with Plutonia's ethos channeled more into prolonged infernos than abrupt explosions. Ozonia's arenas tend to be built out of composite, oblong shapes, often with pockets of damaging floor bordering them. The devotion to irregular terrain and modest numbers of dangerous heavy-hitters gives so many of its battles the dynamic character of a caper -- pushing you around unpredictably, making it hard to run loops, rewarding good reads and improv. 


    And it's during these moments that the jazzy soundtrack gives the action a weightlessness that feels like gliding amid Ozonia's stratosphere-piercing, mist-shrouded monoliths. It's a soundtrack that can be moody, sultry, sinister, nostalgic, and energetic -- full of mellow tracks that mesh well whether they are contrasting intense bursts of action or accompanying calmness. More than any recent wad I think of as a really good vibe, Ozonia weaves how it feels to move around its spaces and scuffle with its monsters into its distinctive mood, and I started noticing how the MIDIs change how I play, change what feels rewarding to do. If modern "player empowerment" lets you powertrip on big stacks of health and ammo, Ozonia lets you trip on spirit and style. Playing it feels like a polyphonic audiovisual-narrative-kinetic-musical experience to a unique degree. So, ultimately, it's cool how much Deadwing managed to pack in while leaving a player so much room to breathe. 


    The text file shout-outs to Scythe, Eviternity, BTSX, Plutonia, and Nicolas Monti's work belie a rich and varied stockpile of personal tropes and moves, the influences working more as spiritual guides than anything, and often subverted. For one thing, it's one of the most richly structured Scythe-likes: a mix of narrative and progression throughline, theme clusters, shared settings, and hubs and interludes. The effect is that the overall structure is captured less by a "part A, part B, part C" scheme and more by a set of attributes that can change independently of one another from level to level -- even how many thousands of feet you are floating in the sky at the time.


    Which all leads to the most pleasantly ironic truth about Ozonia: it's maybe one of the most avowedly "standing on the shoulders of giants" wads in its lineage, but in spite of that, it's one of the most idiosyncratic. 


    - @rd.


    1964591608_10_silvercaco.png?_cb=1638902Altars of Madness - @myolden

    Doom 2, Boom-compatible, 12 maps


    There's a respectable elegance and efficiency to the "bite-sized" mapping format that I'll always find appealing - sleek, streamlined wads that belt out blast-beat style fights in rapid succession, keeping the tempo going with little downtime searching for progression or getting lost finding the way back to locked doors.  And, if these maps also let you shred these sinners in vibrantly adorned metallic venues, so much the better.  With that, we welcome myolden to the stage, a mapper that's certainly left their mark in 2022: cranking out various contributions to community projects like the PUSS series, composing a classic-style 32-map megawad in the span of a few months, and this headliner - the compact yet explosive 12-map set, Altars of Madness.
    13_aom_map03.jpg?_cb=1670522377Despite the name and imposing title screen, AoM's heavy metal references end with the map names, as the musical accompaniment is primarily classic RPGs and platformers - think Crumpets in terms of atmosphere and combat philosophy.  Myolden takes the metal/wood aesthetic and mixes it up through color variance - light panels, torches and skies tend to align, making each map aesthetically striking.  These details are just the backing melodies for the combat, a precise procession of head-banging set pieces with some light secret-hunting to space out the slaughter.  The pacing of the encounters, particularly in a smaller surface area, gives the sense that there's no wasted space or, revisiting the musical nomenclature, it's "all killer, no filler".  While it doesn't redefine the genre (though the "immortal" mancubi on map07 are a fun twist), it takes the formula for riffing on mid-to-high tier demonic threats in tight spaces, hones it to a razor's edge and never lets up until the closing notes.
    For a finely-tuned dose of action and spectacle, gather at these altars for a sacred rite and enlighten these monsters to your ways.


    - @Vile

  • 2022 Cacowards


    Espi Award for Lifetime Achievement

    • Frans P. de Vries


    Top Ten - Page 1

    • The Magenta Spire
    • Jumpwad
    • Ozonia


    Top Ten - Page 2

    • Elementalism: Phase 1
    • Dust Devil
    • Malevolence E1
    • Don't Turn Your Back on the City


    Top Ten - Page 3

    • KDiKDiZD
    • The 10x10 Project
    • Overboard


    Runners Up

    • Bellatrix
    • Solar Struggle
    • Altars of Madness
    • Capybara
    • Pagodia
    • Anomaly Report
    • 2022: A Doom Odyssey
    • Shallow World E1
    • Declared New Apocalypse
    • Dance on the Water


    Special Features

    • Doomkid's Jamal Jones contest
    • Greenian
    • Doom CE
    • Promising Newcomers


    22 More for 2022


    Multiplayer Awards

    • Horde and Hordamex
    • FrantikDM2


    Gameplay Mod Awards

    • Gun Bonsai
    • Voxel Doom


    Other Awards

    • Mordeth Award
      • KDiKDiZD vanilla tech
    • Codeaward
      • Ultimate Doom Builder / DoomTools
      • Doom RPG port
    • Dootaward
      • Ozonia OST
    • Creator of the Year
      • Deadwing



    It has been a while since Alfonzo's Doom Radio has gone off the air, and another podcast has emerged to pick up the mantle: An Evening with Nirvana. Hosted by the mind behind Breathless, Entropy, and Fractured Worlds, the guest list has been a who's who of standout mappers, musicians, and other creators -- not to mention some intriguing hotshot upstarts like Sandy Petersen. Nirvana, who I assume is the cacodemon drinking coffee in the show's background graphic, invites his guests for chill convo under the moonlight. The interviews delve into nuance and subtlety and hit upon subjects you might not have known beforehand you were curious about. All in all, it's good way to pick up tidbits about your favorite creators and their processes, philosophies, and backstories. For example, did you know that a suspicious number of mappers eat babies-- (sorry we'll have to cut this short, I've been informed that I've been fired).


    - @rd.



    While we at Cacoward central (and our knock-off subsidiaries that hand out the Crackowards) produce a lot of DW's yearly critical writing, we also want to read your thought-out substantive content. So in transparent hopes of encouraging more of that, I'll sneak in quick shout-outs of some of my favorite recent forum posts. 


    Woolie Wool's longform reviews of wads like Heartland and Knee-Deep in ZDoom rank among my favorite reviews on Doomworld, blending thoughtful observation, 20+ years of knowledge of the game, and engaging writing. Recently, mapper Scwiba (Absolutely Killed, The UnMaking) shared a heartfelt feature on his favorite six wads of all time, which I really enjoyed reading. Maribo's themed surveys (such as on the void theme and cave levels) are always a treat and spark good discussion; it's a format I hope more people follow suit in doing, on top of exploring similar "mini-critique" formats. And General Roasterock (co-creator of the TNT: Evilution sequel TNT: Threevilution) has recently completed a thorough, high-effort map-by-map deep dive through the entirety of TNT.

    Every year, so much of the discourse is stuff like "this or that should have won an award," or "something something overrated underrated," or "this should have got an A+ not just an A," or "my tier list can beat up your dad's tier list," which…okay. Diving into your favorite works, what makes them special to you, and just generally putting effort into critiques, is where the real fun is at. The monthly Doomworld Megawad Club's regular infusion of new blood is proof that one need not have much experience with pwads to do that in a way that is worth reading and adds value. 


    - @rd.