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  • 13_Banner.png?_cb=1670528280

  • 6_cacoward.png?_cb=1544228975Knee-Deep in Knee-Deep in ZDoom@esselfortium

    Doom 2, vanilla-compatible, 13 maps


    Wait, haven’t we done this before? 2007 Scuba Steve was right—Knee Deep in ZDoom was one of the best wads of that year, but it’s also fair to acknowledge that time has not been kind to KDiZD. Frankly, in 2022, it kinda sucks. Players are easily lost in the labyrinthine map layouts, the added ZDoom features feel dated and a lot of the visuals are borderline offensive as a result of a ‘too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen’ approach to design. Despite those failings, some truly remarkable set pieces can be found within the project and players like Esselfortium were quick to ask themselves, “could this project be salvaged by a good artist?


    Actually, Esselfortium posed an even more ridiculous follow-up question, “could this be done in vanilla Doom?” She has done both the original project and myself a favor because this is where I get to save face and atone for one of my most maligned decisions; Knee Deep in Knee Deep in ZDoom is not just a great project and a showcase of one woman’s ability to stretch the creative limits of doom2.exe… it’s better than the original advanced source-port project it set out to lampoon. To truly understand why KDiKDiZD is a masterpiece, let me break my argument into three parts:




    KDiKDiZD outshines the source material. The goal was to replicate as much of the original ZDoom-based project as possible using the constraints of vanilla Doom. This meant changes to the geometry had to be made in order to circumvent visplane limits but, more importantly, entire sections of maps were reworked to improve playability and reduce the frustrations inherent in the original designs. Inspired by Espi’s Suspended in Dusk, Esselfortium also completely retextured every map and removed the garish geometry littering the original release. To coincide with the new map layouts, the bestiary saw numerous changes as well. Unable to replicate the full slate of monsters and their behavior, far more consideration was given to monster types and their attacks so they could be utilized with more precision. Take for example the suicide troopers; while KDiZD originally had rocket troopers who acted like glass cannons, they were primarily known for… killing themselves… well, why not take the concept to its logical conclusion and introduce an enemy variant that could really cause the player harm. KDiKDiZD is proof that great artists can do more with less.  


    KDiKDiZD is a brilliant parody. This project began as a shitpost and became a masterpiece… you can’t acknowledge the brilliance of this project without simultaneously talking about the commitment to lampooning the source material. Framed as a ‘History Channel-style’ retelling of the original events, KDiKDiZD goes to great lengths to build a narrative around the player, an actor, portraying the original doomguy from KDiZD. Every map is littered with Easter-eggs referencing poor design choices from the original maps; a misaligned monitor in a corner is now a uniquely cracked texture, the original maze-like key hunts are now the butt of inter-office email jokes in custom textures, and impossible geometry is disguised as cardboard cutouts. From beginning to end, KDiKDiZD is played straight but never takes itself seriously. 


    KDiKDiZD is a technical marvel. Failure to highlight the ways in which this project straight-up abuses the vanilla doom2.exe would be doing it a disservice. Nearly 30 years of community research went into making this project possible and KDiKDiZD uses every known trick in the book. Here’s just a sample of what Esselfortium was able to accomplish: Mikoveyors, a recently discovered vanilla trick, are used to create scripted events like sideways opening doors: palette hacks have allowed for full-bright color ranges and new monster color combinations: creative midtextures and lighting are constantly utilized as faux sloped geometry: every quirk of the software renderer is harnessed to create some truly breathtaking visuals like fake reflective floors… and we haven’t even discussed the DeHackEd patch. KDiKDiZD has co-opted almost every frame and code pointer available and put them to use by creating invisible actors for scripted events, nearly doubling the bestiary as well as giving the new monsters some never-before-seen features like slow-moving blockmap projectiles that act as a shield. Thirty years of community technical knowledge and third-party tools allowed KDiKDiZD to be created.


    Upon initial release, it was easy to write off Esselfortium’s project as a cute sideshow attraction, but as interest grew, the community started to take notice and fans of the original as well as first-time players began to see something truly special. “How did she do that?” became the topic of discussion across pages of forum posts. Mikolah, of the aforementioned Mikoportal fame, even helped create ZScript code so the vanilla conveyors would work properly in ZDoom-based ports (irony that did not go unnoticed)… KDiKDiZD is something special and we have the mind of Esselfortium to thank for that. I’ll wrap this up by quoting myself from 15 years ago…


    “I stand my ground; Knee Deep in (Knee Deep in) ZDoom is one of the 10 best wads released this year.”


    - @Scuba Steve


    1964591608_10_silvercaco.png?_cb=1638902Shallow World Episode 1 - @Shawny

    Doom 2, Boom-compatible, 11 maps


    After serving as one of the pillars of last year's space-restriction community projects Hellevator and Skulltiverse, Shawny has picked up a trick or two and gotten back to his more adventurous roots in the expansive, nocturnal Shallow World, a wad that drips with shadows and a low-key sort of ingenuity.


    2125207278_13_shallowworld.png?_cb=16705Shallow World's atmosphere had me at hello, in the conspicuously silent, large-scaled intro map with its lonely nighttime warehouse and office complex, where either half felt like a gift to explore after unlocking the exit. Over the episode's length, this somber ambiance is always with you, as is the Resurgence-scaled macrostructure paired with industrious detailing and the light pseudorealism of abandoned work spaces, which shifts between comfy and creepy. 


    But what pleasantly surprised me, what creeps into the experience more and more as you get deeper, is the consistent thoughtfulness behind the action. For such a mood-driven set, Shallow World takes good pains to give every map some sort of gameplay angle; sometimes it's a subtler, more structural one, like the opener's bold choice of making two halves of a 42-monster map optional; sometimes it's a lot more overt, like "The Compactor's" clever series of mastermind battles with sequenced, moving cover. The last two maps, at which point the ruminative pace of the early game has shifted to roiling chaos, are a couple of my favorite open, roaming brawls in recent memory. "Refuelling and Transit Station" made it irresistible to guide around a cybie as a tag-team partner, eventually into setpieces it did not belong in as an infinite rocket launcher at the cost of a lot of extra danger -- which captures just how flexibly and smartly Shallow World plays as a whole.


    - @rd.


    6_cacoward.png?_cb=1544228975The 10x10 Project@lunchlunch

    Doom 2, Boom-compatible, 11 maps


    Restrictions breed creativity - it's an old adage but it checks out (sir).  Traditionally, projects could add a variety of new resources on top of the defaults, but many others have maps constructed from limited options.  Stretching back to 2000 (with the 10 Sectors competition) and possibly further, we've had wads confined to a smaller grid space, set monster counts, limited monster types, certain numbers of linedefs/vertices, even file size as factors.  Mappers need challenges as much as players do and these projects not only put a unique spin on the process, but push authors to make something creative and enjoyable within the rule set.  Rapidly approaching the game's 30th anniversary, it's not surprising that mappers would be drawn to the unusual, which may be why lunchlunch has taken this approach to craft The 10x10 Project, a 12-map set of sophisticated limitations.


    Each map in 10x10 was built using a set of 10 textures and 10 flats, though as with other mapsets of its ilk, some common textures like switches and lights were also permitted for convenience.  As with the Texture Extravaganza community project, the opening room of each map shows the texture/flat set that was used.  Impressively, lunchlunch stretches these resources such that players could easily forget about the limitations.  Bits of the available textures are sectioned off or combined creatively to appear as new ones and flats are deftly mixed together using sector designs.  With each unique set of options, new motifs are explored in each map and the aesthetic never suffers from the repetition of its resources.  It's a testament to its construction that a tour with -nomonsters proved enjoyable, taking in the sights and inspecting each room for new applications of the graphics.
    No monsters, you say?  Nonsense, as lunchlunch has that covered as well with combat calibrated to complement your surroundings.  From my experience, this author favors fights with some bite and 10x10 is no exception.  There's tight incidental skirmishes, tricky combat set piece fights at key moments, claustrophobic or large scale slaughterfests and nasty traps to keep you guessing.  You may also be clued into what to expect before the first shot - map07 "The Zzul Method" serves as a tribute to Killer5's "The Event Horizon", map09's "Abuse Me, Darling" will give you Sunder vibes at the mere sight of the opening room, and the secret map31 "The Anna Dream" will recall sweet memories of that one time reality collapsed around you - we've all been there.  There's enough variety between the fights and sights to give each map a unique identity, presented with professionalism and tongue occasionally tucked in cheek (each map containing secret SS - SSS? - some bouncy music choices and the Cyberdemon's new casualwear).
    Dooming for as long as I have, witnessing so much activity and love for the game in this modern age is nothing short of encouraging, but it is especially fascinating and heartening to see just how many challenges players and mappers alike are willing to create - and overcome - in their push to redefine Doom for the coming age. 10x10 serves as a perfect exemplar to that endeavor.


    - @Vile


    1964591608_10_silvercaco.png?_cb=1638902Declared New Apocalypse - @Kan3

    Doom 2, GZDoom, 15 maps


    Once again imprisoned by demonic agents, our local Doomguy has to fight his way out of prison, the sewers and the local tech base in order to finally return home. Little does he know that during his incarceration, the end times have begun and the world he once knew is no more.

    The ground has corroded, the air is putrid and the lambda base is void of all life. The winds of the cemeteries are howling. It is just you, and the hordes of hell.


    1941825188_13_declarednewapocalypse.jpg?Declared New Apocalypse is Kan3's first project, but don't let this fact put you off from this otherworldly mapset, as the author has clearly mastered the class of environmental storytelling before approaching the editor. Similar to elend's Hurt, this project utilizes the vanilla Doom 2 texture set to the maximum, backed up by UDMF features as far as the eye can see. Extremely efficient use of sector lighting, darkness-clad and broken versions of locations that the player has visited in earlier maps, accompanied by some top notch music track selections – all intertwine together to give each map a strong sense of place.


    Throughout this incredible journey, you will collect relics that contain lore for monsters never before seen, blasting through both old and new enemies with your updated arsenal, featuring stronger versions of familiar weapons, supplemented by a couple of old friends returning from the early days of Skulltag - namely, the railgun and the grenade launcher - as well as four brand new and deadly weapons you will have to take from the cold dead hands of the very Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – this mapset's unique new bosses.

    The bell tolls for you, dear reader. End the End Times, and send the Horsemen riding back to the Hell hole they spawned from.


    Declared New Apocalypse is a true marvel, and we eagerly wait to see what else Kan3 has in store for us in the future.


    - @Terminus



    Doom 2, Boom-compatible, 6 maps


    With Overboard, Mouldy has come back with a bang, and when I say that I'm only partly referring to the explosive poop gag in the third map. 


    There's a risk inherent in being a long-anticipated follow-up to a classic, that of having to live under its shadow. If you squint from really far away, Overboard sort of looks like just a small package of what made Going Down special, down to a structure implied by the mode of transportation between levels: a hell-ambulatory elevator there, a fuel-guzzling motor boat here. 


    But Overboard is truly more defined by the ways it deviates from its predecessor: such as its goofy, sunny vibe rather than anything with a surprising amount of existential horror and the macabre behind its comic tone; and its generally undemanding nature, rather than what was for some players a taxing megawad-long experience. Mouldy's added more moves to his comedic arsenal, including silly comic gags that play out like in-world cutscenes, some featuring "dialogue."




    This amounts to easily the most delightful wad of 2022. A lot of boundary-pushing works are such because they strain the capabilities of the engine -- the question they draw out is, "How do you do that in Doom?" But Overboard instead pushes imaginative boundaries, constantly cooks up ideas and scenarios it feels surprising anyone ever thought to implement in the game, like the skeleton crew that rolls up to ambush you on its own boat. It feels routine, like the experience swims on an effervescent surf of ingenuity and humor.  


    There's a type of newcomer level designer who gets intimidated by architecturally dazzling levels and thinks "I can't do that -- I can't match up and no one will like my stuff." Point them to this wad. As a static construct, it looks good and picturesque and all, but where it truly excels is in the creativity, the skits and tricks that the simple constructs are used to depict. The visuals are cozy and understated, the layouts tightly scaled, with spaces existing only as needed to bring clever ideas to life. So, yes, you can make a Myhouse.wad (or Myboat.wad) and have it end up top-shelf. This game is not a monolith -- countless modes of design exist.  


    Far from the cleverness being just for presentation, it underpins Overboard's manic gameplay. A simple, easily described example is one setup in "Depth Charge's" submarine hull: you're holding off a funnel of enemies ahead of you, while a dangerous arachnotron turret at the back threatens to hose you down. Taking out the spider is the obvious play, but doing so sets the next wave in motion, a troop of imps springing out from lockers nearby…along with a second spider turret. It doesn't make you regret your choice, but it prevents it from being a total freebie. This type of anticipatory design, ordinarily rare, is common in Overboard, and transmits a feeling of author agency deep into even the most hectic bedlam. Just about every choice you make, deliberately or unwittingly, has pros and cons but the cons are not designed to punish you severely, but rather to overwhelm you with the enjoyable madness. It all culminates in a closing map, "Seaside Siege," which is an open gibs-and-barrels beachside brawl that is a contender for one of the most purely fun maps this year, supercharged with satisfying moments, and larger in scale than anything in Going Down.


    Wait, I said "culminates"? After the epilogue, there's a six-level bonus mode that No Chance-ifies the original maps, upping the monster count and shifting it into absurdity, with extra ridiculous archviles and cyberdemons. The second loop is designed to play off of foreknowledge of the terrain, trap locations, and secrets uncovered the first time around. It's a surprisingly simple concept but one I hope a few more sets explore if it suits their tone. 


    Anyway, I have to run -- there's an archvile fucking around with my boat.


    - @rd.


    1964591608_10_silvercaco.png?_cb=1638902Dance on the Water - @El Inferno@Kinetic & @David Asaad

    Doom 2, Boom-compatible, 10 maps


    Ready to cut a rug? Don't be so sure. Dance on the Water is an exceptionally difficult and uncompromisingly niche mapset. Arranged as a series of disconnected vignettes or chapters, each of the seven main maps features a unique setting and distinct gameplay theme, which are often as mechanically inventive as they are physically demanding.


    1316855970_13_danceonthewater.jpg?_cb=16The titular map takes place on a web of glowing superstructures rising from a lake of pitch illumined by a burning dawn, and requires the player to tango with an oppressive monster mélange in an environment with very limited footing and even less solid cover. Later proceedings involve a frantic flight across a broken blood-red hellscape from a literal army of skeletons determined to trousle a Charleston over your battered corpse, a somber waltz of destruction in an otherworldly sanctum of the seas, and a meticulous foxtrot along the treacherous precipices of a wraith-haunted mountain face floating in golden aether, among others. An additional trio of bonus maps not accessible through normal means plumb even deeper and deadlier depths, including the apocryphal "No Shot", a gleefully sinister tribute to another legendary map of the hardcore niche, and easily one of the most extreme pieces of map design this year.

    Yet, there is a quieter and more reflective side here, too. Extended periods of relaxed platforming and traversal stand in stark contraposition to the set's fever-pitched dances of death, affording time to meditate and drink in the stately ambience of the environments, which are imaginatively realized from the ever-versatile OTEX resource. Music selections skew unconventional for the challenge genre, favoring mellifluous rock and meandering prog pieces. Nowhere is the poignant tonal contrast which defines the work more complex and more complete than in its crown jewel, "Watershed", a five-to-six hour odyssey of unforgettable encounters across a flooded realm of oddly uplifting bleakness.


    The marriage of unapologetically challenging gameplay and dramatic, visually scintillating presentation is nothing new to the Doom scene. It's a rare thing, though, to find an experience of such dueling extremes of mood and content as affecting as Dance on the Water, which proffers a textural contrast between unrelenting brutality and quiet contemplation which is truly as elegant as the name.


    - @Demon of the Well

  • 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



    Intergalactic Xenology, originally released episodically, has been completed as a full 15-map set, featuring five additional levels that cement the set's evolution and represent some of its best maps yet. In 2020, Dreadopp and Lord_Z released part one as a streamlined paean to modern Doom: coffee break run 'n' gun in aquariums and caverns and astral temples befitting of Ancient Aliens's resource pack. The second episode kicked off a enigmatic shift towards metaphysical ideas and spacetime fuckery -- the gem being Symbiotic Infestation, which had the brilliant idea of shrinking you and sending you into the guts of a cacodemon, all rendered with in-universe narrative storytelling. This year's third episode, "Future Chains," is five more maps that blend the best of both (or rather all of IX's diverse) worlds, pairing yet more enigmatic concepts and prismatic settings -- my favorite being "Gravity's Sprint's" striking suspended rocky landscape and trippy weightlessness tricks -- with some of Xenology's most exciting action yet. Y'all out there better use more AA-tex or I'm coming to your house in a UFO and blaring that awful Pearl Jam MIDI over it 24/7. Here's to you, Dreadopp and Lord_Z.  


    - @rd.