Espi Award - For lifetime achievement
Chris "@lupinx-Kassman" Kassap
TNT2: Devilution has been one of the most discussed projects of the last two years, and for a good reason: beyond the controversy surrounding the Milky Way's most out-of-service gas station, the megawad contains some truly stellar and memorable levels that will be studied by vanilla scientists worldwide for years to come. But there is one map that seems to have made more of an impression than not just most TNT2 maps, but dare I say, most maps in the last decade. I am talking, of course, about The New Technology by Chris Kassap (aka @lupinx-Kassman). Far from merely being a brilliant conclusion to the megawad, it thoroughly turns the tables on the entire experience, taking you on a mission far into the unknown, deeper into the bowels of Hell than any marine had dared reach before. Much like another famous map from this year, however, it is definitely worth experiencing and discovering its magic for yourself. What better time, then, than to talk about the magician behind it all?
Kassman first started releasing Doom levels in the mid-2000s and soon found his calling in the form of community project contributions. Indeed, these remain his most immediately recognizable works to date. In 2007 alone, he submitted maps to Heretic Treasure Chest, the 32-in-24 multiplayer series, and Community Chest 3. The latter's submission, Disarming the Mechanism, sees the player attempting to stop the forces of Hell from detonating a massive bomb meant to blow up Earth. The threat is not to be taken lightly, as the bomb will in fact explode (and kill the player in the process) should they fail to achieve their objective within 30 minutes. This level is an interesting early look at what would quickly become the trademark Kassman style: large, open-ended maps with specific mission objectives and a penchant for environmental storytelling – a style that is more commonly seen now and one in which Kassman played a crucial role in helping pioneer.
But above all else, the maps are just fun. Boy are they fun. This may seem redundant, but the truth is that few maps in Doom I've ever played evoke the sense of joy and excitement that Kassman's works so consistently achieve. In this regard, he is virtually unparalleled because he succeeds at merging the grandiose with the carefree, making the player invested in the scenarios unfolding before their eyes while also appreciating in full that they are still playing a video game. In Kassworld, the concept of ludo-narrative dissonance simply does not exist. There is no better example of this than the duo of submissions for Community Chest 4, Interstellar Sickness and Shaman's Device. Much has been written about this pair in the past, but suffice to say, they are the earliest maps I can think of to have successfully employed an antagonist that toys with your emotions and makes the fight a personal one – all of this, mind you, without a single ACS script in sight. Not that the pretty lights are any slouch either, of course.
At this point, Kassman was at the height of his popularity, and a few years after CC4, he would be one of the many level designers to provide his talents to ZDCMP2, one of the largest, most complex maps of its era. But the Kass-Xpress had actually only reached its first stops. In 2016 came skillsaw's legendary Ancient Aliens, with its neon-soaked space stations and faster-than-light UFOs. At this point, the Doom community had matured considerably, standards were raised, and many new, exceptional mappers had joined the fray. Kassman remained king among kings with his offering, Culture Shock, which slackened jaws then and slackens them even now. A lost civilization in the clouds, this map ranked #5 in our Top 100 Most Memorable Maps list for good reason, as few others have matched it in scope and execution, with intricately designed locales that feel as lived-in as an alien world can. Incidentally, one of the levels that effectively matches it is Kassman's very next map, Dripstone Wharf, for the REKKR total conversion. Not only does this show Kassman's mastery of the arts of mapping for other Doom engine games, something already hinted at by his Heretic Treasure Chest submission, but this may very well be my favorite map ever made by him, and without a doubt, my favorite map from REKKR. Built within the vanilla limitations,, Dripstone Wharf is not merely a map; it is an entirely new world, meticulously constructed rock by rock and brick by brick, letting you travel through ancient waterfalls, an extensive cave network, an underground castle, and finally to the beautiful riverside city. The attention to detail and variety in the locales is to die for, and I promise I'm not saying this just because I show up in it as a dead body when opening the map in Doom Builder.
Now, we've been talking about some of the best community project contributions in recent memory, but of course that only constitutes part of Kassman's works. His standalone releases like Noob Project and Nebula 95 may appear idiosyncratic, largely consisting of much shorter maps. Reading the text files, however, reveals their true origin, as they are influenced by many other works from the community, and in the case of Nebula 95 specifically, they are aptly described as being "built off personal nostalgia." This is an excellent segue to explain something about Kassman many people might not know — the fact that he is a true Doom scholar. While his first maps date to 2006, he had been around the block for years before this, voraciously devouring the community's output and learning the names of past greats and past not-so-greats. In doing so, he became their apprentice, collecting their maps, analyzing their style, and determining what makes each PWAD a truly unique experience. These flashbacks intermittently came back to life, with his unique style and twists, in his two short-lived standalone series.
Kassman, naturally, is not one to hoard the wealth. Having posted his own PWAD recommendations on the forums, he has also gone the extra mile by uploading certain rare PWADs to the /idgames archive, such as The Adventures of Sub and The Last Revenger. Speaking of /idgames, when it comes to interesting and oft-forgotten PWADs, one of the best ways of tracking down such projects for me has been to read Kassman's own idgames reviews, which sometimes are the only reviews available for a project. Thanks to him I discovered the likes of POST, Underworld, Infected Area, and many more WADs from the 90s and 2000s. Last year, I asked on the Doomworld forums for help in identifying a map I had played long ago, but despite the bottomless knowledge of the WAD archaeologists operating in such threads (and we've seen what kind of amazing work they do this year), this one slipped under the cracks. Knowing his reputation as a living Doom encyclopedia, I decided to message Kassman and ask him about the WAD, which he immediately and correctly identified as Infernal War by Doomaniac, a now largely forgotten Brazilian mapper. Yet another way Kassman has allowed me and others to re-experience old PWADs is via multiplayer sessions. The sporadic and aptly named "Kass Klassix" servers have been hosted on and off for many years. I first joined the man himself and fellow Kass disciples Playe and Aquasa during a server hosting Pazuzu, an excellent 1996 map from a level designer who would later work on Unreal. As time went on, we played more and more cult classics from back in the day, including Garrulismo, Toms Road, Dark Tartarus, and many, many others. With Kass' lively personality, a whole crew to play, and varied PWADs each time, such sessions always brought a smile to my face at a time when I was undergoing a difficult period in my life, and I still look back on these sessions fondly as some of the most fun Doom multiplayer I've ever done. If you don't believe me, check out the best-barred door ever made in Doom.
After one of those multiplayer sessions, Kassman had hinted to me that he was hard at work on his TNT2: Devilution submission, a map which, he hoped, would bring something new to the table. And so this has brought us back full circle to where we are today, as Kassman continues to write Doom history much the way he did a decade prior, growing in skill and imagination just as the community itself grows in size and ability. Kassman is an outstanding mapper, a Doom encyclopedist, a great friend, and a veritable auteur who will doubtless continue to impress the community and set new standards for as long as the juices of mapping are flowing in his veins. Syringes not included.