Over the many years of Cacowards coverage, it has become inevitable that projects occasionally slip through the cracks, not being discovered or played in time for this or that reason. Long-time readers may recall that to partially rectify this, we ran a Top 25 Missed Cacowards feature for Doom's 25th anniversary. The truth is, there is so much material we could potentially cover that it would simply be overwhelming to try to rekindle 30 years (and counting...) of Doom history each cycle, so how about this compromise: here's four mods, all released within the last few years, that we decided to take a look at because, in one way or another, they tie in to this year's mod lineup. This way, we can not only contextualize the WADs even further, but also get to showcase some very cool projects that we -- and perhaps even you! -- have previously missed.
Quest for the Crystal Skulls by Captain Toenail
@Captain Toenail's WADography extends far and deep, and this year he has gifted us Veil of Darkness, an exceptional Hexen partial conversion featuring an immersive world with large levels and plenty of custom content to beef up Hexen's gameplay. But a few years prior, Toenail had first tested the Raven waters by releasing Heretic: Quest for the Crystal Skulls. Corvus sets sail to a mysterious island where a disfigured Heresiarch is attempting to bring back D'Sparil through the power of the eponymous skulls, all of which must be collected in order to confront him and put a stop to this evil plan. The mod features a central hub that acts as a simple level selector, and in general the presentation, while highly detailed and curated, represents a much more oldschool experience than the likes of The Wayfarer or Faithless. As you visit darkened towns, ruined temples and lava grottos, you'll be engaging in non-stop combat with the hundreds of D'Sparil's faithful who haunt these lands, with the secret level even providing a rare slaughter-lite offering for Heretic. Raven fans will find this package well worth a try, even if just as an appetizer for its bigger Hexen cousin.
DIY Community Project led by ViolentBeetle
@ViolentBeetle has proven an exceptional project leader, seen with this year's What Lies Beneath, or with Solar Struggle from the last cycle. But between those two, the DIY community project ends up being no less notable, setting itself apart by focusing on a flat color scheme. The texture set contains nothing but walls of a single colors, and requires the mapper to get creative, in all senses of the word. The participants went all out, crafting landscapes inspired by retro games, 8-bit iterations of real life locales, a vibrant casino, a plethora of Doomcute and so much more. It truly is inspiring to see the unique mapping within such limits, and just how much can be achieved by focusing on things such as sector lights and simple yet bold choices for the various portrayals, rather than cramming as much detail as possible into every corner. DIY is a marvel, an inspiration and an unforgettable experience, and a testament to just how well ViolentBeetle and the rest of his team have been mapping lately.
Caldera of Wretchedness by intacowestrust
This year alone we've taken a look at a few console Doom-adjacent releases, with Dreamblood and Forgotten Chapter, so I think it makes sense to go back and talk about one of the driving forces behind the console resurgence: PsyDoom. This wonderful source port takes the PlayStation version of the game and fully ports it to PC with improved framerates, resolutions and controls, and, perhaps unexpectedly, modding support. Powered by Team GEC's Doom Builder PSX, brand new levels can be created for either the PS1 original or for PsyDoom's "limit removing" enhanced featureset. To showcase all this, PsyDoom creator @intacowetrust released a demonstration map, Caldera Of Wretchedness, which I had initially assumed was a simple demo level to be looked at in editors to see how all the magic is done. Wow. I could not have been more wrong if I tried. Caldera of Wretchedness is a veritable tour-de-force of a map, an OTEX-powered lava canyon interspersed with sinister temples and Hell's tormented legions, ready to turn your every step into a fight for your life. The nerve-wracking atmosphere and sublime colored lighting are complemented by custom music, composed in the engine's original tracker format, and the glorious return of the arch-vile. Caldera of Wretchedness then is not just a fantastic map in its own right, but a phenomenal start to a new mapping format that has all the potential to bloom into something truly special, and I for one cannot wait to see more.
Dissension by Doom-X-Machina
The GZDoom mapping scene has been proceeding at a rapid pace, and we've featured multiple mapsets utilizing the powerful port this year alone. Two of them in particular, Protoslayer and Final Carnage, toyed with somewhat similar ideas as another set that had evaded our detection until recently. I am talking about Dissension, by @Doom-X-Machina, originally released in 2019 and then remastered towards the end of 2021. The mod is a retelling of the horrors at Phobos and beyond, as the titular Project Dissension the UAC has been running causes all Hell to break loose in the entire Mars system. The initial levels set in the crew quarters and warehouses eventually give way to spectacular setpieces as our protagonist flees a space station on a collision course for Mars, causes a giant reactor meltdown, and traverses through all sorts of ruined techbases and underground facilities to discover the truth of the demonic invasion and the mysterious "Experiment 666," which the UAC has locked deep within the Mars complex. With a kickass bespoke soundtrack and 12 levels of carnage, there is much to like and discover in Dissension, and hopefully a new chapter will reveal our protagonist's fate as he drifts towards the Shores of Hell...
OUT OF SUNDER_2009'S WOMB
The mapping scene that followed in the wake of Sunder has reached its 4th or 5th generation, and creators are now taking inspiration from the creators who took inspiration from the creators who took inspiration from Insane_Gazebo and Death-Destiny's work -- along with a lot of people who are working in the stream of it all without directly referencing anything. It has become a subculture in itself, and I felt like doing a quick tour of some of the recent developments I found interesting.
Late last year Meowgi (a speedrunner whose speedrunning accomplishments have been overshadowed by his cat's) led Junk Food, a community project almost exclusively featuring BFG spam maps, which showed how far BFG spam has come along in variety and tactical depth since the time of Scythe 2 and Speed of Doom, thanks to 10+ years of collective wisdom. (And something something speedrunners.)
Then followed a rush of releases, with some examples including 1x1's diverse, often esoteric hardcore maps built around an extreme texture restriction; ICGYA with its love for void and minimalist sheets of color, the hall-of-mirrors effect as a structural texture, and, yes, lesbian symbolism; artist/speedrunner Dashie's emotional moodpiece Dum-Dum Thoughts; Black Diamond, suzerduzer's undersea riff on Swim With the Whales and Sunlust; Junk Food 2, even more gluttonous than the original; Petyan's Firerainbow, which proves you very wrong if you thought FIREBLU was the full extent of stream-destroying eyesores; KeaganDunn and RiviTheWarlock's Stardate 20x7-inspired Violetshift, one of those wads that had me thinking about just how active this niche is; ryiron's Cocktails, which continues in Crumpets' tradition of naming sets of small intense challenge maps after food and drink (bartender I'll have a, um...); Rayzik's teaser of The Pilgrim's Westward Way; and a bunch of releases by raddicted, a new author who reminds me of Darkwave0000 and lunchlunch and who definitely should be on your radar. Birthday wads for speedrunners Starduster, kvothesixstring (which includes the mapset Glidancer), and Brendondle captured how mapping as an act of appreciation can lead to cool, unique results; Kinetic's Starduster map "Intrusive Thoughts" is an especially inspired version of redrock hell, and the kvo birthday wads feature levels themed after speedrunning's glide trick, which is niche even by the standards of this rundown.
Black Diamond, Firerainbow, Axolotl, Violetshift
Going back a bit earlier, there was the D5DA series, containing a lot of work that could be surprisingly imaginative for the development time frame, while still being what you'd expect out of five-minute speedmaps. That series had me thinking about how, if you strip away the usual expectations for design and scope and everything else, and focus on just channeling a bunch of good ideas into a tiny canvas, you can in a few minutes make something that people can enjoy for hours (check out how many demos these wads have gotten). Our Machaward recipient GOODWAD and its movement challenges and outlandish gimmicks and bite-sized scale has a lot of intersection with the D5DA wads and many other works in this tradition, such as Ravendesk's (who made this year's Uroboros and had a banger Sepia map) Four Perfectly Fine Lemons. Recent projects like the Hardfest series (one & two) certainly belong to this sphere, too; and if you liked Dashlet's The Settlements, you should also check out other projects they have been involved with. From recently past years, beyond all the wads featured somewhere in these awards (10x10 Project, Old Still Life, Dance on the Water, Poogers, and many more), lunchlunch's Hopscotch helped players hone their platforming skills, and Meowgi's Practice Hub worked as a base for more general speedrunning skills. And one undersung author has been Xyzzy01 of 2021's Axolotl, who works with a signature brevity, sense of humor, and taste for gameplay gimmicks that is very much his own rather than an offshoot of the currently popular 'niche speedmap' style it might resemble from a distance, making for a good example of how people hit upon good ideas separately. Even past the mid-November end of this cycle, we were getting a rush of intriguing releases, even from first-time mappers, and I expect many of those to feature next year somewhere.
Now with that said, I don't have a point. This was all an excuse to talk about more wads that were a part of this year's story or built up to it some way. Have an ode2GOODWADs.
MOST PROMISING NEWCOMERS
As a reminder, just about every year there's a few relative newcomers who receive gold or silver awards, or a similar level of honor, for their projects. Those creators, like Dashlet, Petyan, and Cacodemon187, aren't featured in this section, because rather than duplicate their honor, we feel it makes more sense to spread the love around a bit more.
Along with the adept architectural craft in Deep Breath's moodily lit undersea bronze techbases, EduardoAndFriends already displays a studied game design sense, backed by well executed intentionality. Early, the diving concept is introduced in the intuitive "rush through a clear linear circuit before the suit wears out" way, which allows the player to get a handle on it before it is complicated by more navigationally taxing stretches or subverted for relaxing ambient stretches lingering around in the calm, blue sea.
JonExMachina is someone who has been dabbling in limit-removing and vanilla works in recent months. Ruined District is an adorable little city map that neatly avoids becoming a massive sprawl. They show a penchant for Doomcute and seem to have a love for shadow-based detailing in some of their other techbase-themed maps.
Ruined District by JonExMachina
At first making a quiet entrance with New Years Eve Slaughter at the tail end of 2022, suzerduzer is a mapper that has been quietly toiling away and refining their craft since that initial micro-slaughter coffee break WAD. Their latest work, Black Diamond, is an adventure that sets the player off in search of the lustrous gem, tumbling their way further and further down into an aquatic void.
On a path of discovery of not just Doom but also his own origins, Mr. Hypnos released Octate, a case study of Dr. Sleep's seminal work. The layout and progression are actually quite interesting, and besides Dr. Sleep, for influences of the likes of Jim Flynn and Sverre Kvernmo slip through during playtime. And with an exotic custom music track specifically made for it, playing Octate is an almost hypnotizing experience, nearly as intriguing as the story that led to its creation.
Treehouseminis has been busy over the past year, contributing several works to the pile of ever-expanding "large than life itself" slaughter WADs. Between Early Mass and B L E A K, slaughter fans are set to crawl their way through dank catacombs stuffed with plenty of skeletons and spooky things, or discover what was hidden away beneath a techbase with its lights long shut off.
B L E A K by Treehouseminis
eater29 came out of nowhere with Mudman: a massive, muddy swamp, made with Boom's friction floors in mind. Recalling Criticality by Scotty, Sunlust's brown slime grottoes, and the early cave levels of Speed of Doom, it was a stunning delivery -- both in the execution of design around the mechanics, and the visual construction of the swamp, the iron-brick ruins, and the temple lying underneath all of the muck. We can't wait to see what the the orange follow-up they've been teasing turns out to be.
Having previously contributed to a number of community projects, RataUnderground has spent the last year or so carving out a niche of simplistic but starkly beautiful solo maps. The mapper excels at getting a lot out of very little, with muted palettes and limited use of color conveying the quality of half-remembered dreams. Memories in particular plays distinctly like the final glimpse at familiar landmarks from someone else’s life -- just before time turns them to dust.
raddicted has been a machine, pumping out a lot of compelling work largely in closed circles (along with a good release after the mid-November cycle deadline), but Cognitive Dissonance, released on the forums, would earn this placement by itself. Taking cues from esoteric work by lunchlunch, yakfak, Ribbiks, dobu gabu maru, and more, it is a cleverly detailed surreal stone city seething with mystery that you come to feel you understand -- before it repeatedly pulls the ground out from under you, both literally and metaphorically.
Cognitive Dissonance by raddicted
IlyaPashchenko hit the scene this October with Warrior, an unabashedly '90s megawad that recaptures the good old feeling of booting up a full adventure with stock textures, no custom automap titles in sight, and Bobby Prince's eternal MIDIs playing in the background, like it's Fragport and World of Deth all over again. Expect a lot of unconventional and interesting setups, perhaps undeservedly tossed aside by most modern mapmakers in our eternal quest for More Polish, with Warrior as a reminder of just how well it can perform. '90s fans, you may just have found your latest muse!
Ravendesk's output over the past couple of years has been prolific and varied, exploring the spectra of platforming, puzzle-making, and slaughter, and even crafting a highly experimental WAD where each level can exit to multiple other levels. His maps often blend gorgeous visuals, abstruse technicality, and a strong personal vision for gameplay -- and he seems willing to focus on speedmaps even as he's capable of impressive ambitious work, which is only ever a good thing. If you play Sepia, you'll run into his "Fools Valley" -- a long, atmospheric 48-enemy platforming map which hints at some promising developments in the platforming genre.
In her most standout works this year, Dee Legit has shown a vested interest in reimagining existing things with her own personal touches. She took the iconic Entryway and gave it a flames and marble makeover, retrofitted The Chasm into a massive stalactite-filled mining cavern, and took The Stanley Parable out of the Source engine and straight into Doom.
STANLEY by Dee Legit
Finally, after opening his Third Eye and deciding to try his hand at making Doom maps early this year, ryiron later decided to follow up on that momentum later in the summer with a curious platter of drinks. Cocktails, inspired by the likes of Sunlust and Stardate 20X6 and themed after a few alcoholic drinks of choice, delivers a short episode's worth of buzzed fun -- though its bite might best be tackled with a sober mind.
DOOM 64 RELOADED
After years of hard work, Doom 64 Reloaded, also known as Doom 64 Ascension, is now essentially feature-complete. What began as a detailed reimagining of Doom 64’s final map, The Absolution, has grown to become the largest ever collection of maps for the oft-neglected entry in the Doom series.
AtomicFrog's efforts seek to answer one question: what could Doom 64 have possibly looked like if Midway had not been so restrained by the memory limitations of the Nintendo console? The reply comes in the form of a re-tooling, re-imagining and re-telling of the original campaign with more enhancements than you can shake your Unmaker at. Virtually every facet of the original has been augmented in one form or another, from updated graphics and visual effects to entirely new music, story elements, and whole maps.
Thanks to the release of the official remaster, the Doom 64 mapping community has expanded considerably in recent years, not to mention the injection of new blood helping crack the code on tons of new visual tricks and engine exploits. AtomicFrog, though, was here way before Doom 64 was cool, having released maps for 64 EX all the way back in 2012. So Ascension is able to take advantage of every engine trick we’ve come up with, plus a decade’s worth of Atomic’s personal mapping experience. In addition to the laudable level of detail and masterful use of the game’s color lighting system, the maps are rife with impossibly 3D-looking objects, environmental fog effects, readable books and notes, translucent textures, and carefully-choreographed new cutscenes. All of this is possible in the original engine, and indeed the point of Reloaded is to demonstrate what Doom 64 is capable of out of the box.
Beyond the visual enhancements and impressive technical skill on display, new life is breathed into the Midway maps through changes that range from the subtle to the dramatic. Although the layouts and progression don’t stray far from their original incarnations, you’ll always be able to spot something new, whether it's a parked tank in a workshop in Staging Area or the surface of Mars visible in the distance in The Terraformer. You'll also come across plenty of added areas that complement the existing locales perfectly, providing additional pathways or greater context to the installations and Hellish dungeons you'll be prowling through. The latter have received some of the most radical makeovers, with Breakdown now a veritable pit of fleshy horrors, Blood Keep encased in ice, and an increasingly terrifying final stretch of maps to close out your journey into the abyss. Players might be familiar with the reworked Kaiser maps from the Absolution TC that find their way into the campaign, but there are also some unique creations by AtomicFrog himself, interspersed in the main lineup or available as part of the aptly-named "Atomic Death Run.” There's even a series of unused but finished deathmatch maps, available in the hope that Doom 64 will be able to run multiplayer one day, which truly is future-proofing taken to the next level!
Doom 64 Reloaded isn’t just AtomicFrog’s love letter to Midway’s original, it’s a celebration of the history of the Doom 64 modding community as a whole. This is perfectly encapsulated in The Catacombs, where brand new mapping techniques are smashed together with an entire visual aesthetic that calls back to the very earliest promotional images we ever saw of Doom 64. The Mesoamerican temple of those blurry pictures, long ago axed from the official Doom 64, is resurrected at last in Reloaded. And that is what Atomic has done here: not supplanted the original game but created a miraculous new way to play it like it exists in our memories. This is your chance to play a Doom 64 that goes to deeper, darker Hells than could ever have existed on the N64, and to be wowed and frightened alike – the way we were back then.