Stephen Clark, a.k.a. @The Ultimate DooMer, is one of the key figures of the Doom community in the early 21st century, an author that is best known for his important ZDoom contributions and for amazing creations in the worlds of Heretic and Hexen. I had no chance to examine his extensive body of work, but his Boom-compatible entries in the Community Chest series allowed me to experience his technical competence and design habits. When the DWMC chose his first vanilla megaWAD for March 2023, I approached it with a mix of curiosity and concern.
Fragport was Clark’s debut on idgames, and it was no humble beginning. Not only it was a full 32-map replacement, but it also included custom sounds, additional textures of practical purpose (most notably the revolutionary ALPHABET used to write signs and marks in maps) and sector tricks that must have been innovative for their time. Another exclusive feature was the seamless progression between levels: the starting zone of the next map was always seen before hitting the exit line or switch, and in the same fashion the player could turn around from the start and get a glimpse on previously traversed areas. Surely it was an expedient to break maps that were too large for the vanilla engine, but it also improved immersion and storytelling.
The player impersonates the top marine Jody Russell, sent to the remote city of Fragport to investigate after communications with the local military bunker suddenly ceased. His ‘call sign is 'Kill Crazy' because (he) kill(s) like crazy and love(s) every minute of it’, so he was the best choice for a dangerous mission into the unknown. The protagonist is shot down by demonic alien invaders, is captured and moved to a desert prison, presumably for execution. He escapes instead and begins a long trek through the brown stone mines and wastelands surrounding Durncrag town. He leaves with a motorboat and manages to sink an ironclad ship carrying monster reinforcements. After a detour on a remote island, Jody crashes his second boat on barren shores and slowly approaches the military installation, disarming the demon-operated defence system and then navigating the sewers into Fragport. Fighting from district to district, he discovers that the invasion started on an artificial moon hosting a tech city, which he promptly reaches by boarding on a spaceship. He resists the assaults of the hellspawn and their vicious traps, until he finds the reactor core and blows it up. He barely escapes the moon and returns to Earth to be celebrated as a hero.
I could not omit a plot summary when presenting Fragport, since the unfolding story and the adventures of Kill Crazy were a prominent feature. A lot of effort has been put in creating a plausible journey, building varied places to explore, and providing realistic connections between them. I admire The Ultimate Doomer for the method, the rigor, and the creativity he put in his Doom efforts: the progression in his maps tends to be a little obscure, but ultimately it becomes clear thanks to the visual hints, achieved by writings and colour codes. Nevertheless, Fragport could not cancel my bias against his lack of restraint. Sometimes he could not realise that too much was too much, and that a stale part of a level could act like a ball and chain.
The megaWAD had a few exciting combat moments and an outstanding construction for 2001, but for the most part its gameplay was grindy and repetitive. Despite a brown palette dominating 20 consecutive maps, there was enough variety in the environments and nice Doomcute props to make the exploration interesting, but when I reached MAP13 I was sick and tired of searching for three keys in every level. The mechanic stayed firmly in place until the end, with coloured switches being added to string out the progression even more. Maps tended to last 18 minutes on average for less than 10 hours of total completion time, placing Fragport in the vanilla age that preceded the sprawling limit-removing creations of the following years.
I played continuous on Ultra-Violence, with savegames mid-level (not during encounters to cheat the RNG or to facilitate anything), and I spared myself the ammo deprivation issues reported by pistol starting DWMC members. Still, I found myself nearly out of ammo at the end of MAP24, and levels like MAP30 did not accommodate for a wasteful behaviour. Besides a resource distribution favouring continuous play, the difficulty seemed rather flat throughout the megaWAD, with only a few harsh monster deployments taking place in the third episode. I felt more challenged by the exploration and the occasional puzzles, especially on MAP29-30 and during the unconventional trial that was MAP32.
The author invested all his skill in the super-secret level, based upon a British gameshow and reproducing both its challenges and settings with the Doom engine. It must be noted that Stephen remade this map for GZDoom in 2016, inspired by “The Crystal Maze” new live attraction in London, and that it counts as his last submission to idgames. This meticulous undertaking perfectly represents The Ultimate Doomer as a mapper, showing his pros and cons, and it aptly stands as the current alpha and omega of his successful career. If the secret levels were worth seeing, and their uncovering process on MAP15 was one of the nicest moments in Fragport, the standard secret compartments seemed casually placed. The statement ‘for those of you who like secrets, there are at least 3 in each level’ confirms they have been added just for completeness, and it surprised me that some were nearly mandatory in the later maps.
The original megaWAD used stock music, but I chose to play it with FragportMidiPack_v1.0, released for the 20th anniversary. The compilation included popular songs, mostly rock and heavy metal music that predates Fragport’s release, with only a few tracks being an exception. I do not mind the soundtrack very much, except when it feels created exactly for the maps, but I generally enjoyed @P41R47’s choices. They usually matched the pacing of the map or had a thematic connection with the environment that got a smile out of me.
Fragport was a bold experiment in 2001, an attempt at bringing Doom on the same level of more advanced games like Quake 2 and Half-Life. Stephen Clark compensated for the engine shortcomings with his own creative solutions, bringing a huge one-man project to completion where most people would have given up. A 32-map megaWAD is an exhausting effort for a single author though, as confirmed by the lack of fresh ideas in some parts of the second and third episode. In retrospect, the boxy level design, the monotone texturing of large areas, the repetitive mechanics, and the copy-pasted encounters caused the experience to become less and less engaging as Jody Russell progressed towards his objective. This should not discourage vanilla enthusiasts from giving Fragport a try, since there are small wonders to be seen in addition to the highlights listed below. A super-solid first submission from a staple of the Doom community, after more than 20 years it shows its age and limits but also the power of method and resolve, two qualities that The Ultimate Doomer possesses aplenty.
MAP 11 – Military Bunker
MAP 13 – Pipe Factory
MAP 15 – Freight Depot
MAP 23 – Monad
Other standout maps:
MAP 01 – Desert Prison
MAP 19 – Dockside
MAP 22 – Tech City
MAP 28 – Sub-Level 05
Special mentions map:
MAP 32 – The Crystal Maze
Detailed commentary of each map can be found in the March 2023 DWMC thread.
One problem about this, is when I played those 2 levels speaking of stupid and blue radishes with herpes is it caused massive lag to my computer, and the secret exit in omg counterstrike leads back to level 36 instead of going to the 4 or 5 portals.
I took a little looskie at the mod just now and the only two things that I hate are the fact that the porn in hand is low-les, and also that there is no cuntboy dragon bdsm hentai. A sarcastic 5 stars, In reality, probably 0.000000000000000000000001 out of 5 stars...
Pretty sure I can do a better porn-themed graphics replacement... CUM to think of it, I fucking will >:D