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dobu gabu maru

Is player control over a map's pace & battles an integral component to 90s wads?

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Like the thread title suggests, I'm curious if player control over these aspects help define what makes a map feel "90s". To elaborate a little on it, I'm specifically thinking of design that allows the player to away from an trap or speed through it and skip the encounter altogether. I was watching Suitepee play some of Memento Mori 2 and found myself quietly critiquing some of the design, like how in MAP05 "Rites of Passage", going across a thin bridge to the exit reveals two cacos to your sides and an HK directly in front of you, but like... you can just backpedal and duel them in a big open room. I found occasionally thinking "you shouldn't allow the player to do this" during certain encounters, but in a way I think I'm missing what made these wads special—namely, letting the player determine what they can and can't do.

 

What say you? Could a "90s" map be made with tightly scripted encounters that allow for no refuge? Or does that break the spirit of the style?

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I was about to say "90s WADs weren't really sophisticated enough to have tightly scripted encounters" then I remembered my AOD-DOOM map from 1996 had a section where you are in an arena with a lowering floor and enemies are revealed from the sides of the arena as you descend, plus timed teleports of monsters into the arena itself, so I guess it was possible even then.

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It helps most players but those speed running the mapsets are the ones who are going to suffer the mappers full wrath. Not all traps have to be deadly areas with locked doors as well, makes the map feel more gamey if everything gets locked over and over.

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Posted (edited)

I'd rather be able to retreat like that than be forced into fighting the monsters in a tight space, though at times cheesing fights isn't fun - thinking of times where there's lots of monsters and you just stand there for a few hours taking potshots. I feel like there could be a middle ground: Fights with multiple strategies, perhaps inevitably some will be more fun than others depending on your tastes, but none falling under actual cheesing.

 

Forcing only one correct strategy sounds to me like its less 90s and more 10s - some maps nowadays are made with the sole intent of murdering the player over and over again. Whether I personally like that kinda depends on the map's theme I guess. It makes sense in Hell maps: You're in their realm now, bitch. It made sense in your Saturnine Chapel too. Generic UAC base on Earth? nah not so much 🙂

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23 minutes ago, dobu gabu maru said:

but in a way I think I'm missing what made these wads special—namely, letting the player determine what they can and can't do.

 

To me personally it seems like a lot of times monsters are put in places for the purpose of atmosphere, rather than the purpose of killing or even inflicting damage. If you are on a tight bridge, and you have something in front of you and to your sides show up to ruin your day, that creates some tension, even though the fight in and of itself might be fluff, doubly so when the player retreats to a more advantageous location, you're still being pressured into making a call (even if one is an "easy out"). I think that's part of what makes 90s wads feel 90s... Making people "retreat" to a more favourable position is interesting, psychologically speaking.

 

I don't think we don't get to enjoy the privilege of making a call like that a lot nowadays a lot, in many cases there's either the lock-in, or it's obvious that a retreat is what's required to do. On the other hand I think we also get more interesting fights in return.

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IDK, at that time, if you placed 10 barons in a room, the mapper would consider this as a very difficult encounter, even if you could just go back and kill all of them behind a door. A more skilled player could also just stay there and dodge all their attacks, forcing a more proactive playstyle. On one way, that gives some control to the player, and this can be a good thing depending on his playstyle.

 

Comparing with modern levels, some of them indeed doesn't give much options for the player to control the pace. You get in a room -> you're locked in (usually bars behind him or a trap which avoids you from retreating) -> you usually have two solutions to resolve the encounter: 1: Kill everything, then find a way to get out, or 2: If you have already played the level, you know how to run away and can effectively do it (not always avaliable, though). Some encounters features timed lockdowns, which are the ones that gives minimum amount of freedom lol

Still, it is possible to find a middle ground too, and find ways that gives some control to the player but not that much. For example, instead of using bars, you could use a dropdown which you can go back by lift. A more proactive player would dive in and kill everything, a scared one would try to retreat, but he would need to activate the lift and survive until he gets to safety. Still, from what I've saw, if you put an obstacle to avoid the player to retreat, even if it's just a pool of pain sector, he probably won't do it, except if there's too much risk (he's playing without saves or the encounter is way too difficult)

I don't think there's a right or wrong way, though. I guess people got tired of running away, though, and then mappers started focusing on forcing a more proactive playstyle from the players (which TBH has more interesting gameplay elements).

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1 hour ago, dobu gabu maru said:

To elaborate a little on it, I'm specifically thinking of design that allows the player to away from an trap or speed through it and skip the encounter altogether.

  

Honestly, this right here makes me think of Skillsaw maps.  Mind you, I've only played Vanguard and Valiant but they had this recurring theme.  There was always immediate safety and set piece styled fights were immediately in a state of cleanup; a circle strafe.  There was very little in the way of immediate threat and the immediate threat I can recall came from hitscan.  

  

In a sense, I feel he took this from 90's mapping and gave it a modern look.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, dobu gabu maru said:

Like the thread title suggests, I'm curious if player control over these aspects help define what makes a map feel "90s". To elaborate a little on it, I'm specifically thinking of design that allows the player to away from an trap or speed through it and skip the encounter altogether. I was watching Suitepee play some of Memento Mori 2 and found myself quietly critiquing some of the design, like how in MAP05 "Rites of Passage", going across a thin bridge to the exit reveals two cacos to your sides and an HK directly in front of you, but like... you can just backpedal and duel them in a big open room. I found occasionally thinking "you shouldn't allow the player to do this" during certain encounters, but in a way I think I'm missing what made these wads special—namely, letting the player determine what they can and can't do.

  

What say you? Could a "90s" map be made with tightly scripted encounters that allow for no refuge? Or does that break the spirit of the style?


I'll speak to my tastes as a player: If an encounter isn't particularly difficult anyway, I'd much rather the map offer the freedom for me to play it the way I want to, and I don't see this as 'something the player shouldn't be allowed to do'. Tightly controlled design often tames reckless aggression as much as it removes trivial approaches. I don't think the quality of allowing the player to control their pace is a specific trait associated with the '90s. 99% of modern maps do that too. It's only the specific set of more tightly controlled 'challenge maps' that consistently resist that, but even then it's sometimes possible to figure out exploits ... and I'd say that's a good thing. Even in challenge maps, it's better for easier transitional fights and traps -- the snacks between the main course -- to be freer.

 

Looking up the example you gave, I think that setup is totally fine. That sort of thing can offer a little jumpscare in saveless FDAs, then you quickly kill the monsters and go to the exit, all in all a plus for the experience. The odd thing about the setup is that easy has 8 lost souls replacing the 2 cacos. Now that sort of naivety is something I associate with the '90s! 

 

 

*Lock-ins can make sense for appearances -- sometimes it's important to avoid exploits when they look really bad, even if the encounter is easy without the exploit. But that is relatively rare. 

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I think generally this is a difference between older games and newer games, not just Doom.  Older action titles were content to create a system, an environment for that system to exist in, an objective (e.g. reach the end), and just let the player go for it.  There was less attempt to "control" the experience.

 

As games got more sophisticated, AAA designers became more interested in curating the experience to ensure the player has the "ideal" encounters.  I think this has filtered through to mappers too, and you have situations like the OP states: "you shouldn't allow the player to do this".  

 

The cool thing about Doom is the game fully supports both approaches.  It doesn't matter which you choose, it's purely down to the mapper.  I think there's a sense that letting the player just approach any encounter however they like is the braver approach, but it doesn't have to be.  Doom is well designed enough that encounters very rarely "break" if a player approaches something differently.

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1 hour ago, Big Ol Billy said:

I think Bauul is onto something, even though it's a little tricky to argue that games in general have become much more curated experiences in a world where open world sandboxes are now the standard AAA formula

 

I said action games specifically, as I was more thinking things like hack'n'slashes and FPS titles.  Sandboxes are kind of different (and obey different rules, like how they mitigate your ability to attack something from a long way away).  

 

6 minutes ago, Linguica said:

Looking at Doom maps over the years and decades can tell you a lot about the sort of people that made / played them and what they found important, since the base game hasn't changed.

 

Something I'd be fascinated to see worked out would be some kind of curated list of wads that together showed how mapping fashions evolved over the years.  The Cacowards are great, but the best maps of each year aren't necessarily indicative of the trends of the time.  Obviously it'd be subjective (as all history is), but I for one would find it fascinating to play through them.

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Posted (edited)

@dobu gabu maru Memento Mori 2 Map 05 is a minor masterpiece imo (though map 27 is the real masterpiece). i like you can approach that map from different angles and while it breaks the scripted feel it makes it feel more like it's own world. that was one of my favorite things about Doom 1 episode 2, particularly E2M2 and E2M7 which feel like they should be mostly linear but have moments that break that progression. i wish Paul Noble ever really did anything else.

 

i'd say the level design trends in the Doom community often reflect larger design trends in the industry. 90's maps are all over the place, of course, but tended to have tighter spaces and more trap-oriented gameplay which reflects the design of 90's FPSes around technological limitations and just trying to wring as much out of the limited scope as you can. in the early 2000's a lot of maps tended to be higher detailed sets of corridors and hallways, like increasingly tightly-scripted linear action games of the 2000's. Or the spaces became much more open and filled with enemy activity and infighting, echoing how more games of that period became about big open spaces and a lot of emergent gameplay that came from that. and now i see way more people talking about "flow" in a level's design than ever before, which also echoes the game industry's increasing self-consciousness about design with independent games, and game design theory terms entering the popular lexicon via bloggers/youtubers/games writers/etc. obviously there are many things that don't fit into these trends, but the general patterns tend to echo how game design has been conceptualized more broadly pretty well.

 

i'm not sure whether that's bad or good? i think it's easy to be dismissive of things which don't meet a checklist of "good design", and that's something that i try and challenge as much as i can. on the other hand, being more able to critically talk individual elements of a level's design has been a really good thing for the Doom community and videogame spaces as a whole. and of course, improving how a map feels via iterations, testing, and feedback can certainly be very beneficial too, though it can help certain types of levels a lot more than others.

 

btw, the link to the podcast episode @Linguica mentioned above is here: https://archive.org/details/beyondthefilter17doomisanartscene_andrewstine

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I think in the '90s wads, map authors were just figuring out what Doom could do. There was less sophistication, and less tight player control, cause not many people knew how to do it well.

 

Also, today, the FPS genre is quite mature, and everything has been done. People are sick and tired of certain constructs that were barely known in the '90s. For example, nowadays there is a big push for non-linearity: allowing the player to choose which way to go out of multiple choices. People are tired of linearity being pushed upon them from years of titles that scripted the whole experience. But, in the '90s, people were just glad to be walking through a 3D space.

 

Many '90s maps suffer from vanilla constraints, and from not having access to good map editors. Map authors did the best they could with the limited tools, and within Doom's internal limits. Today, the map author can take a step back from the mechanics of editing, and instead spend their energy imagining the level, and then drawing it. This allows concepts to be executed more precisely.

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I'm old, and for me what is generically called "'90 gameplay style" is what should be a good style in a doom level.

I'm old and I hate the modern "force close the player with the monsters" and "only one correct combination of action to survive" style which seems to be standard today, so standard that modern mappers do not even understand anymore good old '90 wads.

 

Freedom of exploration, freedom of managing battles, is what attracted me in Doom in the ancient 1994.

 

Sorry, I'm old.

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