Jump to content
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...
Not Jabba

Not Jabba's Not the Cacowards Review Corner (Level Design Daydreams: Pantheon Ark)

Recommended Posts

Just did a quick glance and I can't help it but think: As a Doom fan... what a time to be alive. Each single pick feels like it should be in some ''top 5''. All around a gigantic year for quality WADs.

Share this post

Link to post

I really appreciate the review, and am humbled to be associated with these masterpieces (desperately trying to avoid imposter syndrome)! There's still a number of items on this list (and from the Cacowards itself) that I've yet to actually sit down and play through, but I know I'm in for a treat. Can't wait to see what everyone creates in 2021!

Share this post

Link to post

Love the thousand lost soul level in Abandon, the real highlight of the set. On the other hand, no mention of Ephemeral (1000 lines 2 MAP32) makes me sad.

Share this post

Link to post
13 hours ago, Not Jabba said:

cursed Berserk

Funny thing... The intention from the start was "here's a very good excuse to just go wild and have fun with a berserk pack."  But it became obvious that the intention wouldn't always get across when I saw a playtester's run through they map.  They picked up the berserk, saw the imps, then switched away from the berserk even though they had invulnerability.  So I made sure that the intention came across after that.


Thank you for the kind words!  Glad you enjoyed it ^,_,^

Share this post

Link to post
2 hours ago, NuMetalManiak said:

On the other hand, no mention of Ephemeral (1000 lines 2 MAP32) makes me sad.


If I were to make the same top 20 maps of 2020 list, Ephemeral would be my #1. However, given that it's a complex puzzle map, I can see how others might not like it as much as I do.

Share this post

Link to post

re: Ephemeral, it's definitely a good map, just didn't strike enough of a chord with me personally. I've been a big fan of puzzle maps like Grove and The Given where all the necessary information to beat the map is communicated in-world, whereas Ephemeral operates more from existing knowledge of Doom mechanics*; I actually didn't know that Rev rockets could trip action lines until I watched a video playthrough to try to figure out how to get out of the starting area of Ephemeral. It's also very movement-oriented, which I struggled with somewhat. It's very thought-provoking and a technical feat, but since this is a personal list I mostly followed my gut, and since I was already listing two Aurelius maps that I like more on a gut level, I didn't think too hard about whether to include it.


*which is also a valid way to challenge players


4 hours ago, Cheesewheel said:


Thanks for the mention!


Out of interest, why did this map in particular stand out for you?


The megawad has pretty solid gameplay in general, but I particularly liked the mood and setting of that map. I'm not sure I could say anything more specific than that offhand, but I remember jotting down the name and number of it as soon as I finished playing it to add to my possible top maps list, so it definitely made an impression. I think the coolest thing about the megawad in general is that it creates a strong sense of place with relatively little detail, through having just enough hints in just the right places and a good sense of scale. To me, that particular map was the best at it.

Share this post

Link to post

Absolutely killer picks and awesome write-ups as usual! 2020 was one stacked year for dooming - so many megawads, episodes, magnus opus maps. Here's to more of the same quality in 2021! And more wonderful Not Jabba reviews in the months to come, too!

Share this post

Link to post

Very nice! I appreciate your kind words, Jabba. Funny enough, out of all the maps I made for RL2, “Overtime” ended up being my favorite.

Share this post

Link to post

As always, Not Jabba's Top 20 List is full of wonderful write-ups and killer screenshots that leave me psyched to play all of these maps, even if I'd have to ITYTD or God Mode the Abandon slaughterfests. It'd be worth it just to walk around in those amazing environments. Usually, I end up not playing all the maps because of IRL issues, but this year I think it's going to be different. This year, I really want to set aside some time to enjoy the products of our amazing community of mappers, musicians, artists, coders and all the rest of our creative crew. 

Share this post

Link to post
On 2/29/2020 at 1:04 AM, Not Jabba said:

... The three maps I've discussed so far all feel something like musical etudes; they're all pretty small and quick (if you can stay alive), and they serve to test specific skills in contained settings. For players of rd's skill level, I imagine they must feel like short, energizing workouts. ...


This is something I needed to fill in because I realized that it might not be widely known.

In the discussions of slaughterwads that would crop up over and over years ago, I think the whole Doom-as-chess angle supporters would push, justifying the appeal of harder maps with abstract notions of strategy and all that, has painted a misleading image of "challenge Doom" as something just very abstract and technical and removed from actual emotion. (I think I probably ended up going with that explanation myself a couple times.) 


When I first got into mapping, the main appeal of hard Doom was crafting pleasurable feelings and adrenaline rushes (among other comparable things), which is a philosophy I still carry with me. The intensity was always predominantly a means of creating strong emotions, like the slow burn of oppression where you have to walk a tightrope and get to breathe cathartic release when you are done, or like the sheer thrill of chaos like a flame that consumes you, or something in between or different altogether. A hard map wasn't a wall you had to surmount to "prove yourself." I think that philosophy was why, in addition to the korens and Ribbiks and Dotws of the world, people who normally didn't play challenging maps would show up with praise in my threads. I sometimes boot up wads like Sunlust and Stardate 20x7 -- and when I do it's mostly not because I want to do something hard, or test skills, like someone doing a strenuous workout or, worse, eating their daily roughage. It's because the fights are pleasurable in themselves on a more basal level.


Abstract strategy and abstract skill testing ends up factoring into such things on a secondary basis, due to opportunism (the possibility for it is conveniently right there), and probably because it kind of has to at times (a super intense fight that is completely anti-strategic also likely deprives the player of agency, which is not very conducive to fun), but I wouldn't consider it the top-layer appeal for me (at best it's part of a 1a-1b tandem).


Imo, above all, a good Really Hard Map, to me, feels good to play. (Usually that is at least true for its target audience, or for members of the target audience that are open to the map's chosen mechanics (there is still a lot of room for subjectivity), even if isn't true for anyone else.) If one is type to enjoy modern "challenging but fair" wads (like BTSX and Vanguard), with their intensity and all the attending feelings they produce, they likely already know, by analogy, this feeling as it's created by many "super challenging and not quite ostensibly fair" wads in those who like that thing. In fact you might be part of both audiences (like I am). 


One of the things I haven't seen anyone do is describe a map like, let's say, Sunlust m20, purely in terms of the feelings it aims to create (and succeeds at creating). Like part of the genius of the infamous crypt fight with the cyberdemon is that the space is just perfectly sized so that you can make these slick narrow desperation jukes around the cyber if it hems you in, and the appeal is not a deliberate skill-test thing but more that it feels scary and then really good to pull off, and that this doesn't happen every time in the fight (i.e. the fight is not rigidly controlled as much as it's seemingly tested for a high likelihood of fun super-intense things happening) so that natural variability also gives it quite a bit of replay value. (Although that fight is probably a bit too variable to be as lethal as it is.) And of course that's just part of it -- the crypt area has a pretty rich psychological warfare angle. An exegesis on stuff like that could easily sound arcane, and it'll get verbose almost by necessity, which I think is why the "Doom as chess" explanation, which is far more immediately self-evident and easily packaged, became so appealing.

Edited by rd.

Share this post

Link to post
1 hour ago, rd. said:

In the discussions of slaughterwads that would crop up over and over years ago, I think the whole Doom-as-chess angle supporters would push, justifying the appeal of harder maps with abstract notions of strategy and all that, has painted a misleading image of "challenge Doom" as something just very abstract and technical and removed from actual emotion. (I think I probably ended up going with that explanation myself a couple times.) 


For what it's worth, I don't think I ever thought it was removed from emotion. I've just thought of the emotion as being tied to the feeling of being challenged, and of being able to exercise knowledge and skill. Workouts are something I do understand, and they can feel great. It feels good to push yourself further, and it also feels good to be capable and good at what you're doing, and to feel the adrenaline that comes with that push, and so on. I imagine chess feels that good too, for people who are that good at it. So I don't intend either the notion of chess/strategy or the notion of testing your own worth to be clinical (even if, in some cases, it may call for fairly clinical analysis of what you're creating or playing). 

Thanks for posting this -- great points and an interesting read.

Share this post

Link to post

Nova 3 by various


xAnpjJ8t.png n5KSEFet.png NI1UK0kt.png uP965lpt.png ylHUqPlt.png

khkDLayt.png mNXHwiVt.png y5usJYTt.png v7Clrglt.png EY1lBhht.png

bfTMOTYt.png r2KbOR0t.png JaqrT62t.png rvM2Yp1t.png Q3hOO7tt.png

R5ES4i7t.png o0YSq1Ct.png La0TA30t.png MK5tmaht.png o9zuSACt.png

q4YHSE8t.png JD5b7het.png iXT4Iu5t.png iYJm4Emt.png iWVJcSct.png


The 2020 Cacowards had 12 runners-up, the largest number ever, continuing a long process of expansion that began with the DTWiD-era judging panel—and of course there are still plenty of excellent projects that weren't officially listed. How do you know when to stop adding HMs? Well, probably when you can't agree on anything else! Everybody had that one project they still wanted to push for, and if we'd tried to keep going, we'd have butted heads over a four-way tie of one vote each for—if I recall correctly—Akeldama, 1000 Lines Community Project 2, The City of Damned Children, and Nova 3. That last one was my vote, which is probably the only actual point I'm making with this rambling opener.


Like Nova 2: New Dawn before it, Nova 3 is one of the best takes on the standard Community Chest project formula that I've seen (in my opinion, both of them are better than any of the Community Chests as a whole). Nova 3 is about the same quality as Nova 2, which is interesting because the people running and mapping for the project were...actually new, at least when they started. Nova 2 was a bit infamous for abandoning the "new mappers only" premise created for the original Nova, with veterans like dobu and Ribbiks stepping in to offer leadership and guidance as well as mapping talent (with great results!). Nova 3 took about four years to make and was passed down through three different project managers, so you can well imagine that many of the mappers involved honed their skills over the course of that time, and I think that's evident in a strong quality control phase and a ton of great maps across the board. As rd mentioned in the Cacowards, many of the people who worked on this project were big names themselves by the time it was released.


The resources for the megawad are primarily CC4-tex with additions, and now that the community as a whole has moved on from using CC4-tex for everything, it feels like a rare and welcome thing when a team uses it intentionally and skillfully—particularly since it seems to be so well suited for making phenomenal community megawads. Nova 3's progression gets the most out of the resources with three distinct episode themes that offer a lot of vibrant color and opportunities to build interesting settings. E1 is Hell, turning the generic IWAD episode progression on its head. E2 is wilderness and ruins, but the textures gave the option to choose between stark Egyptian desert structures and overgrown Mesoamerican jungle temples, both of which get plenty of screen time. E3 is Valiant-esque moonbases with the stylish tech textures and glowing metals and forcefields that made CC4-tex so renowned in the first place. The episodes are basically ten maps each, but since map 11 is kind of an odd slot, technically in the second third but poised before the episode end text for E1, the mapper took the opportunity to make it a bit of a techbase crawl leading into the first ruins. As usual, the two secret maps are also a departure from the standard themes and gameplay tropes. Even in a set that benefits so much from thematic cohesion, it's nice to have these types of one-off maps to break things up a bit.


The champion of the megawad is @Scotty, who took over halfway through development and saw it through to completion (as if his Abandon maps and Criticality weren't enough for one year). His two solo contributions are among the best in the set: "Blood Eagle" (map 05), a short and literally punchy Tyson map set in a grotesque, fleshy quarter of Hell, and "Ritual Horror" (map 20), a larger map that delivers the traditional end-of-E2 climax along with a sudden and brilliant segue into E3. Apparently filling in the role of right-hand mapper was @Paul977, creator of the Cacoward runner-up Darkest Room, who created or co-created five of the maps in Nova 3 (the same number as Scotty). Paul's style is immediately recognizable wherever it appears, a combination of micro-slaughter and atmospheric scene-setting that builds up suspense between fights and then hammers you hard with each setpiece; "Cannibal" (map 07) and "Ancestral Domain" (map 19) provide intense combat-centric challenge spikes, while the Paul/@Finakala collab "Lunatic Dais" (map 23) leans deep into the astral horror. A third prolific contributor to the set was @A2Rob, whose clean Scythe-esque style is a welcome addition to all three episodes, especially in "Armstronged" (map 26), a compact but sandboxy high-tech key hunt. All three of these mappers also collaborated on some of the major opus maps in the megawad; Scotty and Paul completed "Into the Unknown" (map 30) from what I believe was an already existing but unfinished submission by @Eris, while Scotty, Paul, A2Rob, and @Pegleg went in on "Megiddo III" (map 15). For those who don't know, Megiddo is a Nova institution where one mapper designs a hub and the rest create small challenge arenas that can be completed in any order to reach the final battle and exit (though its slot has changed each time for various pragmatic reasons, as it was map 30 of the original Nova and map 32 of Nova 2). "Megiddo III" is the smallest installment of the three, as it was meant to be treated more as a normal map instead of a huge epic, but the grab bag of tough battles still proves to be a great format, as well as a nice smaller echo of the "box of chocolates" nature of the megawad as a whole. "Into the Unknown" has a similar feel to it, but with more of a horror element as it plunges from moonbase into the dark caverns beneath the surface, where some sort of creepy Hell-tech construct lies at the heart of the invasion. It's an excellent end to the megawad, with a memorable final fight. Finally, I feel I should mention "Fireblu Palace" (map 32) by Scotty and @bemused, which is exactly what it sounds like; yes, it's memes, but I like it, and it's exactly the sort of gimmicky joke challenge that fits perfectly in the super-secret map slot (it also looks cool).


One of the mappers I was most surprised by was @dt_, who has apparently been around since Community Chest 1 and has made plenty of solid maps before this, but really knocked it out of the park for Nova 3. Their first map in the set is "Tomb of Solitude" (map 13), a deliberately paced tomb raider map where every detail feels just right to build a realistic sense of adventure as the map loops back through areas repeatedly. Their other map, "Beta Three" (map 27), applies a very similar approach to the lunar theme, and is also a treat. Nearly every other mapper contributed a single map, which helps add more variety as a counterbalance to the relatively consistent team-project feel of the maps from Scotty and the other core team members. "A Partner of the 49th Day" by @Kurashiki (map 10) is my favorite map in the whole set, a playful but also intense finale to the Hell episode. "Alpha Scorpii Supercluster" by @antares031 (map 25), which also appears in modded form in Antaresian Reliquary, is a grand power trip through a gleaming and beautiful moonbase in a similar style to Struggle. "Solar Powered" by @Big Ol Billy (map 31) has a bit of a puzzle feel to it and revolves around reflecting beams of light, a really clever mechanic for a Boom megawad (you'll also have to solve a few other mysteries to get to map 32). "Deep Space 9mm" by @amok (map 29) is another longer adventure map that's just a ton of fun and very cinematic. The lone techbase map, "Terramin" by @P1NKAC1D (map 11), has been criticized for having a lot of stringy hallways, but I actually like it way more than I should on paper (much like the author's solo mapset, Chainworm Kommando) due to its gutsy dedication to Doomcute and its sense of place; it reminds me a bit of TVR!. Rounding out the highlights of the Hell episode are @Angry Saint's "The Crow Comes Last" (map 08), a looping map that feels as metal as its title, and @Xyzzy01's "Scarlet Syzygy" (map 09), a very short but somewhat daunting mood piece with tough monsers. For the ruins episode, I want to give a nod to @Albertoni's "El Dorado" (map 14), which may not be the most polished map in the set, but has a great narrative surrounding a boat in a sea of liquid gold, and similarly "Dregs of a Bitter Cup" by @obake (map 16), which isn't the strongest layout but has some great atmosphere. And in the lunar episode, there's "Lunar Comms Station" (map 22), a particularly Valiant effort by @DMPhobos, who's gone on to contribute great maps to quite a few other community projects.


There were a few maps in Nova 3 that I didn't care for, but your mileage may vary; all in all, it's a great megawad with a lot of heart and memorable submissions at almost every turn, and it's got a lot of variety when it comes to map length, pacing, setting, and style. 2020 was full of megawads, and with so much competition, only a handful of them received award recognition. Nova 3 is easily my favorite of those that were snubbed. You really can't go wrong with it.

Share this post

Link to post

Realms of Cronos by @whirledtsar et al.


EOe44pKt.png 4rAlk1Ct.png GhN88tWt.png MnFId4gt.png FqS40jbt.png

T1bT58vt.png IXZotYtt.png QaHAveZt.png UtZvATat.png 3efgJHht.png


Hexen community projects were considered a pipe dream for a long time. I've seen a few of them come and go, barely getting past the conception stage, as people realize how difficult it is to coordinate an entire hub in a project where each mapper is working independently and control over the final product is limited. How do you deal with progression scripts and puzzle items in your map that affect someone else's map? How do you arrange the sequence of events across the entire hub without knowing how many maps will be in it? Who even decides which mapper gets to use Clock Gear #3? But like all Doom-engine pipe dreams, someone was bound to figure out a plan and make it happen sooner or later.


Every time anyone talks about Realms of Cronos, they invariably mention "Felstoy Abbey" and "Path of Hei'an" and not much else. I myself have written about both already, and they're certainly the most impressive maps in the set. "Felstoy Abbey" is a huge epic, and I've stated that it's the best map ever made for Hexen. "Path of Hei'an" captivates everyone who plays it with its unusual and detailed setting, an ancient Chinese mountain village. There's probably no need to lavish more attention on them than they've already gotten, but I certainly recommend playing them.


The unsung hero of Realms of Cronos is project leader whirledtsar, the person who made the pipe dream a reality. As you might expect, it was mainly a matter of planning from the ground up, and holding firm about how different maps are allowed to affect each other, which requires a project lead who knows what they're doing. In Realms of Cronos, all progression hinges around the hub map. Each spoke map has a required switch (and sometimes also a custom key item) that opens up a new section of the hub map; in this way, the whole progression becomes dynamically variable, as every choice you make about which map to visit affects the order that other maps become available to you in a nonlinear/branching way. It also means that simpler maps (for instance, ones in which the player is only intended to have the first two weapons) are available first, while ones intended for more powerful weapons are guaranteed to be accessible after you have those relevant weapons. As for other puzzle items, mappers could claim them and use them as long as they were self-contained, i.e., the puzzle item and its receptacle appear in the same map. Most boss enemies had to be claimed as well, and the final Korax fight is integrated into the hub map. Whirledtsar even asked mappers to state their texture themes/settings in advance so that each hub exit could be designed in a way that fits the theme of the map it leads to. 


Whirledtsar also compiled a set of resources, which includes not only a strong selection of edited textures, but also a bunch of textures from Hexen 2 that allowed for themes like Mezoamerican ruins and, most notably, the Tulku resources that lay the foundation for "Path of Hei'an." It was nice to see my waterfalls and some other textures and decorations created for The Wayfarer used in this project as well. The best thing about the resource compilation is the new monsters, though. I've always maintained that Hexen is a difficult IWAD to make maps for because the range of the existing monsters just isn't that flexible. RoC's Possessed Scimitar, Wolfman, and Acolyte of Korax add their own distinctive behaviors (dodging, charging, jumping) that expand the range of gameplay but also feel really natural alongside the stock bestiary. There's also a lava Wendigo, which isn't that different from the ice one, but can be used more comfortably in warmer settings (addressing the main limitation of one of the most interesting monsters in Hexen). The last new monster is a cute little zombie piranha—like Quake's Rotfish, it's less a monster and more a shootable decoration that swims toward you menacingly, but it's pretty fun to have something populating the waters. It makes the game world feel just that little bit deeper and more complex, which is what Hexen thrives on.


The hub map itself is well crafted, with a nice open layout and each area having a memorable themed look that sets you up for each spoke map. It's got its own set of challenges, including some canyon abyss platforming and a few setpiece fights as you face the defenders of the later portals, and it introduces many of the new monsters as isolated roamers to prepare you for later encounters where you face them more seriously. The final Korax fight is surprisingly complex and very challenging as well. Whirledtsar's other map in the project is "Arcanum Labs," which has a great setting that's just what it sounds like: a combination of magical and mechanical. It feels similar to a well-designed classic Hexen map (maybe something a high-profile '90s/'00s mapper would have made if they'd turned their attention to the IWAD), but with a lot of moving parts and little micro-puzzles, including a Porkulator machine.


Although the rest of the maps in the set are simpler, and most are made by less experienced mappers, they aren't bland; each one has something interesting going on in it. A swamp village with eerie fog? Ok! A gigantic guillotine made to sever the heads of gods? Hell yeah! A showdown with a Death Wyvern amid ziggurats, or a mage duel in a lava temple? Sure, let's roll! I'm sure most people will find a few maps they enjoy (even if it's just the obvious ones), but to me, the most interesting thing about Realms of Cronos is that it exists at all. And besides its own sequel that is currently in development, hopefully it may inspire other people to attempt some team Hexen projects.

Share this post

Link to post

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now