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Not Jabba

Not Jabba's Not the Cacowards Review Corner (No Sleep for the Dead)

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Hey, thank you for bringing some attention to Return to Daro! It's always great to hear that folks enjoyed it. Two years and three WADs later, RtD is still the project I'm most proud of.

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On 8/19/2019 at 8:57 PM, Not Jabba said:

Castlevania: Simon's Destiny by @Batandy

 

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Recreating Game X in Game Y is one of the most common forms of project in a lot of modding communities, and if the idea is often synonymous with low-quality vaporware, that's probably because it's usually the first project of an inexperienced game designer. Batandy, however, has stuck with it and made it the focus of his mapping career. Ideally, a mod like this combines the best of both games into a hybrid form, keeping what works and rejecting what doesn't, and Doom: The Golden Souls 2 is a masterpiece of exactly that -- drawing from all sorts of games, but focusing on the Super Mario series to transform Doom into a cross-genre universe that's both lighthearted and violent, a blend of familiar and unfamiliar (but always intuitive) gameplay mechanics. The original Golden Souls, which I still have yet to play, is by most accounts great fun as well, albeit with a different set of strengths and weaknesses, and I'm highly anticipating the recently announced third installment.

 

Castlevania: Simon's Destiny is a bit of a different animal, and although I don't think it translates the Castlevania mechanics into Doom as well as the Golden Souls series does for SMB, it's an interesting hybrid that leaves a strong impression if you can stick it out -- and a lot of people seemed to love it when it was released. Somewhat in contrast with GS2, it recreates all the tropes of the early Castlevania games with absolute faithfulness, and therefore plays something like "Castlevania in Doom" rather than "Castlevania Doom." All of its best points -- and all of its worst ones -- are ultimately born out of this decision. 

 

On a lot of levels, Simon's Destiny is brilliant homage with a great sense of authenticity to it. The settings for each map feel so much like locations you'd encounter in the series that you'll probably find yourself trying to remember whether they're referencing specific Castlevania levels or not. Every map is backed up by the sorts of high-energy monster-masher tracks that helped make the series so famous (though I don't recognize any of them entirely -- I'm not sure if they're remixes or tracks from later games that I never played). All the most memorable monsters are there: the Goddamned Bats, the bone-chucking skeletons, the fish men that pop up out of the water, the infinitely respawning wavy medusa heads, the many and varied flavors of living suits of armor, the turrets made of dragon skulls, the boss fights against the likes of the twin mummies, Frankenstein('s monster), and Death. Combat is melee with the whip plus special items like throwing daggers, axes, and holy water, which are fueled by hearts that you get from smashing things (Note: these use alt-fire rather than being inventory items, which took me a little while to figure out). All of this can be really fun to discover; a lot of the experience of playing the mapset is getting that nostalgic spark with each new element that's introduced, and seeing how faithfully it was done and how it all plays out in the Doom engine.

 

On the other hand, there's a lot of frustration in seeing how a lot of these tropes don't adapt as well to the Doom engine as they do in a 2D platformer. The focus on melee combat can make the game more of a grind, especially in later levels where ammo for the special items becomes more scarce. Many enemies, particularly harassers, become more of a pain due to being harder to hit with three axes of space rather than two. The boss battles compound on these problems, and I found them mostly infuriating, even (especially?) the very first one, which is against a giant form of Goddamned Bat. Gathering heart ammo and other items becomes a huge grind simply because it takes time to smash every decoration lining the walls of a 3D room, as opposed to having them simply be in your path in 2D. The rooms and halls that make up most of the maps are very boxy and plain, in comparison to GS2's environments, which were hugely varied and more freely shaped, even though both games use linear map design. The common thread is that a lot of stuff simply doesn't execute flawlessly in 3D space, which is a problem that GS2 avoids by taking inspiration for many aspects of its design (most notably the weapons) from Doom. In keeping with the source material, Castlevania also puts a lot more effort into being Nintendo Hard, which makes anything you might not like about it all the more frustrating. And again, this contrasts with GS2, where I tended to feel like I had a firm grasp on the challenges thrown at me and felt like I could own my mistakes more -- though I could say the same thing about any classic Castlevania game vs. the Super Mario games from the same era, so maybe that's just a matter of taste.

 

Simon's Destiny ramps up in intensity just as much as you would expect, and it's at its best when it's going full-blown homage to the more interesting elements of the Castlevania games -- when you're hopping across pieces of crumbled bridges, when the fish-men spawn wave after wave as you rush forward, when the ground crumbles out from under you as you try to make it to safety while being dive-bombed by a dozen boss bats. The final map is the one that perhaps does it best, a fully mechanized castle with lots of vertical movement and conveyor belt platforming that requires some pretty precise timing, not to mention the requisite multi-stage final boss battle. The thing that makes this mapset difficult to love unequivocally is also its greatest draw: Simon's Destiny is so utterly, unapologetically an homage to another series of games that it's hard not to be charmed by it.

 

SD should've won a Cacoward. I still consider it a scandal that it didn't get one.

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Return to Daro was one of my favorite mapsets, even though I still haven't fully played STRAIN, I really enjoyed on its own.

54 minutes ago, Master O said:

 

SD should've won a Cacoward. I still consider it a scandal that it didn't get one.

Melee combat doesn't translate very well on a 2.5 engine, I guess not everyone was a fan of how the whip worked.

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4 hours ago, Gothic said:

Return to Daro was one of my favorite mapsets, even though I still haven't fully played STRAIN, I really enjoyed on its own.

Melee combat doesn't translate very well on a 2.5 engine, I guess not everyone was a fan of how the whip worked.

 

Yet Lilith won one and you could barely see anything given how it was total glitchfest.

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I saw the screenshots for Simon's Destiny and thought "cool, I can't wait to play it"; then I saw a gameplay video and this became "ehh, okay, I'll just give it a miss".

 

Spending 90% of playtime destroying light sources to grind random drops isn't my cup of tea.

 

26 minutes ago, Master O said:

Yet Lilith won one and you could barely see anything given how it was total glitchfest.

 

Lilith is glitch art, yes.

 

Of course not everyone is going to like something like that, something that is deliberately ugly and confusing. But I found it very effective at evoking the feeling that something is wrong, at a very deep level. No matter what you do, no matter how much you fight, the corruption, the wrongness remains here. Of course if the glitches don't make you feel like this, then it's just going to be an obnoxious set of unplayable levels.

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On 9/6/2019 at 7:54 AM, Not Jabba said:

*Return to Daro review*

Thanks for the heads-up, that was a sweet little set. Liked the much refined from strain visuals, progression through interesting means and secrets were very interesting to find, although not always integral to the gameplay. Unfortunately last map was a highlight on how bad slot 7 weapon is. 

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Very nice review !

 

Quote

While some of the earlier maps were the source of mixed reviews internally and explain it not surfacing above the sea of candidates, the ending stretch is undeniably strong. 

 

Just for information. At the beginning, one of the rules of the project was to make maps not too long, but by a motivation push probably, we achieved some pretty ambitious levels. The first 4 maps are the first ones made for the project (I also think for the 10th but I have a doubt). The last ones were done in 2017 when interest in the project had reached its peak (the RC1 was released at the end of 2017)

 

I made map 07 and a part of map 09. Map 07 was my first "real" map except speedmaps. I was strongly motivated. I learned a lot about detailing , it was time-consuming but instructive. :)

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Would be great to see a review of Endless Torture, a neat 2015 megawad for Ultimate Doom made solely by Datacore.
I found it a few months back and it really peak high with the crampped and short but challenging levels. I don't know if you will like it, @Not Jabba, but it went completly unnoticed pretty soon after release and it also didn't catch much attention in the later years.
 

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Foursite by @Bauul

 

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Unlike everything else I've reviewed here so far, I had never played Foursite until now, in preparation for reviewing it. I didn't get around to it when it came out, missed it in the /newstuff queue, and it was a late 2016 snub, so it was before my time on the Cacowards team -- but I figured I'd have to come back to it at some point. After all, Foursite got a lot of attention when it was released -- even a Rock Paper Shotgun article -- despite being the first map Bauul ever made. 

 

All this attention centered on the fact that the map was huge, had taken 300 hours to build, and (according to the RPS article) took 3 hours to beat. All of this is a bit misleading, I suppose; the map is big, but not outside the realm of what the community has seen a good handful of times before. It took me about 1 hour 45 minutes on the in-game clock, with 5 out of 8 secrets found during regular play and a single sneaky enemy still banging around god knows where -- I wonder if it liked having the base all to itself after I left. As for the build time, it probably had a lot to do with the fact that the mapper was undertaking this project as a way of learning how to use the editor, figuring out how to do everything as they went; size aside, it's not a particularly complex map, and a very experienced mapper could lay out something along these lines in perhaps an order of magnitude less time. None of this is really intended to detract from Bauul's efforts -- if you want to learn how to make a Doom map, you may as well throw all in like this and end up with something that you learned a ton from and that lets you try out a ton of different ideas -- and even, hopefully, something that you can remain proud of. On the other hand, you'll probably have to be prepared to look back on it and be able to see everything that's wrong with it.

 

Foursite is an extremely ambitious first map. I feel the need to be realistic here: it's far from perfect, and certainly not a map that feels like it has a lot of polish and experience behind it. Most people's first map falls firmly in the "My First Map" genre; I'm sure you know what I mean by that. Every once in a while, you get someone like Viggles whose first release is of high quality, probably because they had a ton of practice maps they never released, and also because they spent many years playing Doom, following theoretical discussions about mapping, and learning the general principles of game design first. Foursite isn't that, but it is promising; it's definitely a My First Map, but it's one of the most impressive My First Maps out there, with ideas that go far beyond what you would expect. I don't feel like dwelling on it too much, and I'm sure Bauul knows all of this already, but I need to go through some of the really obvious issues of this map and just get them out of the way before I move on to what I find interesting or enjoyable about it. The way most of the combat happens is that you open a door or round a corner and the enemies are just there in a mass, and then they funnel toward you while you pick them off. Sometimes it's a large amount of meat being funneled. The architecture of the map is fairly rudimentary, though often in a cute sort of way, and, like the combat, highly variable in quality; you get a few places that are really neat or have fun details, but then also a lot of windy, mazey groups of hallways, blocky rooms, or spaces that are mostly empty. The map was created with the idea that all space needs to be contiguous, so you end up with a lot of large, isolated sections that are stuffed into whatever space is available, designed more to fit the perceived boundaries than anything else. All of these are the sort of basic, fundamental problems that you would expect from a new mapper, so they're not much of a surprise.

 

With that out of the way, here's my favorite thing about Foursite: it's designed with a lot of intentionality. Bauul went into it with a clear vision and sharp wits, and he learned everything necessary to execute the mechanics of it as he went. As a result, there are many things about Foursite that feel like a really distinct experience, and in the most important areas -- the setpieces and such -- you can clearly see the design decisions that went into play as the areas were being created. It's sort of artisanal, if you will.

 

The map features a monsterless opener that sets the mood as you explore through the abandoned exterior of the base and the canyons outside. Bauul really savors the details here, and you get everything you could want for building up to the first encounter: painstakingly crafted wall damage, ominous corpses, barrels sitting abandoned in puddles of their own ooze, narrow passages, slow-lowering doors, a descent into darkness, a gaping abyss. And then, suddenly, the first mob of angry zombies (in front of you, in a clump around a corner...but whatever). True to the map's name, the base complex is laid out in groups of four: first a long hallway with four big sections off of it, and then the final section turns out to have its own fractal quarter-sequence to it, where you complete four challenges to keep lowering new sections of the central arena. The map is completely linear, which surprised me; normally you'd expect a map this size, particularly one with a hub-spoke design, to be very nonlinear and interconnected. That's not always the case, of course. Jade Earth is basically linear, though it doesn't always feel like it; Black Rain has an initial gated section and then multiple linear branches. Both of those maps use their different versions of linearity to create a cinematic feel to the action, controlling the rises and falls and the overall curve of difficulty and monster density, deciding exactly when and where you face the setpiece fights. Foursite endeavors to do something similar. It's framed as a series of rising challenges, each area with its own end fight that works as a sort of mini-climax. It doesn't always work, given that a lot of fights are much easier than intended while some are very tricky for any player due to the way they're set up; my more hardcore friends might say that most of the tougher areas are tough because they are reliant on randomness. But even so, it gives you a strong sense of progression, delving deeper into the increasingly hellish base as new areas unfold, knowing that each time you reach the end of an area, you'll hit a similar switch and open up the next main section. The map is good at communicating how the overall progression works, and the fact that it's tailored as a linear experience undoubtedly adds to that sense of going increasingly deeper.

 

There are some cool individual areas as well. Some of these are enjoyable for their faux-realistic sector art (aka "doomcute"); the biggest is a detailed cafeteria with enough chairs for everyone and plenty of pots of volatile liquid cooking in the kitchen. Throughout the map, every computer console, piece of furniture, pool of liquid, and rock formation is lovingly rendered, even if the overall architecture is more rough-hewn. Some of the setpiece fights have neat ideas behind them as well; the more conceptual ones tend to play out more like movement puzzles than anything else, but you have to go through them while under fire. Early on, there's a sequence where you have unseen Mancubi shooting at you from a set of reactor-like structures, and you have to make it across a set of raising/lowering platforms to reach the end and shut them down. Later on, there's a more intense version of the same idea, a Spectre-filled midtex maze that you have to navigate while a distant platform full of Mancubi rains fire down on you, until you get to the end and have to clear off the platform to reach the main switch. My favorite fight of the map takes place on a huge sunburst-shaped platform that rises little by little, unleashing teleporting waves of Lost Souls and occasional Pain Elementals each time you bump it up. The movement here is tricky but fair; you can fall off if you're not careful and have to take some damage from the toxic floors before you get to a teleporter that brings you back up to the platform. The enemies themselves aren't too bad, but they're dangerous in combination with the movement challenges, and you have to maintain awareness. I also like that this fight is set up for dual strategies; you can either take it slow and carefully clear the waves one at a time, or you can race to the top, grab the invuln sphere, and go to town.

 

The last quarter of the map -- the one that has its own four subdivisions -- is the most cinematic, with the best sense of steadily becoming more dangerous, and although the climactic fight with the Cyberdemons is pretty circle-strafey, with a few too many decorations to get caught on, it's fairly satisfying as a conclusion. After all of this, you get one final fight before the map exit: a nigh-invincible Spider Mastermind occupying the center of the room, and a series of platforming challenges with transforming cover as you rush to hit the various switches and bring a crusher down to kill it. It's an unusual boss fight that feels very fitting as an ending to the rest of the map.

 

If Foursite had been released in the late '90s or early '00s, it would have been seen as a work of sheer genius, and would no doubt still be considered a timeless classic. If you're a newer Doom player, you should have little trouble seeing it from that same perspective, and there's no reason not to have a go. I'd have a harder time recommending this map to people who have seen it all already, though certainly I think there are parts of this map that are worth seeing for almost anyone. In any case, it's a promising map -- and hopefully just a tiny taste of what Bauul has in store for us in the future.

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Thank you for the review! Your take pretty much matches exactly how I feel about the map in hindsight. I cringe at some of the rudimentary encounters now, but that being said I do still feel quite proud of some of the ideas I had, even if the execution was a little hamfisted.

 

It's interesting you mention it feels like a map from the late 90s. When I returned to the Doom scene after a 15 year break and decided to make Foursite, I made the (perhaps somewhat ill-considered) decision that I didn't want my first map to be influenced by any other custom wads. I wanted my first map to be purely me. I played Doom to death in the 90s as a kid and I wanted what I made to be a reflection of those memories. So I made it without exploring a single thing the community had produced since about 2001. I didn't even engage with the community as I made it, with no playtesters bar myself. My only frame of reference was basically the IWADs, and a distant memory of early PWADs like Doomsday of the UAC.

 

I have since come to realize I needn't have worried, and even if you wear your influences proudly on your sleeve anything you make is still undeniably yours. In truth even just a cursory playthrough of the map from a more experienced Doomer would have yielded all kinds of beneficial improvements, and there are without a doubt a great many basic things that could have been improved with even just a little more personal experience of what makes a good PWAD.

 

But all that being said, I don't regret the process I took. I feel I played suitable homage to the 10 year old Bauul discovering Doom 2 for the first time. And I have to say, it's been an absolute blast now catching up on the last two decades of Doom mapping, and I thoroughly look forward to the next two!

Edited by Bauul

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No Sleep for the Dead by @Jan

 

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I've drifted into more critical territory in some of my recent reviews, so I figure I'll hit the reset button by saying this up front: No Sleep for the Dead is bloody excellent. 

 

Jan Van der Veken was a household name in the early Doom scene, but had almost moved on by the time I made my way to Doomworld in late 2004, so I only knew him as a periodic namedrop in discussions about classic mapping, and as the creator of some Darkening E1 and E2 maps (which are great, but I couldn't tell you which maps they are), until No Sleep came out. I played through his earlier major works last winter along with Chris Hansen's catalogue, so for those unfamiliar with his mapping, here's a quick rundown of his awarded episodes, by way of introduction. His first release, the never-quite-finished Dawn of the Dead (it has a one-room placeholder for E1M5), starts out seeming like a simple E1 replacement, but then it quickly begins to sprawl out into huge maps with surprising city-like layouts, big open areas, and hellish influences. The Classic Episode (not to be confused with Hansen's also-creatively-titled Retro Episode) is a more conventional Phobos/Deimos-style base that shows Van der Veken tightening up his mapping style quite a bit, with more flowy and compact layouts and any excess grind trimmed away. The Classic Episode 2, the most detailed of the three, offers a more unusual concept: a faux-hub where every other map takes you back to the same central area, with slight changes and fresh monster populations each time.

 

No Sleep for the Dead appeared suddenly after a 10-year hiatus and is ostensibly the sequel to Dawn of the Dead, which came out in 1997, though thematically it could just as easily be a sequel to the Classic Episodes. Van der Veken's skills didn't languish during all those years away, though -- as far as I'm concerned, No Sleep is the best thing he's ever made.

 

This episode deals in the usual design principles and aesthetics for retro E1 and E2 replacements -- tending more toward E1 toward the beginning and more toward E2 toward the end -- but it really does a damn fine job with them. Every map holds true to the basic idea that you should always be moving freely and quickly, know exactly where you're going, and have fun getting there. The episode also follows the core E1 trope of making sure you can see other areas through windows and grates almost constantly as you move around the maps, giving them an extremely grounded, immersive feel that's augmented by the way the branches within the layouts tend to wrap around each other, periodically interconnecting or eventually looping through in ways that feel complex but are pretty simple at heart. Simplicity is really key here -- and I don't say that lightly, because simplicity can often be a bit of an easy way out, an excuse not to worry about developing keen perceptions and methods as a designer. Van der Veken's simplicity is disciplined and consistent; it communicates to the player with perfect clarity. The combat moves easily and steadily, applying heavier pressure at times but eliciting no stress and always offering a path to freedom and a better attack vantage as long as you don't sit around waiting to get hemmed in. Even the face-off against a Cyberdemon on a bridge in the last map is more of a cathartic "fuck yeah!" than a climactic trial by fire. The whole episode is like a dance, something familiar that you feel in your bones, swaying and strafing and turning and advancing in time with the music and your trusty buckshot backbeat, just letting it flow.

 

There's a surprisingly strong sense of place for a classic episode replacement with stock textures, particularly in the later maps. E1M5 plays with the theme just enough to really feel like a power plant, within the context of iwad-style abstraction; E1M6 has just enough laboratory elements to really bring out the feel of the setting, again without relying on detailing that would change the overall aesthetic. Something about the way the layouts shift and expand, morphing their individual themes without losing their sense of identity, makes these maps feel very real and functional to me. The atmosphere becomes progressively heavier and more Deimos-esque, with dim, pervasive shadows and high-contrast lighting cutting around pillars and other obstacles in the way that us Doomers love so much. If you're well versed in Dawn of the Dead -- which I'm not, but I poked around the older episodes again in preparation for writing this review -- you'll likely notice that "Power Plant" (No Sleep E1M5) bears some striking similarities to "Nuclear Plant" (DotD E1M2).

 

Secrets are sprinkled all over the place and are handled with the same philosophy as the combat -- as long as you stay aware and try to find them, you probably will, because you're meant to appreciate them, and having them be hard to find would take away from the intended experience of playing the maps. It adds a nice extra element to the gameplay, something to do on a final pass of the map when things are quiet that lets you appreciate the smoothness and clarity of Van der Veken's design in a new way. 

 

I should mention that there's also a bonus map in the E2M1 slot. This map is E4-themed, and as you might expect, it's considerably tougher than anything in the main episode. You can easily be overwhelmed right out of the gate, and if you survive that, the rest of the map is a constantly moving puzzle where you have to squeeze past opponents and try to scrounge up the ammo to deal with everything that's still wandering through the tight, claustrophobic knot of hallways, screaming for your blood. It's a wild ride with lots of adrenaline, and it proves how much range Van der Veken has as a level designer -- which just goes to show that the easy-going nature of the main episode is a disciplined design choice rather than some sort of laziness or weakness.

 

I'm told that No Sleep for the Dead was taken very seriously by the 2016 Cacowards team, though it didn't end up making the cut. I think this is probably because it was seen as a bit too simple -- which is the sort of critical assessment that I would agree with in most cases, but not in this one. 2016 was a dense, competitive year with several high-profile snubs, and the heartbreak that caused is a part of what led us to expand the number of runners-up the following year. Personally, I think that No Sleep for the Dead is among the best classic-styled UDoom episode replacements I've played, and if you haven't tried it yet, you may want to do that instead of sleeping tonight.

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8 minutes ago, Not Jabba said:

 

It is very good, something I did agonize over. Per Veken, E2M1 is actually an iteration on an original, alternate episode closer for DoDEAD. The 1997 version is pretty crazy and drops a Cyberdemon on you in the central hub.

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Ok, I'm like super late to the party but thanks for your very detailed review of 'Altitude'  @Not Jabba 
The map has sort of a special place in my heart, considering it's less inspired by the works of others than anything i made before or afterwards. A grab bag of ideas and weirdness that i had in my mind by the time. Perhaps it kinda went under the radar due to that, but yeah. Anyway i really enjoyed reading the write-up. Cheers

 

On 8/28/2019 at 5:23 AM, Not Jabba said:

I always think of his contributions to Nova 2

 

I remember you mentioning this before. A bit hard for me to comprehend as i consider this maps as awful nowadays, outcomes of a pointless strive for detail without much thought of good gameplay. M29 is an exception but without Ribbiks guides and influence the map would have ended up completely different, not in a good way.

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