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dobu gabu maru

The DWmegawad Club plays: MAYhem 2019 & Alienated

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How many levels is Plutonium Winds? And how would the level order work with Master Levels?

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Ok, if Plutonium Winds is first I’ll play that. I did a recent playthrough of the most of the Master Levels but never got round to 5 of them before I moved on so I’ll play those 5 too

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Lingyan's playthrough is the order I'd recommend, ranges from the simplest to Jim Flynn's, certain maps occupy their original correct slot, Bad Dream is the secret map after TEETH. 

 

Order is: 

Spoiler

1. Attack

2. Canyon

3. The Combine

4. The Catwalk

5. The Fistula

6. Paradox

7. Mephisto's Mausoleum

8. Virgil's Lead

9. Mino's Judgement

10. Nessus

11. Geryon

12. Vesperas

13. Subspace

14. Subterra

15. TEETH 

31. Bad Dream

16. The Garrison

17. Titan Manor

18. Trapped on Titan

19. Bloodsea Keep

20. Black Tower

 

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There's also the possibility of the PSN order. It goes like this:

Spoiler
  1. Attack
  2. Canyon
  3. The Catwalk
  4. The Combine
  5. The Fistula
  6. The Garrison
  7. Titan Manor
  8. Paradox
  9. Subspace
  10. Subterra
  11. Trapped On Titan
  12. Virgil's Lead

  13. Minos' Judgement

  14. Bloodsea Keep

  15. Mephisto's Maosoleum

  16. Nessus

  17. Geryon

  18. Vesperas

  19. Black Tower

  20. The Express Elevator To Hell

  21. Bad Dream

 

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Map 31 -- Torrid Temple - 100% Kills / 100% Secrets

Hurrah! Doom Egypt! I'm a sucker for Doom Egypt. :)

 

(It's actually kind of more like Mysterious Doom Yucatan Tomb or summat if you want to be pedantic, but w/e)

 

Having finished the episode, this secret level has turned out to be my favorite from the WAD. While it's one of the set's smaller levels, it also feels strongly and confidently designed and on-point for its full duration, without the recurring issues of unevenness in conceptual design and practical execution which mark parts of many of the others. From pistol-start it's also notably one of the set's more challenging levels, with a tighter balance of ammo/healing early on, making the berserk pack (first found in a fairly elementary out-in-the-open 'secret') more than a vanity item for the first (and last) time in the set, and a pronounced skew towards actual traps (vs. clearly staged/obvious in advance arena fights) which fit snugly with the 'dangerous ancient temple' trope. Many of these work precisely because they are surprising, and require quick thinking, rather than because they're incredibly lethal or dense as a matter of core design, which is illustrative: many of the set's milder/weaker fights may be lacking impact not so much because they're more gentle per se, as because they're all so transparent, well in advance of actually occuring.

 

The 'Dig Site' fight, this map's take on an arena, is also one of the most developed encounters in the game, and despite introducing the BFG doesn't come off as underbalanced. This may be because the arena in this case is not just a big open space, but has more in-ring complexity (bits of stone and other cover), more topographical complexity (different layers/tiers of ground, connected by a spiral ramp route), and uses a similar quantity of monsters that we sometimes see filling out spaces 4 or 5 times as physically large elsewhere. Here it seems Lorenz0 really said "to hell with restraint! this is the secret map, I can cut loose!", and it just works. For my part, I found it better to immediately kill the pair of cyberdemons with a pair of two-shots rather than trying to weaponize them, as the ring of gasbags which teleports in really chaotically/unpredictably restricts space for the first several moments after their appearance. Using the plasma gun to sweep the throngs of imps off of the dig tiers while charging up them, while the mastermind strafes the whole area with a hail of bullets from above to try to prevent you reaching the top, is a sequence with a ton of cinematic flair, and in general the entire fight has much more of a sense of direction and structure to it, versus simply being a bunch of monsters plopped into a pretty arena. Good stuff.

 

Map 07 -- Twisted League - 100% Kills/ 100% Secrets

This is a strange level, in many ways it reads as something much more primitive than any of the others, both visually and in terms of the very loose, floaty, somewhat disconnected feel between its areas and fights. It occupies a strange, surreal, "what if Alienated had somehow been made in the 90s" kind of space (never mind we didn't have 3D floors in the 90s!), and moreso than any other map in the set it feels like it's cobbled together out of scraps, while also suffering from some of the set's persistent issues, such as a final area which is lackluster in design versus the rest (it's another shooting gallery, and this time coming at the end of a map which has at least one other shooting gallery segment).

 

For all that, though, I found it oddly enjoyable in its way. None of the gameplay design insisting very strongly on itself has been something of an issue for much of the set in my opinion, but here the softness/liquidity of most of the boundaries between different areas/different fights seems to invite an experience where you just run and run and run through this endless blue watery expanse, like something out of a dream, while the monster mash gradually accrues into something of a minor storm behind you. This gets cut off somewhat in the last third or so progression, where you need to start using keys to traverse the upper tech walkways farther into the map (at which point nothing that doesn't fly can follow you or trouble you any longer), but up until that point this may actually be one of the better examples in the set of how looser design can sometimes create the potential for different players to enjoy a certain degree of license in tailoring the gameplay to their own liking via their in-game actions, whereas more often the design focuses on a particular style of play (arenas and setpieces) but often softballs the approach to where it feasibly might not be alienating even to players generally skeptical of that kind of design, which has its benefits, perhaps, and also quite a few costs (in my opinion).

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Map 08 -- Soul Over Gun - 100% Kills / 100% Secrets

This map is something of a departure for the set. Another of the smaller/shorter maps, it dispenses with the hub + fork/spoke setup treating keys acting as completion tokens that most of the other maps use, favoring instead a more clearly linear path which routes you through ideas and encounters in a set order. Thing placement in the map also strikes me as much more deliberate than in most of the others; in part this may be because the map uses no truly large arenas (or large 'in-between' spaces of the sort that dominated m07) and thus doesn't confront the author with the (very real) challenge of filling them out, but even facets of the experience such as the way ammo quantities and placements interact with minor encounters reads as much more actively/thoughtfully balanced for most of the duration (at least from pistol-start), though the big healing pile before the last fight in the recessed pit does smack a bit of "fuck I don't know, guess this works?"

 

As a result, the map is an experience evincing a stronger sense of the hidden hand behind the curtain, of being toyed with, which is perhaps most directly embodied in-game by the short sequences of running along briefly/faintly glowing paths of light cutting through stark black voids. Alienated is at no point a mapset which ever feels truly sinister, intimidating or oppressive (and most of the time I don't think it strives for this, to be fair), but the use of unusual ideas and imagery (lots of 'statue' enemies presaging major fights and whatnot) and the more deliberate, slower-burning tone of the action does read as something just a little refreshingly darker than seen elsewhere in the set. While more compact in build and generally subdued in nature vs. the host of big neon coliseums which tends to dominate most of the set, the visuals nicely suit this subtle shift in tone as well -- the look is still very colorful, yet not nearly so 'promenade' in tone, skewing towards saturate blues and greens with more of a temple/sanctuary look and a backdrop of stars, darkness, and void, contrasting markedly with the bright, clean spacebases on the planet surface.

 

As aforesaid, the encounters here are in general much smaller than in most of the other maps, or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that they initially seem smaller due to the way they're framed. On second examination, the numbers of monsters used in most major encounters isn't too dissimilar from that seen in a lot of the milder/underbaked encounters from the bigger maps, but they function more effectively in general because they fit the smaller, more constrained spaces much more comfortably than a big arena. My nod for pick of the litter would be the fight in the green armor room with 3D-floor walkways over a pool of liquid below, where the cacodemons and hell knights make a rather effective combination given how surprisingly well the knights will path over the walkways (outside of ZDoom, features with a similar look/function tend not to be traversable by enemies, and even in the realm of ZDoom such things have tended to be much more often used as 'bling' than as meaningful room flow features). While simple/short, the light-running sequences add nice transitional breaks between areas, most analogous perhaps to the repeated slaloms through the big central cavern in m06. On 2nd visit I see that I initially misinterpreted these (I thought that the platforms literally stopped existing when not lit up for some reason) and so was flailing through the second one with monsters a mite more frantically than necessary, but that one's on me, not the author.

 

Map 09 -- Ascension - 100% Kills / 100% Secrets

For the big sendoff, we have another expansive, more adventure-ish level ala m06, again returning to the familiar key-fork structure. As rdwpa says, this is very much a level with two distinct halves (the key-fork, and then the final pair of segments which they unlock), and over the duration it embodies both the mapset's best qualities and its most pronounced shortcomings in about equal measure.

 

First, the good: after being introduced to the hub via a bit of how'd 'y doo (which doesn't really use or justify the space, but that's an issue for later), we cross the rather striking girder-bridge into the last big base, where the fork proper presents itself. Both paths feature a series of (mostly) thoughtfully-designed encounters of various scales which present an entertaining degree of variety between them. These range from bloody, empowering you-vs.-horde moshes in both arenas and more conspicuously enclosed spaces, to a selection of more conceptually playful scenarios both classic and modern, ala the 'under fire' Temple-of-Doom-y sequence on the tall stone walkways along the RK path, or the hall of 'statue sentinels' along the YK path, respectively. This phase of the map is Alienated at its best -- fast-paced encounters with enough of a soft touch to make them accessible to a wide audience, but with enough spice/energy to appeal to more experienced players as well, all thoughtfully tailored to the wide variety of big, colorful spaces hosting them. It's a very inviting take on modern Doom, something like the leisure/low-stress/comfort food appeal of certain PWAD tropes of yesteryear, rephrased in more contemporary gameplay language.

 

Using the pair of keys in the hub unlocks the path to the end, at the same time introducing something which feels like it's supposed to be a 'boss' encounter, vs. a pair of cyberdemon, a pair of arch-viles, and a handful of other smallfry. Assuming you choose to deal with them rather than simply ignoring them and pressing on (only the vile nearest the switches really needs to be dealt with), what you're presented is an encounter design that, given the vast amount of space available, and vast degree of armament available to you by that point in the map, reads nearly at doom.wad levels of quaintness (this is on skill 4, mind -- I'd hate to see what skill 2 looks like). Unless you are well and truly a god-awful Doom player--yes yes, several of you may say this of yourselves, but I don't believe 9/10 of you!--those poor creatures stand no chance. Even if combined together with all of the creatures which initially inhabit the hub yard, they'd still stand no chance, and still be dwarfed by the space they inhabit, which is at this point an especially pronounced instance of something the mapset has repeatedly struggled with. Now, this is only the hub, of course, and only the halfway point of the map, so at this point we may choose to give the benefit of the doubt, interpreting this as a reasonable pacing decision -- perhaps the intention is for the map not to blow its load all at once, or to avoid having the last leg turn into a grueling grind. Fair enough!

 

So how does this end up panning out? Beyond the key-locked barrier, we traverse a colorful canyon reminiscent of those from m07, but more unearthly. It's a spot of sightseeing, mainly, and while I'd say the encounters here might fairly be described as 'filler', it's not really offensive filler, and again, this might fairly be interpreted as a sequence which exists for pacing/buildup purposes, before the grand finale. Again, fair enough.

 

Where things really fall apart is the finale......which isn't one. It just isn't, friends and neighbors. It's another large arena, or technically an arena within an arena, some kind of mysterious alien-tech monument which eventually turns out to house one of the most stylish chambers in the WAD within. Fair enough. The problem is, the first phase of the area represents a compounded version of the persistent oversize/underdesign issue mentioned above/throughout this playthrough. The total number of creatures here, speaking in terms of numbers, are again positively dwarfed by the space they inhabit. There are a few revenants at one side of the yard, but the great majority of the opposition are imps, which given your arsenal at that point are about as effective a defense force as a string of paper dolls would be. You vs. a string of paper dolls with a football field's worth of real estate to fight them in. And what's more, 90% of them can't even reach you. They're stuck on the 'ring' around the central structure, with a few sergeants mixed in for some fool reason (all these do is die in infighting 3 seconds after you enter the area), and as such represent nothing more than the last, and worst, shooting gallery in the WAD.

 

Nothing happens at any point during the switch sequence needed to get into the final room (so why is this a sequence at all?). Once you get in there, you're treated to one of the most attractive rooms in the WAD, fitting for a flashy sendoff fight of some sort, but instead it's just a couple of thin banks of pop-up trash which your BFG devours alive in a matter of instants. And then that's it, the end? Really?? After all of the WAD's big arena battles and such??? Really???? Yes, really. Long and short of it is, this is a part of the map which is blatantly unfinished, full-built but only half-designed. One good-looking room (and it really is quite good-looking!) is not a good payoff for all of the half-hearted fluff which precedes it, and the room itself is mostly wasted as an experiential space. It's frankly baffling to me that it ends the entire set, right when you really want to give players something to remember you by, and if I've sounded unusually vehement here, that's why--the WAD as a whole has many good qualities, many fun encounters, and deserves a much better sendoff than this whole dud of a final leg. To say this has been emblematic of my experience with Alienated would be most unfair -- it's enjoyable more often than not, and shows a lot of growth in all aspects of design over the author's previous work -- but it is certainly emblematic of the WAD's inconsistencies, and highlights room for further improvements in what will hopefully be future sets.

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Eager to catch up here at least with reading... and I got a message yesterday telling me that I can't like more posts for the rest of the day.  Didn't know that this is a dw feature :p

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That happened to me once too, and in just the same way (reading a backlog of DWMC and Screenshot thread posts). I don't know what the limit is, but it refreshes 24 hours from whenever it started tracking (as opposed to 24 hours from when you hit the limit).

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