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DavidN

Ascent of Titan (A NaNoWADMo 2020 project)

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Behold, opinions in visual form.

 

I do apologize for my really shoddy mic quality and noisy keyboard. I got a new headset recently and I still need to fiddle around with the settings. Also it doesn't help that my keyboard could drown out a jet engine.

Oh yeah, and strong language warning, JIC.

Will do a second part tomorrow.

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And here's part 2 for ya my fine chap.

 

I really appreciate you making this. It was very fun, even if the difficulty did spike a bit towards the last couple maps. 

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Thank you so much for these videos! I'm sorry that it's taken me so long to even acknowledge them - like a lot of the country I've spent the last few days in a nervous collapse. But it really is incredibly valuable to see how someone explores the maps, especially with the commentary - the obsession with the skybox etc is very welcome... and very embarrassing when you discover the texture misalignments that I always tell people about in my own videos :) It's amazing what a new player can notice - the little sector in front of the switch that was accidentally harming you in MAP04 is in a level that's been finished for ages, I've played it so many times and I've never noticed!

 

The trans-torches you notice in the secret very near the start exist because that level was repurposed from Project Romero, a community project to celebrate the contributions of trans people to the Doom community (the idea was floated just after Romero tweeted in support of the trans community) - some of the other maps here were intended for that as well and there was more similar theming like blue, pink and white keys! I took those out in case that theme gets used in a different project (and I feel I shouldn't be the first to use them, not being trans myself), but I wanted to keep that small detail with the torches around just as a nod to its origins :)

 

Dynamic lights... I love them and once you start using them it's very hard to stop! I started the project trying to stick to a limit of just one or two per room to do some highlights, but by the end I was going mad with them. It's actually something I want to see if I can streamline in future - try to get my mapping speed back up by not obsessing over small details too much, because it's possible to make really nice looking things in the Doom engine without tiny, tiny sector work. It's interesting you bring up colourblindness too, because that's been said about other games that I've made - I think the reason that I use very bold colours is that I really can't see subtle ones :)

 

The biggest issue I recognize is that it's hard to tell that the Archdevil is able to be harmed! He has zero pain chance and produces the wall bullet puffs when you shoot him, but that's too hard to notice... I feel a message like "Your weapons have no effect!" would be a bit heavy-handed, but I can't think of a better way to do it. Hmm.

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I just played the first map and it is just beautiful! This is probably the first GZDoom exclusive mapset I've played that really strikes a good aesthetic balance between new features (like coloured lighting) and good ol' fashioned Doom. The thing that really blew me away though is the custom intermission screen, which looks very slick and professional. In fact, that's my general impression of wad. Everything just seems to fit together. I will definitely be playing more of this in due course. Expect long-winded (and wordy) writeups for each of the maps in the near future!

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Thanks! I really love the intermission screen as well, I asked a game artist to create a digital painting to work from (original below with watermark) and then shrunk it down to 320x200, pulled some buildings around and added the little animations on top - I really loved how close it turned out to the pixel style of the IWAD episodes! Her Fiverr account is https://www.fiverr.com/knezha . Really great to know the balance of new and old is good, as well - it's the first episode that I've made that aims to be anything like the original Doom (I usually go crazy with custom GZDoom stuff) but I loved emulating the style!

 

image.png.3e8cdb9a3a2f3d43e5e6d0b9160bb99a.png 

 

 

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4 hours ago, DavidN said:

Really great to know the balance of new and old is good, as well - it's the first episode that I've made that aims to be anything like the original Doom (I usually go crazy with custom GZDoom stuff) but I loved emulating the style!

I did notice that tendency when I played Keeper of the Seven Keys a little while ago. It was very impressive and well-crafted but my poor brain couldn't keep up, since I usually only play vanilla, limit-removing or occasionally Boom-compatible wads.

 

When I first started mapping I used UDMF and ACS scripting and stuff, but then I came to the realization that a) I wasn't using the format to its full potential and working under limitations forced me to be more creative, and b) GZDoom's performance on my little laptop leaves much to be desired, especially on larger, more effect-heavy maps.

 

As a result, I never really developed a taste for GZDoom-exclusive maps. Ascent of Titan is one of the exceptions, due to sharing many design elements with vanilla E1-style maps whilst using slopes and dynamic lights and such to enhance its appearance and set-pieces. The decision to make it mod-friendly is most welcome as well, since, even though I normally don't like mods, I always like to use Final Doomer when playing wads with relatively simple combat, when I'm prioritizing fun over challenge.

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Right, that took way longer than it should have. Originally I was going to do a DWMC-style writeup for each of the maps, but when I started typing that idea just kinda flew out the window. Instead, I just kind of wrote what came to mind and, well, here we are.


Its perhaps not the most cohesive piece of writing, but I think I was able to bring up some interesting points. Anyway, hope you enjoy!

 

 

Ascent of Titan is an interesting wad, a fusion of the old and the new, a 9-map episode in the style of Doom 1, brought to life with the advanced feature-set of the UDMF-format.


There is little in the way of story, save the couple paragraphs of context found on its home page. For a wad that desires to fuse the classic and the modern, this is exactly as it should be. No dialog, no on-screen text, just good old-fashioned Doom.


The main goal of the wad is to ascend to the peak of Doom Mons, an (obviously) fictional mountain on an (apparently) terraformed Titan. This journey is backed up with strong visual story-telling that goes beyond aesthetic and extends into the progression and map geometry itself, with the levels becoming more and more verical as you near the mountain's peak.


Run ins with the wad's only custom monster (some sort of invulnerable souped-up Archvile) also grow increasingly common as you advance, culminating in a highly-scripted but surprisingly entertaining bossfight. The slow build-up to the final showdown contributes greatly to the immersion, and makes the later maps scarier than they would be otherwise.


The wad's nine maps comprise a wide array of takes on the standard techbase, from hydroelectric dams to deep-sea labs, with several tangents into more sinister locales, as well as a delightful surprise of a secret level. A good blend of variety and consistency.


One of AoC's main strengths is its commitment to visual storytelling. Despite the fact that many of the maps were made for other projects, the way they are strung together makes a surprisingly cohesive episode with a strong sense of progression. Lighting and texture-choice play a role in this, as does the fantastic custom intermission screen (more on that later).


The combat is generally quite basic, though never frustrating, and the secrets are a fun diversion, defintely leaning towards the optional end of the scale, and more exist for their own sake than anything else. The music absolutely rocks, though. Especially the first map, that midi really gets my blood pumping.
Overall, AoC is a highly successful endeavor in my eyes, feeling like a far more modest and restrained cousin of KDiZD. Great visuals and progression, fun if basic combat and some really delightful secrets.


...


What? You thought I was done? Nah! With that summary of my thoughts out of the way, its time for some overly long (and wordy) rambling!
Without further ado, my in depth thoughts on the wad:


Normally, I do not have much fondness for GZDoom. I find the engine's attempts at modernization jarring and counter-intuitive to the nature of Doom as I relate to it. 3-D floors, dynamic lights, slopes, ACS scripting and the resulting poor performance on my little laptop serve more to undermine than enhance the experience I desire from Doom, or so I thought.


Ascent of Titan changed my mind. One thing I had overlooked in my criticisms of the port's features and their (perceived) misuse was the potential for the creation of extremely cohesive and professional wads, where every element present works to serve a specific goal. This is nearly impossible in most source ports, with even the works of the greats, such as skillsaw and Dragonfly, marred by hard-coded features (text-screens, to be precise) when run outside of Zternity.
It is the utilization of this potential for cohesive design and calculated use of GZDoom features that defines Ascent of Titan in my eyes. This manifests in three areas: first, in the peripherals, such as the menupic and intermission screens, second, in the aesthetic of the maps themselves and third, in the mechanics of said maps, comprising the progression, combat and secrets.


I shall go over my thoughts on each of these three areas, starting with the peripherals.


On the face of it, menus and intermission screens are simply not that important, since over 99% of the player's time will be spent in the gameworld. They do, however, serve an important role in shaping the initial perception of a wad. For a very relevent example, I simply would not have played more than the first map of AoT, at least not seriously, if it were not for the strong positive impression I was given by first the menuscreen and then the custom intermission. Such a demonstration of professionalism convinced me that the wad had more in store for me than pretty visuals and competent but very standard combat, that there was a concrete vision behind it all. Personally, I find a sense of vision to be the most important aspect of a wad, or any piece of media really. Pure competence is boring on its own, after all.


Of course, Ascent of Titan's other main draw is its visuals. To me, there are two facets to the wad's visual appeal: composition and detailing.
What I mean by the former is that the rooms themselves are very well designed from a visual standpoint, each with a clear identity and purpose. Not only that, but each room fits very snugly into the whole, giving every map a strong overall identity, and each map then meshes cohesively into the wad as a whole, aided at least in part by the intermission screen.


Ascent of Titan's detailing walks a fine line between Doom-like simplicity and KDiZD-like extravagance, and manages to stay in the goldilocks zone. There is just something very appealing about E1-style details brought to life with GZDoom's enhanced feature set, when done right.


(it is important to note that when I describe the visuals, I am playing the wad using GZDoom's software renderer, so there may be discrepancies between your intent and my experience)


The progression is probably the most faithful to vanilla Doom, with little in the way of fancy, UDMF-enabled set-pieces.


With regard to secrets, GZDoom creates a bit of a dilemma. To me, secret-hunting falls on a spectrum between two poles: on the one end, you can take a more intuitive approach, centered around pattern recognition and more traditional puzzle solving, while on the other, you can make use of extensive knowledge of a given format's specials and limits to narrow down the possibilities, essentially turning the experience into a more technical puzzle and process of elimination.


If one leans towards the former, one will have a more even experience across ports, depending more on the degree to which you and the mapper's tastes align. If you fall closer to the latter, however, your experience will be far more port sensitive, and a certain predisposition towards the more limited vanilla feature set is probable.


I have been on both ends, starting in the former and generally drifting toward the latter as my tastes solidify. AoC, despite being a GZDoom wad, is consistent enough in its approach that it manages to avoid alienating players like myself. Secrets in this wad feel a lot like those in E1, just with a few added bells and whistles and more of an emphasis on changing geometry. A mixture of observation and intuition are required, and I think such a balanced approach meshes well with the wad's general sensibilities.


The secret map, though, is probably the most interesting aspect of the wad, and in theory runs completely against my tastes. This little gem simply could not exist without GZDoom, and eschews pretty much every aspect of classic Doom, and I love it. It is important to note that I have never played Quake before, nor do I know much of anything about the franchise. This map made me want to, though. The eerie atmosphere, deep-water and grungy-yet-surreal texturing just blew me away. The idea of limiting the use of various GZDoom features to a secret level is brilliant, as is drawing from id's later games for secret level inspiration rather than Doom's archaic predecessor (I loath those shitty Wolf3D levels).


Honestly, it is touches like this that make Ascent of Titan special. 'Tis a shame it got so little attention, but at least I appreciate it!

 

Right, well, those be my thoughts on the matter. I hope you enjoyed my rambling. On a side note, thanks for doing that vid on my little ill-fated NaNoWadMo set. Seeing someone else play those maps was very enlightening and encouraging. I hope my write-up does the same for you!

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Thanks so much - what a thoughtful and detailed post, I'm flattered to be the subject of it! One little detail I want to point out - Doom Mons is a real place on Titan :) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doom_Mons Having thought about setting the WAD on Titan, I was searching around for details about the moon's surface and was absolutely delighted to find a mountain called Doom!

 

It's great to know that the balance worked for you despite your usual aversion to GZDoom - and it was an interesting challenge for me, staying with Doom's own defaults (though I just had to put at least the custom boss in - I didn't want to end it with yet another Cyberdemon!) I really like how the feature set of GZDoom can enhance the base game, and I'm glad that I found a place where I didn't go too insane with it :)

 

Glad you liked the music, as well - I wrote the MAP01 one! The titles/intermissions and MAP03 are mine as well - for the rest, I have to thank the incredible @Jimmy.

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9 hours ago, DavidN said:

Thanks so much - what a thoughtful and detailed post, I'm flattered to be the subject of it! One little detail I want to point out - Doom Mons is a real place on Titan :) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doom_Mons Having thought about setting the WAD on Titan, I was searching around for details about the moon's surface and was absolutely delighted to find a mountain called Doom!

 

Wow, who knew! Its been a while since I last looked at a map of Titan. I actually thought of setting a wad there myself, one that would try to emulate the hostility of the moon by making all outside areas do 10% dmg due to the cold, and use the E4 sky along with low light levels to mimic the gloomy atmosphere.

 

9 hours ago, DavidN said:

Glad you liked the music, as well - I wrote the MAP01 one! The titles/intermissions and MAP03 are mine as well - for the rest, I have to thank the incredible @Jimmy.

 

MAP01's theme is probably my favourite, gets me in the zone in the same way At Doom's Gate does!

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This is a fantastic miniWAD, Dave. I loved every minute of it. The texture is great, combat is challenging and a hell of a lot of fun, progression is intricate and intriguing and your maps are all so well designed and stand-out from one another. I love how it feels like it champions the spirit of classic Doom mapping with a modern edge to it with the texture work, lighting and other crafty little details. This was an absolute joy to play. :^D

 

 

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I tried it out and really enjoyed it. I like the flow and pacing, and nice puzzles for the secrets (haven't found 100 percent on any level yet). I finished map 1-3 just now. Haven't died yet (uv) but I've been as low a 6hp on map 02. 

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Thanks for the video and the comments! @Biodegradable, that was another really useful run to watch and I really appreciated your thought process along the way - I took a couple more notes about things that I'd missed, or things that could be improved. Having a proper indication of when the boss is immune is definitely top of the list, because the natural reaction in Doom is to stand and fight no matter how big the hellish creature in front of you might be!

Edited by DavidN

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OK so I've played a bit more. I've encountered the first super archvile and I tried to kill it with all my ammo before I realized he can't be killed dead. It took a while before I noticed that he didn't bleed. Anyway once I figured that out I managed to get the key and get the hell outta there. I went straight to the Slipgate and man was I happy about that. Early on in the level I heard this Quake grunt idle-sounds and when I saw him I thought it was a really cool concept, but I did NOT expect it to have been a secret exit to Q E1M1!

 

Q E1M1 worked fine on Doom I guess but I dont like jumping in Doom. I did enable jump of course so I could play it as I would do if I was playing Quake. I CBA to enable freelook though so I did not get the Quad-secret which I suppose would've been a Berserk.

 

Now the physics in Doom and Quake are very different, and I fell down in the nukage a few times. I'm talking about the nukage just before the exit. Doomguy easily walks over the barriers and fall down, when attempting to either just do it fast or get the platforming-secret.

 

--

 

And I don't know how to handle the water hazard in the map before Slipgate complex. Map04 I believe? Do I need to have jump enabled to handle water? Is that the intention? I didn't find a switch or anything on the bottom of the pool before drowning.

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Very nice work indeed, but there is one drawback: low overall difficulty. I played on UV, but my health never dropped below 60% during the entire play, except the boss map, where I almost killed myself when a demon run into my rocket. Moreover, I was practically drowning in ammo since MAP02 and didn't have to use melee weapons at all. Sure, the surplus rockets and cells came in handy when doing the good ending, but it makes the rest of the maps way too easy. Also, I encountered some other bugs (I played in GZdoom 4.4.2):

 

MAP00: the 3 diamond switches around the stairs produce no sound effects.

 

MAP06: one lost soul in the final fight area is deaf and thus 100% kills is impossible. And it wouldn't hurt to make the slow lift switch more visible, I spent 3 minutes running around and killing the revived monsters before I found it.

 

MAP07: there seems to be no way to trigger trap sector 1011.

 

MAP08: left part of the end titles is cut off, see the attached screenshot (I played on 1024x768 resolution).

 

 

Screenshot_Doom_20201121_202251.png

Edited by Caleb13

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@Caleb13, thanks for your feedback! My goal was to have it start off at Ultra-Violence episode 1 difficulty and gradually ramp up from there, but you're definitely not the only one to have said the mapset is too easy. It sounds like an overabundance of ammunition is the problem... I wonder if my lazy way of doing difficulty settings is the problem here, making the map for UV and then removing monsters for lower difficulties - and instead that I should be treating my first pass as HMP and then adding monsters/removing powerups for UV and doing the opposite for the easy modes.

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