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dobu gabu maru

The DWmegawad Club plays: Ancient Aliens

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Whizzed through the first 7 maps of this beast last Friday on UV. Tonight I get to continue, yippee!

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MAP09 - "The Nectar Flow" by Joshy

I got very absorbed in this one, probably spent a lot longer in it that I was meant to, but its a nice one to stroll around in. So many monsters though, so many that monster blocking lines were needed just to keep them from running wild. The first half of the game was spent clearing them all out, and just when i thought I had shot the last one some more would creep up behind me, or I get knocked in the head by a stray fireball from an imp shelf I missed. Its a little bit shooting gallery at times, but there is more than enough toe-to-toe action to offset that. Its definitely a map that benefits from advance knowledge, I don't know if its been toned down since I first played it, but I seem to remember dying on nearly every trap before, whereas this time I had a much easier time of it. The infamous double archvile trap has definitely been adjusted, and I give thanks for that. I must also thank Joshy for sprinkling stimpacks in every corner, I really made good use of those. The deadliest highlight this time was the blue key fight. Simple though it is, its always one of my favourite scenarios, just you and your rocket launcher against a wall of encroaching meat. Great stuff.

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map09

This map looks somewhat like a Resurgence map decorated in AA textures, and I don't really think that's a good thing. The AA textures as pretty as they might look are actually very garish, and the more vivid colors don't really work well scaled-up to cover vast architecture as they are employed in "The Nectar Flow" in Joshy's typical style. You'll notice that the first eight maps used a very composite approach to texture use -- almost template-like use of bordering and layering and such -- which is something of a necessity. ALso, basically all of the silver looks really ugly to me. I think it would be well suited by a swap to metal. The orange comp highlights, eh. Yeah, the tech stuff doesn't work here, imo. Too clean and shiny compared to the natural and ancient ruins texturing.

The gameplay itself was too low-pressure to be my cup of tea this time around with foreknowledge, given the high monster count. The cyber fight is still very understaffed. The start scenario is good but apart from a few encounters following drop-offs and lock-ins, much of the combat is a shooting gallery, with too few rockets early on for that to be really fun. This time around, I ignored the ceremonial spider before the BK and used it to set the teleporting monsters infighting. Was quite amusing.

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MAP08 - "Ancient Aliens" by skillsaw

the titular ancient aliens. i expected that name for the secret map. anyway, the sight is stunning. 3 large saucers floating in the magenta-purple sky over some ancient ruins (which mix america and egypt now, i'd say stay with the american theme).

the keys are on board of the ufos, the doors below. you get beamed on board, have peace talks with the visitors, then continue your diplomatic efforts on the ground when a crowd assembles to greet you upon return. this is done 3 times, but it doesn't get boring. the archvile ship was the only difficult one, because it's so easy to get sandwiched between spectres. nice fight in the end, because you should get rid of the knights first, not the viles.





MAP09 - "The Nectar Flow" by Joshy

an eternal doom-like mix of ancient ruins and technology, even with the known warning stripes somewhere. just that silver looks indeed out of place. large map, takes time to explore. i didn't see the earlier version, this one wasn't particularly hard and had some good fights, like the double av one, where staying calm is the key. finding my way through the map took some time.


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rdwpa said:

Why do you frown on setpiece heaviness so much?! It's the impression I get because you always seem to point out when a map lacks incidental combat and praise it when set pieces are complemented by incidental combat. I think you said something in the JPCP playthrough about setpiece-heavy maps being predictable but I don't think it's the case that they have to be that way.

I've personally been studying incidental combat lately myself ;) ;), but I think set pieces being predictable and somewhat limited in scope (once you've seen a dozen mapsets' worth, it really feels like you've seen 98%+ of everything, just dressed up w/ minor variations here and there) is a lot more indicative of mappers not being "experimental" enough than of setpiecyness being a bad thing in itself.

I don't reckon I frown on setpiece heaviness per se, but I do feel that maps/mapsets that make the design decision to put more or less all of their eggs into this one basket certainly run the risk of seeming like they underachieve when they are very baldfaced about it, in that this often makes the action seem very contrived or game-y (in the same way that giant sector arrows floating in the sky to tell you which way to go are game-y), and yes, often predictable, unless one is dealing with some sort of choreography savant.

If memory serves, I think the map from JPCP I made that comment you mentioned about was map 26, "Embodiment of Maliciousness", which is literally comprised of 99% closed setpieces, each mounted to a small, specific piece of geography so that it will occur in complete isolation, and with each venue being thematically disconnected from the rest of the level, conceptually and even aesthetically. The effect here, at least for me, is that once it becomes obvious each and every encounter (which in that particular case essentially meant each individual room) is an engineered pressure-generation machine, I stop engaging with the game on a visceral level and start focusing all of my mental energy on predicting what will happen (which given the 20+ year old game's closed repertory of monsters and line actions is often not quite on the level of rocket science), and then figuring out how to avoid, stymie, or otherwise pre-emptively blunt the impact of said machine (which in this particular map was often very doable). The very best setpiece designs tend not to allow for a lot of metagaming like this, of course, and can still be enjoyable to operate within even when they are known quantities (either via prediction or actual foreknowledge or the like), either because they are variable/flexible within themselves or because the movement patterns they require are inherently exciting; such is the power of quality choreography. Still, though, under ideal circumstances I reckon that if your core design hinges largely on more or less constantly controlling everything the player sees and does (or everything they can see/do while still having a reasonable chance of survival), it's best to frame it in such in a way that this will either seem a natural turn of events or, alternatively, offer the player back his/her agency in other small ways to keep them playing in your world, as opposed to playing against your world's logic. Kind of like the hubspoke thing, you know--can be offputting in very baldfaced iterations, but disguise it or spin it--often just a little bit!--and it can be so, so sweet.

Map 08 of Ancient Aliens, for example, handles this by tying the setpieces (which are absolutely the things which give this map its heart and soul, for the record) to the UFO visits, thus framing them as part of a narrative, using the power of anticipation to its advantage and lending the setpieces a simple (but relevant) sort of in-world verisimilitude. A lot of the smaller maps in Sunlust had an element of non-linearity to them, usually mandating that you do all of the enclosed setpieces but letting you fiddle around and experiment with the order and timing of when you'd do them, which would have ramifications for your arsenal, momentum, and so on, a pattern expanded on and made even richer in fullscale maps ala Tourniquet's recent "Miasma", which adds a full-blown exploration element to complement the controlled action. Many maps by Ribbiks himself have a sly backroads secret-finding element to them which can totally turn some of the setpieces on their heads, yet a deeper layer on the same basic framework. Speaking more broadly, a good many maps past and present find success simply by balancing straightforward incidental combat with straightforward setpieces, in which case the periodic change of pace over the course of a map(set) helps keep things fresh. My personal Precious often takes the shape of expansive maps that have 'free' setpieces either in close proximity or in the context of a larger exploration area, such that you can start them, and then possibly leave them and thus have them bleed over into other areas of the map, or even into each other for extra flavor.

I could surely ramble on and on about this, but to sum up, I reckon my stance here is not that setpiece-based maps are inherently limited in scope or that setpieces require incidental combat to 'legitimize' them or the like, but rather that they are a sort of dish where elements of presentation and context can make all the difference between something which seems a mite contrived and something boundlessly engaging, which incidentally is also my stance on the vast majority of other level design considerations as well. ;)

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Map 10

Denial is not just a river in...

Anyways, this is the final map of episode 1 and it shows by having some truly ball-busting scenarios which took me multiple attempts to clear. Right off the bat, if you don't know about the left-side teleporter and rush the rocket launcher, you're in for a very unpleasant experience with an overwhelming number of Mancubi, skeletons and Impse gangbanging you in a rather limited space. What worked for me was grabbing the RL and then sprinting my way up past the Imps and into the teleporter, which takes you right back to the elevated starting area. It's a decent camping spot which can be used until some of the junk downstairs thins out. I also didn't expect a double secret right to the left of the start, but there's an elevator with a Plasma Rifle, an annoying Revenant who hit me twice and a Soul Sphere. Watch out for the 2 Mancs in the tower, as they can hit you there.

After the rocky start, the next section is not too bad provided you kill the 2 elevated spiders right away. This can be difficult with auto-aim as various crap spawns slightly below you and fucks with your rockets.

Interesting fact about the elevator with the Megasphere: In RC1 I managed to aggro the monsters up there and jump off before it reached the top, after which I camped at the bottom diddling myself while the Mancubi killed most of the enemies. This time I just went ham with the plasma on the two Pain Elementals and managed not to die. By the way, there's a bonehead Revenant way off on the opposite side which can and will sporadically fire homing feces at you. The section with the crushers was pretty cool and upon grabbing the key, the Mancubus that spawns blocking the exit does a good job at defending you from other baddies trying to get in.

Now the next encounter is pretty damn cool. Right away you can see that bad stuff be happenin' by all the rocket crates which provide more than the 50 you can carry here. Then the floor collapses and you're greeted by Hell Knights, Revenants and an Archvile on multiple tiers which rise on a timer. You can rocket spam like a man or be a wuss like me and dodge missiles until the ledges rise and the Knigths and Revenants engage in monster infighting simulator while you kill that Archvile at the back. Good thing health doesn't matter since the next part gives you another Megasphere right away.

Now, I found the final encounter to be Sunlust levels of difficulty, which took me at least 5 attempts to get right. 3 Cyberdemons, shotgunners and a ton of mid-tier demons of every variety clogging up a rather complex, and easy to get stuck+take splash damage in, arena. Rushing the BFG to the right is a good idea as it lets you punch holes in the hordes and move around the area. The RL will get you killed and the other weapons are just too weak to break through anything before dying. The amount of cells you get is quite limited so you're better off saving them for the Archvile(s) and the Cybers. Once you run around for a bit and the Cybers kill everything, it's the perfect time to go for that BFG 2-shot combo and die to a rocket from a 3rd Cyber you didn't see coming form the side.

It's a good idea to save some cells as the exit UFO holds 4 or 5 Archviles in a very cramped area. Trivial with enough BFG ammo though and trying to get at least 2 with each shot. After all is done, you take control of the UFO and investigate the alien origins in space.

TL;DR: My sack is redder than a baboon's ass! I need my goddamn ball cream!

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I am contagious. ;)

Map 09 -- The Nectar Flow - 102% Kills / 100% Secrets
Ah, a new-type Joshy map! Airy spaces, macrotecture, shitload of monsters, and tiered layout with coiled progression route and all. Even moreso than Resurgence, I was immediately reminded of Joshy's entry in BTSX E2, probably mainly due to general thematic similarities more than anything (i.e. ancient stone ruins with tall structures and liquid all over the place), though in practice "The Nectar Flow" is very much its own thing. The big 'surprise' here given the author's reputation is that the vast majority of the level's many monsters (nearing the 600 mark on the UV setting) are basic fodder enemies who can be easily massacred in droves either via infighting or direct combat, meaning that the level theoretically plays a lot quicker than its size and population might suggestion....theoretically. I think my own time was somewhere between 30 and 40 minutes, with the last few being spent in looking for the last secret (which actually turned out to be the right by the start, so much for my 'always check behind you' schtick!). Progression is once again a little more directed than it may initially appear (I think it's a basic fork this time, but am not entirely sure), with a couple of pivotal points that are veiled in some way (at one point you have to move through a non-translucent waterfall, and at another you need to drop down a deep pit); these changeoffs are hardly puzzling enough to prove a serious problem for most players, but they may deflect your itinerary just enough that you'll spend some playtime clearing away elevated snipers and other riffraff you would've met eventually anyway while your brain percolates over where to go next.

The airy scale of Joshy's newer maps is something I will almost always enjoy on some level, and I was solidly entertained by the senseless killing in the main areas, though there were a couple of things I felt compelled to bitch about as well. The main thing is the monster-blocking lines that several other players have already mentioned: do away with these, says I! They are generally unsightly (especially the ones closing in the bevy of cacos upstairs en route to the yellow key) and almost seem to break the intended effect of monster positioning in some places, as with the imp cavalcade which precedes the drop into the long underhall where the cyberdemon is encountered, where some of the imps port in behind blocking lines presumably intended to keep a couple of mancubi at their sniping post over the central area. Aesthetic considerations aside, I don't think I saw a truly good reason for any of these lines at any point; I mean, I understand that if that first blockade of imps weren't positioned as it currently is, a player would be able to run to the SSG from mapstart without stopping to engage anything, but, uh.......so? Seems like the inevitable hitscan attrition involved in doing this (even with that secret blursphere) would be tax enough for one's boldness, and since outright difficulty doesn't seem to be what this map aims for in the first place I guess I don't really understand the rationale here. The conceit of sealing off the lower level of the exit cupola when it's time to leave the map was also confusing to me--it's a camp-based ledge-fight either way--but I suppose this is neither here nor there. The other niggle that struck me is actually purely aesthetic, that being that certain of the tech/industrial assets used really don't mesh well with the rest of the theme, most notably the haz-stripe encasements with the RL and the path to the second key, the pressed silver lifts, and the bits of shiny chrome supports that show up in odd thresholds here and there. The neon and bits of machinery in the general vicinity of the RK switches looked just fine to me, by contrast.

On the brighter side, as expected I did enjoy the author's usual penchant for contrasting crowd-based incidental massacres in the main spaces with more concerted traps en route to and around the keycards. Of these, the one I liked most was the (practically perfunctory) spiderdemon who can be easily co-opted into playing Tango to your Cash if you use the blursphere and run past him into the BK's dead-end rocket-pounding fight once he has drawn the ire of the nearby viles; an easy encounter, but satisfying. By contrast, I kinda felt like the cyberdemon tunnel might need just a little bit more bite to it given how spacious it is, maybe some additional monsters to discourage a player from running into the cyb, and then promptly running back to the area's entry point to camp out all of the closeted buffoons (by contrast, I think the possibility for an aware player to hit the switch in the tunnel and leave them all locked behind the bars which gate off the RK shrine is lovely). I had heard a fair bit beforehand about certain arch-vile encounters which a fair few players disapproved of, as well. I assume these must be either the trio by the YK or the flanking duo by the RK (or both); I don't know if these have been nerfed/changed yet as of RC3a, but for my part I didn't see anything which struck me as too starkly out of step with the rest of the map here--you're free to retreat and lob rockets at the YK guys (the revenant on the other side of the fence immediately before is much nastier if you don't take him out quickly, IMO), and with the RK guys you pretty much pick a side and stick to it while hosing one or the other dude down with plasma (trying to turtle up at the entrance not being a very good idea). In fairness, in the latter case I guess it's quite possible you'll have little choice but to tank one solid hit (I did), so perhaps putting some quality healing down by the ammo which immediately precedes the encounter would address this?

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MAP09: The Nectar Flow
100% kills, 1/3 secrets

Ah, the first non-Skillsaw map of the set. Looks like it'll be tough with 500+ monsters, but early on a large part of these are huge clumps of pistol zombies and imps, so it surely won't be too bad. Right? The first section is making your way through the winding path, making your way higher and higher (and easier to take out all those damn ledge monsters). The first hint that this will be painful is the pain elemental/chaingunner trap (seriously, what asshole would do such a thing), but things became really clear when I tried to get the yellow key and had to deal with three sudden Arch-Viles in a space with not much cover. I do hate those stairs, by the by... really difficult to tell when you've broken the Viles' sight line. There's definitely some nice battles here though, like the giant imp swarm before the jump in the red key path. The ominous line of rocket boxes afterwards actually portended a somewhat underwhelming fight, though.

Joshy's style is definitely different from Skillsaw's; as others have said, there's a lot more airy spaces and blocky architecture. The texturing scheme is also more subdued, lots of areas are just brown stone bricks and purple water, gone are the multicolored orgy of lightstripes. Still some very nice looking areas though, like the underground rocket box hallway or the blue key approach. I'll agree that the block monster lines were a negative; I mainly noticed them for the zombiemen/imp swarms at the start and the cacodemons in the rock tunnels and they just stuck out (as in, why are these enemies just milling around?) The drop into the caged area for the yellow key is also a bit video game-y, as there's no reason to drop in there at first glance (it's just a closed off area behind a cage) except that, well, it's a video game and there's nowhere else to go.

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Magnusblitz said:

MAP08: Ancient Aliens
BTW, I meant to mention this before, but anyone else keep mistaking the cow skulls for the BFG?

Same here! Similar color & shape will do that to you.

MAP08: Now we get to see skillsaw flex some of his arena muscle! While the first bit of the map opens innocuously enough (well, if you ignore the flying chrome & neon saucers invading the land), it soon becomes trap city as you’re whisked off to different encounters over and over. I think there’s perhaps too many times when a trap starts and the player hears a revenant cry off in the distance, but I do respect skillsaw for trying to throw some tough medium-sized fights at the player. Only one I found myself groaning over was the green UFO, since that was just no fun whatsoever… three archviles is a bit too much. Still, I liked the slight shift in theme for this one, as the UFOs are a welcomed change of pace.

Oh, and skillsaw, in the exit rooms you should keep the health packs to the side of the exit instead of directly in front of it—the lack of consistency can be very unnerving to certain peoples!

MAP09: Ooof, did not have fun with this one. Coming off of our longest map yet is an even longer map, with a decent amount of enemies to grind through. But whereas skillsaw's personal philosophy is to keep the action on a forward track, Joshy seems tied to the framework of bygone slaughtermapping, filling each room with dozens of baddies but allowing the player to corner camp if they wish. The player isn't starving for ammo so there's not a lot of incentive for them to take high risks, which makes this map drag on and on and on. When the map does decide to get rough it often accelerates too fast in the other direction, like with the three AVs at the yellow key (just what is the optimal solution for fighting them there?)

In some ways, the change of pace is nice, but I would've had no problems with another skillsaw map in place of this one. Also, any idea why this window is impassable instead of just block monster lines?

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rileymartin said:

Episode 1 actually ends after map 10 and there is a death exit. Episode 2 ends after map 18 the same way. So it does work like in Valiant, only the episodes are longer. Text, as well as sky changes are inserted whenever appropriate and don't follow the Doom 2 style.


Yup, I figured that out later but kept my level-by-level stream of consciousness in tact and didn't go back an edit it. In fact, I'm just about to post about the end of E1 right now.


Map 09: This is probably the first level that really gave me a run for my money. Lots of crossfire and slaughter. Two really good boss fights here with a Cyberdemon and a Mastermind with an intense end scene after grabbing the blue key. Made some really good use of the rocket launcher in this level.

Map 10: Ha! Scratch what I said about the end of the episode before. They did it for real here in another map that makes really good use of the rocket launcher and midtier enemies. This level has a really great slaughter bit which ended up pretty hilarious for me with a cyberdemon being hunted and slowly burned to death by an archvile. However, occassionally the archvile would opt to bring back some other monsters who would then quickly turn on the cyberdemon from getting in the way of his shots at me until, eventually, the archvile was killed by splash damage. First time I've seen an archvile taken out through monster infighting. That last bit of slaughter was really well done, lots of different monster types all going at it with the cyberdemon pulling most of the rope. I'm actually rather impressed with him. On to episode 2 after a nice conspiracy theory laden interstitial text.

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MAP09 - "The Nectar Flow" by Joshy FDA here



whoa nelly that's a pretty hectic start to the map! still, loved this, even though it kicked my arse about 8 times - in various ways.

+ awesome spacious architecture, but i was able to have a mental map in my head so well done joshy!
+ interesting encounters and good sense of non-linearity
+ lovely MIDI

nothing really negative to say about this map

is the blue armour pickup on the ledge, behind the little fence, near the start area, accessible with SR40? i ended up picking it up with an SR50 run.

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dobu gabu maru said:

like with the three AVs at the yellow key (just what is the optimal solution for fighting them there?)


definitely one of those encounters that rewards aggression - you have to push them as much as possible with rockets, before backing up before they flame you.

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MAP10 Gift of Denial

Gift of Denial ends this episode on a high note. The gameplay is still there in spades and all, managing to give me the enemies as I progress. Whether it's the crusher segments at the yellow key or the very memorable rising ledges at the blue key, I enjoyed this for what it's worth. That cyberdemon area can be handled in a number of ways.

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MAP10: Gift of Denial

After the sprawling scope of the preceding map, it's nice to delve back into more compact and focused play here; there's nothing close to claustrophobic, but it's definitely more of a single structure through which the player is invited to blast and batter their way as though storming the layered ramparts and courtyards of a medieval castle. The fights gradually step up in intensity as the player ascends from watery gulch through towers and the cathedral-like space beyond the yellow door, until the back-to-back climactic battles with a cyberdemon and his minions and then a gaggle of arch-viles in the hovering saucer that right from the start has been the map's clear objective. This is a really good example of architecture and layout used to communicate a clear sense of progression toward goals throughout, and the fights are a great deal of fun.

The closing text here pokes a little fun at the WAD's own idiosyncracies and the slightly schizophrenic Egyptian/Mesoamerican hybrid present in its texture set, closing out "for reals" the first episode of Ancient Aliens nicely.

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MAP10: Gift of Denial (RC1)
No more zombie hordes for lazy marines here. This map is almost entirely setpieces. Some you play through once. Others you loop back through a second time, like the yellow key ledges. I thought getting started was the hardest part. Even from a carryover, the first area is fairly punishing. I only found the secret plasma rifle at the end of the level when I doubled back looking for goodies. Foreknowledge of that would've made the beginning much easier.

Question: I was rather short on rockets and plasma at the end. I left two cyberdemons standing on account of that. Did RC3 add more in?

Now that I'm at the end of E1, I'm going to upgrade to RC3.

97% Kills
66% Secrets

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rehelekretep said:

definitely one of those encounters that rewards aggression - you have to push them as much as possible with rockets, before backing up before they flame you.

That's the tactic I had to use... felt kinda blunt.

MAP10: Fantaaaastic follow-up to Joshy's map. 250 monsters seems like a hefty amount, but this map flies by in under a dozen minutes. It follows in the footsteps of MAP08's setpiece ensemble, but presents them to you in much more organic ways—plus the fights themselves are a massive step up. Lots of arachnatron use, non-obnoxious AV use (well, as long as you like fighting multiples of them at once), an awesome stair-based encounter, and a chaotic triple cyber finale. Nearly every fight hits with the right amount of impact and difficulty, and there's more than one way to approach each encounter so restarting them doesn't feel like a chore. Absolutely excellent work here; my ideal finale from skillsaw.

Thus ends Episode 1! Won't do any kind of episode summaries until the end of the month, as I dunno how differently they play from one another.

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MAP10 - "Gift of Denial" by skillsaw

Heh, I thought I was handling this map pretty well until the cybers appeared, then I got my arse kicked well and truly. After a bunch of attempts I just grabbed the key and bfg-ed my way to the flying saucer, thinking that I would probably pay for that later. But I escaped with my life, so long suckers. And then the aliens destroyed me. So ends the first episode, and thats as far as I have previously played. Looking forward to seeing where the flying saucer will take me next...

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MAP10 - I need to start this review by acknowledging that the ending text scroll takes a shot at lampshading some of my aesthetic concerns so far (including with this map itself). So yes, I know it's all deliberate choice by the authors--but that doesn't change the fact that it's not to my taste and I resist it accordingly. I'll continue commenting on it as such. :)

Anyway, the map itself. A nice chaser after MAP09, this is much shorter but with more intense and interesting combat if anything. The highlight of the gameplay is probably the initial fight in the red key area, when a cyber confronts me immediately and shepherds me into an area where I have to worry about cleaning out a lot of other baddies (including a few moderately heavy hitters) so I can turn my attention to mr. goat skyscraper. It's all very fun and I have enough room to maneuver & enough supplies to get through (there was a whole extra megasphere I didn't even need, but I do appreciate that it was there). The second key setup was really neat too. Don't think I've ever seen that done before.

Aesthetically, this is beautiful. The combination of the pun in the name and the largely Egyptian motif, with plenty of blue water and greenery, make me think of a temple complex somewhere on the banks of the fertile delta itself, which is a nice contrast to all the parched sand and dusty, scoured rock that tends to characterize Egyptian-style maps, even otherwise lovely ones like Misri Halek. I noted in my review of some earlier map that the Egyptian textures didn't really work when they were scattered in. This map mostly goes all-in on the Egyptian motif, and mostly works much better as a result-- I use the "mostly" qualifier twice because the author does slip and let in a few mesoamerican textures here and there, and that darn awkward tech too! The neon goth-light trim is out-of-place enough, but that one scrolling multicolored neon light wall in the inside of one of the monster pens that opens after the first key? It's just goofy, man. I remain firm in my position that the neon lights (not to be confused or conflated with the neon colors) are not good in the ancient ruins segments. They are fine in the UFOs, obviously, and also fine in the alien environments we're implied to be visiting next.

Finally, given that there's a death exit, is there any reason why it traps me at a credits screen (in GZDoom) rather than just letting me go on to map11? Obviously it's as simple as starting a new game in the next episode, but it's odd that they specifically set it up to stop the player from just entering map11 after the text scroll.

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Playing with GZDoom, on Ultra-Violence, continuous play, keyboard+mouse, no freelook, no jumping etc.

Map 11: Origin of Spacies

A spectacular map! This short jaunt through what appears to be an alien space station with a good view of the pale blue dot and the moon. Absolutely stunning scenery! I thought the inclusion of the new baddies was neat, actually, they caught me off guard, especially the cloaked alien assassins (?). There was a lot of variety to this map, actually, aside the space station there was the flying saucer and a little journey across the moon in quest of the keys. The monster population on this map wasn't as dense as the previous maps, so a nice breather for a start of a new episode.

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MAP10: Gift of Denial
Time: 08:20 (01:15:56) | Deaths: 2 (8)

And just as sudden as the huge jump in monster count, we see it fall again back to 150.
This one I played quite a lot on the first TNS session, so foreknowledge of pretty much every fight made this actually quite straightforward for me. We had a railgun only mode, and had to play the map countless times because that blue key trap proved to be impossible without sending a willing volunteer (i.e. some random oblivious players who joined and ran straight in and triggering the ambush) and killing everything from the outside. We called them gerbils :>
So yeah, I've already seen most of the fights here on UV, plus any multiplayer monsters that were added.
With that in mind, HNTR was a bit of a breeze, and oh my was it fun. I didn't use the SSG at all here, save for finishing off the cyberdemon and some other monsters around it to conserve ammo for the big guns. Rockets more or less all the way, with the occasional helping hand from the BFG and the plasma gun. Oh yes.

My two deaths? Well they were down to plain stupidity after taking the yellow key, and both involved being careless with crushers. Should not have happened. While health is plentiful up there, if you're unfortunate dumb enough to run into those crushers no less than three times, then let's face it, you don't deserve to survive that area :)
That's probably the most I've lived up to my reputation on ZDaemon so far for this playthrough, it's exactly the sort of thing that happens when I do my thing of running around like Nevan, Krypto, Ancalagon, etc, but soon realising in a rather painful way I don't have an ounce of their skill.

And actually you know what, I'm glad I screwed that fight up twice. I hadn't saved the first time so I had to start from the beginning of the map, and it's actually a kinda rare occurrence that I'm pleased about that. It meant I was able to run around like a madman launching rockets into everything for just that little longer.
The yellow key fight, once I finally had a hold on it still put up a fun fight. Blasted the arch-vile away with the BFG, then charged through everything else with the plasma. I wasn't sure how many hell knights to expect in the blue key area, so I was planning on switching to the BFG again, but when a relatively small number came through, I went with even more rockets there.

With all the rocket boxes placed in this map, it's obvious that it's supposed to be THE weapon to use here, with anything else serving as something for mere cleanup purposes. We're given a BFG towards the end of the map, so if there's enough cells going in to the UFO, the arch-viles can be dealt with that way, which I was able to, thankfully.

Visually, this is another contender for the best looking map yet. It really comes down to this and MAP08, and I think this one just clinches it for me. Both have pretty much the same sort of thing going on, but the structures here are on a larger and more impressive scale, which swings it for me. The opening shot is also neat, we can immediately see a UFO - orange, this time - looming over the protrusion of the buliding behind it, with another beam reaching to the floor. It's also a nice kind of design on display, since we can effectively see the ultimate goal of the map the moment we start.

In ZDoom, this WAD, like Valiant, is split up into actual episodes á la Ultimate Doom, and the map ends on a death exit in case you aren't playing in those ports. Well, there goes my total time on the intermission screen, though I'll continue to keep adding up the total through another means.
Music is great as ever, the visuals are fantastic, and this has been the most fun experience in Ancient Aliens so far, by quite a margin, actually.

9/10, but only because I try to be very strict with giving out 10s. 9.5, if I had to be more specfic.

---

The first episode has already proven to be pretty great, and it sets the standards pretty high for the following two, but I'm optimistic that those standards will be met. The best maps in the first episode for me were easily 10 and 08, with 09 closely following behind, but even the weaker maps here don't at all stand out as being bad, just not up to scratch with the better maps, and I'm sure some will argue that slightly uneven quality isn't necessarily a bad thing to have in a megawad, and I think I agree with that to an extent. With some maps slightly weaker than the rest of the bunch (02, 04, 05), it allows the true gems (08-10) shine just that little bit brighter. Of course, that concept can easily be taken too far, and if those weaker maps really were bad instead of being "not quite up to scratch," then the whole thing is just a mixed bag with some great maps and some crap ones, instead of a bag of good maps and maps that are just sheer brilliance.
Onwards, it's time to search for some Ancient Astronauts.

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Map 11

Stunning visual opener for the new episode. The style is changed completely and you find yourself aboard a space station with a view of the Moon and Earth. I went into this wad slightly disappointed after the custom monsters in Valiant but was pleasantly surprised that we do, in fact, get two new enemies from this point onward. The stealthy, lethal but very fragile plasma trooper and the exploding rocket drone. Not sure on what the official names for those are though. I really enjoyed the trip to the Moon which gave me some good ol' Lunatic/Valiant vibes. Interesting fact about the red switch area with the drones: Some barrier close behind you when you flip the switch but it's possible to escape if you're quick enough and safely take them out from a distance, avoiding the splash damage.

Really fun and not too difficult start to the 2nd episode.

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Map 10 -- Gift of Denial - 106% Kills / 100% Secrets
Yup, quite liked this one, probably my favorite of the first episode. Set in a grand citadel or high temple perched on the bluffs of a verdant river-canyon (....nectar-crevasse?), I was initially reminded somewhat of the temple facade from the "14 Angrier Arch-viles" level in Valiant, though this one ends up retaining its breezy twilight-suntan atmosphere throughout, rather than descending into sinister shadows. It really is a beaut, this one, with trees and the upper beams of the ruins strikingly silhouetted against the sunset whenever you're down in the canyon proper, with the ruins themselves characterized by tall spaces and artistic motifs such as the mint-leaf archways and swirling pockets of energy behind ornate grates used in place of frescoes. The level uses the episode's signature violet/indigo hues in a surprisingly spare way, mostly as trim on top of an earthy stone/clay base, but I never felt things were lacking for color in this case; as before, the sky again pulls a lot of weight here, and the tall/airy scale of the geometry in contrast to the more compact early-game stuff means that the bands of new color generally represent a much heartier dosage where they occur. Something subtle but new, the tans and muted purples are also very nicely accented by robust greens, which in this case actually come mostly from trees and grass rather than architecture. While it has probably been just as much the case with the earlier maps as it is in this one, here I also found myself noticing the complex polyhedral shapes of the playspaces much more (again, probably on account of the generally larger scale), which of course lend verisimilitude to the natural terrain, personality to the man-made (??????! :giorgio:) construction, and liveliness to the fights.

And it is the fights that shine, as it should be. The gameplay can for the most part be boiled down to a series of arena combats, all generally pitched in Skillsaw's characteristically accessible way (i.e. tons of health and ammo to offset the chaotic action and give most players every opportunity to triumph even with frequent mistakes) with an entertaining variety throughout, thanks in large part to the regular tradeoff between loosely-structured monster-dump fights that allow players to either try for a Stonewall strategy (at the cost of encroachment pressure) or opt for a more mobile/evasive approach (typically at the cost of getting more of the total monster complement involved at once), with more controlled setpiece encounters which require more specific strategies, most notably the disarmingly cool segmented 'shelf' fight in the southeastern hall, which combines light area-denial with an element of time pressure for a memorable sequence.

The climactic battle of the episode on the initially congested northern terrace combines elements of these two broader fight types, starting out as a semi-panicked scramble to get your bearings under pressure as two surprise cyberdemons come unhinged in the midst of a mob of unruly riffraff, where the various pathways and throughways are quirky enough in alignment relative to one another that you have to be ready to change direction on a dime until things thin out a bit. This quickly develops (for pistol-starters, at least) into a bout of more deliberately directed evasive maneuvering as you make a gambit of claiming the BFG 9000 from its perch (and yes, I also have been momentarily distracted by some of those decidedly BFG-esque cow skulls), which eventually swings things in your favor, though not before unleashing a third cyberdemon and requiring you to be evasive for a mite longer as you gather cell ammo from a few carefully-selected cubbies. As I expected (and hoped), this level does feature a final stinger encounter in the UFO, which indirectly rewards players who were able to refrain from spastically spamming all of their cells via sloppy BFG usage in the previous fight. Very nice tidy wrapup there, though I'm sure there'll be at least a few sour grapes from those who make it that far and then suffer death via choking, heh.

Very cool. To be honest, I found the first part of this first episode to be a mite underwhelming, mainly because it went to a certain well one too many times (I figure there's probably a reason Skillsaw decided to stop making that conceptual workshop mapset and started making Ancient Aliens instead, to whit), but it certainly has shaped up quite nicely here at the end. Certainly looking forward to E2: "Applied Einstein!"

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Map 11 -- On the Origin of Spacies - 100% Kills / 100% Secrets
Dig that RK placement. The first thing that hits me here is unsurprisingly the color scheme, which is one I've never really seen in Doom before, made me think of a bowl of Mixed Berry Skittles (yes, I am mentally all of six whole years old). It certainly is different, got to give it that, and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it yet, perhaps will refrain from judgement until I've seen a few more iterations of it, hopefully in the context of some more dark/light contrast. The capriciously heterogeneous neon striplights/insets look a lot less distracting to me here, incidentally, though now I'm left to look sideways at the inclusion of that dark green woodgrain texture I was gushing about earlier on, haha. As for that pun, well......no comment.

In contrast to the convention-defying "Ancient Navajo Wolf Warp", the start of this second episode seems like much more traditional first map fare (pistols, barrels, a little techbase full of closets full of imps and zombies, etc.), though it does eventually expand a ways beyond that mould, with another UFO visit (actually a couple of visits, technically) and a simple arena-type fight on the surface of the/a moon. The fights do their job, as one would expect, but none of them struck me as particularly assertive or remarkable in terms of setup, timing, or choreography (thanks for making that conspicuously placed chainsaw actually usable rather than merely a joke at my naive expense, incidentally). This is perhaps more or less as intended, as the real purpose here is ostensibly to make some basic introductions of a couple of new enemies which will presumably feature throughout the episode. One of these is a small hovering drone vaguely reminiscent of the skull-cubes from STRAIN, but rendered in Eriance's distinctive art style (although like pretty much all enemies made to this same basic artistic template, they have a rather dull death animation). Not especially fleet of movement, these little gadgets seem to have about the same amount of HP as a lost soul (they were dying to single rockets at least) and boast some decent hitting power by way of firing revenant missiles. Always nice to have another flying enemy in the game, but I'll have to encounter these guys a few more times before I can properly contextualize them, since there's a lot I couldn't tell from the brief introductory encounter here.

The other new enemy, however, I can already tell I'll have fun with--a diminutive and speedy alien stealth-trooper who fires withering plasma blasts and has all the hardy resilience of an ancient porcelain vase. I liked these guys from the get-go, they're so fast but so delicate that fighting against them is like playing some jumped-up game of jai-alai where the ball occasionally tries to hit you back. In application they seem to be kind of similar to the evil marines from Scythe II (and other places), but their low HP makes them far less immediately domineering over every encounter they appear in, and thus more readily usable en mass, which is a good thing (IMO). Other uses aside, it immediately struck me that this enemy is a real boon for the poor underappreciated chaingun, as a spray/pray hitscan weapon is just the ticket for suppressing these speedy little bastards. I look forward to meeting them again soon.

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MAP11 - This particular sort of shiny space base is one of my least favorite themes in modern Doom mapping, all else being equal, though I can certainly respect when it's done well (as it unquestionably is here). This version of it has a little bit more interest than average since the custom textures add some interest beyond the standard silver, grey and techlights-- in particular I have to give a shout out to the scrolling lines of alien script, which are very well done.

The new enemy is also conceptually interesting and fits the theme of 'alien' better than the standard Doom cast, but at this point I'm wondering--who the heck are we fighting? Demons from hell or aliens from planet X? This almost feels like it wants to be a TC with all-new alien enemies and textures, but the texture set (for all its novelty) still prominently features pentagrams and demonic MARBFACEs, and even if you ignore the difficulty of replacing the entire default cast of monsters, this megawad actively moves to include some more traditional, flesh-and-bone-evil monster looks-- I'm thinking obviously of Eriance's sprite replacements for the Arachnotron and Mancubus, but also the floating skull cube enemy. (Trivia for anyone who doesn't know: The Arachnotron and Mancubus were, I believe, originally made for Episode 2 of Demon Eclipse. In that sadly aborted project, the Marine leaves terrestrial equipment behind entirely when he goes to Hell; all the weapons, armor and health pickups, etc. are replaced by demonic equivalents. Presumably the idea was that it made the most sense for the demons to likewise have their techy parts made of demon tech, hence the bone and skulls instead of shiny metal for the Arach's legs and the Manc's cannons. What this all boils down to is that, cool as they are, they seem like exactly the opposite of what you'd want to be thematically appropriate for an alien tech megawad, so I'm lost for what the authors were going for. I hope it will come out as I keep playing.)

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MAP10: Gift of Denial
98% kills, 1/3 secrets

A very linear episode ender here, but a very pretty one too... I really like that opening area with the flying saucer overlooking things. Some good, inventive fights here too, as the blue key fight is one of more creative designs I've seen recently. The three cybers battle gave me a lot of trouble, but that's just because I suck at using the BFG like that (never learned how to two-shot with it, and the area doesn't provide much easy rocket dodging room). Not much else to say, just a really good map on every front. And I dig that text screen, good to see the egyptian and meso-american stuff was mixed on purpose. :P

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MAP11: On The Origin of Spacies

New episode means new theme (lunar/techbase, though still rendered in the WAD's trademark bold colours) and new enemies in the form of a flying, missile-spawning skull-drone and a plasma shock trooper, both of which came as real surprises to me; they're bound to keep things interesting as this episode continues.

Gameplay is pretty conventional but this level is quick to hand out some potent firepower and to introduce some of the bestiary's heavier hitters; the denial of resources that marks the start of a new episode isn't maintained for long, but the level is compact enough that the limited appearances each critter puts in helps to maintain the uniqueness of each encounter. The stealthy plasma troopers seem like they're a good choice for close-quarter encounters, and like the familiar chaingun zombies their ability to rapidly whittle down the player's health if they catch you from an unexpected quarter makes them a priority target; fortunately, they're squishy enough that they present threat more than they do frustration. I'm not sure what to make of the skull-drones yet as the single appearance they made didn't seem like it really gave them a chance to show themselves off.

I did find the secret soul sphere, perched atop a tower reached via a teleporter tucked away in a lunar crevice, but squandered it pretty quickly reacting slack-jaw'd and careless to the encounters following my return from the UFO trip.

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MAP11 On the Origin of Spacies

You'll never believe where this takes place! outer space dumbass...yeah cool. This map and the ones after will have the cybercoloured theme, and with it the new enemies. These invisible soldiers are a real pain in the neck when you don't spot them quick enough, but they are more or less like Lunatic's soldiers otherwise. There is of course, the UFO that I enter and then quickly end up back on the moon of all places to get a rocket launcher. The ending room has a few AD_79 avatars that shoot revenant rockets. Thankfully, they're not tanks when it comes to health levels. Very fun opener. I think the health bonuses in the end room don't look right (at least on my port, they were sitting on the floor halfway in the wall when they should be on the orange light).

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MAP11: On the Origin of Spacies
Time: 06:05 (01:22:01) | Deaths: 0 (8)

The second episode starts us off with a techbase in the middle of space, not far from the Earth and Moon, which makes for an impressive sky texture. Looks like cyan - my favourite colour - is quite dominant here, which isn't something you see every day in a Doom WAD, so while the appearance of this map is quite unusual, it's a welcome split from the norm for me. I guess we can say the same thing about magenta, which also features prominently here. The neon bridges make their first proper appearance, though they don't exactly function as bridges here, but regardless, they make for very interesting floor detail. Valiant's moon maps had a similar thing going on, but as far as I know (disclaimer: haven't played those maps myself, only seen others playing it, so correct me if I'm wrong) they really were used as bridges here, whereas here they're being extended for use as decoration. Seems like skillsaw was experimenting with these neon effects in Valiant, and now he's refined the effect so that it's more versatile, and even generally looks better.

As this is another opener map where we're all forced to play from pistol start, the difficulty drops back down. On HNTR, it's definitely harder than MAP01, though it's possible that UV players will disagree. I agree with DotW though that it does feel more like a traditional MAP01 than MAP01 itself did, utilising only low-tier monsters early on, placed in pretty basic ways, but all the same, it's fun to blast through them.
While the map is still in its early stages, the first of Ancient Aliens' custom monster is introduced. A mostly invisible soldier armed with a plasma gun, who of course can easily go unseen and potentially ruin your day. Fortunately they have a different style of invisiblity to the spectre, which can be either easier or more difficult to spot, depending on the background they're walking against. They also have a distinctive idle sound, so you can always listen for them if they're after you. If you're fortunate enough to encounter one while it's still idle, it's fully visible in this state. Thanks to DotW, I see the chaingun really is the optimal weapon here, and that should make them a bit easier to deal with since they move kinda quickly. Given their similarity to the Evil Marine from Scythe 2, I've already ended up using their same nickname of 'plasmadick,' since they were absolutely lethal in the TNS pain rotation, where they deal double damage, in addition to having the -fast parameter on. Because of how dangerous they were there, I have to say I was mildly unnerved by meeting them here, but they seem easy enough to sort out under normal conditions, though I'm sure I'm going to have some run-ins with them that don't have the best outcomes :)

We get another trip onto a UFO in this map, and this one showcases a different interior design to previous ones, with a single open room in contrast to the smaller, more claustrophobic feel of the ones we saw back on Earth. A nice effect is on display with the screen, which, when you press the switch, simulates the UFO travelling through space, by changing from the skybox of the first area of the map, to a picture of the lunar surface. It's not very elaborate, as it implies the spaceship immediately teleports from one point to the other (or maybe it does?) rather than actually moving, but given I'm not entirely sure how the effect was done in the first place, I have no idea if a smooth animation is even possible.
Nor is it necessary, the idea is conveyed pretty clearly as is.

And sure enough, when you return to the teleporter to beam down onto the surface, you're not back on the space station, but instead on the surface of the moon, complete with the iconic sky from Lunatic showing a massive Earth covering the sky above. An impressive sight as ever, though I can't help but be slightly bothered by the fact Earth doesn't look even nearly that big from the moon in reality :V
I think this is the only time we see that sky in the WAD. It almost feels like a short visit here could be skillsaw waving goodbye to this setting, having already done it in Lunatic and Valiant before. Perhaps I'm also getting this feeling because NOVA III's third episode is using the same resources, and as far as I know, that's the first major project to do so; soon it won't be an exclusively skillsaw thing anymore.

I guess we found evidence of our ancient astronauts, they put a bloody great pyramid on the moon, and if you can find way in there you're rewarded with a soulsphere. It's while we're on the moon the difficulty ramps up a bit, with some mid-tier monsters being added to the mix. Upon returning to the space station afterward, more mid-tier monsters are waiting, so echoing the comments of others, this map eventually ventures a bit beyond the traditional MAP01 that it comes off as initially.
As we approach the exit, the second custom monster is introduced. Again, it has very little HP, but can still pose a significant by means of the revenant missiles it fires. Probably still not as threatening as the plasmadick, though their design certainly grabs your attention. I first saw these in AD_79's avatar before I knew they were in this WAD, and hence, I'll probably just end up referring to these guys as ADs.

Completely ran out of ammo while fighting the last hell knights, and didn't feel like having to chainsaw the last one, so I just ignored it and ran for the exit. Not entirely pleased about that, next map could be an interesting start.

Overall though, a nice episode opener, with enough stuff that interested me to the point where I seem to have written a fair bit more than even DotW, so... congrats to me? Most of that really is about the visual side of things though, as techbases can sometimes look a bit boring to me, but this style is far from that. Gameplay doesn't seem stellar (no pun intended) but that could just be because we've come straight from a string of great maps.

8/10

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MAP11: On the Origin of Spacies
Heh. New enemies. The camo guys remind me of Valiant's arachnorbs because of the burst fire on their guns. Someone else has already brought up the STRAIN comparison for the flyers. I concur.

On to the level itself. I thought it was pretty simple until I got pasted trying to grab the red key. Redoing the fight for the rocket launcher caused me all sorts of headaches, even though I got past it easily the first time. What I did the second time, in contrast with the first, was bypass everything and go for the secret. The mancubus brothers were all too happy to infight with the demons while I grabbed the soul sphere secret, cleaned out the peanut gallery of imps, made a sandwich, got a drink of water, and finally went down to kill them at the end. (I'm exaggerating) The red key trap was much easier the second time around.

I did run into one thing I expect is unintended. When I flipped the red key switch to release the flyers, I managed to escape before the bars went up. I killed them and looked for a way back in, but I couldn't find one. To complete the level, I had to idclip through the bars. Maybe the room should be a little longer so a player using SR40 like I was can't escape. Either that or leave it in, but put a switch to lower the bars in one of the chaingunner closets.

100% Kills
100% Secrets

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map10

Really cool map. Basically the only bad thing that can be said about it is that it isn't 2-3x longer. Nice mix of INCIDENTAL COMBAT <3 and SET PIECES <3, with the SET PIECES <3 being really cool. The thing about cybers is that they are basically walking devices of "oh shit", so they add a certain degree of tension to basically all encounters while they are still alive.

I can beat this level comfortably, but I can't seem to put a smooth-looking demo together for it. There's always one fight where I seem to take damage in a silly way. :D The most tricky encounter not to look stupid in is actually the YK one, namely the part after the first two firemen where you return to the main yard and distant arachnotrons have been summoned on those towers. Fuckers.

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