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Cipher

Finding Evilution Hard To Love (And I guess a chat about level design in general)

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Thought I'd put this out there for discussion (and to vent my frustration a bit).

 

I recently finished all 32 levels of Plutonia for the first time, and decided I should go back to Evilution as well. I'd played the first twenty levels or so keyboard-only last year on Hurt Me Plenty, but between the reduced difficulty and giving myself a save or two per level, it didn't stick with me -- though I remembered it being vaguely fun.

 

Now I'm doing a proper playthrough with mouse on UV, no (mid-level) saves, and kind of wondering how anyone could love it. I know it has a decent following, so rather than shut that down, I'm genuinely open to hearing perspectives. I've heard especially often that while its first twenty or so levels are mostly good, it falls apart in the last third. At level 12, I'm already finding major faults.

 

"Metal" is dreadful, and "Stronghold" isn't much better. While there have been fun moments found in most of the other levels -- and "Redemption" is quite enjoyable, though short and rather easy -- even the better entries in its first eleven levels (like "Prison" and "Storage Facility," in my opinion) have segments that display the faults of the levels I enjoy the least.

 

Namely: Due to its length and monster placement, combat is tedious -- difficulty comes in the form of haphazard hitscanner attrition rather than cleverly staged combat, creating a really terrible loop of unforeseeable deaths and combat scenarios that simply aren't that fun to replay, and don't invite the player to really improve at them upon a second or third attempt.

 

Or, more concisely: When I died in Plutonia, I was happy to shake it off and replay earlier parts of the level, getting better at navigating the tricky combat and monster placement each time. When I die in Evolution, more often than not I'm frustrated. Frustrated because I got taken out by the level's one difficult (or unforeseeable) ambush and now have to sit through killing a horde of shuffling grunt monsters from a doorway again, never really having to change my approach before I get back to the trap ("Stronghold" was a major culprit for this). Because although I'm being sent back, it feels like a chore, picking off hordes of monsters who aren't particularly challenging aside from numbers, rather than an opportunity to get better. That's ... not fun. And again, even the more engaging levels tend to have one or more section of slowly wading through combat that doesn't offer much resistance, and on the other side of that unforeseeable traps that will send you back to those moments again. ("Storage Facility" has both some engaging and varied combat and a couple terrible sections of waiting out teleporting low-level monsters.)

 

So, for all the love this game gets, where does it stem from? Should I be looking at the combat differently? Do its fans just use saves and avoid putting up with the flow of its gameplay on repeated attempts? I used to think I liked this one better than Doom II, but, while I don't love most of that game's level design, I don't think it ever really feels botched -- just not my style with its openness; most encounters are at least engaging, and levels tend not to drag. One third into the current Evilution run, it's already had several clunkers in whole or in part.

 

Also, how do you manage a hard Doom game with longer maps that doesn't fall into these traps? Can you do it with less specific monster placement than something like Plutonia did? Are there Evilution-inspired games that outdo the original while borrowing shades of its gameplay? When a difficult (in comparison to Doom or Doom II) mapset forgoes arcadey design for dungeon-crawling (which I think is what Evilution is usually credited with doing, kind of?), how can it navigate the frustration/punishment by way of timesink present in sending a player back?

 

So this was half-venting on how little love I'm finding for this wad, and half a proposed discussion on the type of gameplay I think is at the heart of my frustration with it.

 

(And to pre-empt questions and clarify the difference between the "hitscanner attrition" presented by Evilution's levels and Plutonia's -- because surely Plutonia at points becomes hitscanner hell -- Plutonia's approach to design feels like it was based on considering every monster's placement and how they would shape encounters, whereas Evilution's design seemed to stem from a philosophy of "Build a level with interesting architecture, then fill rooms with hitscanners and imps and hope they provide a challenge." That's not gameplay-based design.)

Edited by Cipher

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yeah tnt isn't too great

 

the only levels i liked were the ones that they tried something cool and unique, which is funny since most people seem to hate those and only like the normal levels, which i thought were mostly pretty awful

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35 minutes ago, Memfis said:

If you don't get it, perhaps you're too "spoiled" by modern wads.

That can't be, because I've played fewer than five of them. I'm pretty new to Doom (little over a year), and actually prefer vanilla maps to complex ones. Either way, it's a scene I've only started to dip into.

 

I am a "hardcore gameplay nerd" though, and am pretty critical of how hard games are designed even in other genres (it's a hard balance to achieve -- genuine challenge without tedium --wonderful when it's done right and dire when it isn't), so that may have something to do with it. All the atmosphere in the world can't make up for something that doesn't feel good to play.

 

I will say that I actually like Evilution's off-beat progression and its setpieces. If its combat were better designed, the levels would actually be great fun to go through. As it stands, they already are, occasionally, but when they're not they're awful in strangely uniform ways. (Though maybe that also gets into the dichotomy of monster-first or atmosphere-first design, and whether there really is a happy medium there.)

 

I might have not given enough credit to the strength of its atmosphere or design though, especially to players at the time. Doom is just such a gameplay-focused experience for me. So maybe that does answer my "Why does this have such a following?" question.

Edited by Cipher

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TNT for me is a great atmospheric wad and like I said countless times in the past, I love good atmosphere in games. I just enjoy playing it and being immersed to its world, while the great soundtrack plays on the background.

Truth be told, I had stopped playing it on the level called Metal (I wanted to finish some other games first, plus the level was somewhat hard for me, on my UV no save run), but I will try continuing it today probably.

 

And I have to say one last thing: Map 4 Wormhole

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41 minutes ago, Memfis said:

Evilution was one of the most atmospheric experiences Doom could offer back in the day. It had breathtaking sky textures, a soundtrack full of incredibly powerful songs (while Plutonia just reused everything), a sense of realism in many levels, and a certain mysterious factor amplified by mandatory puzzles in some maps. The gameplay was never its strongest point, although I still find it engaging enough. Plutonia was a bunch of short arcadey levels that mostly looked the same and could only be played by hardcore gameplay nerds, Evilution was an atmospheric adventure game where you had to think. If you don't get it, perhaps you're too "spoiled" by modern wads.

There's some truth to this but back in the day I preferred Plutonia. The music in TNT was amazing. Some of the level/music combinations really stood out for me, like Pharaoh. Plutonia resonated with me because of the clean and consistent level design. The challenge difficulty between the two did not matter for me. I was really young and played keyboard only. All I could complete was the shareware levels, maybe. I just played through the levels with iddqd.

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10 minutes ago, ShotgunDemolition said:

TNT for me is a great atmospheric wad and like I said countless times in the past, I love good atmosphere in games. I just enjoy playing it and being immersed to its world, while the great soundtrack plays on the background.

Truth be told, I had stopped playing it on the level called Metal (I wanted to finish some other games first, plus the level was somewhat hard for me, on my UV no save run), but I will try continuing it today probably.

 

And I have to say one last thing: Map 4 Wormhole

The soundtrack is indeed stellar. No arguments there.

 

I wish I felt the love for "Wormhole." As it stands, there's nothing unenjoyable about it, but I find it pretty silly that you're not encouraged to visit the half of the map it gets its title from, unless you just want to see it. On a blind continuous play, you're objectively better off going straight to its exit.

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31 minutes ago, Cipher said:

As it stands, there's nothing unenjoyable about it, but I find it pretty silly that you're not encouraged to visit the half of the map it gets its title from, unless you just want to see it. On a blind continuous play, you're objectively better off going straight to its exit.

Yes, that can be both good and bad.

I like that you have the option to finish the map faster, if you don't want to explore, but then the map is way too short (they could probably add one or two more fights before the exit is revealed).

And I agree that the concept of the map is fully optional.

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My initial exposure to Final Doom was on the PS1, which looking back on it feels like a "best of" package. I was really disappointed when I finally played it on PC, realizing that I was relying quite a bit on the PlayStation-centric  features which I think had an incredible transformational effect on gameplay. 

 

Like some have mentioned before, atmosphere is a big draw. It had become ingrained in my head that Evilution had colored lighting, dark ambient music and those signature sound effects. Playing those same maps on PC felt less impactful, while the ones cut from the PS1 were often forgettable. 

 

And call me spoiled, but I found some of the new (PC only) textures to be hideous and un-Doomlike, which takes me out of the experience. It's an engagement that was clearly influenced by elements that could have never been in the original, but which I missed a bit too much, as the PS1 playthroughs had become so ingrained. Levels were cut due to size, and yet it hardly seems like a loss; what was left in is concise and compact, and along with fewer enemy counts makes for a swift and satisfying session. I suppose PC Final Doom just can't compete. 

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While I agree with Memfis, I'd expand on what he said by acknowledging that, of the 4 official iwads, TNT's bad maps are the worst bad maps both in terms of gameplay and visual design. In TNT, some areas were quite amazing at the time due to interesting use of geometry and custom textures, some animated even, but on the flipside some areas were just mono-textured messy crud. Hitscanners can frequently be a pain in the ass in seemingly unintended ways throughout the campaign which certainly doesn't do it any favors. Doom 2 can be a tad inconsistent but TNT certainly takes the cake when it comes to variance in terms of overall quality. The custom music being excellent certainly helps, some of my favorite Doom tunes come from TNT.

 

Long story short: In TNT, the good is really good and the bad is really bad. It's easily the most inconsistent of the official classic Doom campaigns in terms of both theming and level design, even taking stuff like NRFTL and Doom64 into account. I still really like it though.

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55 minutes ago, Doomkid said:

Hitscanners can frequently be a pain in the ass in seemingly unintended ways throughout the campaign which certainly doesn't do it any favors.

That might be a more succinct way to explain my major qualms with the gameplay.

 

Having done another two levels tonight after reading responses here, I think another way of expressing my issues with it are that I enjoy TNT the most when it's easy, but I'd rather enjoy games when they're hard.

 

55 minutes ago, Doomkid said:

Long story short: In TNT, the good is really good and the bad is really bad. It's easily the most inconsistent of the official classic Doom campaigns in terms of both theming and level design, even taking stuff like NRFTL and Doom64 into account.

Is Doom 64 known for being inconsistent? I find it pretty consistent, both in terms of aesthetics and gameplay (which is largely pretty good). Probably my second favorite official campaign.

Edited by Cipher

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Bad wording on my part - I qualified NRFTL and Doom64 because they're not a part of the 4 main iwads, I didn't mean it as a comment on their consistency. Both of them are very consistent and high quality throughout in my opinion.

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The main reason why I like TNT, is because of Death Bells, the midi found in maps 04, 13, 29, it's just so atmospheric, so cool to hear it in a nightish level. Then to what you've said, well TNT brings difficulty similar to Doom II, and maybe that's why people in general tell it's better to play TNT first and Plutonia next. Some levels are good, some are not so good. I happened to enjoy most of them, with the only exceptions of Habitat and Metal. One terrible failure the TNT team did, Pharaoh's missing yellow keycard in single player, which was fixed later but imagine the frustration a lot of people felt back then. It's a mixed bag certainly, players of nowadays would find it hard to appreciate or feel love towards an iwad that serves a lot of ups and a lot of downs. 

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It's not just that, @40oz...not to be disrespectful, but, if you've got 15+ mappers, some of them are going to be rather mediocre compared to others. 

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1 hour ago, CapnClever said:

 

Didn't expect (but was hoping for!) a post from CapnClever. I've been watching your "Evolution of the Wad" series on and off, and I think some of you and the team's comments regarding TNT were on my mind during this playthrough as well.

 

It's interesting to call Evilution "Doom and not Doom." I wonder if part of that draws from where they went later, especially with stuff like Eternal (which I haven't played, but which it seems like a lot of my issues with Evilution's gameplay would carry over to). That very much seems to settle into a dungeon-crawler genre, which maybe Evilution is flirting with, but in many ways it seems to retain a focus on combat and monster-usage very much in the core Doom style. I just don't think it's a very well-designed Doom style, gameplay-wise. At least not on the whole.

 

But yeah; really interesting thoughts, on the team increasingly shifting toward a style that obscured the core gameplay of Doom in favor of other elements. Maybe signs of that focus are present here in early forms. At least I can see a connection to the level layout and architecture often seeming to take precedent over monster placement.

 

Re: The Master Levels, since they've come up now: I think they also help highlight some of my misgivings with Evilution, as they were contemporary levels that were part of a hodgepodge release, yet I find the whole set quite playable and full of fun and fair challenge. I can't recall groaning at dying on any of them in the way I have some of Evilution's levels already. (Not even "Mephisto's Mausoleum," which would probably come closest.) So I think this is less a case of modern-player-meets-'95-level-design, and more about how Evilution's choices interact with its gameplay. (And I guess you're arguing that this was the first sign TNT as a group were just interested in shirking the tight combat of Doom's gameplay for something different--a dungeon-crawler with light gunplay--even if Evilution hadn't quite done it yet and that description can't quite cover the whole wad.)

 

It does feel a bit like designing a Mario game with a heavy emphasis on exploration and visuals, but where the platforming is haphazard, save for when it throws in a few beginner's traps. The new elements wouldn't be fully realized, and the gameplay that adheres to the original wouldn't be very fun.

 

I think one of my original questions was whether it'd be possible to marry up Evilution's more explorative level design with engaging and well-paced encounters -- sort of like a blown-up E1 Romero (the "Doom" side rather than the "not Doom" side). It occurs to me now that, yes, you could, and I'm sure I've missed countless examples of this over the years, but even Romero's own recent wads would fit that bill.

 

(Though it's also interesting to note, in terms of assessing "Doom's gameplay" mentioned in that post, that by Ultimate Doom and E4, Romero and other id authors seemed very much to be moving in a direction indicative of Plutonia -- more compact levels with challenging and specific enemy placement.)

Edited by Cipher

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For me, a lot of the reason I liked this was because it was packed full of ideas for an aspiring level designer to steal.    Evilution was the first place I saw see through doors and a couple other tricks and it made me want to duplicate those effects.  It was easier for me to get into than Plutonia and visually more interesting.   Evilution at its best is more exploratory, where Plutonia at its best the levels are tightly focused.   

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4 hours ago, CapnClever said:

I would argue that TNT: Evilution is remembered primarily because it's an IWAD: nothing more, nothing less.

I think this is harsh but true. Icarus makes for a very interesting comparison - it's the same team (most of the authors are the same), working at approximately the same time period; both were released in 1996, and it looks like TeamTNT probably progressed directly from working on Evilution to Icarus. So, in a parallel universe where id didn't do that deal with TeamTNT to release Evilution publicly, what would have been its legacy, and how would it be remembered?

 

Maybe it's reasonable to assume that it would have been roughly similar to Icarus. In a way, Icarus even seems more developed than Evilution does - there are clear signs of attempts at an overarching narrative, with the whole space theme, bolder use of replacement textures, those midpoint levels where you're supposed to be inside a holodeck-style simulation, etc. Yet despite all this I don't feel like Icarus is fondly remembered as much as other megaWADs from the same era are. It seems very much overshadowed by the Memento Moris, Requiem, Hell Revealed, and others from the 1996-1997 era. It's probably safe to assume that Evilution would have been the same.

 

At the same time I think Evilution deserves some credit based on the era in which it was released. If it's no longer an IWAD, it instead becomes the first megaWAD. If you check the "top WADs" listings for 1994 and 1995, there are some creative things being released - "retheming" mods like Alien Doom and Boothill, Doom 1 episode replacements and "mini episodes", interesting individual episodes like UAC_DEAD, and of course Dwango5 which is essentially a collection of modified IWAD maps. There's nothing that seems to be really on the scale of Evilution with a big team coming together to do a complete set of new 32 levels.

 

So if we're taking a critical look at Evilution it's worth looking at it through that lens. Maybe they aren't the best Doom levels ever made, but they are by no means "1994 levels" (and remember that they completed it in 1995). By the quality of the time they're still decent levels, but Evilution was put together at a time still very early in Doom's history before the "art" of Doom level making had fully matured (I'd argue that late 1996 was the point at which it fully matured). I'd say that Evilution represents roughly the best of the "state of the art" in late 1995. Put another way: how do people think that Evilution compares against the Master Levels, released six months before Final Doom? How many of those levels would also have been "forgotten" without an official "blessing" from id?

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Even when it was released, Evilution was disliked a lot. A lot of people will bring up the widespread hate due to them "selling out" but I think this can be generally ignored - this attitude was confined to the mailing lists/newsgroups which "the masses" were not involved with. I would argue that Evilution was widely disliked mostly on its own as a product and that dislike is entirely valid. When doing / watching co-op runs with my friends, there was a general excitement during plutonia and a severe boredom during Evilution.

 

It was a necessary process though in honing mappers skills. As @CapnClever says, Icarus or Eternal are much more enjoyable when considered as a whole product, even when viewed with a 2017 set of eyes I see a lot of value there. The only redeeming quality of Evilution in 2017 imo is the music.

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Hm, to me Icarus always seemed weaker, kind of like an Evilution B-side. It has a number of short maps that look rushed and rather featureless (03, 06, 09, 31), a few of the realistic orthogonal ones are really lifeless (07, 10, 12, 18), and there are some concept-based levels where there is not much to see after you figure out what the concept is (05, 13, 24, 32). Icarus just lacks the scale and the epicness that TNT had. It is a more cohesive experience for sure though, and I guess these maps seem better if you don't examine them separately.

Edited by Memfis

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I was pretty excited for Icarus before I actually played it. I think I was told that it was a more cohesive experience than Evilution, et cetera, so I expected an improvement. Maybe it was an improvement, I dunno. What I mostly remember is being vastly disappointed with the soundtrack. Music was why I was interested in a "better Evilution" to begin with, and Eternal Doom just cemented my belief that Team TNT is filled with really good composers.

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I'd say Evilution's greatest asset is the wide open level design: a lot of its levels are wide open and explorable. Usually the impulse when you design maps is to make something cramped, at the 128-unit scale, but TeamTNT did it differently.

 

It's kinda like the spiderdemon of megawads: original, potentially really challenging, but easy to topple over and never too much to handle.

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22 minutes ago, printz said:

It's kinda like the spiderdemon of megawads: original, potentially really challenging, but easy to topple over and never too much to handle.

Plutonia would be the... what? Mother Demon?

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2 hours ago, fraggle said:

Put another way: how do people think that Evilution compares against the Master Levels, released six months before Final Doom? How many of those levels would also have been "forgotten" without an official "blessing" from id?

I think the Master Levels are almost uniformly better designed than Evilution from a gameplay perspective, but I get that they help illustrate what the fate of Evilution might have been without an iwad release. It doesn't even take a thought experiment: Several of the Master Levels were part of loose campaigns by their authors, and the non-Master Level entries have languished in relative obscurity.

 

 

57 minutes ago, IncognitoMode said:

I still haven't beat Plutonia or TNT just because i've heard awful things about them.

 

I have to play them, maybe later.

I have nothing but the kindest things to say about Plutonia. Its design is amazing, though you must like a challenge.

 

Even though I don't feel Evilution is up to the gameplay standards of the other official campaigns, I'm immensely glad its purchase and transformation into an iwad brought us Plutonia.

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