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tchkb

Hexen-style hubs in "vanilla" Doom

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I've recently watched this podcast about Hexen, with special focus on its Hubs - a series of interconnected maps you go between to do stuff that impacts the other maps - and various intricacies of their design, both in Hexen and a few fanmade ZDoom mapsets utilising the concept to different degree. I enjoyed watching this, it was very informative and I learned of a bunch of historically notable projects and trivias I likely wouldn't have otherwise.

But at the very end of the video, people in the podcast, including some of the biggest figureheads in the community, erroneously state they believe you can't translate the concept to vanilla Doom (or rather ZDoom, which is the only Doom sourceport with ACS and Hub support) and its gameplay, and even if you can, there's not much point because you could just as well make a single huge map instead of a bunch smaller ones. I thoroughly disagree with this conclusion, which was apparently based entirely on their experience with the few mediocre if not straight up awful mapsets they covered.

 

For starters, here are two major differences between one huge map and several smaller interconnected maps:

1. Theme and presentation. This is most apparent in the first two Hexen hubs, featuring very contrasting styles between their hub maps and submaps. Going between multiple distinct "worlds" and using their elements to deform the others is framed better with a level transition to support it, even if you opt for a smoother transition such as a corridor of a neutral or smoothly-changing aesthetic. A map change also implies a change in background music, and therefore the mood. You can get by with ACS, or even PrBoom action to do this, but a level transition is the more natural solution. Some of the more impressive implementations of this concept would definitely require some DECORATE (decorative objects, special effects, environmental projectiles, quest items, etc.), but doesn't require modifying the core gameplay whatsoever, including weapons and monsters.

2. Periodic monster spawning. Most Hexen maps have a unique script to periodically spawn extra enemies in specific spots to maintain some degree of challenge during backtracking process in areas player has already cleaned. However, each script is only counting down time to the next monster spawn while player is in the map itself, which would be possible but extremely difficult to implement in a single huge map and unintuitive to players. This feature not only has heavy impact on gameplay by itself (moving through the hub too slowly will put a strain on your health and possibly even ammo reserves), but can be expanded further thanks to Doom's more extensive beastiary. Consider for example a script that would be periodically spawning Imps, until an n-th spawn where it would switch to Hell Knights. Separate periodic spawn scripts would add an extra layer to routing UV-Max runs through such a hub in order to sync up with the timing of spawns and make sure the final exit from each submap would leave it with 0 monsters remaining, without making it overly bullshit with a smart implementation.

 

There's a lot of fundamental differences between the way Doom and Hexen play, and while Hexen's toolbox is more naturally suited towards more explorative mapsets and has a couple neat usable items, I'd argue it actually holds it back from crafting more innovative gameplay challenges unlike Doom. Hexen's beastiary, despite having a lot of flashy moves like Centaur's invul+reflective state on pain chance, Afrit's and Dark Bishop's dodge-heavy movement patterns, Wendigo's shrapnel shots or Stalker's hit-and-run attacks from liquid floors, is actually very straightforwad in terms of dealing with, much like Doom 1's beastiary and unlike Doom 2's additions. You can't really craft any interesting setpiece battles with them. I'm not even going to get into all the balance issues of different Hexen classes' arsenals, anyone who's ever played Hexen should know them by now.

 

I could spend another hour extending this into an essay, but instead I'll just say that people have simply never bothered making a Doom hub that takes full advantage of the format to make something that's both fun to explore on first playthrough / easy difficulty and fun to optimise on subsequent playthroughs / harder difficulties. Hell, I'm tempted to learn Doom mapping just to make such a mapset in case no one else bothers to.

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23 minutes ago, tchkb said:

erroneously state they believe you can't translate the concept to vanilla Doom

Indeed you can't, though you can approximate it by duplicating the "hub" map, as was done in the Back to Saturn X series.

 

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(or rather ZDoom, which is the only Doom sourceport with ACS and Hub support)

That's a different thing, then.

 

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and even if you can, there's not much point because you could just as well make a single huge map instead of a bunch smaller ones.

Technically, sure, you can; but a huge map has its own drawbacks, such as an impact on performances from having to process all the thinkers from all of the maps constantly. If you split it in submaps with the hub system, then you do not get burdened by processing all the thinkers of the submaps you are not in.

 

Also I'll mention that there have been ZDoom hub maps for Doom in the past, when people experimented with the concept. I can cite notably Assault on Tei Tenga and RTC-3057.

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Also worth noting are the two big Doom-engine ARPGs, Serpent: Resurrection and Inquisitor III, which iirc both have the whole playable world set up as one giant hub.

 

It can be done, but it's a challenge, and I imagine the majority of Doom level designers prefer the level-by-level format. All the OP's criticisms of Hexen's encounter/weapon/monster design are on point, though they do work well for Hexen's hubs -- but by that same token, Doom's design is more oriented toward in-the-moment combat challenges. There's plenty of good exploration-oriented Doom stuff, and it's not like a well-designed hub wouldn't be interesting, but I think for the most part it wouldn't offer much that single levels don't, and the things it would offer don't mesh with Doom's gameplay as well as they do with Hexen's. Spawn-in wandering monsters, for instance, add very little when combat goes as fast as it tends to go in Doom. Also, when players have their adrenaline pumping more, they tend to be less patient with having to backtrack through a mostly empty level. It can be done well, of course -- pretty much anything can be with the right attention to detail -- but I think that's why there hasn't been much focus on hubs, particularly from more classic-minded mappers.

 

With that in mind, the best uses of hubs are probably:

1) A new Doom-engine game or TC that has more Hexen-like gameplay.

2) A large, monsterless puzzle game like The Given.

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1 hour ago, tchkb said:

Hell, I'm tempted to learn Doom mapping just to make such a mapset in case no one else bothers to.

go go go

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Despite being a fan of Hexen, I think its approach to a hub system isn't really something that ought to be imitated too much.  There were a few moments like the "get the flame mask and melt the ice with it" where the task made a certain amount of sense, but a lot of times it was "find a switch that arbitrarily does things just because" which is kind of a meh way to use it; even within a single map remote switches like this tend to be looked at as a questionable decision if the thing the switch affects isn't close enough to easily notice or some other indication what you're doing (like a custom texture with a computer monitor that says "BRIDGE CONTROL" by your switch or something).  Hexen II and Quake II did things a bit better in terms of such tasks (get the shovel and dig up the key, blow up the train that delivers ammunition to the enemy)--though in both those cases they did come off more as stitching several maps into a "super map" probably for the reason Gez mentions regarding making a larger area without the processing overhead of running all of it at once, rather than journeying to distant but somehow related zones.

 

Still, I feel like a Metroidvania approach where you gain powers to overcome things that were formerly obstacles could probably be more fun and cool than the "traditional" hub.

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