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Demon of the Well

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About Demon of the Well

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  1. Demon of the Well

    Do you always play the Secret Maps?

    I always find them, and I always play them at least once. Finding them is usually no big deal (and indeed, in many cases, the secret exit will purposefully be made obvious enough that it's practically begging you to take it), and in those rare cases when it *is* a big deal, most modern authors take care to make sure that the payoff is worth it, or that the search is intriguing enough in its own right to be self-justifying. I'd warrant that this is because, in most cases, the author wants the secret levels to be found, wants the search for them to be enjoyable, and wants them to be played, because all of these things are seen as a worthwhile part of the experience. If this weren't the case, why bother making them? It's hardly obligatory, after all. Myself, I enjoy looking for hidden things, and I'd remark that it's like anything else, i.e. it may seem to be a pain in the ass at first, especially if you've never really given it much thought before, but once you get some practice it soon enough becomes like second nature, and a facility that can enrich your future play experiences in ways great and small. I suppose a certain kind of author may lament the alleged "death of mystery", i.e. that nothing is truly secret anymore because it's common knowledge which mapslots house the secret exits, everyone knows the cheat codes like IDDT and IDCLIP, and so on and so forth, but more and more ports are now increasingly able to break these old rules and regain a level of real 'secrecy' for secret levels by hiding exits in new ways and in places which may be unexpected. I find the prospect stimulating, and look forward to these new and less formalized hunts. Of course, if your artistic mandate is to make something no one is likely to ever find 'naturally' just for the sake of having done so, you still have the option of not flagging anything "secret", and perhaps more difficult, keeping your silence about what you've done for weeks, months, years, etc. ;)
  2. Hello, I've been playing and very much enjoying this, just completed the unexpected (but most welcome) silent diversion that is m10, "Derelict", satisfying to figure out, particularly the secret with the four bulk cells (who's a good boy, who's a good boy??? etc.). The current RC, magspire_RC21.wad, seems to have an oversight for the player start position of m11 -- you just spawn on a death exit and instantly leave the map no matter what you do (and in some ports you see a text scrawl describing the events that supposedly transpired in that map). I reckon it won't be terribly hard to figure out what the actual intended start position is meant to be, so with a little IDxxx black magic I'll figure it out and proceed that way, but in the meantime this certainly seems like a bug worth mentioning. I'm also not entirely convinced that the secret exit in m05 (which is, conceptually speaking, quite clever and again, satisfying to figure out) will work as intended in all ports, but it's possible I'm simply missing a piece of the puzzle and it does actually work as intended. For the sake of thoroughness, I'm reporting my experience here. Basically, as far as I can figure out: Bugs and some rough edges and other RC-isms aside, this is really engrossing stuff, and I'd freely recommend it. The strange visuals and color scheme and the unusual atmosphere they serve may be the most obvious talking point, but the WAD is the total package, and has a lot of prime Doom to offer, whether you love action, or adventure, or puzzles, or all of the above. Check it out, folks.
  3.  

    1. Cynical

      Cynical

      Incidentally, this is getting reissued with the proper/original coverart!

       

      Also, do you ever check your PMs?

    2. Demon of the Well

      Demon of the Well

      I don't get them much these days, and most I do fall as continuations of threads started years ago, tbh, so I guess I'm not in the habit, no.

       

      But I'll check them now. ;)

  4. New PWADs Played, FYE 2023, part 3 -- Part 1, Part 2

     

    Recommendations welcome.

     

    September

     

    The Mauve Zone by The Royal We

    Notes: ZDoom. Strange, surrealistic single map by a new author, referencing paranoia, E1M1, and "a certain TV show" (90s kids are most likely to recognize which one), among other things. Stock textures are used with a great deal of material versatility to create an uncanny blend of both the realistic and the totally abstract, as well as the uncomfortable liminal zone between the two. A vaguely upsetting re-sequence of "Demons on the Prey" completes the uneasy atmosphere. A fairly short map in theory, on skill 4 it can be pretty tough in a minimalist sort of way, coming out of the gate with an injurious booby trap and continuing in that same blithely hostile vein for the rest of the runtime. Immediately establishing a tense tone inspires the player to never let their guard down, yet the map finds ways to slip past it anyway via a cleverly disorienting progression that, while linear never seems to take you in quite the direction it at first seems. Secrets are uncommonly powerful and perhaps more balance-affecting than the norm (finding at least a few of them is key to a smooth skill 4 victory), but if this bothers you I advise you to (at least briefly) get over yourself and search them out anyway, as the author has been bold enough to hide one of the level's most creative and memorable sequences away. Very cool debut.

     

    A Silent Hill Map (a.k.a. The Restless Dream) by Thysamithan

    Notes: GZDoom. As of the time I'm writing this, the WAD is temporarily/indefinitely unavailable for download, due to a DMCA strike from Konami (presumably due to using pieces of soundtrack directly from the games), who are evidently getting ready to molest the franchise's corpse once again in near future. Anyway, the map is a linear crawl which recreates and mingles the timeless opening sequences from both of the first two Silent Hill games, before moving into an original Otherworld-style labyrinth and then finishing in.......well, let's just say it ends up somewhere unexpected, though longtime trawlers of the Doom abyss may find it oddly familiar as well. The assets and their usage are on point, the references successfully land, and the map certainly has an atmosphere, though the action is less convincing. The path is liberally peopled by a somewhat mismatched selection of baddies straight from Realm 667, and the very linear and very corridor-focused, abstract maze nature of most of the design reads as far less lively / far more repetitive in a Doom context (where you are indubitably the baddest monster around) than in a Silent Hill context. Nevertheless, big fans of SH will probably want to take the tour at least once, just to ooh and ahh and maybe occasionally eep! at the sights and references.

     

    Tectonic Rift by thelamp

    Notes: One small but deceptively complex map designed to explore/experiment with highly claustrophobic gameplay. Set in a tiny station nestled in a sinkhole, which gave me the impression of being some kind of stint to hold apart plates of earth (or whatever planetoid this is), thus exposing a suspiciously urethral tunnel to the Hell realm. Oh, that UAC. Eclectic, material-style texturing uses a wide variety of stock assets in a number of interesting ways, ultimately looking very grimy, dirty, and grim despite the wide variety of colors and materials used. The map wastes little time in getting straight to the action, and is very violent right out of the gate, almost disarmingly so, which makes a strong impression. Proceedings generally cool off quite a bit in the second half, once you've made it out of the station proper, but there remain some sassy tricks to keep you on your toes. While the environment is designed to be persistently constrictive, the interactive nature of most triggers and deceptively large number of pathing opportunities (for both you and the monsters) make for a level which can be played in several different ways. Quirky, but quite charismatic.

     

    Nuclear Bunker by Dr. Zin

    Notes: New upload by a mapper most known for their contributions to the Community Chest series. Quite large, the map is set mainly in an underground techbase of steel and concrete, as well as some surrounding areas -- a topside storage/staging warehouse, a mazelike cave system, and a grand river canyon. Originally a product of anno 2007, here the author uses primarily stock textures, with a function-specific custom addition or two, and nicely modulated lighting to quite good effect -- to modern standards, the presentation is immaculately clean and finished with a reserved but effective degree of realistic environmental detail; in its own time, this aesthetic sophistication would have been even more remarkable, though the highly traditional/conventional theme may obscure this somewhat. The level plays out as a fairly slow, atmospheric crawl; there are about 450 monsters (on skill 4), but the size and pacing of proceedings means that these are largely drip-fed over a long period of time, with larger groups and ambushes only beginning to establish a presence in the late going. Finding at least some of the many secrets (which mostly follow consistent in-world conventions) will soon lead to you being a juggernaut, and the SSG, revenants, pain elementals, and the arch-vile are all conspicuous in their absence. Thus, the meat of the experience hangs more on exploring the sprawling complex than on combat. For this to work, a map needs to be immersive, and this one certainly succeeds in that regard, though aspects of its design (such as the cave system) and pacing (RL only appears 3/4ths of the way in, PG is only in a secret right before the last fight) will unavoidably read as markedly old-fashioned or even self-sabotaging to many modern sensibilities. Regardless, a large/long, contemplative adventure is something to be appreciated in this era of faster/smaller/punchier, and it's good to see this author return.

     

    Nostalgia by myolden

    Notes: RC3. Complete megaWAD of mostly 'short/punchy' maps by another of the year's most prolific mappers (see also: Altars of Madness, various CP contributions). The project's name refers more to aesthetic, narrative trappings, and general mood than to actual design style; stock textures and some familiar supporting elements of yesteryear (dark blue sky, etc.) are used to craft a retelling of the classic Doom II campaign, with map names referring to metal/metal-adjacent songs from the late 80s and 90s, but the fast pace of action, the efficient, compact geometry, and general immediacy of layouts and gameplay represent a decidedly modern perspective. The majority of the maps field under 100 monsters (sometimes well under), and both the brevity of design and a moderate approach to thing balancing make this a generally accessible outing for players of a wide range of skill levels, though later maps are not without some spots of more restrictive balancing and more intense gauntlet-style encounters. Ultimately, it's this more kinetic, action-forward outlook that distinguishes the set from its peers in the year's considerable slate of retro-style projects, perhaps broadening the appeal of and audience for such fare along a slightly different axis than the usual.

     

    Acid Reflux by RiviTheWarlock

    Notes: RC2. Three medium-sized maps with a mixed sewer/underground facility theme, plus a quick outro. All action, all the time, the set's biggest conversation piece is its altered arsenal; the shotgun is a little faster, the pistol is replaced with a rapidfire assault rifle that fully replaces the chaingun, and wait 'til you run into the minigun that replaces the chaingun proper. The plasma rifle, fully secret, has some interesting bonus properties as well, and despite all of this, once you finally reunite with "Shelly", it still feels like finding an old lover. Maps quickly escalate drastically in terms of bodycount, with m02 and m03 both fielding a few hundred monsters apiece, but seem to go by very quickly, given that most of these are fodder which spring forth en masse in big ambushes, only to be promptly, almost comedically obliterated by your new arsenal. An altered colormap and a selection of CC4 and other custom assets add pizazz to an otherwise stark, utilitarian choice of visual themes. Perhaps not exactly the most elegant thing in the world from a layout and staging standpoint, the mapset is still disarmingly fun to play by virtue of the author's gleefully direct pitting of powerful weapons vs. scads of hapless undead mooks, and a full-thrust sense of pacing. Quick, enjoyable blast from an up-and-coming mapper.

     

    Hell Unearthed by LerxstInWonderland

    Notes: Six mid-size, stock-textured maps in a traditional Doom II vein, with a shortform thematic arc spanning from UAC techbase to grody, fleshy, ulcerating deep-Hell, by a new author. For a debut release opting to stick to stock assets, conventional themes and settings, and more or less classic gameplay, this is a strong showing in all of the fundamental areas of design -- aesthetics, layout and flow, thing balancing, pacing, encounter design, and so forth. Each map has a distinct and interesting progression scheme appropriate to its setting, such as having to find way into the system of inflow/outflow tunnels in a toxin refinery map, being teased with a key in an enclosed gloomy hallway that collapses out and down into a spiraling, scourging odyssey of survival into deeper and deeper reaches before finally returning to the beginning (and that cursed key) in the second Hell map, etc. Action is likewise conducted with flair throughout, with the earlier tech levels being mined with classic monster-closets to steadily repopulate the recursive layouts and ensure the barrel of your shotgun stays hot, giving way to increasingly diabolical webs of traps with knife-edge balancing of weapons / supplies in the later Hell maps. The entire episode takes about an hour-and-thirty or so to play (probably less if you play with carryovers), and in that span it's always doing something different from what it was 15 minutes ago, while always operating in that classically Doom-y idiom. Very strong debut, I would love to see more by this author in future.

     

    Amorphous Euphoria by various authors

    Notes: RC2. Nine maps (plus an intro and outro map) from the Doom Universe community, which to my outsider's eye appears to be another offshoot of the ever-splintering DBP group (there is certainly a lot of shared membership here, in any case). While the general format of the episode may outwardly seem to fit that latter group's MO -- i.e. a short/mid-length episode of short/mid-length maps with a specific visual theme and "lite", accessible gameplay -- actually playing it reveals a quite distinct identity. On the matter of theme, stock textures are used almost exclusively (plus a handful of custom splashes, mainly a self-advertisement emblem), but the theme itself is far from "stock", reveling in a mostly bright and colorful, mostly surreal, and mostly warm and inviting netherealm that other players have variously compared to an "LSD simulation" and to the Geocities era of website design; hypersaturate spots of "Doomcute" contrast with periods of total video game-y abstraction for a distinctly Doom-y oneiria that reads as mostly silly and dreamy, as opposed to macabre. The approach to gameplay is much more of a surprise, however, as the authors have shown no reservations about getting weird, with the first map proper being based around the ghost-monster phenomenon (or "holograms" in this case), and the set proceeding through a spell of Tyson-focused play, a couple of void-style maps with more or less conventional action, and a kind of oddly spiteful kiddieland version of a niche challenge map, before finishing with a proper puzzle map, and then a giant and somewhat uncanny automap drawing of an ur-cat. To see the core design of the maps match the weirdness and whimsy of the visual theme was an unexpected (but pleasant) surprise. One to try if you're looking for something a little different, but still more or less accessible to a general  audience.

     

    Doombox by DeadmeatZukalick

    Notes: RC2. Eight Boom-compatible maps by a new author, each restricted to a 2304 x 2304 grid of playable space. A bit of an odd duck in more ways than one, the mapset is uncharismatic in presentation, being textured almost uniformly in dingy gray stone and similar assets (mostly drawn from CC4) across all 8 maps, with important progression points occasionally highlighted in brighter colors for a jarring contrast that is at once very game-y yet very dreary. No custom music is present, so it's the stock soundtrack all the way. The self-imposed spatial restriction couples with a penchant for very involved, occasionally convoluted progression schema to make for very claustrophobic, physically uncomfortable layouts that are very densely packed (often self-sabotagingly so) with monsters, which are only occasionally mechanic- or gimmick-relevant. As I say, "uncharismatic." Yet for all this, the conceptual design of several of the maps are genuinely clever, occasionally bordering on ingenious, m04's theme of an unstable reality/consciousness, m05's "fuse" gimmick, and m06's radically vertical progression scheme in particular, and this sense of mechanical wit alone is enough to warrant a look -- just take my advice and don't feel compelled to play on skill 4. I'm *sure* you're tough enough and all, but other than the decidedly combat-centric m07, this set puts its best foot forwards (i.e. the sector-dynamics and mechanical trappings of the maps) on lower skill settings.

     

    Contaminant Containment Control by Lucius Wooding

    Notes: Single, large-ish debut map by a new author, about 20-30 minutes of playtime, depending on your thoroughness. Stock textures. The map's name seems to suggest a techbase or toxin refinery of some sort, and there is indeed a lot of ooze and polished chrome and circuitry and such, but overall theme is much more capricious, including gothic cistern areas, a lurid Hell-chapel, and a little quasi-Egyptian tomb adjunct, as well as an amusingly micro-detailed 'map room' that gives an overhead view of these disparate areas, rendered in tiny, tiny sectors. This capriciousness, both in theme and in flow, is probably the map's most defining characteristic, and one is never quite sure what to expect. The opening room is surprisingly hostile, dropping you into claustrophobic confines with a cyberdemon and other heavies within seconds of mapstart, but once you escape that pace slackens considerably, and while confined moshes reoccur at several other points in the map, by the time you reach them you are likely much more well-armed, and there is a generous supply of powerups (soulspheres, radsuits, etc.) to mitigate most of the assorted hazards. The map is designed to be a non-linear three-key hunt, and works mostly fine in that regard, though actually opening the exit is somewhat convoluted and involves not only collecting keys but hitting a bunch of locked switches scattered all about, the actual effects of which are seldom readily apparent. The many different areas are also largely isolated from one another in a practical sense, and so play more or less the same each time, meaning there is not quite as much potential for variance between playthroughs as one might expect. An entertaining map with a lot of good ideas to build on in future.

     

    Azazel's Second Descent by Bloodbath Giraffe

    Notes: GZDoom. Beta 1.5. A full set of 32 mostly dense/substantial maps by a single author, ranking alongside Relyctum as another of the longest and most involved playthroughs I've undertaken this year. The author is quick to describe the overriding style as "slaughter-lite", which is perhaps an ambiguous qualifier for a genre term which itself remains somewhat unsettled (and often totally misunderstood and misused, I daresay), which may in turn possibly suggest smooth sailing and broad accessibility, but this is dense, meaty, and generally focus-demanding material from start to finish, spending much of its runtime in choreographed, wave-based arena riots, occasionally delving into more largescale, protracted battles vs. true hordes. A broad palette of influences and more direct references are apparent, most of a decidedly modern cast, particularly Sunlust and its direct antecedents and descendants, though the author's individuality asserts itself in every bloodstained pit and neon-decked portico via commitment to building and designing in a maximalized style -- there really are no "short" maps here, no real "breathers", and while a handful of specific maps are memorable for specific concepts, the focus on big, kinetic battles vs. mobs of creatures is unrelenting. This permament redline approach to pacing is something many will doubtlessly find exhausting, and complicating this is the fact that the WAD was quite visibly birthed while the author was in process of learning the craft, and so different stages of the WAD reflect markedly different levels of sophistication in execution, meaning a total playthrough is a somewhat inconsistent experience, in spite of being so stylistically singleminded. I felt that the "Blood" cluster (maps 16 - 20), which the author evidently scrapped and redid at one point, represents some truly fine material, with an unusual theme, tight scripting, and a variety of interesting map concepts. The "Nukage" cluster (maps 21 - 25) is nearly as good, not as tightly designed but memorable in its more maximalized approach, particularly the lengthy odyssey that is m25. As for other parts of the set, it's hit and miss in varying degrees; earlier episodes and their maps generally read as earlier works, and are more disjointed in flow, which makes the 0 - 60 pacing and protracted map lengths read as more hamfisted or "spammy", to use a popular epithet, while the final episode seems to register all over the board in terms of both inspiration and execution. This inconsistency is easy to chalk up to author inexperience at the time, but on broad scale, even the weakest of the material is competently conceived and quite playable, and the strongest material is something to actually write home about. An impressive debut, warts and all.

     

    Full Moon 2 by various authors

    Notes: RC1. Compilation of 32 stock-textured Boom-compatible speedmaps, and the successor to 2021's "Time Trilogy" (Tenth Gear, Half Moon, and Full Moon), from a broad palette of authors both brand new and longstanding. Though only a single megaWAD, over its 32-map span this release seems to encapsulate all of the essence of the 96-map run of that trilogy, beginning with totally casual, sip-sized decaf-coffeebreak maps ala Tenth Gear, and ending with a series of spicy little nuggets of microslaughter, while mostly avoiding the untuned, parodical excess that defined much of the original Full Moon. While the release thread does not give much information about the time limit the participants operated under, from the very small size and limited technical articulation of most maps here, it must have been quite restrictive; presumably no other limits were imposed, and the maps vary wildly in tone and style. Bearing this in mind, the great majority of the maps here acquit themselves fairly well -- a few seem like directionless scatterings of rooms, but most have a definite idea or concept behind them, and all are playable, whether classic in style or with a more unconventional lean that a few of the lategame maps ask for. Suitable for players who most enjoy very short and conceptually immediate maps, and for those with a taste for the mystery-flavor/grab-bag character of classic CPs. Maps 12, 21, 25, and 27 were my personal favorites.

     

    Mothership Zess by gabirupee

    Notes: Debut map with an ominously overscaled, vaguely Nostromo-esque metal spacefreighter setting, by the author of Liquidium, which I had played earlier in the year. Versus that map's claustrophobic and austerely balanced style, this is much looser, taking the form of a short and straightforward slaughter mainly in the 'zone of influence' style. Despite the high number of powerful creatures, which are at their highest concentration in the huge central bay, difficulty is mild (by genre standards) in tone, thanks primarily to plenty of space afforded which allows one to outflank and eventually burn through the hordes without needing to apply any particular strategy (though doing so can of course greatly facilitate proceedings). A tenser final ambush in a darkened core room is handily mitigated by the lightly hidden secret BFG. Functional and enjoyable, if a mite lax in balance in comparison to the author's more recent maps.

     

    Bellatrix: Tales of Orionis by franckFRAG

    Notes: RC2. Eleven intricate, stock-textured maps ranging in size from small to sprawling, with a generally adventurous bent. Crashed on the mysterious planet Orionis, which you find in ruins and overrun by hellish miscreations, you are left to search for arms, ammo and answers as you trek through fallen villages, floodlands, mountains, caves, and more. The author has created an unusual and compelling atmosphere contrasting the whimsical and the morbid, blending 'Doomcute' vignettes that recall a lost sense of idyll and a generally soft, sleepy ambience with spans of darkness, tension, and demonic imagery for a fresh and subtly rural take on the time-honored (and mordantly comfy) "Hell on Earth" theme. Built for exploration foremost, the layouts are consistently clever, and occasionally outright brilliant, and even the smallest maps in the set are rife with three-dimensional complexity, tantalizing visual foreshadowing, and accommodation for many possible routes and approaches. The focus is more on atmosphere than on constant action, but a 'walking simulator' this most definitely is not, proffering a steady and satisfying stream of traditional run-and-gun action that scales steadily over the playthrough from interesting smallscale gunfights and traps to bigger ambushes and a few real onslaughts in later maps. An eminently well-crafted mapset, expertly blending the dueling joys of combat and exploration in Doom, with a special emphasis on the latter. Quite recommended.

     

    Hopscotch by lunchlunch

    Notes: RC1. MBF21. Short niche/novelty/puzzle set, in the vein of quirky classics ala Cyberdreams. Has the meticulously clean, filigreed look typical of much of the author's work, even considering the extremely simple and game-y visual presentation. Get from Point A to Point B along a short but perilous track suspended in a mysterious black void, through, around, and occasionally over a series of increasingly complex and absurd obstacles. Most of the 20 short challenges test your agility and ability for platforming, slaloming, pole-running and so forth (these being mostly entry-level by the standards of that particular niche), but mixing things up are a few scenarios that require wits rather than athleticism, particularly where the demons crash your game of 'scotch. The best (and most challenging) of the scenarios require both wits and speed, of course. The pacing and arrangement of the challenges is perhaps a mite uneven, at least in terms of difficulty, but this is a very minor complaint (and perhaps relative degree of difficulty is an unusually subjective matter in a WAD like this). Map 17 made me genuinely lol, not a common experience for me, kids. A short but memorable, and for some possibly educational, experience.

     

    Fallen District by Reinchard

    Notes: idgames. GZDoom. Huge single map, stock textures, aiming for the style of the "city" stages from the original Doom II. In this case the GZDoom requirement is presumably solely a matter of technical shortcutting, as the level is completely classic/vanilla (or, technically, limit-removing) in style. The massive, towering physical (over)scale of the buildings and outdoor areas make an immediate impression, and decisively distinguishes the map from its id-made inspirations. This imposing scale is present but less pronounced in the interiors, and the map is not without some confined, sinewy halls and tunnels for contrast, which interestingly are often situated at higher elevations. Over 1000 monsters are present (on skill 4), but this fact speaks much more to the map's length and sheer amount of real estate, a great deal of which is optional to visit, rather than to its density or intensity of combat -- most players comfortable with retro-modern mapsets (ala the TWiD series and its spinoffs/descendants) should not find the action alienating or overbearing, provided they can muster the attention span for a map of this length. Moving past the issue of scale, all of the hallmarks of the affected style are present -- non-linearity, verticality, a highly variable mapstart depending on which route you take, bizarre mechanical traps, strange Petersenesque material choices, etc. Some references or general ideas from specific id maps are apparent (I spotted riffs from m13, m15, m16, m17, and m19, and there are probably more which didn't register with me), but these are subtle and are generally totally recontextualized, and I felt that the author was generally successful in evoking the theme and rhythm of Doom II's second episode without relying on specific homage.

     

    JumpWAD by Grain of Salt and Ribbiks

    Notes: Final version (presumably). Seven expansive, incredibly intricate platforming maps (with a pair of outros) with a dreamlike feel by two of that niche's torchbearers. Platforming or jump-based maps (whether driven by arch-vile attack, a Hexen-style jump key, or other less hardwired/bedrock mechanics) are a small but longstanding tradition; JumpWAD obviously draws from that tradition, but reads as a true total reinvention of Doom as a collectathon x platforming game, built for free exploration, navigation, and puzzling, with no combat to speak of. The attack functionality is replaced with a jump which has an immediately addictive sense of physicality and momentum (it's basically an on-demand vile-jump), and thus endowed the player is turned loose in a series of increasingly complex, whimsically-themed and beautifully rendered stages with a basic goal of collecting enough special gems to activate the exit. Each map features a variety of setpieces, which begin as relatively simple (but clever) navigational puzzles, with each map introducing new mechanics, eventually escalating to true map-spanning, mind-bending mysteries in the final stages (I spent most of two evenings and had to draw on some outside research to fully solve the final map). Yet, in contrast to much of this niche genre's standing traditions, what really sets the design here apart is how little of it is directly prescribed to the player -- all of the maps have many more key gems (and puzzles) than one strictly needs to exit, and to a greater or lesser extent the designs are open and non-linear, allowing you to go where you want when you want, to try something else for a bit if you're stuck on a particular puzzle or maneuver. There is, notably, also no formal fail state (i.e. you never die from missing jumps or other happenings, and indeed it's often beneficial to find ways to fall 'out of' the main thoroughfares of a map). The result is an experience that's relaxing, soothing, and incredibly cozy and inviting, past the initial learning curve of the basic jump and movement physics of course (which, I acknowledge, will likely be more initially alien to some players than to others). A truly unique and imaginative work.

     

    Bing Bong Blippo by ZeMystic

    Notes: idgames. Nine short/compact techbase-style maps plus an outro, from a member of the Squonker Team. These maps are from an early period in the author's career (as the consistently silly/self-deprecating map titles may hint), and represent a more utilitarian (though still tidy) form of the author's present style, as seen in Vicarious or the aforementioned Squonker sets. In both visual theme and tone the set evokes early-game techbase maps from Doom II, Evilution, and of course, Knee Dead in the Dead, turned to a modern-minimalist design sensibility prioritizing fast, straightforward action vs. fodder staged in chambers and popping out of closets at close range and so forth over the more exploratory aspects of those influences. An early game or "E1" feel is further accentuated by SSG and other heavier weapons featuring only very rarely, found in secrets or placed for limited use in a couple of the final maps. Very immediate and uncomplicated, comfort food for some.

     

    Fire on the Mountain by VisionThing

    Notes: idgames. Short five-map campaign set in a lost UAC military base precariously situated in some volcanically active mountains, from a newer author. About 20 - 25 minutes of playtime for the whole set, depending on your degree of aggressiveness. Continuous play is suggested, and the set scales fairly well for that, though the player has become decisively overpowered by about the fourth map (pistol-start play seems totally standard/viable as well). Uses an altered colormap and a variety of custom assets (sourced from CC4, Hexen, etc.) for a dark, grungy, and perhaps appropriately soot-encrusted look. To my knowledge, this the author's first multimap set after a series of singles released last year, and the extended runtime has given them the space to build a steadier and ultimately more pronounced arc of action, beginning with simplistic room-clearing vs. zombies and other fodder and finishing with straightforward but kinetically-effective skirmishes against groups of more powerful demons in the final maps. Designs are very straightforward and linear, and typically use a key-and-spoke floorplan, so exploration potential is limited. The author has had some fun embracing the volcanic setting, and so there are more outdoor areas with more interesting topography (narrow rock bridges over lava, hills for climbing, etc.) and a generally larger variety of room/area sizes and designs versus earlier work. Shows continued growth.

     

    DBP 50: Emerald City by various authors

    Notes: 50th edition of the long-running, popular series -- an impressive display of longevity, any way you slice it. The setting this time is a fallen city which appears to be a few decades into the long process of being reclaimed by nature; an urban Babylon feralizing into a green inferno (whether the demons came first, or the fall, is unclear in this case, but that's part of the intrigue). For this milestone release, there is a sense of the current crop of DBP mappers pulling out the stops to go above and beyond the typical limitations of the series, and the result is their best output since the widely acclaimed DBP 37: Auger; Zenith. The relatively straightforward setting is powered by another of the series's characteristically well-curated asset packs, and rendered in impressive detail by all mappers involved, striking a fine balance between variations on a theme (lots of housing blocks and business districts fallen into verdant ruin) and more novel or slightly surreal scenarios, giving the world a sense of immersive cohesion and a strong sense of atmosphere without sacrificing too much in the way of level variety. The action and pacing, which I am so often skeptical of with this series, is engaging as well, with higher average monster density fostering a grittier, bloodier texture, and fights gaining an extra sense of incidental drama born from the shattered and often jumbled/chaotic geometries which host them. Some of the music selections have an oddly smarmy, ill-fitting quality to them (whereas others are spot-on), but other than this, I have very few notes, other than to wonder if there was initially one more final map planned beyond the already satisfying m15 split (i.e. the line about "something still lurking beyond the portal"). A fine piece of work.

     

    NEVER by tei tenga

    Notes: v1.0. Six maps plus a barebones outro, featuring a custom dark-electro soundtrack composed by the author and some DeHackED work that makes the bullet-feeding weapons more powerful/versatile, installs some alpha-style lost souls, and turns the cacodemons, as the kids say, into "nightmare fuel." Texture pack is mostly stock, but the set has a very distinct aesthetic, using stark, outscaled spans of concrete, circuitry, unwholesome fluorescents, and other cold/heavy industrial elements along with variously antiseptic and chiaroscuro-style lighting to create an affecting, surreal techno-creepy atmosphere. This sense of unfeeling industrial sterility contrasts with the driving soundtrack and crunchy, fodder-heavy gameplay for a surprisingly visceral experience in the moment-to-moment which sells the minimalist design that tends to dominate between the marquee rooms and sequences. The set scales well in intensity over its six maps, and does not lack for conceptual variety, opening with a cyberdemon-overwatch map and finishing with a dovetailed pairing of a silent puzzle map intended to tool you up for the closing arena/fortress map which follows, with some more exploratory/atmospheric fare between. A debut which veritably oozes character. I certainly hope to see more from this author.

     

    [ Untitled ] by Thelokk

    Notes: idgames. Eight maps inspired by and exploring concepts of aging, decay, and futility, by the prolific author of The Box of a Thousand Demons and others. Of the eight maps, six are playable 'conventionally' (though I use the term somewhat loosely in this case), and two are small, traversible art exhibits of sorts, an author signature first seen in the aforementioned megaWAD. Stock textures (drawing heavily from the 'manor', 'tenement' and 'cement' subsets), a modified palette which is swathed in gloom and heavily desaturated, and a total absence of BGM create a distinct mood that, to the receptive, may read as variously moribund and nostalgic, further accented by always sideways/niche and occasionally oppressive gameplay. The author's facility for texture/material composition as showcased in Thousand Demons continues to shine and communicate a distinct and thematically varied look through the ancient stock set, proving this to be a skill not reliant on having access to a huge pool of custom resources. Gameplay scenarios, similar to the aforementioned megaWAD, are a scattershot patois of many different challenge-oriented types and tropes, utilized singly and in combination. Many of the purely combat-oriented scenarios, particularly the handful of largescale iterations, continue to show a similar hint of slight kludginess, while platforming elements have become harsh enough to read as potentially abrasive to non-enthusiasts, and puzzle and progression elements have been honed to a fascinating abstraction that communicates that you are "playing art" on both the meta and diegetic levels. As with Demons, I found some maps more compelling than others, but all are interesting, and the best of them represent a further sharpening of an already quite distinct mapping voice. I was most taken with the evasion-based puzzling of the first half of m06, and with the entirety of m05, the dark-drowned "The House is Empty Now", which accomplishes the very rare feat of staging fights that are engaging mechanically while also seeming to suggest a thematic symbolism. If you are interested in something genuinely different (and perhaps not overburdened with rigid conceptions about what is and is not 'proper design'), give this author a shot.

     

    October

     

    Never Come Back by wxndxx

    Notes: idgames. Single map by a new author, relating the trials and tribulations of a most ill-fated Doomsailor in his quest to escape from a mysterious & sinister island after his freighter runs aground nearby. The map has a classic but attractive visual style (think late 2000s or so) and a strong sense of location, blending a loosely 'realistic' setting/premise with more stylized or surreal elements and very well-chosen BGM, giving the impression of a strange dream (or perhaps "nightmare" might be more appropriate?) that uncannily unfolds into quite the perilous and unexpected adventure. This sense of adventure manages to persist across its several distinctly different segments, which feature activities as diverse as very light, contemplative climbing puzzles (when you're first starting out), tight/constricted gauntlet-style battles, and an instance of slaughter later on, among others. All the more impressive is that the map is, perhaps somewhat deceptively, really not all that big or long, but gives the feeling of having undertaken quite the journey before the end, which is perhaps due in part to how challenging it can be. Played on skill 4 (which the author advises most first-time players not do, for the record), it's quite bruising, combining an initially razor-thin thing balance with big, frantic, almost immediately lethal fights that seem to recall certain challenge classics of yesteryear, contrasted with more modern segments involving pressured platforming and more conceptual or gimmicky fight designs, ala the nasty little BK setup or later "undersea" battle. On the technical side, some of the tuning/timing is perhaps slightly jank (mainly in the aforementioned undersea battle), and there are a couple of HOMs which are not hard to spot, but overall presentation and execution are both convincing, and the blend of wonder, adventure, and very legitimate danger puts me in mind of early work by Death-Destiny, among others. There've been a fair few impressive debuts this year, but this is easily one of my favorites so far.

     

    Hellhole by Thinkmeats

    Notes: v1.0. GZDoom. Single map that "goes places", about 20-30 minutes of playtime. Has the feel of an old-fashioned "kitchen sink" partial conversion map, with rough and jaggy but quite colorful/communicative, loosely representational visuals, and with many changes and tweaks to the still mostly intact base game formula. Most of these feature a goofy (but more or less endearing) absurdist slant, which will become apparent very early on, when you meet the first munchkin-vile. A heavily scripted but mostly linear path takes you from aboard your scout ship and then rather whip-snap suddenly into a dimensional rift hovering in a volcano's caldera, and beyond. Proceedings reach full conceptual force at about the halfway mark, when you encounter the map's party piece in a particularly zany scripted reveal, a handheld Black Hole cannon that allows you to fire a projectile which spawns a highly magnetizing mini-singularity, both vexing and damaging enemies and allowing you to impel yourself to all manner of previously unreachable perches. The map's telegraphy of this mechanic is limited, but the scheme of progression remains straightforward (if anything, I'd be interested to see something done with the concept in a more involved layout), and the manic energy the map communicates in both tone and pace maintains until the bizarre (and perhaps slightly over-HP'd) boss encounter. While quite rough in execution in many ways, this is a map which positively jitters in place with the joy of modding the game, and should feel like a warm blanket for those who fondly remember weird old ZDoom maps.

     

    DBP 51: Deadly Ritual by various authors

    Notes: v1.4. While more typical in format for this series's established patterns versus the preceding milestone entry (i.e. it's a disparate collection of one-off maps incidentally united by the relatively narrow focus of the custom asset pack, as opposed to the more narrative and 'realistic' character of DBP 50), this is also an above-average entry for the series. The theme centers on mesoamerican temples and jungles, with a subtle but unusual and attractive teal-tinged colormap, which may remind different players variously of the superlative Avactor or the original Epic, or perhaps, for those older among you, Brotherhood of Ruin. About half of the maps are by series founder 40oz; these are, as expected, aesthetically very clean and polished and show an intuitive use of the asset pack, and also as expected, all have an immediate action-forward focus and play like they only support skill 2. This popular comfort-food style is interleaved with maps by seven other participants, including rarer entrants and some series first-timers, and each of these mappers brings a distinctly different level design sensibility and interpretation of the asset pack, from compact, 3D puzzlebox layouts to old-fashioned early '00s abstraction to sprawling and non-linear key-hunts, and more. The disarmingly epic conclusion, by emergent series star BiZ, is quite the capper. It's this pronounced variety in scope and style which allows the mapset to leave a more lasting impression than many other series entries.

     

    Existential Dread by Cyberdemon531

    Notes: idgames. Six maps with something of a marked 'retro' vibe, rendered with an eclectic and colorful mix of stock textures and assets borrowed from iconic classics of yore (Memento Mori series, Requiem, etc.). A well-chosen vintage soundtrack completes the aesthetic. With the exception of the comparatively expansive m05, which is set in a winding river canyon flowing with a peculiar golden ooze, the maps are mostly quite compact, and have a deceptively complex and heavily interlocking design, with odd height differences, scads of windows, tons of shifting walls, and other small moving parts. Secrets are surprisingly crafty as well, including some quite involved chains that wend through the constricted spaces in interesting ways. In contrast to many other recent entries in the 'retro' idiom, the action is almost comedically bloody and gives no real sense of disciplined or affected restraint, the smallish chambers of the assorted dungeons and outposts regularly ending up carpeted in corpses, fueled by rapidfire sequences of teleportation ambushes and the many small closets peppering the layouts, which makes for an exciting (but still approachable) and quickly addicting pace that sets the episode apart from many of its more laconic peers. A simple but quite cool gimmick for the final leg of the last map sends the set off on a satisfying note, as well. Lots of fun, this short set captures the 'in res' feel of actually playing those hoary old classics in a more visceral and, to my mind, more authentic way than the more openly nostalgic and heavily idealized approach the general subgenre often favors.

     

    10 AM Break by Decay

    Notes: idgames. Very short set of five small maps originally built for 2021's Bourgeois MegaWAD, a hybrid set designed for both Deathmatch and single play. Uses the gameplay modifications from that set, which generally make the early half of the weapons roster significantly more powerful. Function over form, the levels have a plain, oldschool look with only minimal detail/adornment, but each map has a markedly different texture/color scheme to provide visual variety. The enhanced power of the player's arsenal plus the very compact, 'together' slant of the layouts and small monstercounts mean that maps end almost as quickly as they begin, though there is an eye towards skilled/routed play as evidenced by the very precise ammo counts (on skill 4), which require that no one weapon dominates the spotlight, and may make for a deceptively tricky time for players unaccustomed to this style of design / resource management (though I imagine this element of friction probably disappears in a continuous playthrough). The level of heat coming at you also escalates quite drastically between the first map and the last, which can be interesting contrast within something that takes fifteen minutes, if that, to play casually.

     

    Wretched Flesh by HALFCOOL

    Notes: Six rather meaty (in more ways than one) and rather "Boom-y" Boom-compatible maps forming a campaign of goodly length, four hours or more depending on playstyle. Stock textures. Minor changes are made to the bullet-using weapons and other game elements, but the overall feel of the game is barely altered. Balances well for both continuous and rifle-starts (I played some maps one way, some the other). The author adopts a realistic / representational style that, excepting a certain running chain of gag secrets, is very no-nonsense in slant, with a spread of traditional settings -- cities, warehouses, military bases, and the like, all infested by the titular Flesh. There's a lot of chunky "Doomcute" detailing and construction present, but the setting and tone are anything but cute, forming a classically gritty, Doom-y narrative of survival and vengeance in a demon-conquered world. Action is the mapset's bread and butter; level designs are mostly linear, and make excellent use of their more or less realistic settings to stage a wide variety of fights that scale rapidly in intensity, violence, and bodycount as the game progresses. Behind the scenes are a welter of voodoo-doll scripts and other Boom effects that allow the erstwhile arenas to shift and change and for additional monsters to be introduced on cue (and often in colorful ways), adding a cinematic flair to proceedings and alternatively allowing battles to shift tempo mid-encounter, or for one space to accommodate several different fights at different stages of progression. If you love scrappy, bloody combat that hovers just this side of chaos, don't pass this one up.

     

    Intergalactic Xenology Trilogy by Dreadopp and Lord_Z

    Notes: Compilation release collecting the first two episodes of this popular miniseries set in the Ancient Aliens universe, along with a brand new third episode. The series is most known for its pleasant, witty, and slightly light-hearted tone, blending the alternatively smooth/spacey and bright neon lightshow look of the AA texture resource with soothing BGM selections, some conceptually playful and quite memorable level concepts, and relatively relaxed action that takes a backseat to the offbeat narrative and settings. The new third episode is set mostly in "the future" (granted, a rather vague framing given the series's overall setting), and shows some of the most elaborate and fleshed out layouts and progression schemes the authors have yet cooked up, as well as slightly spicier action that occasionally punctuates its relaxed stroll with larger scuffles, often involving sudden Keystone Kops outbursts by big mobs of skeletons. There is, perhaps, nothing quite as memorable here as E2's level where Xenologyguy is shrunk down and cavorts about inside the body of a cacodemon, but the overall quality and sophistication of design, and of the series's narrative/cinematic trappings, continues to grow with each episode, and the cliffhanger ending suggests there may well be further forays in future.

     

    Bunker by NoC0ncentrate51

    Notes: idgames. GZDoom. The author's debut map, the setup here is intriguing: you're awoken in the middle of the night by a warning siren, and immediately retreat to a small fallout bunker behind your tiny shack. When you emerge, the world has undergone a drastic change. Apart from the interesting framing device, the map remains fairly unpredictable throughout: at first it seems to be an outdoor Hell-gulch map, but the setting shifts again each time you find the bunker, concluding with an initially mum revisiting of the original Entryway, which is eventually blown out and shattered into a more surreal, meandering, deconstructed version of itself (perhaps inspired in some way by The Thing You can't Defeat, a PWAD from earlier in the year which has been very popular). Visuals and combat are both simple but functional, with no real complications or missteps of balance; progression is entirely straightforward -- literally -- and abstracted from its diegetic trappings, the level is essentially a single long corridor with a few monsters littering your path. Some technical roughness remains, including one point early on where you can squeeze through a fairly obvious gap in some rocks you're not meant to, and walk entirely out of and away from the map. Ultimately a very simple level, the interesting frame narrative and the more surreal 'bunker' sequences which serve as transitions between the map's phases make it much more memorable than it would otherwise be.

     

    Malevolence E1 by Cheesewheel

    Notes: Nine Boom-compatible maps by the author of CPD, Uprising, and others. Stop a maniacal super-AI from assimilating the entire planet through a heaping helping of good old-fashioned ultraviolence. Marries the adventurous, campaign-style pacing of Uprising to a host of modified or new weapons and enemies for a distinctive feel. Many enemies are now faster, and have more complicated or dodge-pressuring attacks vs. their classic counterparts, but many also have slightly reduced HP, which coupled with the augmentation to rate of fire, power, or both for most of the player's arsenal makes for fast and visceral action which emphasizes speed and aggression and plays off delightfully against the author's penchant for blending classic run-and-gun gameplay with big scrappy arena brawls in a variety of stylized settings both more or less realistic and more outré. The use of the Boom format allows for more nifty environmental effects and some extra narrative nuance versus the author's previous work, ala a high-octane moving train level, a working terraforming facility, a nightmarish abduction by the antagonistic AI, and others. Very balanced and nuanced release, should suit a variety of tastes -- here's looking forward to the next episode.

     

    Overboard by mouldy

    Notes: idgames. Six-map, island-hopping campaign by the author of Going Down, written like a road movie, except there's no road, because you are at sea. Small yet very densely-constructed, location-based maps, featuring tacky cruise ships, submarines, and an assortment of small islands as settings. The simple and somewhat tongue-in-cheek premise belies the conceptual richness and inventiveness on display, with each map having a distinctly different identity and slant to its gameplay, as well as plenty of memorable quirks of setting. The uniting factor is a thrumming, manic energy that infuses the action from the very first ambush outside of your cabin to the final gunshot of the game, with elaborate scripting and unpredictably transforming/unfolding layouts combining to escalate even initially small fights into raucous, unpredictable, multi-stage riots that more often than not boil over and consume the entire playspace of each map, contributing to a decidely arcade-y (and quickly addictive) feel to the game. Also included is a novel "New Game +" mode (in mapslots 08 - 13), which features retooled thing placements and a few other minor changes for each map, which not only make each more challenging but in some cases also drastically alter the way the map is played, most pronounced in the Submarine and Siege levels. Witty, well-crafted, and nothing but fun.

     

    Gorehounds of Doom by various authors

    Notes: RC2. Eighteen maps by a variety of authors, using a texture resource which combines primarily stock assets with some high-detail flesh/blood/gore additions and flourishes. The intention of the project is to convey a "horror" theme; how to go about this was left largely to author discretion, and so a wide range of concepts and gameplay styles are present -- initially quiet and ambulatory pieces that build tension, largescale slaughter outings, a cyberdemon chase scene, a pair of blurred-reality observations, a concept map that forbids you from making a noise without a roof over your head, "kaizo"-style remakes of maps from the Doom II IWAD, and even essentially conventional maps simply painted in the project's custom assets, to name a few. As a truly open community project, the mapset hosts efforts of a wide range of experience, with many of its authors making their public debut with entries that read as ambitious early-career maps alongside pieces by well-established, prolific mappers. The RC status of the project is very pronounced in this version, with significant bugs in several maps (most notably m16, which appears to be broken in some ports) and some repeating music tracks, etc. Given the motley authorship, the level of sophistication as regards layout, architecture, pacing, tuning and so forth varies markedly, but in spite of this unevenness interest is maintained through the interplay and contrast of concept-based maps with more traditional Doom action, as well as through the unifying horror theme, with nearly all of the maps featuring memorable sequences or gimmicks designed to spook and unsettle.

     

    Occula by Bemused and Tourniquet

    Notes: RC1. Four maps (three main + an unlisted outro) in what could be described as a morbid wasteland theme, combining a decidedly sinister modified colormap/color scheme based on bloody reds, sooty blacks, and rusty browns with the intensely pressuring full-slaughter stylings of Bemused and the elaborate, vertically-inclined dungeonscapes of Tourniquet -- Two Great Tastes that Taste Great Together (TM). As a short campaign of sorts, the set is quite well-composed and thoroughly explores the many complimentary contrasts of the authors' styles, particularly in the third map, with a surprisingly smooth balance struck between moments where you'll be quietly pondering the intricate layouts in search of the many ingeniously hidden secret areas, and those where you'll be fighting like a rabid animal, a hair's breadth away from death at every turn, once you find what's actually in them. Also included are a trio of more experimental bonus maps of sorts: the first a totally minimalist yet very striking use of the red/black assets to create an abstract set of void-bound arenas that play chaotically in spite of their highly symmetrical construction; the second a comically violent but conceptually simple rat-run where literally a moment's hesitation spells instant death; and the third, a dementedly-paced and unrepentantly ugly "BFG poop" map, ala TimeofDeath, with special preface by Junji Ito. Intelligent, brutal, and atmospheric mapset.

     

    The Magenta Spire by thelamp

    Notes: RC21. Fifteen maps arranged in two episodes, set concurrently with the story of the original Doom, but taking place in a far more remote (and much weirder) backwater of the galaxy. As the name implies, the mapset features a wild and woolly visual style which thematically ties demonic influence with bright, vibrant colours -- magenta, purple, mauve, yellow, etc. -- for a Colour Out of Space flair, married to an endless array of strikingly strange, deceptively complex geometries that contrast claustrophobia with dwarfing scale. A number of modifications to many of the enemies have been made to give them a stranger and more aggressive character as well: imps have stronger fireballs and are capable of an unsettling 'moonwalk' behavior, revenant projectiles richochet vertically, hell knights are weaker but produce much more volume of fire, arch-viles can unpredictably resurrect themselves (yes, you read that right), etc. From what might initially seem a rather chaotic artistic tableau, however, a lot of really astute, well-paced and thoroughly satisfying level design emerges; the balance changes give the action a slightly more urgent tone that doesn't stray too far from the visceral immediacy of Doom's core formula, and the maps transition organically and often unpredictably from atmospheric exploration to intense battles and back again consistently throughout the campaign, which steadily builds momentum to some really strange and suitably climactic material in the game's final stages. Sure to become a cult classic.

     

    Exorcist by NDGamer00

    (in progress)

    Realm of Chaos 2 by various authors

    (in progress)

    TNT: Devilution by various authors

    (in progress)

    Infested E2 by ginc

    (in progress)
    Beneath Phobos Lab #5 by PeterMoro

    (queued)

    Baphomet's Satellite by Cacodemon187

    (queued)

    Atonement by Moustachio

    (queued)

    2022: A Doom Odyssey by pcorf, Kristian Nebula, and Chris Hansen

    (queued)

    Squenched Avacausage by nova++

    (queued)

  5. New PWADs Played, FYE 2023, part 2 -- Part 1, Part 3

     

    Recommendations welcome.

     

    May

     

    Plutonia Revisited CP 2 by various authors

    Notes: RC2. Sequel to the counter-sequel to the original Plutonia 2, again community-sourced. Versus its predecessor, this mapset is more varied in both scale and scope. Though it does feature a number of broadly traditionalist Plutonia-style entries -- i.e. lean and totally action-immediate maps driven by roughneck traps and precise monster placement -- these are contrasted by a generous helping of high-concept or experimental maps wearing a Plutonic skin, and that still do a lot of snarling and gnashing of teeth, mind you, while yet moving in rhythms quite different from the source material (though perhaps not quite so far afield as the aforementioned PL2, granted). Skeptics of the original IWAD might thus discover a new appreciation for its general rough-and-tumble attitude here, as the broad palette of authors deliver an equally broad variety of settings and ideas that all sit more or less convincingly beneath the Plutonia umbrella. One of the most conistently on-point CPs of the past few years.

     

    Relyctum by BeeWen

    Notes: Full 32 map megaWAD by a member of the now long-defunct Clan [B0S]. Those expecting or hoping for an outing expressly in the Russian (sur)realist vein that made this group of authors famous in the community may find themselves taken aback, as on the surface this is a classically-styled megaWAD using only stock textures and elements that hearkens back to an earlier era of WADmaking. Beneath the surface, however, is a deeply idiosyncratic work with a strong sense of autership and of personal 'dungeoneering.' Huge, labyrinthine levels comprised of complex, interlocking layouts that gradually unfold like puzzleboxes, with a heavily tactile and kinetic slant (read: plenty of elaborate switch sequences, series of lifts, geometry-based traps, etc.). Understated yet rich and truly skillful use of lighting and stock textures that massages the traditional patchwork Doom II aesthetic into something meticulously layered while remaining somewhat ambiguous or theme-agnostic; playing through the game felt like nothing quite so much as traversing a vast, neverending limbonic cityscape that cuts across several different planes of existence, or so I thought. The versional status of this work is currently unclear, but is still unfinalized; no changes made to map names or intermission texts, some bugs and thing-balancing left to be done, etc. (continuous play strongly recommended for most players, incidentally). An unabashedly long and contemplative playthrough that will most appeal to fans of older modes of level design, best savored slowly, a map here and a map there, like fine spirit.

     

    Hydrosphere by Bri

    Notes: RC3. Six-map campaign set in a clean & shiny hydroelectric facility. Very appealing "summery" sort of atmosphere, bright blue skies, deep blue water and brilliant sunshine contrasting attractively with the mixed tech-and-mortar trappings of the facility and connecting dam. Levels are short and all presented in a straightforward linear-looping fashion, built primarily to be a focused, bloody joyride -- thick clots of zombies and other fodder mill about the halls, ripe to be devastated en masse via buckshot clusterkills or well-placed rockets. Excellent barrel placement and just a hint of spice/sass from deliberate placement of more powerful enemies in positions where they will briefly have the advantage before you inevitably blow them away. Quite an enjoyable romp, proof that a take on casual gameplay does not have to necessitate a 'lite' or reserved approach to feel and pacing.

     

    Irkalla by various authors

    Notes: 2nd beta. Modern retelling of the original Doom's third episode, Inferno. Seven of the eleven maps are by Stormwalker; similarly to his popular PWAD Flashback to Hell (which was itself a condensed re-imagining of Doom II's campaign), these maps for the most part hew closely to not only the spirit but also the actual form of the original id maps. Featuring all of the same core concepts framed in immediately recognizable base layouts and with many of the very same progression beats, the largest point of digression from the originals in these maps is in the realm of aesthetic, which is more coherently and consistently gritty, gloomy and gothic vs. Sandy's lurid, thematically patchwork and visually chaotic Hell maps. This highly nostalgic approach contrasts with the handful of guest maps, which generally read as looser re-imaginings as opposed to clear remakes; the new riff on the House of Pain is wild and really doubles down on the namesake, for example, and what initially seems a straightforward upscale of the Unholy Cathedral ends up going to some strange and unexpected places. This mixed approach serves the mapset well, preventing things from feeling too familiar, though I did find that the Limbo replacement moved so contrary to the unusual tonality and pacing of the original map that I rather missed the expected lategame diversion. A slice of carefully crafted nostalgia with a certain 'big budget' feel.

     

    Pagodia by various authors

    Notes: RC1. Next entry in the ongoing Squonker Team/Team Squonker series, this time featuring a futuristic pseudo-Japanese theme rendered in a very eye-soothing (if somewhat range-limited) color palette of soft purples and bright greens, with the odd easter egg centered on vintage anime references here and there (read: they must be old if *I* can name them). General arrangement, pacing and length closely follows the template established by Moonlit District and Mayan Reynolds from earlier in the year, proffering slick, clean, minimalist-modernist layouts housing encounters geared to encourage constant movement, a push further accented by inclusion of a speedier cacodemon and a version of the increasingly popular miniboss-type cyberdemon with reduced HP (which in this case can also be rezzed by arch-viles!). The sixth map was my favorite, featuring some fascinatingly layered geometry and a markedly action-dense layout.

     

    Nensha by RonnieJamesDiner

    Notes: RC2. Single map taking place in and around the derelict hulk of some kind of industrial apparatus of uncertain origin and function. Quite large in physical size but not long or complicated in terms of playtime (my playthrough was about 20 minutes, and I like to take my time), the map's arc is brilliantly conducted, opening with a scene framing yourself and a single cyberdemon amidst the rusting metal struts of the installation, the scale and apparent emptiness dwarfing both of you. From there, the path leads high and low, in and around the structure as parts of it are reactivated, conveying a striking and exciting sense of visual drama and depth of location to what is, at root, a simple linear progression. Action largely takes the shape of discrete wave-based battles lent flavor by the unusual shapes of the arenas (and dramatic vertical scale of the terrain during the in-between traversal encounters); though violent, thing balance and spacial economy both heavily favor the player throughout, so don't sweat it even if merest mention of the term "slaughter" makes your delicate gorge rise. Fine example of a shortform adventure map.

     

    June

     

    Circadian Offset, part 1 by GBTS

    Notes: GZDoom. This ambitious mapset by a new author is essentially a TC in the classical sense of the term, containing no unchanged assets or parameters from the base game, though many of the sprites for actors and props are familiar edits from Hexen and Heretic. The early game establishes an interesting dynamic of a gritty guns-n-ammo type player character, kitted out with a primarily ballistic arsenal that initially feels very powerful, against legions of arcane cultist types with a variety of projectile attacks and notably janky/erratic movements, staged out across long linear levels that remind one of games outside of and in some cases older than Doom. This makes a somewhat sudden (though not unwelcome) shift to arena-based slaughter in a more or less modern pattern in the third map; several of the earlier arenas have player-activated environmental traps which can be used to thin the hordes, while the later and larger ones go ham with piles of pickups and V-sphere equivalents, to mixed results. Level design is the set's main and notable weakness, as the extremely long and geometrically repetitive 'traditional' levels are monster-placed almost identically from start to finish (particularly sloggy in the more mazelike 4th map), and the changed game balance does not always play entirely convincingly in the more conventional slaughter arenas or versus some later enemies, ala the pair of dual boss-type encounters, where the enemies have so much HP even the powerful weapons feel like squirt-guns. Nevertheless, the feel of the core game balance has a lot of personality, and certainly warrants further exploration as the author gains more experience.

     

    Doom Beneath a.k.a. What Lies Beneath by Esperpento

    Notes: Beta 2. Full replacement of E4 for OG Doom, ostensibly inspired by the original E4M1 in that each of the nine maps contains only 9 blue potions and no stimpacks or medikits (though there are a handful of soulspheres to be had over the course of the game, mostly hidden in secrets). Thematically, the design heavily features bloodred brick, granite and lava (contrasting with the original's signature use of green marble, wood, and lava), with perhaps a touch of Sigil inspiration as well, for a mostly classic (though clean) look that reads as period-appropriate. The very specific and seemingly acerbic inspiration/gimmick behind it belies an episode that is smartly designed and (mostly) well-balanced, with a lot of quality traps and a wide variety of concepts that give each map a distinct character, including several clever framings of cyberdemons and even the spiderdemon as credible and interesting 'boss' encounters. Don't be deterred by the gimmick; played as the author recommends (i.e. with carryovers on skill 4 and/or on skill 3 for the first playthrough), the set is tense but approachable, and remains engaging in its more considered and deliberate style of play.

     

    Unfortunate Relations by MissBeverly

    Notes: 6-map compilation of what are presumably the author's first finished maps. Reads as a tale of two halves: the first 3 maps use stock textures only and have a very spartan, simplistic aesthetic no doubt familiar to any player given to playing the earliest efforts of others, though the level of geometric abstraction (as in the very first room of the very first map), number of mechanical interactions with and moving parts in the environment, and concept-driven scenarios (as in the second map, which is one long shaft descent with a lot of one-time/missable side paths which seemingly cannot all be reached in a single playthrough) are all far more prominent than one usually sees in first efforts, which often tend to be functional but largely anonymous strings of rooms and corridors. Maps 04 and 05 introduce some vintage-looking spacebase textures and are far less abstract in design, seeming to depict something like an underground bunker, garrison, or lab with more recognizable features, ala dorms, computer rooms, multifloor elevators, etc., before briefly spilling out topside nearby an oddly striking black MODWALL tower of sorts. Map 06 is a kind of nominally functional "boss" map with a few big monsters in a big two-level room painted in a vaguely Giger-esque carapace texture of some sort. Obviously very rough in more ways than one, these maps nevertheless have a distinct feel to them; my overall impression was of the rare specimen exhumed from the vaults of D!Zone, DemonGate, Maximum Doom, etc. which proved to be a playable and complete experience, and will doubtless most appeal to those interested in that particular sort of ephemera.

     

    Technical Issues by Endless

    Notes: v1.2. Linear crawl through an infested UAC outpost squatting in some sickly-looking badlands. Somewhat constrictive in construction and densely populated, the action scales quickly, though reads as more casual or user-friendly than many of the author's previous maps in this vein (see: Dark Forgotten, etc.) due to significantly greater quantities of ammo available; no need to "save the heavy weapons for an emergency", balance enables a free hand with the arm of your choice at more or less any given point, and the map proceeds quickly despite its monster density as a result. Other than the somewhat conventional visual theme, reads as an excerpt from one of the WADazine Master Collection episodes, with requisite shoutout to that community fixture hidden in one of the deeper secrets. Release thread includes a separate "player's guide" document of secrets and traps, a charming novelty.

     

    Altars of Madness by myolden

    Notes: RC1. 12-map episode in the modern "gauntlet" style. Concise and to the point, each level in the set is a compact smattering of abstractly menacing cubist geometry with a distinct texture scheme and a single dominant color, which is of course a very familiar approach for this particular sub-genre of mapping, though some of the author's reads on the emotional flavor of certain colors are interesting and serve to create some slightly unusual moods. BGM selections have a rather mellifluous bent, contributing to this impression as well (the mapset is by all appearances named for the iconic Florida death metal album, but there is no midi-metal to be found here). From start to finish, the game is comprised of fast and efficient setpiece fights with a very heavy slant towards CQC and the core principles of crowd management and efficient movement in more or less constrained spaces; though it is unswerving in this particular philosophy, thing balance tends toward the moderate, and less intuitive or high-concept encounters are kept to a minimum, making this a comparatively approachable entry in its field, and thus perhaps a suitable taster for someone new to the style while also offering enough tightly conducted combat to entertain a veteran of the same. Maps 04, 05, and 11 were my personal favorites.

     

    Dance on the Water by El Inferno, guest map by KineticBeverage

    Notes: RC2. 10 maps (a 6-map 'campaign' of sorts with two possible maps in the 5th slot, and 3 'bonus' maps) gliding ominously through the inky depths of the deep end of the PWAD pool. Stolidly niche and unrepentantly difficult and intractable from the offing, the mapset juxtaposes largescale slaughter with platforming, polerunning, ooze-swimming and other agility-based obstacles, as well as a smattering of other attention-intensive activities (puzzles, scavenger hunts, maze navigation, even a bit of pixel-bitching). Interestingly, while the larger part of the mapset has the unusual/atypical (for the genre) 'campaign' arrangement, each map reads as its own largely self-contained experience both aesthetically and conceptually, with a marked split between the combat-focused maps and the athletic-focused maps, though the author has 'buried the lead' somewhat in this regard by opening with the titular map, where the nature of the danger is oppressive combat on very limited footing. While mechanically intensive foremost, the set is also highly atmospheric, with a number of genre-atypical BGM selections and striking uses of the OTEX resource which range from lurid, colorful visual assault to quietly immersive dullness and drear. Though extremely challenging, the mapset thus also has an oddly contemplative or even poignant quality about it, which makes for an unusual and often disarming contrast.

     

    DBP 47: Dreamcatcher Apparatus by various authors

    Notes: Final version? Presumably intended as a 'premium' entry in the popular, long-running series, this outing is both quite a bit longer (20 maps) and noticeably more technically polished than the DBP norm. The core theme this time is really not so far removed from the classic Doom II baseline of infested starbases and fallen cities (and the story is likewise the classic "UAC done gone fucked up in Anotherworld" chestnut), though the asset pack in concert with an altered colormap heavily favor muted dreamy indigo and purple shades alongside the tan and metal for a suitably somnolent feel. Seeming to respond to the particularly pronounced public acclaim for Auger; Zenith, the mapping team has chosen to accent the characteristically casual tone of the series at large with a more pronounced peak of action at the conclusion and a couple of memorable gimmick maps to mix things up along the way as well, though overall this lands as a more conventional run/gun experience vs. DBP37 (or, arguably, some of the smaller DBPs between then and now as well). Existing fans of the series will doubtless be pleased as usual, and skeptics or those who otherwise typically prefer something a little more involved will find more than usual to sink their teeth into here, as well.

     

    Vicarious by ZeMystic

    Notes: idgames. Brief set of 3 short maps by a member of the Squonker team. Stylistically, these would be right at home in one of those projects, offering a quick fix of immediate no-frills action in cleanly textured surroundings. Though the whole set only takes 15 minutes or so to play (if that), the action scales effectively between the start of proceedings and the finale. Visual theme is a gothic castle setting with something of an autumnal look. Geometry is on the simpler side but the maps are pleasing to the eye owing to skillful texture selection; the altered colormap, lighting, and texturing of the third map in particular are subtle but striking, creating a credible "dark and stormy", heavily overcast feel.

     

    Pocket Slaughter by SCF

    Notes: RC2. Complete 32 map megaWAD of very small, stock-textured, challenge-oriented maps (not all are "slaughter" per se), even the longest of which can be completed in well under 5 minutes of playtime. While a number of the maps do present straightforward flash fights in set arenas revolving primarily around the core genre values of spatial control, precise fire and movement, and crowd management, quite a few of them are more conceptual or gimmick-oriented in design, requiring the player to adopt a variety of non-standard tactics in order to prevail. While the mapset is far less flashy in presentation than some other recent sets in the nascent "micro slaughter" genre which aims to make this general stratum of gameplay more approachable to a wider audience, its focused design and wide variety of scenarios are astutely observed and smartly presented, making it perhaps the best of the lot as a primer for someone who is interested in actively learning the core skills and strategies involved in playing (and appreciating) this type of map.

     

    July

     

    What Remains by various authors

    Notes: idgames. Another Team Squonker joint, set in a derelict, lightly graffito'd seabase (read: a traditional techbase, surrounded on all sides by water). While the mapset is even shorter than the norm for this series (5 maps + an outro map), and the general theme is less exotic than that of some other recent entries in same, this is not one to be underestimated, with some fine map design on display. Each of the five maps feels quite distinct, sprawling and meandering just a bit more freely than the very efficient action-forward fare forming the backbone of earlier entries, though the modern, fast-moving tenor of the encounter design remains the order of the day, with an entertainingly brisk, staccato pace immediately presenting and maintained throughout. The third map reads as a bit of cooldown or interlude period (though it's not without traps of its own). One of the most smartly and cohesively composed of the Squonker projects thus far, with particularly strong maps in the opening and closing slots.

     

    Declaring New Apocalypse by Kan3

    Notes: GZDoom. Release version. 10+ map campaign plus level-select hub and bonus custom arena. Highly atmospheric in slant, this mapset chronicles the journey of another nameless soldier who escapes from Hell to wreak havoc on the eschatological itinerary of the Four Horsemen and their dark master. A base of mostly stock texture assets meets a bevy of new and returning enemies, dramatic dynamic lighting, pointed BGM selections, and clever scripting, presenting fresh and interesting twists on mostly very classic/traditional Doom settings. Each Horseman has a differently themed domain, and each level features a distinct progression scheme and is loaded with secrets, which ultimately reward completionist types with extra features in the "Reliquary" hub domain. Reminiscent of ZDoom adventures of an older mould, but built to a more modern standard, this release offers a refreshing blend of old and new.

     

    Infection by exl

    Notes: idgames. Seven-map campaign set in a top secret UAC research lab disguised as a water treatmeant plant, by the author of Verdant Citadel, Demons of Problematique, etc. This outing is initially very traditional in its techbase theme and thrust, but features a surprise twist I'll not spoil here, and an uncommonly beautiful presentation, with a gorgeous custom colormap and masterful texturing and lighting choices, married to split-path level design and generous helpings of immediate, early Romero-style combat vs. droves of zombies, imps, and other fodder. Indeed, the entire experience is subtly reminiscent of the classic adventure in the Phobos base in more ways than one, but maintains a distinct identity and never reads as a retread, or even a direct homage per se. Balances well for both continuous and pistol-start play, with SSG only appearing in the final maps; lategame is IMO a little too cell-heavy for opposition faced, but this should not dampen the experience for most players. Quality work from a veteran author.

     

    Looper Trooper by kos

    Notes: ZDoom. Single map by a new author. A high-concept piece, the basic idea here is that your marine is caught in a timeloop, and repeatedly traverses and re-traverses the same short stretch of some dingey, anonymous warehouse sort of place as reality steadily unravels, more and more netherworld nastiness pours through, and the state of affairs just goes to shit in general. Gameplay has a marked survivalist slant, with ammo and other resources very scarce early on, and much the player's power arc predicated on his/her being willing to explore and thus face extra/unnecessary peril. Complicating this gameplay approach is that there are a large number of monsters implicitly not meant to be killed (most notably the hordes of specters lurking the many shadows, which are meant primarily as a diegetic element and environmental hazard, rather than as normal actors), so some intuition and good tactical judgement are in order. Technical execution of the idea is quite rough in some ways -- all of the many secrets are totally unflagged, and some of the sectors/line actions are very finicky about triggering in a neat and timely fashion, etc. -- but the concept itself is fascinating, and rendered/realized with obvious excitement and ingenuity. A memorable little outing in Doomy surrealism for those who can abide a touch of unconventional gameplay.

     

    WELCOME BACK by Cheesebone

    Notes: GZDoom. The author's second map for Doom, published 23 years after the first. A sprawling map with well over 1800 monsters present, this sophomore effort reads like nothing so much as a lost or disembodied "map32" from a megaWAD of the Hell Revealed / Alien Vendetta age, comprised of a handful of large, topographically dramatic areas blanketed in monsters and ammo of all sorts, which the player is left to systematically wipe out as they see fit. Visually the map is very clean and elegantly (stock) textured, with a subtle shapeliness which perhaps belies its modern make, despite feeling as though it's modeled on an older style and rhythm of gameplay. Lacking much in the way of pacing per se, the map begins in full swing and insists from the get-go on blanketing even interstitial corridors and the like in creatures which are of little real consequence to the overall experience, and whether this reads as needlessly/clumsily prolonging proceedings or is a welcome/nostalgic quirk of specific genre authenticity is up to user discretion (and there is of course no reason why it can't be a bit of both). The temple area, and its two-stage yard reveal, is the highlight here.

     

    Ante Mortem Episode 1 by Snaxalotl

    Notes: GZDoom. 5-map episode of what is to eventually be a larger game (as of the time I'm typing this, the first level of E2 has debuted as well). In development for 2 years, the first map is both primitively 2D in design and quirky in atmosphere (it's like some kind of demonic spaceship or the like, complete with strange forcefield-type doors); later maps show a much more developed idiom of rollicking, open combat through, around, and across the shattered remains of a military base nestled in some almost incongruently pleasant temperate hills. Action is the foremost focus, with mixed hordes of demonic troops constantly spawning in waves in the yards and outdoor spaces, or otherwise attacking on script in the more enclosed interiors. The heavy opposition is counterbalanced by core integration of the Supercharged gameplay mod, which, for those unfamiliar, drastically increases the power of the player's arsenal (among other changes); the result is concerted, horde-based, slaughter-lite / slaughter-adjacent action that reads as empowering or even breezy despite the numbers of monsters involved, making this another release in this broad vein which may be more accessible to skeptics or those otherwise unaccustomed to the style. For a player of moderate experience with the style, the warnings not to play on skill 4 are likely to land as a mite quaint, and the occasionally comedic scads of ammo/armor and obvious exploitability of several marquee fights show there is room for further refinement in the design, but the author's facility for relatively seamlessly melding arena-style combat with broadly representational map design, and flare for using dynamic lighting to create a look that is very colorful but also quite tonally dark, make for a worthwhile experience.

     

    Liminal Waters by DoomRevolver

    Notes: GZDoom. Single map set in an alabaster/cerulean water temple. The clean, fantasy-inclined OTEX texturing combines with the selection of a stock Doom music track for an unusual feel. While fairly expansive in size, the overall scheme of the level is simpler than that of the author's previous maps, the layout being comprised of a handful of large, two-tiered rooms which can be visited in more or less any order. Monsters are perched for harassment fire up above and come in swarms down below, but weapon balance skews heavily towards rockets and plasma, and the grid-like geometry is easy to weaponize, so you're well-equipped to deal with them without too much trouble. Feels like more of an experimental map for the author.

     

    The Crater by DoomerCheems

    Notes: GZDoom. Though the author refers to this as a "megaWAD", it is only 3 maps long, taking about an hour to play, if not less. It looks and feels like a holdout from the dawning era of ZDoom, presenting a linear, representationally-styled campaign complete with many fellow marine NPCs who give orders and mission details at various points, and with most map developments handled through scripts. The depth and degree of the scripting is the most notable aspect; some NPCs have quite a few lines (esp. poor Norman), environments undergo many shifts (esp. in the chaotic third map), and many combat encounters feature environmental defenses or weapon batteries which you can actively engage to aid you. Though rough in many respects, with some occasionally rather unclear progression and what many would argue are "mandatory" secrets to get you off of the ground in the first map, the mapset offers a very particular experience of a rare vintage rarely encountered these days, and will be of special interest to those who remember the early-mid 00s of ZDoom mapping with fondness.

     

    Guillotine by Cutman

    Notes: Single mid-sized map, takes around 20 minutes to play, or longer if you get beheaded a few times. The veteran author describes this as their very first "normal" Doom map; suffice to say, the depth of overall experience certainly shows. The level has a clean and classic look, with a desolate Hell-outpost theme of wood, rock, marble, and blood, contrasting large spaces with long sightlines with necked down, more claustrophobic burrows on the periphery. Action starts out brisk, with a slightly devious bent, and maintains this character throughout, featuring a number of memorable traps leveraged from untimely shifts in the environment and a recursive layout which reuses its major spaces effectively throughout. A very worthwhile outing, demonstrating just how clever even a purely traditional Doom experience can be.

     

    Solar Struggle by various authors

    Notes: "Final" release. Complete 36-map replacement for The Ultimate Doom, authored by a wide variety of mappers from around the community, including many returning from similar setting-focused CPs ala Hellevator, Skulltiverse, etc. Despite the many different authors, Solar Struggle features a remarkably consistent and smoothly progressing sense of theme, style, and even narrative (in the customarily broad/vague Doom sense, mind you), chronicling the protagonist's escape from a prison facility on one of Jupiter's moons at the moment of a demonic outbreak clear through to his journey to the source of the corruption in the solar system. Heavily focusing on realistically appointed techbases and other manmade installations as a broad setting through all four episodes, the traditional theme of demonic influence is incorporated in many different ways to keep things fresh. Gameplay follows suit, featuring a wide variety of both conventional and high-concept approaches to pacing, combat, and map progression, getting an impressive amount of mileage out of the relatively limited bestiary of OG Doom. One of the year's top CPs thus far, essential in particular for devotees of the original Doom.

     

    The Summer of Slaughter by various authors

    Notes: RC2. Both a "Boom" version and a GZDoom version of this WAD exist; the compiler considers the GZDoom version the intended experience, and this is the one that I played. This is a compilation of 37 (with a 38th allegedly pending) polished speedmaps for the tenth Pineapple Under the Sea Speedmapping event, most in a slaughter or slaughter-adjacent vein, each ostensibly constructed in a 12-hour period and under some soft structural guidelines presumably intended to make the result more amenable to a pick-up-and-play approach. For the sake of this "deluxe" presentation of the event's produce, it is quite obvious that these guidelines were waived or totally ignored in certain cases. Slaughter is by reputation (and arguably by nature) a rather niche or even 'controversial' genre, and there has been a movement in recent years to "rehabilitate" this image via a growing number of streamlined sets that seek to deliver a functionally authentic slaughter experience while being much more accessible or appealing to genre skeptics and to 'normal' players (whatever that means); this is what I was expecting from this project. Frankly, my expectations were, in this case, quite misplaced. SOS juxtaposes slaughter regulars with mappers who do not typically work in the style, and the mapset cannot be readily pinned down to any one particular take on the genre. These 37 maps vary hugely in length, difficulty, and philosophy, ranging from unabashed BFG-spam dance parties to claustrophobic gauntlet-style outings to long topographical endurance treks to tributes to classic maps from the bloodstained annals of slaughter history, with too many other conceptual diversions to name; sometimes your adversary is a legion of thousands of demons, sometimes it's some tiny red cracks in the floor. The quality of fights and visuals from map to map are both all over the board, with some very 'high highs' and also some 'low lows', and despite an avowed effort to the contrary the sense of arrangement, pacing and general difficulty curve is quite (and quite understandably) chaotic. Nevertheless, any fan of the genre should be able to find something to enjoy here with a bit of browsing, and if you are new to the genre it handily demonstrates just how varied in style and tone the genre can be. Tip: make an effort to find the secret maps, they are surprising in more ways than one.

     

    August

     

    Industrial Jazz by Boxyt and Raeg

    Notes: GZDoom. 4 maps by Boxyt, a newcomer to the scene, appropriately featuring what is described as a bespoke "industrial free jazz" soundtrack by Raeg (which, if I am quite honest, I was thankful sounded nothing like what I thought it would from the description). Uses stock textures atop chunky floorplans and a smash/grab, straight-ahead gameplay and construction style to an overall effect I found somehow reminiscent of Aeternum (by Skillsaw). While the soundtrack may be and is certainly presented as the WAD's 'conversation piece', the map author successfully communicates a certain flair and personal style through the use of stock elements used in flavorful ways, with pieces like the freestanding spiral stairway down to the blue keycard in m02 or the ominous marble bridge to the final cavern in m04 standing out as examples of the WAD's paradoxically nostalgic-yet-fresh aesthetic sensibility. Gameplay and overall map progression is perhaps less verve-y, but solidly balanced and certainly entertaining enough for a casual playthrough. A promising debut.

     

    Actinia by various authors

    Notes: RC2. Short 6-map set (4 main, 2 bonus) in the style of The Plutonia Experiment, by a group of 4 authors from /vr/'s Doom community. Style, pitch, and pacing are on-point and feel authentic to the source material for the most part, covering a smattering of tried and tested Plutonia tropes while looking the part in a simple/practical way. Map 01, probably my favorite of the set, has a nice hot start and good replayability since any of the three keys can be approached first; m03, also quite satisfying, is the mechanical climax, with a very terse thing balance and a welter of traps, some predictable, some not so much. The fourth map is in the Go 2 It vein and, apart from the sassy start, is quite tame and can be taken at a very leisurely pace; m02 is the designated breather map. Of the bonus maps, m32 is an oddball little concept map (esp. the silly arch-vile fuckbox) which is quite small but also rather bad-tempered, like a chihuahua or such. In this RC, m31 is broken and uncompletable in the intended port (due to ZDoomisms), but bypassing this unfolds a map with a dimension-hopping theme and some cute-yet-grim representational detailing (mainly in "our" world) that feels artistically more of a piece with one of Plutonia's "expanded universe" community-made sequels than the IWAD itself, a commendable effort for being someone's very first map.

     

    Beware of Falling Angels by Albatross

    Notes: Eternity. Release candidate. Another in the author's ongoing series of techdemo-type maps for the Eternity engine, this is a short single map (about 10 minutes of playtime) set in what appears to be a sort of floating terrarium split into two zones, one dedicated to what appears to be "Heaven", the other to "Hell", perhaps curated by some third, unknown power. Utilizes the OTEX asset set, a pair of classic Stewboy tracks, and Eternity features such as portals and reflective surfaces to beautiful effect, making this perhaps the most aesthetically attractive of all of the author's maps to date, with complex sightlines and some creative scenes (i.e. the strange greystone cemetery with glowing green orbs in "Hell") if also perhaps the most thematically conventional. Gameplay once again reads mainly as a formality, offering a dripfeed of mid-tier monsters encountered in ones or twos, though there are a couple of heavier traps and a pronounced climax involving a bevy of cyberdemons and a crushing ceiling. An able demonstration of the distinct aesthetic flair possible in an updated-yet-classic idtech engine.

     

    The Thing You Can't Defeat by YourOpinionsAreWRONG

    Notes: GZDoom. 7 maps, technically, though this PWAD is really more of a morbid novelty than a mapset per se. To describe it in any real detail would be to spoil the experience and rob it of its impact; suffice to say that it likely won't take you very long to experience in full, and, depending on your age, background, and online proclivities, might be variously interpreted as a simple digital reflection on the toll of time and fragility of memory, or alternatively, a sort of creepypasta. For what it's worth, I did feel that the timing and escalation of the assorted subversions on offer are effectively paced from a very subtle start to full-on collapse, though on the downside where things are ultimately heading is very obvious long before the end is reached, even in what is already a short experience.

     

    Liquidium by gabirupee

    Notes: Single map built to test a modified colormap (which is quite subtle in effect, incidentally, though no less attractive for it), framed in the modern gauntlet style and set in a kind of dark and dingy space-basement place lit up with a few nodes of brilliant blue and green energy conduits. Very short, but with a razor-thin thing balance and also quite claustrophobic and perilous, most of the five or so encounters present require a very specific strategy and clean execution to survive, though (perhaps ironically) these become easier and easier to read as the map goes on, and they grow in size (such as it is). A bitesize snack for genre fans.

     

    400 Minutes of /vr/ (a.k.a. 6.66 Hours in Hell) by various authors

    Notes: Final version. Latest entry in a series of speedmapped megaWADs from the /vr/ Doom community. Uses the seldom-seen rfHelltex asset pack for a distinct vintage aesthetic, as well as the new MBF21 mapping format to allow for customizations to the traditional template such as extra maps, secret exits and intermission texts in non-standard places, and so forth. The grimy, dirty, brown/red-scale look of the custom texture assets, the broad palette of authors, and the concepts-first / polish-second speedmapping execution on display lend the game a feeling of something from the dawn of the classical era, a sensibility which often seems to come to the fore in this particular subcommunity's output. As a natural result of the project's core restrictions, nearly all of the 37 or so maps are quite short, and the majority of them have a gritty, back-to-basics feel to the action which allows the various little gimmicks defining many maps to come to the fore without weighing too heavily on the average player, though in the final cluster of maps in particular there are a few far nastier nuggets to be found, suitable to entertain Doom-irradiated sickos such as myself.

     

    Deezn Uts 1.0 (a.k.a. Prepare For Sauce) by Regular Warren

    Notes: GZDoom; a Boom version exists, but the GZ version is described as the intended experience. Presumably this is so the author can enforce pistol-starts (which, interestingly, more authors, including many newer ones, are becoming more and more willing to do); no other scripting is in evidence. Four clean but very simple speedmaps, each with an interesting title and a different (stock) texture theme. The compact, chunky-sectored layouts are broken up mainly by height differences and a scant few locked doors, and host only two or three dozen monsters apiece, though these skew heavily towards mid-tier Doom II creatures, conveying action-forward minimalism. Presumably this is meant to be rather sassy (or saucy, if you like), though regular patrons of this sort of map should find nothing much to really sweat about, given free availability of heavy weapons and plenty of elbow room. Suitable for a quick no-frills blast.

     

    Plague Tower Siege by sectrslayr

    Notes: idgames. Single map set in a crumbling gothic spire of brick and mortar, towering over a burning landscape in what would appear to be the carbonized husk of a fallen city. Using stock textures, the author has crafted a stylishly rendered environment with a clever tiered layout taking advantage of hostile terrain, irregular footing, and a great deal of visual interconnectivity to enhance the sense of peril and wring quite a lot of action out a monster complement just over 100 strong (plus an inevitable few from arch-vile resurrections). The map presumably takes its name from the regular incursions of small clouds of gasbags which insidiously infiltrate the fortress through gaps in its damaged outer wall both great and small, but the interior action is engaging as well, a conventional buckshot/bullets start which escalates into larger and more pressing traps at about the halfway point. A quiet release from early in the cycle, but not to be overlooked, as it is a thoroughly satisfying single map with a compelling (and very Doom-y) setting.

     

    Aquaduct by Dopaminecloud

    Notes: Short set of two caverns/caves-themed maps for The Plutonia Experiment, plays well both singly (i.e. from pistol-start) or as a linked pair. A tastefully clean and damp, shady naturalistic look with an airy, open feel accents and somewhat tempers the traditionally roughneck Plutonia feel, though the author's monster compositions and usage of sneaky snipers from strange angles certainly feel authentic to the IWAD inspiration, as does the measured but not overly austere balance of ammo and support items. Ends in a big (but breezy) slaughter-lite encounter for a somewhat more modern-feeling cap to the experience. Unassuming but well-made pair of levels in a classic theme gradually gaining more popularity, about 20-25 minutes of satisfying play.

     

    Of Magma and Meat by Doomax

    Notes: GZDoom. Large single map framed as a loose remake or re-imagining of Doom II's penultimate map, "The Living End." Uses the ubiquitous OTEX resource for a vivid, largely open-air take on the original, which somehow comes off as almost aggressively colorful in spots colorful despite the shell of gray igneous rock making up the map's skeleton. Also includes some baked-in changes to game mechanics/balance for a slightly different feel (i.e. hell knights sling faster projectiles, fire rate and damage of bullet weapons are tweaked, standard shotgun shoots a tighter pattern making it stronger at mid distance, etc.). While the basic structure of the IWAD map is easily recognizable (both in terms of layout and general progression scheme), the author has successfully instilled this remake with its own personality, and it reads more readily as an original experience, as opposed to a hi-def remaster. New, modern action scenes are perhaps to be expected (the arch-vile shaft being the most memorable), but the experience is most defined by the unexpected -- a nice arboretum, a hollow tree trunk with Escheresque properties, and a cliffside pizza parlor to name a few. Not all of the route consistently manages this creative verve (the three-fork segment from the base map is very dry here for instance), but nevertheless, the map successfully stands on its own and is worth a visit, even if you are not normally interested in the 'tribute' sub-genre.

     

    Stickney Installation by Snaxalotl

    Notes: RC2. New iteration of the evergreen KDiTD tribute-episode tradition, by an author who has been quite prolific this year. Phobos fans will be immediately at home with the bullets-n-buckshot bonanza presented, and all of the other genre trimmings one expects are well-represented too, particularly a generous host of secrets which feel natural to the theme while having something of a subtly modern cast to their mechanisms. Texture schemes and geometry are basically textbook for the genre, but the author has imbued the setting with a personal stamp through some subtle/suggestive representational touches (i.e. the map settings seem to credibly adhere to their names, without ever really breaching "Doomcute" territory) and a strong sense of interplay between light and shadow, with a lot of boldly dark and gloomy areas, a sensibility/strong point evident in the author's work elsewhere as well. There are a lot of clear/obvious conceptual and architectural motifs straight from the original KDitD in evidence, which tend to read as very on-the-nose (and perhaps just slightly cloyingly 'cute') by dint of all appearing in the same mapslot as that being referenced, though the overall logic and flow of each map as a whole is generally different enough to avoid feeling entirely like a straight retread. E1M8 is a notable exception to this, with a more overtly sinister look than the original "Phobos Anomaly", and a quite novel setup for the traditional showdown with the twin Barons. Difficult to pass up if you love the original E1.

     

    Meanwhile, as Hell Crept Up through the Sewers... by YMB

    Notes: Debut map by a longtime community member, set in a toxic waste treatment facility with a lot of skeletons in its closet (literally and figuratively). Very compact, short-scale, UAC techbase using a broad palette of stock resources in focused, point-specific ways for a moderately detailed look that comes across as quite coherent despite the eclectic assortment of textures, particularly in the upper, uncorrupted levels. A very casual base-crawl experience shows an unexpected whiplash into nastier territory at about the halfway mark, where the smattering of imps and zombies lightly guarding the many small rooms gives way rather suddenly to tougher Doom II creatures bursting from walls and lying in ambush, including several arch-viles. This 0-to-60 pace in the context of such a short level is surprisingly uncommon, though not at all unwelcome.

     

    Shallow World Episode 1 by Shawny

    Notes: Final version. Eleven maps presented as a loose (and I do mean very loose) retelling of the first eleven maps of the original Doom II, with a slightly different narrative. More of a true re-imagining than a 'modern remake', these maps ooze a character all their own and feature entirely unique/original settings and layouts that have a deep but subtle resonance with the broad themes and certain memorable mechanics from the base game, to the point that I suspect many players would not immediately realize this intent if not overtly informed of it. Beautifully textured with stock resources, the maps present a very distinct sense of style -- these are some of the most posh or 'luxe' starbases you will see -- and an engrossing night-time atmosphere, emphasized by classy lighting and well-chosen BGM selections. Action is stolidly moderate in tone (i.e. accessible to most players), balances unusually smoothly for continuous play (with pistol-starts being ammo-tense but quite manageable), and is skillfully paced and periodically inflected by creative mechanical machinations that riff off and expand on classic map gimmicks from the base game, playfully teasing nostalgia/familiarity while presenting a fresh and original experience. A wide variety of clever secrets are the icing on the cake. Let's hope for another episode of this in future!

     

    Emerald Ambush by Rook

    Notes: Single map set in a small outpost or guardstation in a lush subtropical area, by the author of the Sucker Punch series. Lack of that series's visual color-coding concept aside, this map would fit very naturally in their midst, providing a short blast of action carefully tuned to be both high-energy and (mostly) low stress, an initial complement of zombified soldiers and fodder demons giving way to incursions by more powerful foes as each key is made accessible. Vertically dense and presenting all of the weapons other than the BFG, the map can be played in many different ways despite its small size -- for funsies, try activating all three key waves at once, and then fight your way out.

     

    Bleeding Through by Zirbiss

    Notes: GZDoom. Small, often claustrophobic techbase map by a first-time author, in a straightlaced Hell on Earth theme -- this place has surely seen better days. Working with stock assets in a realistic/representational style, the author manages the extremely tight spaces which define most of the runtime fairly well, using small numbers of light monsters springing from ambush and limited availability of healing/armor to maintain pace and tension using a mostly low-stakes set of actors and items. The sudden rapid escalation of player power for the final fight in the abstract bloody basement at the end reads as abrupt and a tad overblown in the context of such a short map, and the action/monster placement there is haphazard. Doesn't spoil the experience, but shows room for growth for an author who is already demonstrating a strong sense of scene-staging -- I particularly like the ominously dark and blasted cityscape (which actually makes up the majority of the map's actual geometry), with demons you'll never meet visible cavorting on distant rooftops.

     

    Silence by Wilster_Wonkels

    Notes: idgames. Full replacement of the original (i.e. pre-Thy Flesh Consumed) Doom. Includes a custom soundtrack by the author in a kind of period rock/metal/ambient mix vein that does feel like a credible analog to the original game's soundtrack in a tonal sense, if not a technical one. The package is curiously no-frills otherwise; no new graphics, map/episode names and post-episode text and splash screens are unchanged, etc. The author describes the mapset as being inspired by Doom the Way id Did and similar projects, though in actual fact I felt it was much more akin to something like Base Ganymede or the like, i.e. far more reflective of its author's personal/individual style than any believable emulation of any of the id mappers. The Phobos replacement is certainly the most credible in this regard (perhaps because Romero's opus is by far one of the most commonly emulated and widely understood of all styles), while the Deimos and Inferno replacements have little in the way of Sandy's vaguely playful, vaguely sadistic, vaguely daft spookhouse ambience, instead being congested and corruption-clogged labyrinths spattered with blood and buckshot (and impishly-placed crushing ceilings) that, if anything, reads most like a distorted and extra-violent version of Tom Hall's old maps. This is not to say the set is not entertaining, mind you; it certainly is, the author's sense of pacing and clever thing-balancing being the finest facets on display, with the many knife-edge scenarios which (from pistol-start) dominate the third and final episode shining in particular.

     

    DBP 49: Mausoleum Nefarium by various authors

    Notes: Version unstated/unknown, but this is the most recent update as of the time I'm typing this. Mostly clean, but some significant bugs remain, mostly pertaining to secrets -- ZDoomisms, the possibility of softlocks in m10, etc. This 49th entry in the long-running, popular series is back on brand/back on form after the much-lambasted DBP 48, which almost everyone seems to want to forget. The theme this time is a baroque, hypergothic marble crypt, which makes me think of nothing so much as world realized from cover art from this or that late 90s black metal album, likely published by Napalm Records or similar. The theme is not as exotic/kooky as some often hope for from this series, but as ever, the asset pack is artfully assembled and curated. The singlemindedly milquetoast gameplay of the series is something I've often criticized in past, but in all fairness, this is not so in much of this outing, with a solid middle stretch of the game being surprisingly bloody and action-dense, and thus, legitimately fun. Proceedings do fall off markedly in this regard before the end, beginning with the oddly empty/barren-feeling m08; I personally tend to feel it's backwards for an episode to get cold feet and slam on the brakes when it ought to be racing towards an exciting finish, but most of these later levels do at least continue to look quite nice (esp. m09), and will likely be enjoyable enough for many people regardless.

     

    Sawshank Lament by Brad_tilf

    Notes: One map of about 15 minutes in length, seems to require ZDoom for proper display/function, but presumably intended as totally 'vanilla' in spirit. This is that rarest of creatures, a chainsaw map (which, if one wants to be pedantic, means it's also a Tyson map). The setting is fairly striking, a kind of crumbling, incredibly decrepit prison or bastille of dusty mortar and decaying plaster, full of the angry spirits of perished prisoners who, it seems, cannot escape their sentences, even in death. Lots of cages, lots of gloom, lots of surprisingly dismal atmosphere. The gameplay is, at least by the standards of most folks who might have developed a real taste for Tyson maps (to say nothing of the distinguished palate of the elusive Chainsaw Map Enjoyer), quite tame, pitting you mostly against a steady trickle of imps, demons, lost souls, and other creatures quite susceptible to being pureed by the Busy Beaver, funneled into you gas-guzzling deathstick by the highly claustrophobic environs, which often only allows passage for 1-2 bodies at a time. There are some tricksier moments, typically in the form of cheeky traps, to add more thrills and bloodspills, however. Ultimately, the atmosphere and sense of setting is probably the map's best and most refined attribute, as opposed to its somewhat lax handling of its niche gameplay conceit, but the notion of an outing where the chainsaw is the primary weapon is nevertheless vanishingly rare enough of an experience that I would encourage most players to live a little and try it out regardless. 

     

    Curiosity and the Cat by Ravendesk

    Notes: RC2. Single map, stock textures, by a first-time author. The map swims the slaughter/challenge stream, as soon enough becomes apparent, but is oddly and charmingly difficult to 'call' at first without knowing this. The opening shot and moments somehow psychologically suggest something more traditional (I suspect the texture scheme has a lot to do with it?); this soon gives way to what seems to be a strict, slow-crawling austerity/resource-rationing map, which in turn quickly gives way to shit royally hitting the fan, back in that initially folksy-looking opening room. This first big fight, and the vile-swarm in this same room which sends the map off, are both well-done and tactically interesting as a result of the aforementioned tightly controlled and tactically-placed trickle of resources (this astute sense of thing balance being generally the map's strongest/most flavorful mechanical attribute). The mid-level action in the western annex is in a 'zoned' style (i.e. you break into a space already firmly controlled by pre-placed monsters positioned more for defense rather than to swarm you) and does not read quite as well as in practice the moat-dominated design of the room hampers both you and the monsters about equally and reduces the sense of liveliness, but the encounter is not terribly long all things considered and so this does not bring proceedings down much. Somewhat unassuming in presentation and perhaps a mite scrappy in style, this is nevertheless a smartly balanced and entertaining short-but-authentic slaughtermap that avoids the pitfall of confusing brevity with dilution, and it's always good to welcome a new author to this bloodstained fold.

     

    The Box of a Thousand Demons by thelokk

    Notes: RC2. Full omnibus-style megaWAD by a prolific, newer author (29 'normal' maps, 1 outro, 2 secret, one of which is itself a silent/interpretive art piece). Uses the ubiquitous OTEX resource, a lush, cold-tone custom colormap (highly reminiscent of those in both Eviternity and newer builds of Sunder, though I'm not convinced it's identical to either), and some very dead-on BGM selections from a wide variety of sources to paint a succession of abstract or surrealistic Doom-worlds, arranged in a number of loose thematic clusters, the one unifying characteristic being a distinctly languid, pensive atmosphere that persists even amidst bursts of violence. The mapset will, I suspect, read to many as a single-mindedly challenge-oriented experience, and spends time exploring or experimenting with a broad range of concepts, tropes, and general gameplay styles from the deeper/darker end of the Doom pool -- austerity, platforming, occasional puzzles, claustrophobic choreography, slaughter of varying scales and severities, good old-fashioned Plutonium exposure, etc. -- but I daresay such a reading would somewhat miss the forest for the trees in this case. The actual execution of many aspects of the production (esp. the expressly mechanical) varies in degree of fidelity, sophistication and fine-tuning, but the distinct sense of mood is watertight throughout, and in practice the WAD is usually quite measured, giving the whole experience more of a reflective tone than one of oppression and struggle. The mapset as a whole clearly indicates a variety of influences (some more obvious than others), but by the final third of the game the author's sensibilities for visual art and mechanical design seem to fully find each other, and a distinct voice that stands apart from these influences clearly emerges. For genre regulars, the mapset offers a relatively laidback outing that stands out for its distinct mood, and for intrepid or open-minded outsiders, is perhaps approachable enough as a first foray into a deeper realm of dreams and nightmares not soon forgotten.

    1. Show previous comments  1 more
    2. LadyMistDragon

      LadyMistDragon

      To be honest, I liked Dartagur Dungeon by Doom Revolver better, but that's my persinal taste.

    3. Demon of the Well

      Demon of the Well

      I also prefer that map, or something like Mortal Mechanism (which IIRC appeared in the first RAMP project, and was also released separately), which are longwinded and more or less traditional Doom dungeon-crawls that one comes to develop a feeling of comfy familiarity with before the end. Liminal Waters is big in terms of space and more structurally elaborate in parts, (though quite stark/simplistic in others IIRC) with all of the floor-over-floor stuff, but to me feels primarily like a map built to practice these features and then monster-populated off the cusp, so that other people could have some fun with it as well, as opposed to the more "DM'd" experience of those other maps. IIRC so far this year there's also "Techseus Labyrinth" by the author, but I haven't played it yet.

    4. Catpho

      Catpho

      The world would be a better place if everyone can appreciate Relyctum the same way you do demon.
      Incidentially, I found the first 9 maps of Relyctum to be very enjoyable on pistol-start. Every map felt like a real piece of work to observe, plan, and beat, but there's a real sense of accomplishment that just isn't the same in many other modern PWADs. Am i becoming a Doom looney, taking highly dangerous drugs to keep the high?

  6. Demon of the Well

    seeking claustrophobic "adventure" maps; ruins, caves, etc.

    This should fit: Grotto of the Scorned , by Valhen
  7. New PWADs played, FYE 2023 -- Part 2, Part 3

     

    January

     

    Don't Turn Your Back on the City by Trashbang

    Notes: Short-ish, linear single map with a fallen city setting. Attractive representational detailing (a little too gritty/gory to be called 'cute', perhaps) and skilled use of stock textures. Straightforward and accessible action, lots of hi-test ammo after the midpoint. Designed for Boom spec, and is quite playable as such, though some minor ZDoomisms are present -- infinitely-tall hanging corpses, a few floor-bleeding midtex, etc.

     

    E1M5 - Phobos Lab Remake by Guardsoul

    Notes: GZDoom. Staccato-paced, marginally more 'realistic' take on Romero's classic. Definitely more of a straight 'remake', as opposed to a 'reimagining.' Those who remember the author's E1M3 remake from a while back know what to expect, though this E1M5 remake scales and aligns more closely with the geometry, flow, and timing of the original/source map than its predecessor does.

     

    Freaky Panties V: I Love Penguins by Remilia Scarlet

    Notes: Played with k8vavoom. Very familiar formula for this series, and this author, perhaps a little more laid back than has been the norm.

     

    Exquisite Amethyst by Jimmy

    Notes: GZDoom, RC1. Perhaps not quite what the name may suggest to a relatively newer player, this map is an homage to the classic ZDoom PWAD Void (and also a birthday map). Simplistic layout and architecture (some loop-around portal setups aside) with a bright, clean and nostalgic aesthetic throughout, mostly light action with a bigger fight at the finish.

     

    Blood Chamber by RED77

    Notes: Short fights-based map with a classic Doom style. Probably vanilla-compatible under the hood, but only runs in GZDoom due to author inexperience. Neat stairbuilding effect in the red "eye" room, major ambush is the blue room. Shows promise.

     

    House in the Hills by memeboi

    Notes: GZDoom (not ZDoom as author states). Short (~2 minute) "story" map with MSPaint-type graphics where you go into a house, murder the family living there (represented by static actors, ala Keen), and steal their vehicle. The implication is presumably that you've been repeating this same crime all across the countryside. Too childish/crude in delivery to be atmospheric or shocking. May be worth a look as an art piece if you're charitable of heart and interested in the unconventional format.

     

    The Dark Tower of Abyss by HrnekBezucha

    Notes: Short medieval castle map (using GothicTex) based on a rough layout (not the author's own) from a Quake community CP. Quake's 3D construction style is here loosely emulated with many steep, narrow lifts, raising/lowering bridge sectors, and switch-actuated doors, making for a fairly tight, compact vertical layout. Scads of ammo and items, a couple of relatively dense ambushes at the keys.

     

    Ozonia by Deadwing

    Notes: Third part of the Moonblood trilogy. The Plutonia influence is more evident here than ever before -- mostly short (as contrasted with "small"), tight maps with compact layouts and deliberate monster placement designed to get maximum effect out of limited density. Unusual jazzy/ambient score and an inverted (and slightly muddled) narrative structure maintain connection with earlier parts of the trilogy, though at heart this is more focused than the sparse, uneven desolation of the original Moonblood, and far more straightforwardly action-oriented than the more meandering and experimental ExoMoon. Perhaps a little too persistently restrained/minimalist in the action department to perfectly suit me, but the more laid-back and atmospheric take on the identifiable Plutonia formula make for an experience with a lot of personality.

     

    February

     

    Cyberpunx by Nicolas Monti

    Notes: Another new episode from a prolific mapper, very close in line stylistically with his Enceladus and Doom Island episodes from last cycle. Monti fans know what to expect -- what begins as a decidedly Phobosian grunge-tech tableau (using, as usual, a lot of Alpha/dump assets and the author's customarily "loose" texturing style) soon enough morphs into something more surreal. Maps are smaller here than has been Monti's wont of late, but most are quite dense in construction to compensate. A .deh patch is again present to change some enemy attributes, this time quite a bit subtler and less abrasive/strange than that found in Enceladus in particular.

     

    Vigor by various authors

    Notes: RC2. A loveletter to the original Scythe (with some touch-and-go references to its sequel and perhaps some other big names of Alm's era) composed by a group of current-gen mappers. All told, the set is quite convincing in execution/homage to its subject matter, offering a host of short and very clean-looking/fast-moving maps endowed with decidedly squarejawed Almian architecture and a variety of strange and amusing titles that touch on all of the thematic beats one would expect. Compositionally, the mapset does away with the early game and jumps right into a more volant, roughneck midgame style right from 01, which IMO is quite welcome, though on the other hand it does lack the concerted sense of a really discrete "endgame" section, ala the original. The two maps by Juza are outliers in terms of size, style, and reference, but make for a welcome change of pace, nonetheless.

     

    Squonker 3 by various authors

    Notes: 8-level episode of speedmaps by a group of rabble-rousers calling themselves "Squonker Team", the first of several to appear on this list. Styles vary throughout the set, some more modern and encounter-focused, others reading as pockets of 90s/early 00s sensibility in microcosm, including a cute "Toxic Touch" tribute (Alien Vendetta, m10) in the sixth slot. A strangely grungy, eclectic asset pack, some odd music choices, and the presence of a (let's be honest) somewhat trashy "memes" map in m07 make the overall tonality of the set difficult to pin down, but I imagine many players will find at least one map they can enjoy here.

     

    Blueberry Blaze Cake by Killerratte

    Notes: idgames version. Medium-length map with a slightly surreal feel and no readily identifiable theme (i.e. you could argue its theme is simply "Doom"), using a wide variety of earthen, gothic, and metal textures that give it more of a fantastical feel, vs. the (still somewhat eclectic) industrial/tech look which dominates in the author's previous maps. Gameplay seems innocent at first, but is loaded for bear with some really wily traps, which can easily catch you out with only scant handfuls of monsters working in tandem. A sudden ripcord escalation in the final area past the red door, which maintains the impishly trap-y character but turns the intensity way up, genuinely put a smile on my face. This particular kind of oldschool trap design is surprisingly rare at current, and has a lot to teach, I reckon.

     

    Moonlit District by various authors

    Notes: RC1. 7-level episode of clean, short, action-forward speedmaps by the Squonker Team. Features a sort of "industrial skyline fortress" theme where everything is boilerplate, bioscanners, and haz lights, built on seldom-seen assets from Perdition's Gate. Gameplay is very straightforward and 'calisthenic' in the modern way, and much more uniform in tone and delivery vs. the earlier Squonker 3, with a Scythe II-style demi-slaughter crescendo in m07.

     

    Underground Cult by eoomu

    Notes: GZDoom. Large-scaled, mid-length map from a new mapper, with a grim tone and a horror-adjacent sensibility, using a mix of OTEX and other assets. Rough in build and implementation (i.e. "Press Use to use this teleporter", you'll see what I mean), but shows a good grasp of some subtler aspects of design, such as how/when to use periods of silence, how to get extra mileage (in both a gameplay and a narrative sense) out of revisiting and reframing earlier areas, etc. Shows promise.

     

    Rapidfire 3 by jazzmaster9

    Notes: RC3. Newest offering in an ongoing speedmap series. Similar airy, blocky 'upscale Simplicity' look/feel as the first two episodes. A wider variety of map themes, most in a pointedly classic/nostalgic vein (i.e. Phobos, Scythe II E1, "Pharaoh", etc.), and a more concerted, faster-escalating approach to combat and trap design make this the most appealing entry in the series thus far.

     

    5 Minutes to Kill by RiviTheWarlock, TMD, and Dunn (& Dunn)

    Notes: RC1. Slightly abridged megaWAD of speedmaps (23 maps). Map 01 was allotted 5 minutes of mapping time; each successive mapslot was granted an additional 5 minutes. This is of course a very challenging limitation, which for the most part the authors have wisely chosen to approach by leaning heavily into high-concept or gimmick designs, which can clearly express themselves in a very short timeframe, as opposed to offering a series of incrementally less stunted map stubs in a more conventional vein. Skews on the challenging side, and overall sense of balance is somewhat sloppy/hamfisted as one might expect, but there are some interesting ideas here. m17 was my favorite.

     

    Perfunction by MFG38

    Notes: 9-map replacement for Knee Deep in the Dead, speedmapped at a breakneck pace in a single day. Very simplistic/rudimentary, as one might expect, but not without some surprising turns in later maps.

     

    Mayan Reynolds by various authors

    Notes: Another speedmap episode from Squonker Team / Team Squonker (which is it?), with a lush Mesoamerican ruins theme. 7 maps this time; very attractive asset pack and classy music selections. Design and pacing are very similar to that found in Moonlit District from earlier in the year, though the more exotic setting may have impelled the authors to get slightly wilder with the encounter designs in some of the later levels, and the more sprawling and pensive final map by AD_79 accents earlier proceedings nicely. The 'templated' design style, rapid pace of production, and carousel of themes/assets that this series features put me in mind of the Doomerboards Projects series to no small extent. Disclaimer: I don't get the title reference

     

    March

     

    Dust Devil by Captain Toenail

    Notes: RC2, GZDoom. Large techbase above an excavation site, situated in a desert canyon. The base is m01, the ruin is m02, and it's possible (and necessary) to travel between them a number of times in order to recover all of the access keys, which allow you to grab a MacGuffin and exit. Progression design is nicely open-ended in the above-ground base (seem to be at least a couple of possible routes), more necked down and combat-focused in the ruin. Quite accessible to a general audience, with plentiful ammo for the entire arsenal and lots of healing pickups, but well-paced with good usage of repopulation to keep the action from drying up even after all of the layout has been covered. A handful of custom enemies add a twist which reads well for the most part; perhaps a bit too long on the grenade soldiers, maybe. I liked the spectacle of the ruins boss and the light puzzle aspect of how to damage the guardians of the final keycard.

     

    Atolladero by Soulless

    Notes: RC2. GZDoom. Sprawling, multi-winged techbase that reads as a water treatment plant or something similar, in the middle of a desert oasis. Muted but tasteful 'clean industrial' look, courtesy of OTEX, contrasts well against the deep blue water. Lots of turret/crossfire-driven design in the open areas, where rockets are king, contrasted against chunky, chewy SSG-driven fare in the inner works. A variety of clever secrets, including a sidequest for three hidden skeleton keys; the final payoff here is perhaps a mite underwhelming (and maybe darkly ironic if your reflexes are slow), but looking for the keys is enjoyable all the same. Particularly nice fight on the RK rig/struts, unpredictable/escalating action that makes good use of what at first seems fairly ungainly terrain.

     

    Doom 14 Supreme Adventure by eltiolavara9

    Notes: GZDoom. 11 maps, lengthy, highly 'abstract' / artsy adventure with a damaged, emotionally disconsolate creepypasta tonality (in the 'sentient glitch' genre) that plays off against the colorful, wacky, and generally simplistic environments. Barely playable in the conventional sense; the majority of monsters are not relevant and can/should be run past, but there are a handful that must be killed to trigger scripts and progress. The meat of play involves platforming (with a real jump key) at various levels of gravity, sometimes with light puzzle elements afforded by how unreadable (in the conventional sense) the environment often is. I don't think looking for a conventional play experience is really wise or appropriate for something like this, though; if all else fails, turn on cheatcodes and drift through it that way, which in this case should not dampen the impact of the core experience much. Far from perfect to say the least, and tends to repeat itself quite a lot by the end, but the mood and tone is singular, and should be a worthwhile experience for those truly interested in the concept of Doom as art first, game second.

     

    Sign of Torment by Kain D.

    Notes: Final version. Complete 32-map Boom-compat megaWAD by a single author, with a number of unusual thematic twists. Presented as three truly separate episodes (i.e., in the style of the original Doom), with the first being set in a lost/conquered moon base, the second on a lost/conquered alien planet (which in practice has a decidedly Ravenesque theme), and the third in an abstract, charnel sort of Hell, with a vaguely existential undercurrent. Follows a mostly straightforward 'psychological' narrative, delivered in a simple yet rather original way. This and persistent use of various Boom specials for things like jump-pads, faux-Escherian layouts, and the like give the game a distinct character. It does, however, suffer for its length and what is presumably the author's natural learning curve, with core layout and traversal design being mostly two-dimensional (though this is sometimes disguised fairly well), and featuring very heavy repetition of certain tropes, particularly mazes and point-to-point-to-point hubspoke schemes. Regardless, likely to appeal to players for whom a personal/original presentation is more important than structural/mechanical sophistication.

     

    The 10x10 Project by lunchlunch

    Notes: RC2. 11 maps (10 main + 1 secret/bonus), each restricted to using 10 textures and 10 flats apiece. It could be argued this is a rather 'soft' limitation in comparison to some other texture-restricted projects, perhaps, but regardless the author's handling here is quite deft. Each map has a distinct and fully-fleshed out theme offering visual coherence, depth, and -- most importantly -- panache. Maps are generally more concise/compact than not but never feel too short or otherwise abridged for the sake of digestibilty/accessibility. Action is well-conducted across a broad variety of different styles, running the gamut from trap-heavy and attrition-based to segments of full slaughter. The back half of the mapset is dominated by starry-eyed (and very obvious) homages to/pastiches of a selection of notable modern PWAD authors; some may find this hampers its own individual identity a bit, but execution remains strong, and both interpretation and interpolation of these different styles is well-judged by the author. When you've mapped a limitation-based project that for the most part doesn't feel like one, I reckon you've done something right, and I would like to see more solo work from this author in the future.

     

    Elementalism, Phase 1 by various authors

    Notes: RC1. GZDoom. Lavish, lengthy trek through three distinct worlds, each offering an imaginative setting at once familiar to/at home in a classic Doom idiom, but accented with a marked dark fantasy slant with winks and nods to a number of other media properties. Some truly memorable locales here, particularly in the later stages of the "Earth" and "Water" realms. Hub-based, tiered level-select design philosophy ala a number of other recent GZDoom mapsets is particularly appealing here, and in this instance heavily redolent in flavor of The Nexus from the now classic Demon's Souls. Despite something of a persistent sense of undertuning in this early RC (i.e. ammo and items are usually excessive, sometimes starkly so, and this from pistol-start on "hard" setting), plenty of entertaining action, quality secrets, and satisfying boss battles marry to generally grandiose level design schemes for a sense of real adventure.

     

    BlueAge by Skronkidonk and DCGRetrowave

    Notes: Omnibus-style megaWAD by Skronkidonk, with guest map by DCGRetrowave. Comprised as it is from a selection of some the author's earliest maps (cleaned up and rehabilitated) alongside more recent works, the mapset is at times somewhat uneven in tone, style, and level of craft, but nevertheless successfully conveys a sense of a lost gem from a bygone era.  As other maps by the principal author in various team projects suggest, there is a real fondness for and influence of a previous generation of "hardcore" classics in their mapping -- Hell Revealed, Alien Vendetta, Speed of Doom, etc. -- and BlueAge feels a lot like something cast in that same mold, from the clean, spartan geometry and (affably) bullshit text scrawls of HR to the pronounced sense of theming and eventual escalation into a total bloodbath of the latter two, without reading as particularly homage-y of any particular map or idea found therein. The final cluster of maps (26-29 in particular) is one of the more convincing and enjoyable takes on that older stratum of challenge-oriented mapping I've seen in some time.

     

    Shades of Azure by Dunn (& Dunn) and RiviTheWarlock

    Notes: RC2. Mid-length compilation episode with an abstract, space-y blue/cyan theme by one of the current torchbearers of the modern "gauntlet" design style (think Stardate series, etc.), including a single guest map built around a pair of great fights by RiviTheWarlock. Evidently began as a speedmapping project, which perhaps shows in some of the relatively abbreviated runtimes and the simpler appearances of some of the older maps, but each of the maps reads as full-featured in its way. Most maps here are relatively accessible by the general standards of the style; light, vaguely techbase-style exploration built around a core of enclosed fights that can be quite intense but are also generally brief and tactically straightforward, with other small-niche aspects the author has explored in other releases (puzzling, platforming, etc.) kept to a minimum. Escalation is steady over the runtime, and the final map in the main sequence is quite tough, but again, relatively brief. Also includes a pair of bonus maps in the secret slots, including last year's "Heavenly Rock" as m32.

     

    Akashic Migraine by msx2plus

    Notes: Offbeat single-map experiment from the author of Time Tripper. The map has a particular look which compares and contrasts in interesting ways with the glossy and eye-catching po-mo look of the main project; almost entirely stock textures are used, but with some unusual core material choices (i.e. stillfire bedrock, compblue sky, etc.), 'loose' alignments, and totally abstract geometry straight out of the 90s, shot through with discrete spots of doomcute (i.e. library stacks/ladders 'maze') and a heavy, cough-syrupy vaporwave-style palette-shift that taken together point back at the author's "normal" style. Action is very geometry-focused, with almost all battles made more by the terrain than by the monsters, with the meat of the proceedings involving a gradually escalating series of encounters simultaneously involving combat and platforming elements in varying degrees. The general vein of the gameplay here may be alien/uncomfortable to many players, but by the standards of the niche to which it belongs, it's quite moderate/accessible (with the map aesthetic itself going a long way towards establishing the quasi-requisite sense of hostility), and as such may be an effective entry point to that realm for the curious. An interesting digression, which may yet serve to bear fruit for the main project.

     

    April

     

    Radium by jacnowak

    Notes: idgames version, played with Eternity. A collection of stark, brutalist heavy-industrial towers and warehouses half-drowned in a nukage-flooded canyon. The Eternity Engine's portal capabilities are prominently featured, with most of the major buildings featuring at least two and sometimes more levels of overlapping structure, such as a main floor with gantries above and ooze-sewers directly beneath. This persistent 3D structure, plus a somewhat exaggerated sense of vertical scale and heavy usage of very grimy, dusty textures/materials gives the map a subtle but memorable sort of stylization in spite of (or perhaps partially because of?) its generally understated theme. Modular, semi-sandboxy layout and 3D structure makes for some interesting and sometimes unpredictable monster-pathing permutations, depending on one's playstyle.

     

    Emblem by Athel

    Notes: RC3. New entry in the time-honored cottage industry of Phobos nostalgia, which seems to be burgeoning anew the past few years. While this episode displays all of the elements from grosser (i.e. military textures, small armies of fodder monsters, oceans of shotshells, and an obligatory computer maze) to finer (i.e. chains of nested secrets, visual foreshadowing, etc.) that one expects of a KDitD replacement, it is by no means a straight TWiD-like, featuring a number of new monsters, several thematic twists and sidetracks (including a genuinely interesting secret level), and its own particular sense of scale and map progression. The scale sometimes struck me as being used as dramatic compensation for simplistic layout, and there are occasional instances of unneeded/unwanted monster-blocking lines, but the mapset has a certain je ne sais quois and a sense of freewheeling character which can be rare in this particular sub-genre. The episode selection menu suggests further episodes in future, interestingly.

     

    Gloombase by Jimmy Paddock

    Notes: RC1, GZDoom. Described by the author as a loveletter to early '00s ZDoom mapping; execution shows this to be quite sincere, as opposed to ironic, though there is certainly a time and place for that as well....Anyway! This is a brick & mortar UAC base of decidedly utilitarian cast, perched on some bluffs over a murky green (but not toxic) swamp on a stormy plateau somewhere; vaguely redolent in atmosphere of the classic Thunderpeak Powerplant, which I'd surmise is intentional, though the character of the base itself here is a little more military, a little less tech. The progression path is skillfully laid out and uses mechanical elements (raising platforms, etc.) in addition to collection of keys to open new paths, featuring a large number of side secrets and an interesting branch point after the yellow key which makes later parts of the facility play differently depending on how they're entered. Like most of the author's work, mild in tone overall, surprisingly well-balanced for an unusually long (by popular standards) sustain on pistol/shotgun/chaingun play, with a fairly late SSG and other weapons being secret. Also includes a few custom monsters (functionally slightly upgraded versions of their core archetypes) and a few inventory-based explosives, which are a mite underpowered, I thought.

     

    APOCACLIPS by Clippy

    Notes: Initially presents as a conceptual sequel to last year's 32 Piece Cliptucky Fried Chicken megaWAD, before quickly going off in a different direction entirely (hint: public release date was April 1st). The quality of build is about what one would expect for the 3-day creation time; that said, the prolific author has a lot of low-key experience with rapid creation, and the conceptual variety on offer should not be underestimated. Best enjoyed if not taken seriously/not played from an "honorable completionist" standpoint. Not exactly fine art, to say the least, but holds the rare distinction of being a comedy WAD that is actually funny a lot of the time, all the more impressive using only limit-removing format.

     

    The Salt Mines by Large Cat

    Notes: v8/pre-idgames version. Billed as "a series of Boom-compatible arenas", which is true, but it should be noted that this design is fit inside the framework of a definite setting, that being a haunted salt mine. Appearance is quite solid, about on par with something from the 00-10 period, featuring big rooms with stylized mining equipment/paraphernalia that is more often than not cleverly integrated into the flow of each arena. After entering the main cavern, there is a choice of tackling the main chambers in any order, plus an optional/hidden excavation bonus fight before leaving that contains half of the map's 800+ monsters. Creatures come in thick clots, and a few are buffed -- SS troopers replaced with plasma commandos, and Barons are now much faster/more aggressive (and also somewhat less tanky). Pistol, shotgun, chaingun have all been buffed as well to facilitate early entry. Fights are quite entertaining, and convey a manic, chaotic energy of shit hitting the fan in the blink of an eye, often with some dynamic environmental elements for flavor, but remain manageable due to generous ammo/item placement, reminds me somewhat of Going Down or etc. Lots of fun, provided you like to play a bit rough. A few notable bugs/issues exist in the pre-idgames version, notably the timing of the phases in the big optional fight is way, way too slow, and overall map balance potentially skews strongly away from the 'fun' to the 'arduous' if you don't choose the RL cavern early enough. Regardless, this is a delightful debut, and I hope the author creates more. Note that there is an m02 in the file as well, which is simply the big optional cavern from the main map presented standalone.

     

    Asmodeus Cursed Sanctuary by Delisk

    Notes: GZDoom, single map by a new author, uses OTEX to render a generalized heavy stone/mortar/marble hell temple. Structure looks clean but is very simple, comprised of arenas which present as symmetrical temple chambers or yards. Combat is moderate in tone and technically wave-based, with proper timing guaranteed through the use of kill scripts. A handful of traps and a couple of portal-based and teleport-scripted tricks (esp. in the blue key's wing) add a few surprises to what is otherwise very straightforward progression. Optional sidequest for a secret BFG, which is quite overpowered in the final fight if you do manage to unlock it. Ultimately, it's the small interstitial encounters and tricks that read best in this one.

     

    Land of the Damned by Kor

    Notes: Three Heretic maps by oldschooler Paul Fleschute, dating from the early 00s, just recently uploaded. Occupying mapslots E1M1, E2M1, E2M2, these are an illuminating period piece and a treat for fans of classic Heretic. The maps are cleaner, more polished, and a mite more thoughtfully balanced in terms of damage : monster HP ratios than most of what is seen through the actual Heretic IWAD, and lean more towards conventional weapons/ammo-driven action than towards crafty artifact balancing, which has been a more dominant aspect of the recent Heretic resurgence in the last few years. Construction style is a little more compact and hemmed in than I might've guessed from past experience with the author's work, but not unpleasantly so. The author describes these as unfinished (and the project is abandoned), but as single maps they read quite naturally.

     

    Fawkin 'elmate by Voxelvoid

    Notes: Short but bloody map by one of the community's many newer mappers. Simplistic, but with a certain charm, essentially plays out as a single linear corridor where you pretty much never stop holding down the trigger. A certain sense of humor is in evidence as well. I like to imagine the map title is taken from the last words that go through the mind of one of the many imps when it sees the marine cheerfully skating towards "that" switch.

     

    Endrivium by RockyGaming4725

    Notes: Short, linear lo-tech base map, feels more Doom II but looks more OG Doom. Simply structured, with a goodly dose of nukage-wading (with plenty of radsuits supplied) and a penchant for firing-squad traps used to flavor proceedings. The 130 or so monsters  come in all shapes and sizes, and pack the limited amount of space fairly densely, but there's more than enough artillery to rinse them all down the drain without much of a thought. There is one really bizarre-looking "computer room" of sorts at about the halfway mark, which is something of a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a cozy STARTAN shell room.

     

    Temple of Blood by Scorpio

    Notes: GZDoom. Oddly neat/tidy/glossy gothic blood-bastion with a few technological flourishes. Has the look, feel, and bone structure of a Quake map somehow, though I do believe all of the art assets and such are from Doom. Weighs in at just under 100 monsters on skill 4, and doesn't go much beyond that even after accounting for scripted spawns, but is not to be taken entirely lightly. The monsters are few, but the architecture is constraining, and ammo and healing are both provided only sparingly, particularly early on. Pick your shots and don't get obsessive about immediately eliminating monsters which have no way to physically reach you; the path is quite linear, play it smart and soon enough you'll be the only thing left breathing.

     

    La Biblioteca by Thelokk

    Notes: v3, GZDoom. Apparently a taster map excerpted from a larger project. A great library housed in what appears to be some kind of large tower has a nasty case of dry-rot and an even nastier case of demonic infestation. The unusual construction and presentation of the setting is immediately striking (though, I always have been a sucker for library/manor/etc. maps), and the map conveys a very strong sense of mood, not something generally easy to do with such a short runtime. The sky texture, lighting, and music selection in particular do a lot of heavy lifting here. It's interesting as well to see a "small" map that essentially takes place in one huge room, where progression takes shape from the somewhat circuitous/precarious way said room has to be traversed. Action has little sense of pacing or buildup (somewhat odd given the evident atmospheric slant) and reads as a bit awkward, since the monsters are generally just as constrained by the odd terrain as you are (there are surprisingly few fliers used), and your primary weapon is an SSG, which is seldom satisfying as a true ranged weapon, especially vs. mid-tiers, which predominate the (small) monstercount here. Nevertheless, an interesting map that leaves an impression.

     

    Cantankerous Crater of Cataclysmic Calamity (a.k.a. bighole) by Clippy

    Notes: Enjoy some fresh air and a nice bracing climb out of a big open-pit quarry under the stars. Oh, and the quarry has a shitload of demons in it for some reason (don't they always?). The demons appear to be having some kind of strawberry funnelcake party (aren't they always?). There is also pizza at one point, and a BFG if you're tricksy. A jolly old time.

     

    Observations by Silent Wolf

    Notes: This was the initial upload, posted long before I'm writing this. This version is bugged in the intended port, with a broken lift right at the start. This has since been fixed in the thread linked here (I ended up simply playing the bugged version, but in GZDoom). Hardnosed military base map depicting some kind of remote outpost where something evil has emerged from a storage module. Visuals are clean and unassuming, with a stock Doom II look with a few subtle representational (i.e. doomcute) touches. You're under attack from the moment the game loads, and on skill 4 ammo is in very short supply for the first few minutes, before loosening into a considerable largess later on, which is an interesting trajectory. Shows continued author growth.

     

    Corrupted Cistern by Lutz

    Notes: idgames version, GZDoom. Chris Lutz returns with his UDMF debut, a sprawling network of subterranean caves, pools, and aquifers girded by a complex lattice of pre-gothic stonework. Beautiful visual presentation of heavy shadows, rich cool colors, imposing architecture, and natural majesty. Layout consists of three large and largely self-contained areas (one for each of the three keys) built around a small number of large chambers, connected by an initially somewhat confusing web of smaller runoffs and flooded tunnels decked with wooden gantries. Progression takes the form of the classic three-keys-in-any-order hunt; as far as I could tell, these serve solely to unlock the exit door, and don't gate exploration in any other way. Hitscan zombies with a backbone of mid-tier creatures form the bulk of the opposition; demonic fodder is surprisingly scarce. The large chambers offer more than enough room to run freely, and so overall tone of the action is relatively leisurely (best exemplified by the red skull's huge room, which has the highest monster count but also some of the lowest monster density), but enemies can path unpredictably in the interstitial areas of the map, where the possibility of soaking a ton of hitscan damage while stranded at some distance from a healing cache ironically makes these areas more dangerous than the marquee chambers. Exceptionally atmospheric map.

     

    TNT: THREEVILUTION by General Roasterock and DoomTheRobot

    Notes: idgames version. April Fools/comedy WAD from the duo that brought you PL7. Perhaps fitting for a WAD which nominally uses tnt.wad for a shell, the set's style, tone, and yes, entertainment value are all over the board with this one. There are a handful of examples of truly artisanal weirdness on display (the main events so to speak), some gamer/topical humor stuffed inside of a cheap latex Drake O'Brien suit (you're welcome for that mental image), a few TNT jokes that most everyone will get, and a goodly dose of Mock-style filler content. I would describe the whole as more 'oddly amusing' than actually 'funny' -- maybe a bit of the low-hanging fruit effect, perhaps -- but I suspect that's precisely what some of the audience is after. Worth a tour for the really bizarre spots.

     

    Bloodcore Base by Doom_Dude

    Notes: idgames version. Compact infested military base map, first in some time from a veteran mapper. Clever, looping progression path weaves through a sinuous layout with a lot of moving parts and shifting walls for sense of liveliness. Use and re-use of space for different encounters at different points makes the base feel larger than it actually is. Monster use is a classic Doom II mélange of zombies and demonic fodder deployed alongside heftier beasts, peaking with a solid (and well-forecast) cyberdemon encounter in the heart of the base, though this is hardly the end of the action. Recommended.

     

    100 Line Massacre by Arsinikk and NinjaDelphox

    Notes: idgames version. 32 small maps, each constructed with 100 lines (or less in some cases, I would assume). Similar to Speed of Doom, the pair of authors alternate mapslots, and there is a marked contrast between their creative approaches. The maps by NinjaDelphox feature compact, cubist geometries heavily blanketed in monsters which play out as short but intense iterations of oldschool ZoI-type slaughter, with various tongue-in-cheek references to classic maps from the dawn of the challenge-oriented niche. Meanwhile, the maps by Arsinikk are more surreal and abstract in design, with a highly conceptual slant and some persistent visual language to guide player action; few of these can be played like regular combat encounters, and must be tackled with brains first, brawn second. Short, but heavy and occasionally abrasive, the mapset presents an interesting juxtaposition of styles and is a welcome contrast with many other projects designed to be consumed very quickly.

     

    Anomaly Report by valkiriforce

    Notes: RC2. Another solo megaWAD by an author who, at this point, has made several of them. As in so much of the author's work, influence from the iconic WADs and authors of the 90s and early 00s is in evidence, but in Anomaly Report this is more of a kinship of general atmosphere and feeling (driven by texture selection, a soundtrack dominated by Klem and Shaw, etc.) than a matter of any specific reference (though these are not entirely absent), providing an experience with hearty, nostalgic feel that goes down the hatch more smoothly than its progenitors. Most maps are midsized and mildly-to-moderately tuned, and interest is maintained over the duration more by virtue of the author's considerable lexicon of and facility with classic mapping tropes and templates than through any drastic sense of escalation or thematic fireworks. That said, the final episode offers a credible endgame with a few curveballs, and its back half in particular contains several maps that deserve a place on the author's career highlights reel.

     

    The Old Bean Factory by kwc

    Notes: idgames version, played with GZDoom. Large but breezy single map with a setting that "does what it says on the tin." A grimy, grungy, dreary look and mood of urban decay and disaster contrasts with a playful approach to design with many whimsical secrets and moments of deadpan humor. 400 monsters, the vast majority of which are basic fodder, make for an easily digestible experience (though it struck me that ammo might get a little tight at points if you're finding none of the secrets). "Beans, beans, good for the heart, etc."

     

     

    1. Catpho

      Catpho

      Saw that you played Anomaly Report here. I've actually been looking into Valkiriforce's career recently, after having a revelation with his level Redrum for TNT:R. I didn't enjoy my playthrough of Reverie that much (but to be fair, it's been a while and I never got past the first 6 levels or so) mostly owing to fairly stiff and stuffy 90s emulated combat, but Redrum fixed of all those issues. Do you have any recs in mind about other Valk maps of this kind?

    2. Demon of the Well

      Demon of the Well

      The closest comparisons for m24 of Revilution that I can think of would be the author's assorted maps in Akeldama, which was a CP he led around that same time, meant to be reminiscent of iconic megaWADs of yesteryear.....so, not really that much different in general concept from Doom Core and Reverie I suppose. Still, the tone, timbre, pacing and layout/architectural style of the maps themselves here are a lot closer to "Redrum" than to that older pair, though given the stylistic antecedents they are textured with lot more stock/vintage assets, and thus have a more recognizably old-fashioned look, vs. TNT-R's bespoke stuff. I remember I particularly liked his "Aqueduct" map in this (m16 it seems), which reads something like a gonzo marriage between the hitscan bonanza of TNT's famous "Stronghold" map and the theme of something like "Neurosphere" or such from Plutonia (or "Crimson Tide" from Alien Vendetta, or any number of other maps in that same thematic lineage). I recall his m21 being thematically striking as well (a rather dark and dour cemetery kind of place, and a smaller map than his others), and m23 being quite a lot like the sprawl of "Redrum" as well, but with a kind of seedy afterlife-techbase theme which I'd guess is meant to be evocative of "Tombstone" or something in that vein.

       

      He also has a Starfox-themed mapset called Sargasso, but I can't comment on its build or flow or such, since I've not yet played it myself.

       

      As for Anomaly Report, it feels pretty different and distinct from all of his past work, including the material mentioned above. Many of the same stylistic/historical inspirations are still apparent, in terms of aesthetics, tropes, references, whathaveyou, but most of the maps in the WAD are built to be much lighter, more 'casual' if you will, both in terms of combat and in how involved or circuitous they are to navigate/progress through (though it has at least a couple of lategame maps which are significantly heavier or 'more self-insistent', let us say). I think one of the main goals with this WAD was to capture a kind of nostalgic warmth for that bygone time which the author clearly holds so dear, but in a stylized rather than an idealized way, without trying to recreate everything about this or that reference point in a 1:1 way -- trying to capture a mood rather than literally recreating this or that trope, you know what I mean. This gives AR a lot of its distinct feel. Most of it is too "lite" to really endear it to me personally (concerning both combat and stuff like secrets/how involved the levels are), but it has some of his most polished concept pieces to date, some nice scenes, and a few outliers which come as surprises, like the grim and dreary lategame WWI "trench" map. It might be just the ticket for you if what you want is the Valk energy, but abstracted away from some of more potentially ponderous elements of an authentically old-fashioned production.

    3. Catpho

      Catpho

      A very detailed guide! Big thanks for the suggestions.

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