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About Phobus

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  1. ... And I've realised that, basically, they're unplayable shit. I like them because I know them and have a full understanding of what was going through my mind when I made them, but there is no reason why anybody else should play them.

    This is specifically for Scourge and Warpzone. As I've never really thought this stuff through before, I figured I'd indulge in a post-mortem. As I can't imagine my rambling tl;dr (and it definitely will be both of those things) will interest anybody other than me, I've opted to stick it here in blogs rather than put it in the main forum. Here goes...


    My main observation was that, in my ignorant naivety of the wider Doom community and it's products, 10-15 y/o me was basically reinventing the mid '90s, right down to big chunky sector furniture, nonsensical, opaque progression and rampant but entirely impotent imagination. Chuck in my fascination with the "newly discovered" jumping ZDoom 1.22b offered when I found it in a rare foray online and you've got a very uneven, mostly poor playing experience. I like that I had the ideas and was so keen to chuck them all into DEU 2 (and later Doom Builder, at MAP18 of Scourge and onwards), but I definitely needed more experience.

    Likewise, I like that I put new artwork in them. Yes, the INTERPIC for Scourge is hilariously bad, but the TITLEPIC for both projects is serviceable, in an MSPaint-y kind of way (I'm pretty proud of the meteor strike on the Scourge TITLEPIC, even if the base and cliff are piss-poor). The Armoured Baron from MAP31 of Scourge is a pretty minor edit and I only fucked up the face on the A1 sprite (since rectified in other distributions of the monsters) whilst the Ignis Locus in Warpzone is pretty original, even if the from-scratch sprites are pretty poor.

    Special touches like the MAPINFO and scripted "credits" map in Scourge, plus the invisible pickup that snatches all of your cells (and some) in Warpzone also things I'm glad I did. The absence of music in Scourge was relatively wise, as putting on your own in the background works... I rather misused Tom_D's cool metal track in Warpzone though, as it definitely isn't intended to be heard on loop for over an hour straight...


    Anyway, on to the bulk of the offering - the maps!

    Scourge basically splits into 5 chunks, so I'll analyse those:
    MAP01-MAP06 - I think I'd just finished learning all the technical stuff from Hank Leukart's Hacker's Guide to Doom and wanted to make a series of levels. Each map leads on from the last to an extent, aside from the transition from MAP05-MAP06. The "story" is goofy, but did allow me to frequently change setting (something I do still to this day). I'd say these maps show a lot of beginner-isms, what with the inescapable damaging pits, very "broad-strokes" visuals that just about do the job and simple play and progression. Overstocking is a major problem, as is the start of MAP04 with it's convoluted spiral-descent thing where you have to start again at the top (and press the switch twice) every time you fall over the side, all with a load of crushers on the stairs and some very damaging lava at the bottom.

    Highlights here include a giant, surprisingly lethal horde of zombiemen in MAP06 that is a lot of fun to chaingun; and MAP05 is kind of fun, even though it mostly looks like arse (I kind of like the outdoors bit). Lowlights are basically all of MAP04 and things like difficult-to-hit Revenants in MAP02 and inescapable pits in MAP01.

    MAP07-MAP14 - Very conceptual here, but with a greater overall competence. This section is where I started bouncing off of the limits of DEU 2 and really experimenting. This means MAP07 has a poisonous atmosphere in all caves and the starting room, MAP08 is all about pushing through foliage in an outside area, MAP09 is mostly dark and centred around a pit, MAP10 has you approaching the least well-realised castle in the history of Doom, MAP11 sports a bullshit Indiana Jones jumping sequence (followed by crushers), MAP12 features a dichotomous secret, MAP13 is all about the build-up to the second cyberdemon encounter of the map and MAP14 has a very dark building that can be lit in a couple of ways (all in aid of raising a really big bridge to access a flood of Demons).

    The problem here is that a lot of these creative ideas (and others not mentioned) aren't executed particularly well, will probably be frustrating and are in very 90's maps that have lots of square rooms, symmetry and thin corridors. On the flip side, texturing is surprisingly consistent for me through this bit and the fights don't tend to be too bad (then again, it is Doom still). Secrets are fairly varied here, but usually just leave the player with stacks of health, armour and ammo, or supply things that aren't particularly useful (like a chaingun just before a Spider Mastermind fight, in MAP08).

    I'd say the gunplay in certain parts of each map here is probably the highlight, whilst the lowlights really stand out, like the nonsensical way you get into the main part of MAP12, the afore-mentioned jumping sequence in MAP11 (and stuff like the blue skull needing to be jumped at). This'd probably be a fair source of ideas to reuse if I were to do another "Coils of the Twisted Tale"-style project (which used a checklist of ideas from my Old Map Compilation) but is probably the most likely part of the map set to stop the average player in their tracks.

    MAP15-MAP17 - Here I'm aware of the limits and am consciously working within them to produce better quality stuff. However, I'm also joining sectors on either side of doors, still putting in plus-size sector furniture and, particularly in MAP15, having a lot of square rooms linked by narrow corridors. I'm pretty proud of the puzzles MAP15 and MAP17 have (for the secret exit and to cross the nukage respectively), although MAP17's one is pretty damn opaque. MAP16 probably plays the best out of these three, with Doom E2-style monster usage (with chaingunners and Hellknights) through most of the map and a reasonable teleporting horde at the end of the main tunnel. However, MAP16 and, to a much worse extent, MAP17, misuse barrels and do have a couple of rooms just stuffed full of enemies that are only really going to kill each other. I was definitely picking up some stuff from Evilution here, but not much of it good, IMO.

    Aside from the visuals, which largely need work, I'd consider this a reasonable baseline for quality if I were to do a simple one-man-megaWAD again in the future.

    MAP18-MAP21 - Having discovered Doom Builder and the practically unlimited editing ability that it and ZDoom 2.0.63a seemed to offer me, I immediately set about making larger maps. Theming here is all over the place, but with more architectural complexity than before, so the overall aesthetic was improved, I'd say. MAP18 makes use of secret tunnels and ways around monsters, which was a fairly interesting experiment, although it also is a fairly square sprawl of a techbase (more TNT influence, I'd suspect). MAP19 is remarkably big and goes from a reasonably clean techbase layout filled with ideas to a large Hell section that progresses through a few themes, whilst MAP20 is full-on progression through Hell (pretty much a continuation of MAP19) and MAP21 is sort-of an Icon of Sin battle, but really just a switch hunt with an Icon spewing twin sets of spawn cubes out in the background. I'm pretty proud of these maps, even though they do have some odd scaling issues and still have a few naff ideas.

    Highlights are the final battle on MAP20 (a slaughter that is built up to in a revisited area) and the reasonable visuals for MAP21, I think. Lowlights would be the "turn on the lights" room in MAP20 (the damaging flickering light sector on the switch that you go there for isn't great, either) and the stupid maze in MAP18... A lot of the conceptual stuff in MAP19's techbase section definitely isn't worth having, too.

    MAP31 - hyper-detailed (by my standards) but plays like crap, with lots of little bits to snag on, mostly cramped rooms and very dense monster placement. The final switch puzzle is pretty sadistic too. I suppose the odd room probably looks good, rather than cluttered, and the Armoured Barons at least make it interesting, but I'd probably say this is better off skipped.

    In summary, Scourge is a lot of ideas (some good, some not) and mostly poor execution. The mostly bite-sized maps and pretty easily overcome resistance would probably be good were it not for all of the other obstacles to progress.


    Warpzone was originally made as Scourge MAP31 (my "bigger is better" obsession in DB had really gotten out of hand here) but was replaced with a new crappy map focused around teleporting so that this could be polished up and improved a bit from what it was (yep, this map used to be worse than it is now!). I'd say the major flaw with this map is that it was built entirely for looks and then I tried to shoehorn game play in afterwards. Some bits didn't suffer too badly (although are largely too densely populated for the weapon availability) whilst others, particularly the monorail station bit near the end, flow like treacle as a result.

    Again, some bits look good, others have chunky sector furniture and other bits are just cluttered to all hell - for example the bit you access through the red key switches is barely navigable. Speaking of navigation, the central hub is kind of helpful, although it is remarkably easy to miss some of the triggers that move the "objective markers" up and down and it is very easy to get all the way through hell only to find the final bit is locked off because you didn't do the entire southern techbase first... Which means you've got to do that damn jumping bit again. However, if you want a rocket launcher you're going to hell and trying not to blow yourself up on the ambush that triggers.

    We've got enemies rising out of solid floors, big areas packed with enemies, small areas stuffed with enemies, tiny little corridors that are constant streams of light resistance, a cyberdemon you'll probably be taking down with the chaingun and single-barrelled shotgun, a Spider Mastermind that will probably do nothing useful, if it even teleports in at all and shed-loads of enemies hidden away in little nooks and crannies. This one mixes style-over-substance with a very 90's mentality WRT progression and some inadvisable stinginess with weaponry.


    So what can I take away from all this? Well, basically that my two most-ambitious-projects-ever were undertaken way too early and really suck as a result. I know I can do ideas and I know I'm both technically capable and a lot more experienced with producing game play these days, so maybe I owe it to myself to get a new 20+ map episode out into the world and perhaps a megamap or two (the Escalation series will cover the latter). Maybe I should go limit removing with said megaWAD to make it less prone to wild ideas and an extended development cycle...

    Well, if anybody made it through all of this, well done, I guess! Thanks for taking the time to hear an old hand ramble on about what forms his experience today. Maybe we'll see a Phobus megaWAD worth downloading some day.

    1. Show previous comments  3 more
    2. Phobus


      Whilst you're not wrong, checking my release threads and the /idgames archive demonstrates that I don't get much, if any, feedback whether I release my maps or not!

      As a result, I've been running under the assumption that I've been producing inoffensive, unremarkable, average maps for years, that have a few fans, a few detractors and spend their lives mostly unplayed.

    3. traversd


      Heh - I'm not sure specifically when the doomworld idgames page was created that allowed ratings/comments but either way my early stuff has got years on your Phobus and most of your releases on idgames have more comments/votes than all mine put together haha ;)

      In fact I suspect some of the entries with single votes are a friend of mine - increasing the gap even further!

      At any rate whilst I agree seeing someone play your map is a big hoot. The hobby/passtime of making it is where the real fun is (IMO).

      "inoffensive, unremarkable, average maps for years, that have a few fans, a few detractors and spend their lives mostly unplayed" I could live with that :)

      It is something no one will likely ever know (unless the major ports have been recording stats!), but it would really be interesting to get a semi-accurate idea of just how many times any particular pwad has been played. The figure might surprise you!

    4. 40oz


      I should probably confess that I play tons of wads without bothering myself to make a single review or vote or any piece of feedback whatsoever. Even wads I really really like that I recommend to people all the time don't even have a single word comment or idgames rating or anything from me.

      I'm not boycotting or anything I just don't have the time or interest to make people aware of what I think about it, or my thoughts are too disheveled for me to find any satisfaction in taking the time to form them into words or a single rating. Wads are very easy to pick up and play and I'd estimate that for any review or vote a wad gets, its probably been played ten times, exponentially so depending on its age and the better reviews. I play wads especially when they're described as average or bad so I can learn how to make things extraordinary. I tend to find entertainment in almost any doom wad no matter how lousy.