Today’s Art (12th October 2016)

Woo hoo! My long-running “Damania” webcomic series has reappeared for another mini series 🙂 You can catch up on the previous mini series here, here, here, here and here.

In case you aren’t a fan of the classic “Doom” games, I should probably explain what “Brutal Doom” is. It’s a very famous fan-made modification for the 1990s “Doom” games that makes countless changes to the gameplay (eg: the combat is faster and more gruesome, the monsters behave differently, there are changes to the weapons etc..).

Even a brief look online will show you that many fans of the classic “Doom” games tend to have very strong (positive or negative) opinions about this mod. Personally, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle (it’s fun to play for a few weeks or months at a time, but the novelty value eventually wears off and I end up returning to the “ordinary” versions of these games for a while).

Anyway, I’m surprised that it has taken me this long to make a comic about “Brutal Doom”.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Reappears - Brutally Doomed" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Reappears – Brutally Doomed” By C. A. Brown

What Does Artistic And/Or Literary Inspiration Have In Common With Computer Game “Modding”?

2016 Artwork Modding and inspiration

Well, I thought that I’d take a break from talking about webcomics to talk about creativity in general. Although I’ll start by talking about computer games for a while, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

If you play a lot of computer games, then you’re probably familiar with the concept of “modding”. If you aren’t, then this is where fans of a game create alternative files for the game (which might change the graphics, add new levels, alter the “rules” of the game etc…) and/or programs that alter the game in some way or another. If a game has a good modding scene, then it’s pretty much infinitely re-playable since there are so many different ways to play the same game.

An example of a mod that I’ve been playing a lot recently is probably the famous/notorious “Brutal Doom” mod for the classic 1990s “Doom” games. Although this mod is only truly fun to play for a few weeks at a time (since the novelty value wears off after a while), it turns a familar game into something entirely different.

The combat goes from being an almost chess-like game of fast-paced, but careful, strategy, to being a much more aggressive, immediate and hyper-violent thing. The military themes from the original game (which are nothing more than a background detail) are also brought to the fore in “Brutal Doom”, lending the game a totally new atmosphere.

Far from being a silently enigmatic lone space marine fighting for survival against hordes of monsters in the distant future, the main character in “Brutal Doom” can shout insults at the monsters, he can meet (and rescue) other space marines etc.. Although most of these changes are fairly small, they lend this altered version of “Doom” a much more militaristic atmosphere when compared to the original game.

And, yet, it’s still very much recognisable as a version of “Doom”.

So, why have I spent the past few paragraphs talking about computer games? What does any of this have to do with art, fiction, comics etc…?

With the possible exception of fan fiction/ fan art, there has never really been that much of an overt tradition of modding in more traditional creative mediums. But, that’s not to say that modding is an entirely new thing. In fact, it’s existed for as long as stories and art have – it’s just done in a slightly more covert and abstract way in traditional mediums these days.

Back in the really old days, stories didn’t really “belong” to anyone. So, storytellers often told their own versions of the stories that they had heard. There wasn’t really the concept of a “modification” for the simple reason that there often wasn’t an “original” version – just lots of different versions.

Although, after the development of the printing press and of relatively modern ideas like copyright, we now have the idea that a story “belongs” to someone. Art, on the other hand, has often either been totally anonymous or it has “belonged” to the artist in question. Still, “modifcation” can only really exist if there’s an “original” to modify.

But, due to modern things like copyright, we can’t just re-tell the same stories or make slightly different versions of someone else’s artwork. These days, such ancient creative traditions are considered to be acts of unoriginal plagiarism rather than merely someone telling a story or making a well-known painting. And, yet, “modding” things is still a very central and essential part of creativity. After all, it’s nearly impossible to create an entirely “original” story or work of art.

So, how do artists and writers “mod” their favourite things these days? Simple, they tell new stories and make new works of art that evoke the thing that they’re trying to “mod”, but without actually copying any specific parts of it.

Since they can’t directly copy their favourite things, they have to take a careful look at them and work out which general elements (rather than specific details, like character names, specific plot details, an artist’s exact style etc…) make these things so good. Then they use these general elements to make something totally new.

To use a public domain example, if an artist is a fan of Caravaggio then they would look at as many Caravaggio paintings as they can and see which generic elements – that aren’t specific to any one painting- make them so appealing. Caravaggio’s paintings often play with light and darkness (with large parts of many of his paintings shrouded in darkness), his paintings often contrast religious themes and everyday life, his art uses a very realistic style etc…

So, an artist inspired by Caravaggio wouldn’t just copy a Caravaggio painting (even though said paintings are out of copyright). Instead, they’d find a religious story that interested them and try to find a way to make it look like a scene from everyday life. They’d add a lot of gloom to their paintings. They’d try to paint in a more realistic way. Their painting would probably look very different to an actual Caravaggio painting, but it would still be a new interpretation of Caravaggio’s art.

This is, of course, called “inspiration” rather than “modding”. And it’s an essential part of creativity.

———————————–

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Review: “Brutal Doom – Hell On Earth Starter Pack” (Stand-Alone Mod/ WAD for “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “Freedoom: Phase II”)

2016 Artwork Hell On Earth starter pack WAD

If you’ve played any of the classic “Doom” games within the past six years, then you’ve probably heard of a famous mod called “Brutal Doom” before.

In a nutshell, it makes the classic “Doom” games a lot faster, slightly more modern, somewhat more challenging, a bit more militaristic and a lot more visceral/intense/gruesome than traditional “Doom”.

I’m not exaggerating about the “gruesome” part. “Brutal Doom” is probably the goriest computer game ever made. And, yes, I’ve tried not to include screenshots of any of the really gruesome parts of the game in this review. And, yes, this is much more difficult than it might sound.

Fans of “Doom” on the internet often either seem to absolutely love or absolutely hate “Brutal Doom”. Personally, I played it for a while in 2013 (and briefly again in 2015 too) but, once the novelty value wore off, I went back to playing the “ordinary” versions of the old “Doom” games. However, today’s article isn’t a review of “Brutal Doom”.

After seeing this footage of a new set of “Doom II” levels that has been specifically designed for “Brutal Doom”, I thought that I’d give the “Brutal Doom – Hell On Earth Starter Pack” a try.

Interestingly, you don’t actually need a copy of “Doom II” or “Final Doom” to play this WAD, since it comes packaged with a copy of “Freedoom” and the “GZDoom” source port (as well as the latest version of “Brutal Doom”).

So, you can play this game right now, even if you’ve never even seen a “Doom” game before. However, due to it’s high difficulty (even on the “Hurt Me Plenty” setting), I’d recommend getting some practice on the classic official “Doom” games before playing it.

Since the version of “GZDoom” included with the WAD was too modern to run on my computer, I ended up playing the “Hell On Earth Starter Pack” using “ZDoom” instead (it also seems to be compatible with Zandronum and a couple of other source ports too). At the time of writing, I’ve played almost all of it, but I’m stuck on the final boss battle.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Brutal Doom – Hell On Earth Starter Pack”:

Screenshot_Doom_20160320_081144

The “Hell On Earth Starter Pack” is a 32-level WAD that contains new textures, weapons, monsters, music and levels. Although it’s intended as a “Doom II” replacement, one interesting feature is that this WAD is divided into three episodes (“Hell On Mars”, “The Battle Of Los Angeles” and “Behind Hellish Lines”). Like in all classic-style FPS games, each episode has it’s own distinctive look and theme.

However, unlike many old games, you can play all three episodes as one continuous storyline if you want to. So, you don’t have to worry about losing all of your stuff between episodes. In other words, this structure is the best of both worlds.

“Hell On Mars” is a fairly classic sci-fi style “Doom” episode. Although it might sound like it’s a collection of generic techbase levels, there’s a surprising amount of variety here that helps to keep things interesting.

The episode begins in a UAC base on Mars, before progressing to a nuclear power plant – before culminating in an epic charge through a monster-infested building with an army of helper marines at your side. Then there’s the obligatory boss battle, which is a clever twist on the “Bruiser Brothers” battle from the original “Doom”.

Needless to say, I started whistling the theme tune to "The Simpsons" here.

Needless to say, I started whistling the theme tune to “The Simpsons” here.

This boss battle is more challenging than it looks!

This boss battle is more challenging than it looks!

The second episode, “The Battle Of Los Angeles”, is both the best and the worst episode in this WAD. As the title might suggest, the episode is set in a post-apocalyptic version of Los Angeles and it is absolutely epic.

Not only did one of the levels remind me of part of “Final NeoDoom“, but there are also a lot of epic set pieces, different locations and sprawling urban levels. This episode is cinematic – but in a good way.

Yay! This reminds me of "Final NeoDoom", or possibly part of the original "NeoDoom".

Yay! This reminds me of “Final NeoDoom”, or possibly part of the original “NeoDoom”.

Yay! It's the classic Cyberdemon/Spider Demon battle from "Doom II". Who will win? Well, that's obvious!

Yay! It’s the classic Cyberdemon/Spider Demon battle from “Doom II”. Who will win? Well, that’s obvious!

However, all of this cool stuff has something of a downside. If, like me, you’re using a slightly older computer – then expect a lot of lag during about three levels of episode two. In fact, the slowdown got so bad that I actually had to resort to cheat codes (the “freeze” command in ZDoom, to be precise) in order to get through those three levels.

 Fun fact: this screenshot only has a slightly lower framerate than the actual gameplay did!

Fun fact: this screenshot only has a slightly lower framerate than the actual gameplay did!

This is a shame, because these levels were extremely well-designed – but they are just too intense for older computers to handle at anything more than an almost unplayable 3-5 frames per second.

The final episode, “Behind Hellish Lines”, is more of a classic “Doom” style episode. It’s a horror-themed episode that is set in hell and, as such, many of the level have a fairly classic look to them.

Meh. At least it runs quickly on older computers though :)

Meh. At least it runs quickly on older computers though 🙂

They’re reasonably well-designed levels and, thanks to some clever sound design, at least one of the levels is genuinely disturbing. Instead of background music in one of the later levels, the soundtrack is taken up with the anguished howls of your fellow space marines. The episode culminates in a truly spectacular boss battle – which I am still stuck on at the time of writing.

 I've been playing "Doom II" WADs for years and this STILL managed to surprise me!

I’ve been playing “Doom II” WADs for years and this STILL managed to surprise me!

It’s also worth mentioning the two secret levels in this WAD, both of which can be found during the second episode. In keeping with the Los Angeles setting, the first secret level is actually a reasonably faithful re-creation of the first level of “Duke Nukem 3D”. And, yes, this is as cool as it sounds!

Woo hoo! Two of the best FPS games of the 1990s! In ONE game!

Woo hoo! Two of the best FPS games of the 1990s! In ONE game!

The second secret level is a “Wolfenstein”-themed level and it’s a perfect example of the right way to make a “Brutal”-style version of “Wolfenstein”, unlike the “Brutal Wolfenstein” mod for “Doom II” that I reviewed earlier this year.

The focus of the secret “Wolfenstein” level is on fast-paced and intense combat, rather than on gory death animations or on sadistic violence/ moral ambiguity. The decision not to give the human villains (and their attack dogs) in this level any drawn-out death animations (and, more importantly, to leave “cruelty bonuses” out of the level altogether) was a very appropriate one, given the historical war setting . “Brutal Wolfenstein” could learn a lot from this level.

In terms of the difficulty level of this WAD, it’s certainly more on the challenging side of things. A lot of this is due to the “Brutal Doom” mod itself, but the level design is usually good enough to give experienced players an enjoyable challenge, without ever really feeling frustrating or unfair. However, if you’re new to “Doom”, then some parts of this WAD might seem a little on the unfair side.

If THIS looks like a "difficult" part of the game, then you need more "Doom" practice before playing these levels!

If THIS looks like a “difficult” part of the game, then you need more “Doom” practice before playing these levels!

It goes without saying, but all of the levels are the kind of enjoyably complex and non-linear levels that make 1990s-style FPS games so great. Even during the “cinematic” levels in the second episode, you’ll still need to do a lot of exploration and backtracking – rather than just following a single linear path through the level. Modern FPS games could probably learn a lot from this WAD.

However, one minor criticism that I have of the level design is that some of the levels in the third episode include a small amount of first-person platforming. Although this isn’t too annoying, it can get slightly frustrating at times and it breaks up the fast-paced feel of the game slightly.

Dammit! This is NOT what "3D Platforming" is supposed to look like!

Dammit! This is NOT what “3D Platforming” is supposed to look like!

One interesting thing in the “Hell On Earth Starter Pack” is that it contains more of a story than most “Doom” WADs do. Yes, most of the story is relayed through text screens, but it is also told through the level design itself.

For example, near the end of one level in the second episode, you actually get to visit a space marine outpost – complete with fortifications, evacuated survivors and commanding officers.

Yes, unlike in "Doom II", you actually get to see some of the people that the space marines have saved.

Yes, unlike in “Doom II”, you actually get to see some of the people that the space marines have saved.

Visually, this WAD is absolutely stunning. Although it mostly still has a fairly “classic” look to it- there are a lot of new textures here.

Some of the textures have been borrowed from other classic 1990s FPS games (eg: “Duke Nukem 3D”, “Blood” etc..), but there are also some totally new textures here too. In terms of visual design, the second episode is by far the best of the three.

Yes, most of the episode takes place in an explorable city, compared to the more "standard" levels in the other two episodes.

Yes, most of the episode takes place in an explorable city, compared to the more “standard” levels in the other two episodes.

In terms of the soundtrack, it is amazing. Not only does it include reworked heavy metal/ dark ambient versions of a lot of the classic music from the “Doom” games, but even the secret “Duke Nukem 3D” level includes a heavy metal cover of some of the music from that game too.

Since “Doom” is basically just the heavy metal genre in computer game form, it’s great to hear this type of music on the soundtrack. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, the sound design is also used to great effect in one of the horror levels in the third episode.

All in all, this is an absolutely spectacular set of levels. Not only are they well-designed and atmospheric, but they also manage to tell a compelling story without ever slowing down the gameplay as a result. Yes, the high difficulty level might be slightly off-putting to new players and the cartoonishly extreme violence of the “Brutal Doom” mod might also be somewhat off-putting to some players but, at it’s core, this is a well-designed “Doom” WAD.

Even though it still keeps the really cool 1990s-style graphics, it’s a very modern game. However, it doesn’t really simplify itself too much for mainstream audiences. Well, there are a couple of times when instructions appear on the screen, but that’s about it.

Ah, yes, good old Captain Obvious. I didn't expect to see him in a "Doom" game though.

Ah, yes, good old Captain Obvious. I didn’t expect to see him in a “Doom” game though.

Regardless of what you might think about the more gruesome parts of this game (which I’ve left out of the screenshots in this review) – if you look closely enough, you’ll find that these levels contain the kind of complex, challenging, intense and strategic gameplay that shows the FPS genre at it’s most mature.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

Mini Review: “Brutal Wolfenstein 4.5” (mod for “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”/ “GZDoom”)

2016 Artwork Brutal Wolfenstein 4.5 review sketch

Whether you love it, loathe it or think that it’s just ok “Brutal Doom” is probably the most well-known “Doom II” mod of the past decade. In fact, it was the thing that got me back into playing “Doom” regularly again after a few years mostly spent playing other games.

So, I guess it was only a matter of time before modders decided to give other classic 1990s FPS games “brutal” makeovers too.

Anyway, out of morbid curiosity, I decided to check out a “Brutal Doom”-style recreation of “Wolfenstein 3D” called “Brutal Wolfenstein 4.5“.

If you’ve never played “Wolfenstein 3D” before, it’s a WW2-themed game where you play as an American soldier called B.J.Blazkowicz who has been captured by the Nazis and must fight his way out of their fortress (called “Castle Wolfenstein”).

Despite being a Wolfenstein-themed mod, “Brutal Wolfenstein 4.5” uses the “Doom” engine – or, more accurately, the modern source ports of it (I used “ZDoom” whilst playing, but this mod will also run with “GZDoom” too).

So, although you won’t need a copy of “Wolf 3D” to play this game (although if you’re a retro FPS gamer like me, you’ve probably got one anyway) you will need a copy of either “Doom II” or “Final Doom”.

Before I go any further, I should probably mention that this is more of a “first impressions” article than a full review – since I’ve only had the chance to play a few levels of this mod at the time of writing. Hence why I’ve called this article a “mini review”, even though it’s about 1500 words long.

(For the sake of good taste, I’ve also made sure not to include any screenshots that include WW2-related symbols in this review – although, given the context of the game, expect to see a lot of these when playing. Likewise, I eventually decided not to include any screenshots of the more gruesome parts of this mod in this review. However, I’ll be discussing why ultra-gory death animations work reasonably well in the original “Brutal Doom”, but don’t work well in mods based on “Wolf 3D”. Still, despite my criticisms later in the review, I respect the freedom of expression of the people who made this mod and I do not believe it should be censored in any way.)

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Brutal Wolfenstein 4.5”

Screenshot_Doom_20151029_002042

If you’ve played “Brutal Doom” before, then you’ll sort of know what to expect already.

But, although this mod has a lot in common with “Brutal Doom” (eg: a modern-style reloading and aiming system, different gameplay mechanics, taunts, melee attacks, extra blood etc…), it also has a lot of extra Wolfenstein-specific stuff in it too. Which is both a good and a bad thing.

One of the most notable changes is that parts of the levels I played had been redesigned in order to take advantage of the features offered by the “Doom” engine. The most notable example of this is probably a “Doom”-style lift that I found in one of the early levels.

However, the limitations of the “Doom” engine are also on show here and – like the the secret “Wolfenstein” levels in “Doom II” – all of the doors open vertically, rather than horizontally. But, the changes to the level layouts help to make a familiar game feel new again – which is kind of cool.

Not only that, thanks to the fact that this mod uses modern source ports for “Doom”, the gameplay is fast, frenetic and fluid, which is a refreshing change from the slower and clunkier gameplay in the original version of “Wolfenstein 3D”.

Another change that you will notice fairly quickly is that B.J. Blazkowicz has a lot more weapons available to him than he did in the original game. When playing through the first few levels, I found several different weapons like a bolt-action rifle, a heavy machine gun, a “Rise Of The Triad“-style MP40 and a WW2-era German assault rifle.

It's kind of weird to see a WW1-style bolt-action rifle in a WW2-themed game though.

It’s kind of weird to see a WW1-style bolt-action rifle in a WW2-themed game though.

And, yes, this gun sounds as dramatic as it looks.

And, yes, this gun sounds as dramatic as it looks.

These weapons each have different characteristics – with the MP40 having abundant ammunition but a lower rate of accuracy, and the assault rifle being more accurate, but at the cost of less available ammunition.

Using the the “give all” cheat, I also took a quick look at the other weapons too and they include a rocket launcher, a flamethrower, a collection of WW2-era American weapons too (eg: a military pistol, a tommygun etc..) and some kind of sci-fi microwave gun.

In addition to this, you can also pick up stick-style grenades which can be thrown using a hotkey (although you’ll have to configure this in the control menu). Although this is a cool feature, there’s a slight delay between pressing the key and actually throwing the grenades – which usually means that you’ll get shot several times before you can throw the grenade.

The delay is probably realistic, but it gets in the way of the gameplay slightly.

The delay is probably realistic, but it gets in the way of the gameplay slightly.

One slight technical problem I had with this mod is the fact that it seems to be designed to be played in higher resolutions. For speed reasons, I usually play “Doom II” in 640 x 480 but – even after briefly increasing the resolution to 800 x 600 – the heads-up display still couldn’t quite fit onto the screen. Although I kind of got used to this, only being able to see half of the health meter can get slightly annoying.

As you would expect from anything inspired by “Brutal Doom”, this mod is significantly more gruesome than “Wolfenstein 3D” was.

Whilst this obviously includes lots of extra blood spatter, it also includes a few other changes which -whilst they might work in ” Brutal Doom” – don’t really translate well to “Wolf 3D”…

The extra blood isn’t really a major problem – however, this mod also includes some of the more sadistic elements of “Brutal Doom” too. Even though they’ve been toned down slightly, there’s a huge difference between sadism in an obviously unrealistic sci-fi action game like “Doom” and sadism in a game that tells a fictional story set during a real part of history.

Although the enemy soldiers have a couple of different “Brutal Doom”-style drawn-out death animations, these thankfully seem to be fewer in number and slightly less prolonged than the ones in “Brutal Doom”.

Still, given the fact that the game contains human antagonists (even if they are members of one of the most evil organisations in world history), these sadistic animations are significantly more disturbing than the melodramatic sci-fi monster death animations in “Brutal Doom”.

I understand that they’re probably meant to be “realistic” and, in the context of a slower-paced story-driven game, they might be dramatically justified. But, in a fast-paced action game designed purely for entertainment, they seem somewhat out of place.

Another disturbing element in this game is how surrendering is handled.

Like in “Rise Of The Triad”, some of the enemy soldiers will “surrender” after a fight. But, if you wait a few seconds, they’ll just put their hands down, get to their feet, and start fighting you again. As a way of showing how evil the enemies are (and referencing “Rise Of The Triad”), this isn’t particularly disturbing in and of itself, but…..

The disturbing part of this is that, if you accidentally shoot one of these surrendering enemies whilst fighting any nearby enemies then- instead of either punishing you or doing nothing, the game sometimes rewards you for doing this with a health bonus (eg: a “Brutal Bonus” from “Brutal Doom”).

This is extremely creepy – given that the game is set during a historical war (even though the story of the game is fictional), rather than in an unrealistic sci-fi setting. If nothing else, it makes the protagonist look like less of a heroic character.

I’m probably taking this way too seriously, but if the main character is one of the good guys (eg: the Allies) in one of the most clear-cut “good vs. evil” wars in history, then the game shouldn’t reward the player for breaking the rules of war.

As for the enemies, they’ve also received some fairly significant changes too. The most notable change is that they now have new voice acting and this is done fairly well.

In addition to this, there’s a larger variety of enemies to fight against. So far, I’ve noticed that some of the basic “soldier” enemies now carry rifles instead of pistols (and are slightly more powerful as a result) and there’s a new type of “officer” enemy too:

 It's surprisingly difficult to get a screenshot of this guy since, by the time you've pressed the "print screen" key, he's already shot at you several times.

It’s surprisingly difficult to get a screenshot of this guy since, by the time you’ve pressed the “print screen” key, he’s already shot at you several times.

All in all, although this mod is technically impressive and it includes a lot of changes that breathe new life into a very old game, making a “Brutal Doom”-style version of “Wolfenstein 3D” probably isn’t the best idea in the world.

What might be enjoyably melodramatic and cartoonish in an unrealistic sci-fi game tends to come across as more disturbing than anything else when transposed to a real world historical setting.

If I had to give this mod a rating out of five then, on a purely technical level, it would get a four. But, for want of a less-miserable sounding description, on a moral level, it’d probably get a one.