Mini Review: “HighWire (Rocket Jones Vol. II)” [WAD For “Ultimate Doom”]

Well, although I plan to review a game called “Deus Ex: Invisible War” at some point in the future, I realised that it had been a while since I last reviewed any “Doom” WADs. So, not sure what to review, I ended up using the “Random File” feature on the “/idgames archive” until I found a WAD from 1994 called “HighWire (Rocket Jones Vol. II)“.

Note: This WAD will only work with “Ultimate Doom” or possibly old copies of the original three-episode version of “Doom”. Since it takes up the E1M1 level slot, it is NOT compatible with “Doom II” or “Final Doom”. However, given the age of the WAD, it is not only compatible with literally any source port [I used “ZDoom”] but also probably the original DOS version of “Doom” too.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “HighWire”:

“HighWire” consists of a single short level. Although this vintage level doesn’t feature any new textures, weapons, monsters or music, the level has a couple of interesting features that help to prevent it from becoming monotonous or boring.

The main gameplay innovation in this level is that, for the most part, the only weapon available to you is the rocket launcher. Not only that, large portions of the level take place on narrow catwalks above pits of radioactive sludge.

Yes, it’s a 90s level for a 90s FPS game, so expect some inventiveness and creativity 🙂

Although this might sound like a cheap trick, it actually makes the level surprisingly enjoyable. Since you also still have a pistol (with fifty bullets, plus the ten in the backpack at the beginning of the level), this makes some parts of the level a little bit more forgiving – especially given that you often have barely any room to run away from monsters if they get too close. But, the limited ammo supply for the pistol also helps to prevent players from relying on it too often. However, this is a level which requires perseverance and strategy in order to beat.

Basically, when you enter an area, you have to start firing rockets almost immediately. Not only that, you also have to work out which monsters you need to shoot first, lest any get too close to you. This allows a short level with a relatively low number of weak to medium strength monsters (eg: imps, lost souls and cacodemons) to include the kind of challenging, strategy-based gameplay that is only usually found in modern “slaughtermap” levels (that contain hundreds or thousands of more powerful monsters). The strict rationing and relative scarcity of health pickups also helps in this regard too.

This is perhaps the first time in the history of “Doom” that a small number of lost souls on the other side of a room is actually a serious challenge to the player!

As for the level design, it’s surprisingly good. Even though this tiny level is basically a progression through about 4-5 rooms of varying sizes, there are a few clever tricks that help to prevent the level design from appearing too linear.

For example, after beating the first series of catwalks, you enter a room with a narrow path surrounded by lava. This helps to provide a little bit of variety to the room design. But, after you’ve fought all of the monsters in this room and pressed the switch, you actually have to go back across the previous room (via a different path) to get to the next room.

Aside from the very beginning and very end of the level, this is the only room without platforms. Yet, the path-based design helps to keep the room thematically consistent, whilst also providing some variety for the player.

Likewise, the next room (a large area with catwalks) is also fairly innovative for the simple reason that you have to fight two “waves” of monsters.

First of all, you have to defeat several lost souls with a rocket launcher. Then ,after you’ve pressed a button, some raised platforms lower and a number of cacodemons appear. This requires a change in strategy, since you can’t really fight all of them. So, you actually have to fight a couple and work out a way to grab two keys before they swarm you.

As I said, in some ways, this level is similar to a modern-style “slaughtermap” level in terms of strategic gameplay – even though it contains relatively few monsters.

Although the level doesn’t contain any new music, one cool feature is that – because it takes up the E1M1 level slot – it features the classic “E1M1” background music. Given that this is an absolutely epic piece of music which is pretty much symbolic of the classic “Doom” games, it really helps to add some extra drama to the level.

All in all, for a tiny level made in 1994, this is actually surprisingly good! Even with a relatively small number of weaker monsters, the clever level and gameplay design here helps to ensure that even experienced players will find it enjoyably challenging.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably get at least four.

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Mini Review: “Phobos Mission Control” (WAD For “Ultimate Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

2017 Artwork Phobos Mission Control WAD review

Well, I hadn’t planned to review another “Doom” WAD so soon after reviewing the excellent “Ancient Aliens” (seriously, check it out!) but, the day before I originally wrote this review, I learnt that John Romero had made another new level for the original “Doom” called “Phobos Mission Control“.

I know that I’m even more late to the party (thanks to the long lead times on many of these articles) than I was with Romero’s other new map, but I couldn’t exactly ignore another new level from one of the people who actually designed the classic “Doom” games.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. It will probably work with most modern source ports, but it will not work with the original DOS/Win 95 version of “Ultimate Doom”. Plus, due to the way this WAD is set up, it’s unlikely to work with “Doom II” or “Final Doom”.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Phobos Mission Control”:

Screenshot_Doom_20160803_130405

“Phobos Mission Control” is a replacement for E1M4 of the original “Doom”. What this means is that, when you start playing the game, you need to type “IDCLEV14” to skip to level four before you can start playing it (and, yes, since I’m a “Doom II” player, it took me a while to remember how the level skip cheat differs in the first game).

From what I’ve read, John Romero decided to make a replacement for level four both because he could do a few new things with modern source ports for the game and because the original level four was originally designed by both Romero and Tom Hall (the maker of “Rise Of The Triad: Dark War” and a host of other awesome retro games, including one called “Anachronox” that I really must get round to playing and reviewing sometime). So, apparently in the interests of completion, Romero remade level four so he could see what the episode would look like if he designed the whole thing.

And, yes, “Phobos Mission Control” is at least slightly more modern in style when compared to the original levels. One of the first things that you will probably notice is that it contains more monsters than you would expect from a classic “Doom” level, as well as a few cool effects – like numbers made out of shadows and light:

 These also tell you which switch does what. Most players are able to work this out for themselves, but it's still a cool touch.

These also tell you which switch does what. Most players are able to work this out for themselves, but it’s still a cool touch.

In terms of the level design, it’s really good. Like in all great FPS games, the level is a non-linear thing that requires exploration – but it also manages to be considerably more streamlined than Romero’s previous new map.

Interestingly, this level also contains a surprisingly interesting maze segment (consisting of lots of lifts and raised platforms) that takes place in a single giant room. Given that this was made with the original “Doom” textures, resources etc.. it’s really impressive, and it’s good to see that Romero hasn’t forgotten his level design skills.

I'm still amazed how much complexity there is in this one room :)

I’m still amazed how much complexity there is in this one room 🙂

Plus, Romero’s trademark jagged patterns make a low-key appearance as crevices in some of the slime pools in this level.

But, although these areas are meant to be instant-death pits, if you happen to be wearing one of the level’s two shielding suits, then you can end up boringly trapped in them with no way out. Given that “Doom” (and possibly even Romero himself) pretty much invented the idea of ‘idiot-proofing’ otherwise inescapable parts of FPS levels, I’d have expected something slightly better here.

Unlike Romero’s “Tech Gone Bad” level, “Phobos Mission Control” is a lot faster, slightly more compact and slightly more thrilling. Seriously, there were only two times that I briefly got stuck on this level – once where it took me three or four minutes to find a switch and once when I underestimated how difficult the final battle would be.

Yes, this part of the level is actually a little bit more challenging than it might look at first glance.

Yes, this part of the level is actually a little bit more challenging than it might look at first glance.

And, yes, the difficulty level in “Phobos Mission Control” is fairly interesting. By modern standards, it’s perhaps mildly challenging at most. The best way to describe the difficulty level is that it’s like an enjoyably challenging modern map – but with low-level monsters instead of mid or high-level monsters.

If you’re new to “Doom” then playing through this WAD (and “Final Doom” too) is probably a good way to practice before playing most modern levels.

The difference is, of course, that in most modern levels, these monsters would be replaced by Barons, Revenants etc...

The difference is, of course, that in most modern levels, these monsters would be replaced by Barons, Revenants etc…

However, if you somehow played this level back in the 1990s – with old-school controls, no jumping etc… then I imagine that the difficulty would be considerably higher. So, if you want a challenge, then it might be worth seeing whether this WAD is compatible with the “Doom Retro” source port.

All in all, “Phobos Mission Control” is probably my favourite of the new Romero levels. It’s short, fast and fun. Not only is it cool to see that Romero has made another “Doom” level, but it’s great to see that he hasn’t forgotten a thing about level design either. This level is classic “Doom”, with a slight hint of the best parts of modern “Doom” level design too.

If I had to go through the formality of giving a map by John Romero a rating out of five, it would get five. Because, well, it’s the 2010s and John Romero is still making “Doom” levels 🙂

Today’s Art (4th March 2017)

Historical inaccuracy! This is the sixth comic in “Damania Repressed” and, although I’m hoping that this mini series will be fairly self-contained – it follows on from the events of this mini series (which, in turn, follows on from this one). Links to more mini series can also be found on this page.

First of all, if you don’t know who Ada Lovelace was, she was the world’s first computer programmer.

If you’re not familiar with this long-running videogame in-joke, it’s a proven fact that people have managed to get the original “Doom” to run on virtually everything. This Tumblr site contains many pages of examples, if you don’t believe me.

And, yes, this comic contains at least three gigantic historical inaccuracies, but I don’t care!

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Repressed - Analytical Engine" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Repressed – Analytical Engine” By C. A. Brown

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

Today’s Art (29th September 2016)

Well, it’s been quite a while since I made any “Doom II” fan art, so I thought that I’d make some for today. Originally, this was going to be a more “serious” and “dramatic” painting, but as soon as I drew the first Cacodemon in the background, it quickly went in a sillier and more whimsical direction. However, I seem to be terrible at drawing Pain Elementals.

And, yes, the little picture on the sign is a “Brutal Doom” reference (although I have fairly neutral opinions about this mod, the death animation that plays when you get eaten by a Cacodemon is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a computer game).

Since this is fan art, this painting will NOT be released under a Creative Commons licence of any kind.

"Fan Art- Doom II - Flying Monsters" By C. A. Brown

“Fan Art- Doom II – Flying Monsters” By C. A. Brown

Fandom As Continuing A Tradition – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Creative Traditions and fandom

Traditions. Usually, these tend to get a bad reputation as something boring and old. Sometimes this can be for a good reason, but when it comes to creative things, I’d argue that traditions can often be a great thing. So much so that people will often continue them completely of their own choice. Hell, sometimes people will even start them.

Once again, although this will be an article about making art (and writing fiction/ making comics too), this article was inspired by something computer game-related. And, yes, it is relevant to what I’ll be talking about (although not in the way you might expect). Still, if you don’t want to read about computer games, feel free to skip the next four paragraphs.

A few minutes before I started writing, I was looking at random things about interesting levels for the original “Doom“. As regular readers of this site probably know, I’m a major fan of the old “Doom” games and I usually try to review at least one fan-made level per month here.

Without repeating myself too much, there are a lot of reasons why 1990s FPS games are better than modern mega-budget ones. One of the many reasons for this is the complex, non-linear level design in a lot of these old games. Anyway, I suddenly remembered something really obvious that I’d forgotten about again – these kinds of levels are still being made! In 2016!

I knew this already, but I kept forgetting about it. Why? Because they weren’t “official” levels. They were fan-made levels that were made for fun by people who admired these games so much that they actually wanted to carry on the tradition of good level design. 1990s-style FPS games haven’t faded into obscurity, they’ve just turned into an “unofficial” fan tradition.

Yes, the fans don’t have the resources to create entirely new games, but they’ll often do the next best thing. There are, for example, many modifications for “Doom” that change so many things about the game (eg: weapons, graphics, monsters etc…) that they may as well be new games.

But what does any of this have to do with art, fiction and/or comics?

Now, you’re probably expecting me to start talking about “fan art”, “fan comics” and “fan fiction”. But, I’m not going to – at least not in the modern interpretation of these terms. This is because I’d argue that a creative tradition is much larger than just one thing. Yes, fan traditions might be started by one or two things, but they often turn into something much larger.

In fact, I’d argue that a true fan tradition begins when people start creating new and “original” things that have been inspired by something else. Whilst, with computer games, ordinary people only usually have the resources to modify existing games – we don’t have this limitation with more traditional mediums like art, fiction and comics.

Yes, a lot of people enjoy making fan fiction and fan art (and fan art can indeed be fun to make) but, unlike game modders, we aren’t limited to just extending existing pre-made things.

No, a fan tradition gets started when people look at what made something great and then try to create something totally new that includes these elements. They create something new that is different from, but reminiscent of, something they consider to be great.

They don’t do this because they’re too lazy to think of “100% original” ideas, they do it because the only way they can create things that they can truly love is by taking everything that made their favourite things great and trying to improve on it.

This is, incidentally, the foundation of all creativity. Even the greatest and most “original” works of art and fiction in world history have all been inspired by something else. Although the very best things are inspired by a mixture of different things, they still often have a main inspiration of some kind.

The reason for this is fairly simple. We all want to see more of our favourite things. However, with most great things, they either only exist for a short period of time or there are only a few examples of them. As such, it is up to us to make new things that are in the same tradition as the things we love.

For example, I’m a major fan of the movie “Blade Runner” and, by extension, I’m a fan of 1980s/90s cyberpunk. However, the mainstream science fiction genre has unfortunately moved away from this kind of thing.

So, whenever I make science fiction art, I’ll usually try to continue the tradition of 1980s/90s sci-fi by making new and “original” pieces of art that were inspired by things like “Blade Runner”, William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, “The Matrix” etc… like this:

"Strange Case" By C. A. Brown

“Strange Case” By C. A. Brown

This isn’t modern “fan art” that is explicitly based on something else. Yes, it’s reminiscent of two or three pre-existing things, but it’s part of the tradition that they started. It contains general elements from other things (eg: rain, billboard adverts, flying cars, leather trenchcoats, machines etc…) and even some subtle references to pre-existing things, but it’s not just a copy of something else. It’s part of a tradition.

Going back to games yet again, a great example of all of this can be seen by games companies in the 1990s. “Doom” was such an inspirational game that it prompted other companies to start making original FPS games. These games had totally different storylines, characters, programming, weapons etc.. to “Doom” but, for a few years, they were apparently referred to as “Doom clones”.

Eventually, the term “doom clone” was replaced with “first-person shooter”. Yes, this is how genres get started. It’s all because of fandom and traditions.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Does Cover Art Matter?

2016 Artwork Does Cover Art Matter

Although this is an article about books and comics, I’m going to have to start by talking about a silly videogame controversy from earlier this year. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that will hopefully become obvious later. Plus, I may have talked about some of this stuff before – so, apologies in advance if this article gets repetitive.

Back in February, there was a ridiculous amount of fuss on the internet about the planned box art for the then-upcoming modern remake of “Doom”.

The original cover art was described as generic and boring. Although it’s a cool-looking picture, it doesn’t really stand out from the crowd. It’s just a picture of a space marine posing with a gun (it also uses a rather low-contrast yellow/green/brown/orange colour scheme too). By comparison, the alternative designs later released by Bethesda look a lot more true to the spirit of the series.

The original “space marine” cover design isn’t really as good as the cover art for the original “Doom” or even “Doom II“. But, at the same time, it isn’t exactly a bad image. If I had a much more modern computer and a larger gaming budget, I’d probably still buy a copy of the new game because, well, it’s “Doom”. It’s a modern version of one of my favourite games. The box art could be completely blank and I’d still buy it.

Still, this silly controversy about the good-but-not-great box art for the “Doom” remake made me think about how important cover art actually is when it comes to things like books and comics.

Good cover art is probably only really important for catching the attention of totally new readers. Even then, it isn’t everything – the old adage of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” springs to mind for starters. I mean, I’ve bought books purely based on cover art in the past- but it’s no guarantee that they’re worth reading.

The other thing that makes good cover art important is it’s decorative value. If you’ve got a collection of books and/or comics, then you’ll know that they’re more than just functional objects that only exist to be read. They’re a way of making a room look more interesting. They’re decorative too.

However, apart from these things, cover art isn’t really that important.

When it comes to books and comics, things like online reviews, plot summaries/ blurbs, the price, word of mouth and the author’s name matter a lot more. If you’re a major fan of a particular author, then you’re probably going to read their next book regardless of what the cover art looks like. The same is true for books that are part of a series or which are based on TV shows, movies etc…

If you’ve heard or read a lot of good things about a particular book or comic, and it seems like the kind of thing that you’d enjoy, then you’re probably going to seek out a copy of it, regardless of what the cover looks like.

Likewise, whilst a good cover design might make a new reader pick up a copy of a book or comic, this will probably only hold their attention long enough for them to read the blurb and/or plot summary. If this interests them, then they might look at the first few pages. If those pages interest them, then they’ll probably buy a copy.

The price probably plays a role too. I’m no expert on book or comic pricing, but I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve seen something that looks really cool, but decided not to buy it (or to buy it later and/or to buy it second-hand) because of the price was too high.

In other words, good cover art is important, but it isn’t exactly the be-all-and-end-all of whether someone chooses to buy something.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂