Doom Travelogues 00: 1,000 Levels Deep

Against my better judgement recently, and in flagrant disregard for my rather tenuous grasp of entry-level mathematical concepts, I decided to tabulate just how many Doom maps I've played to completion. You see, some time ago (read: I'd rather not try to figure out exactly how long ago this was, lest it depress me) I got it into my head that it would be a good idea to play through every single-player WAD on Doomworld's "10 Years of Doom" tenth anniversary feature. Much like my long-languishing dream of completing the Myth Master's Challenge (don't ask), this initiative has existed since its inception mostly for the purpose of sitting on the back burner. I've tabled this endeavor more times than I can remember, and restarted it from scratch at least once, but now, in the year 2014, with the "10 Years" feature itself having reached its tenth birthday, it appears I might actually achieve this arbitrary life goal that I set out for myself I know not when. But that's not why I'm here. That task is still, for now, unfinished. No, I'm here because, after pounding on a calculator like an angry toddler for about half an hour, I surmised that I would pass the 1,000-level mark at some indeterminate point in the process of playing Alien Vendetta, and having now completed said megaWAD, I find myself... proud? Upset? More handsome? I don't know. I wasn't really going anywhere with this.

I thought of a number of ways I might commemorate this momentous (non)event, most of which seemed terribly uninteresting both to myself and no doubt to any unfortunate souls that might accidentally read the results. Much over-thinking ensued (okay, not that much), and, as these things tend to go, I eventually went with the last thought that came to mind, that being a simple reflection on some of the more memorable levels encountered on my slow, winding descent through Hell. Some of these maps are quite good, some not so much, and a few are hard to classify at all. If these rambling entries inspire even a couple people to check out a few of the better levels contained herein, I'll consider it a victory. And if anyone is injured by my reckless prose along the way, well, caveat lector, motherfucker.

The Good

Misri Halek (MAP20, Alien Vendetta)

This connecting hallway is more impressive than most full maps.

I'll readily admit that Misri Halek seems like magic to me, specifically the part where it functions within the confines of the original Doom 2 executable. Over the course of one level, you will thoroughly explore an ancient tomb, descend into the depths of a fiery crevasse, and scale a mountainside to discover a hidden complex at its summit. It is an episode unto itself, providing a steady challenge from start to finish, plenty of memorably encounters, and something (at the very least) pleasant to look at around every corner. In a megaWAD overrun with great maps, it still manages to stand apart. It's a shame that its author, Kim André Malde, is no longer with us.

Null Space (MAP01, Null Space)

Watch out for sneaky Imps firing down from these windows.

Russell Pearson presents something in Null Space that you don't often see in Doom: a level suspended in a void. Null Space consists of an enormous fortress of wood and gray brick staring out into inky nothingness. It's one hell of a looker, and though the gameplay is maybe not quite as memorable as the premise, it's not a slouch, either. The latter part of the level transitions into an arena battle with the player triggering successive waves of monsters through switches, though Pearson's inclination toward large spaces keeps things from ever getting unmanageably difficult. You also get to smack John Romero in the dome to finish things out, so there's that.

Savage Morals (MAP14, Odessa 14)

Evans shows an admirable attention to detail throughout the map.

Few thing are as controversial in the Doom fan community as puzzle maps, that is, any level that doesn't make its means of progression fairly obvious. For better or worse, Bob Evans' is a name that has become synonymous with this mapping style, and though I definitely don't come to Doom to figure out where a switch is or what it does, I still think Savage Morals is a great map. It helps that Evans shows a fair amount of restraint here with his natural inclination for obfuscation, and also that it's attractive and well-detailed. Really, though, what sticks out most to me is one of the better maze segments I've played to date, one which intelligently hides areas of the automap from view, thus tricking you into believing you know the layout when you really don't.

Hell Revealed (MAP30, Hell Revealed)

You'll just have to imagine the Cyberdemon cockblocking you.

I don't often think that homage levels are better than the maps they're based on, but the final map of Hell Revealed is a notable exception. MAP30 of Yonatan Donner and Haggay Niv's famously hard megaWAD hones Icon of Sin down to a razor-sharp point (and then dutifully jabs it in your eye). There have been countless takes on "the goat head map" over the years, most of them pretty uninspired, seemingly there only because they have to be, because there has to be a climax, however rote. And while Point Dreadful, aka MAP30 of Alien Vendetta, improves on the familiar formula, Hell Revealed is everything I want out of a final map. It is unrelenting and exhausting, but when you beat it there's no doubt that you earned it.

Last Call (MAP30, 10 Sectors)

Is it wrong that I find this beautiful?

The overall quality of the 10 Sectors WAD came as something of a surprise to me, honestly. Perhaps I expected less of it due to its central gimmick, or its origins as a contest rather than a coordinated team effort. At any rate, I was glad to be wrong in this case, and the winner of the 10 Sectors contest, Michal Mesko's Last Call, is an impressive and subdued ending to a megaWAD that's better than it has any right to be. Rather than ratcheting things up like most MAP30s, Last Call feels like a light desert after a full meal. It consists of several small landmasses separated by a lake of fire, with enough rad suits to travel relatively freely between them doing one's business. It's fairly sedate, especially considering its position in the WAD, but it goes down smooth.

The Bad

Silures (MAP20, Eternal Doom)

An arrow and a corpse: cryptic code for "AV jump up to this key, stupid."

While Eternal Doom's maps have something of a reputation for overstaying their welcome, Silures is perhaps the worst of the lot. Evans, who did an impressive job controlling himself with Odessa 14, goes absolutely hog wild with secrets here, often to the point where the path forward is completely opaque. Supposedly there are two exits to this map, but good luck finding either of them as you furiously hump the walls searching for switches or hidden doors you may have missed. The worst misstep, however, is the yellow key pedestal, which is only accessible via Arch-Vile jump, a fact that probably won't occur to you until after you killed the creatures in question.

Fortress of Mystery (E2M9, Doom)

I can only assume these Cacos died of severe boredom.

Whenever I hear someone wax nostalgic about id's level design, my mind invariably wanders to E2M9, aka Fortress of Mystery, aka the worst level in Doom. Simply put, Fortress of Mystery is dead boring. It consists of two rooms: one with Barons, one with Cacos. That's it. Also, there's a small alcove in the second room that, for whatever reason, has all three skull keys and the exit crammed into it. Sure, why not? It plays like a map that was created at the eleventh hour after realizing that the game was one level short. Its only real saving grace is that it's a secret level, and therefore entirely skippable. Sandy Petersen would go on to redeem himself with Dead Simple, though, a small, two-monster map that's actually good, so it's hard to be too critical.

Crunch! (MAP21, 10 Sectors)

This room has four lifts in a cross pattern... because that's a good idea!

Though I enjoyed 10 Sectors quite a bit, every megaWAD invariably has its low points, and for me the nadir of 10 Sectors was Vlad Sosedkin's Crunch!, a map saddled with a couple of unfortunate design choices. The first is a decision to litter the map with a number of slow-moving automated lifts, ensuring that, at some point, you're going to have to wait patiently for an elevator to finish its rotation so you can get on it. Even worse are a couple of questionable crusher-based puzzles, one involving Arachnotrons, and the other a Cyberdemon, whose solutions you'll likely stumble into only after having died a number of times.

The Ungodly

CHORD3 (MAP27, CHORD3)

If you want this Soul Sphere, be prepared to pay your pound of flesh.

Of all the maps I've played, none has challenged my personal mandate of not using manual saves moreso than CHORD3. Malcolm Sailor, for those unaware, made a name for himself in the '90s crafting Doom maps that demand everything you have as a player and then some. CHORD3 is his ultimate map, both in chronology and difficulty, and to date I have not beaten it without saving, something that irks me more than it probably should. It is a map that asks you not just to thread the needle, but to thread several in succession. Health, ammo, and sanity are at a premium, and any missteps are deeply felt.

Ship Shape & Fantastic (MAP25 & MAP26, Herian 2)

Yep. That's a cruise ship... in this Heretic-themed WAD... with NIN Midi.

Ship Shape & Fantastic of Herian 2 are not bad levels. On the contrary, clearly a lot of effort went into their creation. Together, they are a remarkably accurate recreation of a cruise ship, or at least the most accurate that the Doom engine will likely allow. The question is, why did their author, Ian Wilson, choose to include a pleasure cruise excursion in his medieval-themed Doom WAD? I have not been able to reconcile this. I also haven't been able to explain why he crams four Cyberdemons into a tiny engine room at the end, forcing you to whittle them down with potshots from above just to get to the exit.

To Hell and Back Again

And there you have it: a bunch of words about some things. I've toyed with the idea of starting some sort of semi-regular written-type-deal here on the Bomb basically since my passion for wiki editing gave up the ghost about a year ago. My primary reason for participating in the wiki to begin with was the chance to write about games that I like, so this space essentially affords me the same opportunity without any of the headaches (objectivity, following barely-existent guidelines, knowing what the crap you're talking about, etc.). I guess the fact that I wrote this thing at all bodes well for the prospects of me ever doing another one ever again, so for now I'll leave it at that. If you read any of the above, thanks; feel free to comment as you see fit. Or don't comment. That's cool, too. I'm pretty accustomed to not getting feedback. Like I said, I used to edit the wiki.

5 Comments
5 Comments
Posted by bobafettjm

That is a lot of Doom. I have never played any user made maps for Doom, as a matter of fact I have never even completely finished Doom 2.

Posted by ZombiePie

I have never played the original Doom so I found this blog to be a fascinating read and would look forward to future editions.

Moderator
Posted by Praxis

@bobafettjm: I think that's pretty representative of most peoples' experience with Doom, at least the people who were playing PC games at the time of its release. Doom 2 is like Lost Levels in that it assumes you are more than casually interested in the source material, which obviously a lot of people weren't. Then there's Final Doom, which basically assumes that you eat, sleep, and breathe Doom.

@zombiepie: I kind of figured this would be a little too inside baseball for people who hadn't played Doom, so this is good to hear. As for writing more about Doom, that will probably happen, as I'm certainly not going to stop playing it.

Posted by bobafettjm

@praxis: Doom was one of the first games I owned when I got my first computer. It is interesting reading this stuff, I didn't realize quite the extent of the user made content. I always figured it was just simply more plain maps.

Posted by Praxis

@bobafettjm: There's a lot of deja vu among user maps, for sure, but there are also quite a few that surpass the stock id levels. Then there's the occasional conversion like Batman Doom and Aliens TC that tinkers with the underlying game to a more significant degree, so, all in all, playing a metric ton of Doom maps is not as monotonous as you might think.