Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why I Make Doom Maps: Part 5

Part 5: The Puzzle of Gameplay

You know, just as my drawing and painting has always been lousy, I've always been just a half-step ahead of the curve on the logical side of things (until I got into that abstract math shit, man I hate that!). One of my favorite things to do is to take a limited set of rules and try to expand in any number of ways possible. My imagination always runs about 800% at night just before I'm going to bed, and normally, it's taking a scenario and unraveling it in as many ways as possible.

Well, when I started making maps, I realized how I could take a single action and use it in so many different ways. There's really only so many basic functions "vanilla" doom can handle - doors opening and closing, floors and ceilings raising and lowering, teleporting, lifts, and finally, some stairs raising. Everything is a basic variation of that. Hell, when you think about it, most of those are just different versions of the same damn thing. What's more, without some clever manipulation, you can't pull off a convincing room-over-room technique. Doom, in all actuality, is a 2D game, with some clever coding to change that.

So of course I'd want to figure how to make those basic things change! Doom is like a puzzle of logic, really. It's like taking a 100-piece puzzle, and constantly rearranging it to come to a new end picture. How can I go about doing it? The methods of mapping change every time. What atmosphere do I want? What textures do I want to use? How can I arrange the items so that the gameplay matches the atmosphere?

I can honestly say that it's fun for me to stare at the screen and think to myself, "How can I do this in a different way than I've done over and over again." Doom's bestiary lends itself to this... Doom 2 especially. There are fast monsters, slow monsters, your standard fireball-throwers, hitscanners, demons running up and gnawing at you... Then those crazy arch-viles. You've got your shock troops in revenants, your tanks with barons, the big badass in the cyberdemon. You can take those monsters and arrange them in an almost limitless amount of ways. What's more, the ability to adjust the height of the floor makes for even more variation. You won't fight a monster the same way if its on even ground as you will when it's above you.

Gosh, then there are the weapons. How can you arrange those to make it a challenge? Cough them all up at the start of the map to say good luck? Put them in a position that will spring some sort of trap? Place them in the center of a room and make the player fight to get to it? Does the set-up of the fight lend itself to the atmosphere? All of these things can run through a mapper's head as he or she constructs their newest effort. It's just part of the craft, really. Same with how you create a map's layout. Linear, non-linear, open chaotic fights or closed quarters... they're all options. You can do what you want with them.

You'd be surprised how differently these 2 play.

Doom's gameplay is, of course, my very favorite aspect of the game. Being able to recreate it in my own style is a pretty fascinating exercise. Finding a new way to manipulate the engine into something it shouldn't (or at least wasn't originally intended) to be puts a smile on my face. If it weren't for the fact that id made it so easy to mod, would I even be playing or talking about this game anymore? Probably not... I'd certain play the original 2 IWADs on occasion, as I do with any great game, but unless I felt like I was really doing something that made me think the way this game has, it'd just be another great game.

So then, I can whole-heartedly say that, from my perspective, mapping isn't just a waste of time. Sure, you can call me a nerd and poke fun at the fact that I still do this. That doesn't bother me. It never will. Telling me that what I'm doing isn't a constructive use of my time, though, will frustrate me. We all have those hobbies that we take part in. I'm sure there's a reason behind whatever it is you like to do, whether it be cataloging your music, watching films, reading... hell, participating with the Comic Con crowd. It kind of makes you feel good about yourself, doesn't it? Doom does that for me, and it's for that exact reason that I'm going to keep on keeping on the way I have been. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some Dooming to do.

Why I Make Doom Maps: Part 4

Part 4: The Aesthetic Side of Things

Boy, you can ask just about anybody and they'll tell you the same thing about me: I've got the artistic talent of a 5 year-old. I hit stick figures and just stopped.


I've never been good at this sort of thing. Instead, I let my imagination do all of the talking for me. Sure, I enjoy writing (obviously), and yeah, I was in a high school play (and rocked it, too!). It's just that I never was able to use my hands to craft something into a cool looking piece of art. Shannon got most of that talent... Meanwhile, I got stuck with logic and stupid shit like that. Y'know, the stuff where people go, "Yeah, that'll make you money." Meanwhile, they'll all jaws-open about the fantastic painting hanging on the bathroom wall or something


Patience is something I never really had. I couldn't sit and attempt to craft it because it was boring. Doom, though, gave me something I didn't have: a medium. Now, before somebody's alarm goes off and says, "Doom isn't art, it's a videogame!" Well, consider this: a Doom map starts off as a grid on a screen. That's all. There are no flats, no textures, no presence of monsters... just an empty grid. Until someone decides to build a room, there's nothing there. Just the resources. So essentially, what I do is utilize resources, take nothing, and turn into a fully-functioning environment for the player to roam through. If you ask me, that's close enough to art to call it such, and it's the only thing I've been good at.

Here, consider this. Here's progression of my mapping in pictures:

4 Photos, 4 different "projects," and with each one, an improvement can be seen over the last. I was finally seeing something I made as more than just a collection of rooms, but as an effort on my own behalf to make something that looked good. That looked damn good. I feel I accomplished that pretty well, too. I began to think about what made a map look good, and what I needed to do to improve the visuals if I wasn't fully satisfied. Several rooms I have started transformed in shape, color, proportion, etc. There's a lot of thought being put into it.

You see, there was a lot of hoop-lah that shot off when Roger Ebert, the famous film critic, claimed that "video games can never be art." Yeah, I disagree. Respectfully. Please, keep something else in mind: I don't live, breathe, and drink with Doom on my mind. Most of these maps have come over 2 months at a time. Short, creative bursts. There are several breaks I have sometimes between 2 maps. It isn't my life, and I don't want to attach myself to it. Hence, it always have to be fun when I finish something. So, it's art for me in that it's a hobby. Maybe Mr. Ebert didn't realize that something doesn't necessarily have to have a fully-fleshed message to be art. All it needs to be is a personal medium to channel personal creativity, and that's what I've seen Doom as since I downloaded Doombuilder.

So, there. I've explained the first half of mapping, and that's the "pure art" side of things. How ever, there's also something else, and something that, in my mind, is far more important. That is: how can I make these maps challenging and ultimately: fun.

That'll probably be the essay where I wrap things up in part 5: the gameplay.

Why I Make Doom Maps: Part 3

Part 3: The Editors, and Those Ports, Too

Think about your favorite, oh... anything media-related I guess: song, film, video game, etc. Ponder for a quick second, "What makes _____________ so special to me?" I'm guessing it isn't because it's flat, 1-dimensional, bland, etc., right? No, it probably has some personal meaning, or can be interpreted in more than a single way, right? You kind of like to get that type of, "Wow... every time I do this," feeling, don't you? Well, that's what really got me hooked on Doom.

I didn't start playing weekly, near-daily because of the PWADs themselves. Don't get me wrong: they're tons of fun; however, there was more to it than that. I wanted to make Doom even more personable. So, when I stumbled upon an easy-to-use map editor known as Doombuilder, I was shocked. Not only could I manipulate the game myself, I could do it for free. So, I immediately downloaded during one sleepless night. It was one of those moments that made me think, "Wow... ever time I do this." Again, it was a fresh experience.

No longer was I just playing Doom, I was seeing it in a whole new light. My perspective changed. When I made my first map, it took an hour and a half of repeated, frustrating failure. By the time the Sun broke, I completed this:

Piece of shit

165 linedefs, 34 sectors, and a whole lot of shit, yeah, but it was mine, damn it. In the course of 2 hours, I figured out more about this game than I did over 13 years. Did you know that Doom isn't a 3D game? Probably, but it doesn't really capture your attention until you design a level and realize how effective it creates the illusion. I realized that, in spite of a limited variety of linedef triggers, sector effects, etc., people had found a way to make this game change every time. To me, this was like playing Doom for the first time all over again. I was surprised the map was fully functional. It had several things i wanted to learn: teleporter, a door, and a lowering floor. It felt like a tedious process, but I began to learn.

It wasn't before I long that I realize that you could exceed the limits of Doom, as well. The original, vanilla version had all of these restrictions that you had to adhere to (the words "visplane overflow" forced me to not play quite a few wads when I was still ignorant). However, ports such as PrBoom allowed you to go beyond the limits, and even more, ports like Zdoom and Eternity allowed for all kinds of unique behavior that Doom never really should've been capable of. That's the benefit of a free source code, I guess. All of the sudden, there's a wad that makes Pac-Man playable in Doom. Very clever stuff.

It wasn't long before I realized that these easy-to-access, easy-to-use editors and ports would allow not just the community to continue to help Doom's evolution, but it made it possible for me as well. However, there were certain obstacles along the way. I found that when I made my second map:

Also a piece of shit

782 linedefs, 94 sectors, and still a lot of shit. I was getting really frustrated with the creation process. It felt long and tedious, and the standard I wanted for myself was waaaay higher than before. So, in time I'd buckle down and create my first real, playable wad, and in the process, I'd finally find a good way to channel some creativity that I'd never thought I'd fully accomplish. I wound up from the two maps above, to this map below:

Pretty damn good

1871 linedefs, 371 sectors, and a lot of fun. Not immediately, but I managed to crank it out in 3 weeks.

This will all be explained when I finally discuss Doom as a personal, creative medium: The Aesthetics.

Why I Make Doom Maps: Part 2

Part 2: The Community and the PWADs

It may come as a shock to all of you when I say this: Doom still has a relatively thriving community. Especially when you consider that the game was released in 1993 (17th birthday coming soon!). I don't know the number of people still making projects for Doom, nor can I say the number of people who are downloading and playing these projects. I do know my latest edition of UR was downloaded 46 times, so I'll use that as a starter. Also, here are the statistics for projects uploaded to the /idgames archive in the past decade years:

2000 = 308

2001 = 288

2002 = 241

2003 = 427

2004 = 514

2005 = 821

2006 = 478

2007 = 349

2008 = 276

2009 = 308

Not bad, eh? Now, think about that: that's literally thousands of different mods of Doom, all released and free to download. That means I can have infinite replayability without playing a single cent. How can you not find something like that remarkable? This essentially means that I could play Doom 100 times over without ever playing the same thing twice... It kind of blew my mind when i realized that. I mean, I knew Final Doom had 2 WADs from community memebers in Plutonia and TNT, but those cost money, so that was a totally diffent barrel of monkeys. Knowing I could download these other ones, though.... So, I followed suit. I downloaded my first WAD. Odds are, if you've head of any PWAD, it'll be a megawad. Probably Requiem or Hell Revealed. This was true for myself, but I didn't want to just jump into what were the most well-known, and turned to a different one: Memento Mori.

So, I download this wad known as Memento Mori... a drag 'n drop later, I'm looking at this.

It totally blew my mind. This wasn't Entryway from Doom 2. This was an entirely different level. This some was something different, something undeniably fresh and new to me. It really challenged my idea of what a game was, and what a game should do for a person. Should it provide a good time, perhaps with a side of thoughtlessness? Absolutely (sorry Colin... I know you like your thoughtful games, too). On the other hand, I was prevented with a scenario of Doom I never face before. And it happened again... and again... and again and again and again. I'd never get bored with this game from that point forward.

Memento Mori, Requiem, Hell Revealed, UAC Ultra, Speed of Doom, Alien Vendetta... so many WADs out there that are not at all like the other. Sure, there are some similarities, but each has something unique going for it. You can do so many different things with one little game, it's quite remarkable.

Mind you, these are just replacements made by the communities. Full replacements. I've neglected to include single maps and ZDoom wads so far... Not because I don't like them... Heavens know. Vrack2b and Decade both rule. And that's what makes Doom great: it can be short, long, hard, easy... it can be a set in Hell, on a spacestation, in abandoned tunnels, sewers, or in a fucking city in the sky. It works. Abstract, concrete, survival or slaughter-oriented... So many options. The community has really come together to make sure Doom would survive well beyond it's humble roots.

Void is among the many WADs that have changed Doom altogether.

What's more, the community is still very open-armed to new members (provided said new member isn't a complete tool/moron). There are still a few active forums dedicated to Doom (ZDoom, Skulltag, and the site I frequent, Doomworld). I can tell you from experience, while many of the members are a bit... um, eccentric, for the most part, it's a community of level-headed individuals. Most importantly, they all seems to have lives beyond the game. It's so important to have a thriving community to keep something alive. Would I still be making maps if guys like Mechadon, Jon Vail, and Joshy weren't? Hard to say... probably not, though. It's a hobby... it's something for enthusiasts. Being one of them, I absolutely enjoy the communication and fun that it brings along with it. Sure, every once in a while, shit will be flung over something pointless (ATI graphic cards... don't ask), but in the end, it's all dedicated to one thing:

The continuing saga of Doom.

And that's why I can still justify playing the game. It has never actually ended. From what I can surmise, it won't die any time soon. I know I'll be locked in for a few more years. The only thing I have to say is: why haven't I really done anything as far as the game goes?

Well, I have. And I'll explain that shindig on the next entry: Part 3, The utilities and ports.

Why I Make Doom Maps: Part 1


Many people have long considered one of my biggest current hobbies to be a complete waste of time, that should be refocused into something else. So, for those people, I've decided it's time to explain just why it is that I dedicate such a fair amount of my time to Doom. I feel that first, i need to establish my love for the game first. So here's the first in a short series of essays on Doom.

Part 1: The Game

There's no denying I'm a nostalgic person. Most people have a degree of this: A lot of people remember the first time they do stuff: smoke, drink, kiss, hear their favorite song, see their favorite movie... y'know, impacting moments. They remember them as great experiences, or as really embarrassing ones. I can remember all of these, but I have this weird first that I won't forget, for whatever reason: I still remember the first time my dad and I launched Doom II.

The title screen absolutely blew my mind... A guy with a gun, trying to blast away at this monstrosity with some sort of mechanical limb. It was one of the downright creepiest things I ever saw in my life. I was 7 at the time. So, naturally, I played on I'm Too Young To Die (heh). My dad went along with it.

We got stuck on MAP02 (Underhalls). Seriously: we did not know there was a run button for the game. That'd come later. It was a good time, regardless. You could just tell that this was a good game. I ruined it, though: I spent hours on end at my neighbor's house, warping through the levels, playing with god mode, and IDKFA. It sort of ruined the experience. These monsters didn't scare me anymore; my dad stopped playing the game, probably because I knew what was going to happen and ruined it for him. Shame, really.

So, for a long time, Doom went out of my vocabulary, out of sight, out of mind, etc. I had brief re-introduction to the game in senior year of high school. An acquaintance had a copy of the collector's edition, so I decided to play Ultimate Doom, this time, on Hurt Me Plenty.

I finished Knee Deep in the Dead in one sitting (first episode in the series). I fell in love all over again. So, I made a mad dash to the store, picked up a copy, threw it on my computer, and gave Doom a go. I finished the first 3 episodes in quick fashion. I just could not stop playing this game. I don't know what it was. Instead of trying to beat the impossible fourth episode, I moved on to Doom 2.

Let me tell you: this game was, and still is, a perfect game for me. It was so damn balanced: in spite of a bunch of new monsters, they only added one weapon: the Super Shotgun. Double barrel madness. BOOM, CLICK-CLACK-CLICK! That noise... it was like playing for the first time all over again. I'd forgotten everything that I'd ruined as a kid: traps, layouts, entire maps...nothing felt familiar. I became hooked. Map11: the arch-vile actually scared the hell out of me the first time I saw it. First off, there was that terrible noise it made when it woke up... then that creepy, creepy laugh.

One thing that the Doom IWADS accomplished that no other game these days ever could is a combination of speed, balance, and nonlinearity.

Today, most first person shooters feature an incredibly slow main character, who isn't an agile dodger of death. No, you get to sludge your way around levels, soaking up damage, and in the worst cases: regenerating health. Even Bioshock had a huge problem with this. What's the fun of hide-and-go-shoot gameplay? I haven't found it. The ability to dodge around corners, side-step missiles, strafe past an imp's fireball... There's always movement. Only in the worst maps were there safe spots to stand. I just haven't found that, especially in games like Gears of War or Halo. The speed isn't there for me.

What's more, the balance of the beastiary and weapons meant that no matter what, whatever scenario, a gun wouldn't be completely useless. Some say the BFG9000 threw the balance out of whack, but after I played my first PWADS, I saw how even that could be used cleverly. It creates options for both players and mappers, but I'll get to that in a later installment. For now, let me just say that you have two rapid fire weapons, two real shock-weapons, and when there's a berserk kit and a chainsaw, two melee weapons. Each has their uses, and can be used in so many situations. You never have to repeat a scenario twice if you don't feel like it. Then there's the shotgun: pure medium range perfection. You can use any of these to fight monsters: hordes of zombiemen, imps, some hell knights, revenants, arch-viles... I've used every weapon on these monsters more times than I can count.

Why, oh why, do we live in an age where a person can only carry X amount of weapons at once? It sucks versatility right out of the game. I should never feel forced when I'm playing in a game. I always get that impression these days: I have to use one of these weapons, I have to do this or not be able to move on (forced fights are another drag).

One of the worst is the forcing of the player to travel in one single direction. Give me a break. Where's the replayability in that? Same thing, every time. If you die, you just try it again. If you died in Doom, you go back to the start of a level, with only a pistol! This completely changed the way you had to go through a map. Luckily, they knew this when they made the game: they gave you options. There were all kinds of paths you could take from the start of map to get to that all-important weapon, item, or powerup. You could play a map 10 times and never do the same thing twice. That was the brilliance of Doom.

So then, that's why I think it's such a great game. This still doesn't explain why I take time out of my day to sit in front of a computer and create a map. So, tune in for the next installment, Part 2: The PWADs and the Community.