Thursday, December 9, 2010

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.

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