Monday, June 20, 2011

The Enigma Episode (ENIGMA.WAD)


Of all the authors I've ever played, Jim Flynn is my favorite, and will probably remain so barring some kind of crazy Doom PWAD renaissance where people are straining to make large, complex levels that have solid themes or surreal texture and color combinations. Of course, Jim is mostly popular as one of the authors behind the Master Levels for Doom II, which brings us to an interesting point. The Enigma Episode, published back in 1995, is actually a re-release of almost all of Jim's older maps for the original Doom, painstakingly transmogrified to Doom II. I haven't played the originals, but some antiquarians were kind enough to put them on /idgames back in the mid-2000s.


A list, for reference - "Mt. Doom" is, unsurprisingly, Mt. Doom. Then, of course, there's Rings. "Twisted" was originally named Up and Down, "Gulch" came from Doom Gulch, and "The Wheel" is The Wheel. "Triplet" began life as Peano, named no doubt for Giuseppe Peano. The rest are as could be expected, with Wack, The Tower, and Citadel. From what I've read, the levels present in Enigma have been polished / expanded or otherwise enhanced, so it might be an interesting trip for Doom historians to see where these levels came from. It's hard to gauge by the /idgames comments, which as I could expect regard the original levels as toxic waste dredged up from 1994.


That's due to a variety of reasons. Jim Flynn has an aesthetic sensibility that is entirely his own. You can see it, here, and watch it develop across the Titan series. He's pretty good at Doom realism when he wants to try, which you can see in his Eternal Doom maps, The Interdiction Zone, and here in "The Citadel", but the architecture and detailing of these levels is pretty abstract with a lot of love of silver and huge, open areas. The color combinations are... striking, to say the least, but almost always consistent on a room by room basis. The author has also pinned up a number of Mandelbrot fractals, which adds to the strange feel.


If you can appreciate the visuals, there's still another obstacle to surmount - the gameplay. Jim Flynn is one of a small group of authors who loved to cram their levels with as many puzzles as they could design, making navigation and progression pretty difficult. The Enigma Episode is a good example of a gameplay style that has become increasingly alternative in the years of PWADs that would follow; it engages the player in combat with the very geometry of the level, forcing them to discern the order of timed lifts, locate narrow ledges, or - when all else fails - wallhump and retroactively realize why you could have figured out that that was a door. The level is a Rubik's cube, and it's also covered in monsters that want to eat you.


For what it's worth, the challenge isn't entirely relegated toward switch hunts and three-dimensional mazes. Flynn is pretty good about creating interesting and challenging combat scenarios and isn't afraid to use a lot of the larger, bulkier monsters. The combat is definitely tailored to the layouts, or vice versa, which might be an amusing contrast to the versions of these levels that were included in Maximum Doom, which were run through a half-assed conversion utility that probably butchered whatever Jim had placed when the action was paced for the original Doom. He is a bit more baron heavy than modern players would probably prefer. So it goes.


Personally, I'm a fan of Flynn's weirder stuff, like the yawning, Hellish chasms, the hexagon maze of MAP06, or the arrangement and outgrowth of "The Wheel". "The Citadel" feels downright normal in comparison, at least until you hit the outdoor areas. I mean, it's got an office, a kitchen, and some other stuff that I can't remember right now, mixed in with mysterious, monolithic black walls and hallways painted with the E2 sky. Some players might perceive the whole affair as terrifying randomness, but if you're anything like me, it's just another trip through the wild world of the dude that would go on to make "Cybersweeper".


The Enigma Episode is a WAD well worth playing, though I'd shy away if you're opposed to any of the stuff that I've said in here, because you'll be seeing a LOT of it. I'd still give it a try, but if you don't like it at all, well, no pressure! There are many more levels to play in the history of Doom, and this is but nine of them.





THE ENIGMA EPISODE
by Jim Flynn

MAP01Mt. Doom
It's outdoors with a ton of bricks. The opening is tepid, and Mount Doom itself is kind of ugly and unimpressive to climb. Once you open up the second half of the area, things heat up. You're immediately ambushed by a number of uglies (my favorite encounter) and there are even more clamoring in the adjacent courtyard. I found that the map geometry kind of hamstrung the other groups from getting too close to you but they made for a few fun battles. Flynn's major map tricks here are using sky textures for the teleporters (has a nice, distinctive feel) and the use of tiny staircases to simulate ladders. I felt the revenants in the exit room were kind of wasted, though.

RingsMAP02
The beginning area resembles something of an inverse ziggurat. There are several tiers of play accessed by some similarly tiered lifts, thankfully all in one single location to facilitate easy access. The puzzle solving involves opening up the section of the tiers that are useful as there's a solid metal wall preventing you from working around the "rings". Most of the combat inside isn't rough though the chaingunners can surprise you. My main objections are the mandatory secrets which you need to find in order to clear the level. The outer area is pretty spacious but the fighting is pretty tame. The nastiest encounter happens when you return to the center ring, a surprise trap (that you should easily see coming) involving a ton of hitscanners and an arch-vile.

MAP03Twisted
I was put off by the Wolfenstein red brick at the beginning but it quickly gave way to a devious and interesting level. There's giant crusher halls, a wooden maze, many uses of lifts to simulate 3d architecture, and a grand courtyard with several stages of fights, including an ambush that caught me off-guard. The methods of acquiring the keys required to exit is consequently a bit obtuse, but I'm liking how much Flynn is making me think when exploring and solving these Doom maps. I'd say the hardest (and most memorable) part is sorting out the craziness if you activate the secret hallways at the map's beginning. Everything afterwards is just gravy.

GulchMAP04
Very large and very complex chasm-based level. The geometry is spot on, but the concrete texture that dominates most of the level leaves something to be desired. It can be pretty hard, featuring two Cyberdemons and a Spider-Mastermind as well as two hard to get at arch-viles and plenty of window snipers. The opening itself is pretty intense though with one well placed shot you can clear out a nice cubby to defend. There's more than enough ammo to take on everything without resorting to infighting or crushers. Dipping down into the gulch for the first time is a great moment in terms of the sheer intensity of what goes on, though the blue key trap is a close second. Some of the puzzles can be a little arcane, like the sequence which reveals the Cyberdemon crusher switches. I dig that stair effect, though.

MAP05The Wheel
Very simple layout. It's a wheel. There's an indoor center, an outdoor ring, another indoor ring housing various nasties, and a final outer ring where most of the real action will take place. The opening is a little rough but then it lets up for awhile. I made a big mistake my first run through and dodged out to the outermost ring before activating the spokes in the center room (which you can do by jumping into the level's only "secret", the wheel's hub). Besides making the entire exterior fight much harder, it renders the level impossible to complete. So, don't do what I did. Otherwise, props for making the arch-vile ambush near the end somewhat threatening.

TripletMAP06
"Triplet" is divided into four very distinct areas. The first, the level hub, features portals to the other three gates. There's not a lot to it, but there are a few surprises to be had. The second is the hub housing the blue key. It starts off with a maze built entirely out of hexagons and then proceeds to a much more knockaround sequence of battles in a tiered, outdoor area. The third area houses the yellow key. It's much simpler than the blue key zone, taking place in a huge indoor room with quite the crossfire to start off with. The centerpiece is a large structure that erupts out of the ground, a sort of grand staircase that winds in and around itself. Finally, there's the area housing the red key. The architecture is a bit plain with bland, silver hallways, but there are monster ambushes every ten feet and a couple of really brutal firefights. There's one in particular, a series of ambushes in a blood trench, that really boggle the mind. Once you get beyond the more open hallways you'll kick around in some cramped, dark corridors that criss-cross. It's an exhausting level but once you sort out the blue key wing the rest isn't quite so tough. Just be careful in the red key wing.

MAP07Wack
Another sprawling, imposing level with multiple distinctive rooms. There's several great moments and firefights, like the revenants teleporting into the opening room, or the mounting battle in the southern section, or the fight in the exit room (which is filled with lifts, confound it). There's also a memorable ledge-humping sequence near the end and a surprise encounter with a Cyberdemon and Spider-Mastermind. My favorite fight would have to be the southern room, it's spacious enough to give you some mobility while also hemming you in with a large number of toughs, though the dread you feel when the revenants begin to warp into the opening room when you're under-equipped and low on ammo (not counting the ammo-filled secret) is a contender. I just wish the exit room battle wasn't dragged down by a plethora of lifts.

The TowerMAP08
Chasm-based open-air level with, as always, the emphasis on exploration. The chasm itself has some nice platform-based puzzles and ledge-humping with a great crossfire in the northeastern room. The southern portion has a huge rogues' gallery of barons, revenants and cacodemons that owing to their positioning will tend to clear themselves out. There's a shootout with a Cyberdemon at the far end of the courtyard but it's nothing special. The western area is okay but Flynn's signature construction is the aforementioned tower, a massive black-paneled structure with a lift-based puzzle in its interior. There's some stairs to enter the tunnel an easier way but the first time you've got to time a running jump into the building itself. There's also two portals that take you outside, which can give you quite a backtracking headache if you haven't raised the outer staircase.

MAP09The Citadel
Huge outdoor level whose main structure is the eponymous citadel, a square-shaped building quartered into different interior sections ringed by the citadel's battlements. The monster collection of each battlement is roughly the same while the challenges in the corner rooms and interior rooms form the variety of the map. There's an interesting little puzzle section before you move onto the citadel proper, but the building is fairly low key as far as thrills go. Things can get a little tough as the plasma rifle isn't acquired until late in the map while its ammo is unusually bountiful. Still not quite sure what the point of this level's arch-vile was. On the whole, a great map, though not quite the finale I hoped for.

CLICK HERE for more Enigma!


This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's Top 10 WADs of 1995

Fava BeansInfinity
Boothill / A Fistful of DoomH2H-Xmas
The Final GatheringArtifact
Nostromo's RunObituary
The Enigma EpisodeDWANGO5

19 comments:

  1. A great review. These are some of my favorite Flynn maps, and I never play the Master Levels without including these as well. I guess I'm just a sucker for huge, arduous ordeals...

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  2. I love the long stuff too. It feels more like an adventure. But it gets physically exhausting when doing no saves. There's one level in particular that slapped me around for a long time, Memento Mori's MAP28. Jens Nielsen made a masterpiece, but every monster on that map is a credible threat to your existence.

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  3. I'm stuck on MAP06: Triplet. A door doesn't want to open after I got teleported to hexagon part with demons. Help?

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  4. i'm stuck in same place!!! what the hell is wrong with these maps? is it the fact i'm playing in zDoom? -nick

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  5. I have no idea what you're not getting. If you managed to get this far in the Enigma Episode, it shouldn't be any harder than the others, especially Rings. I assume you're talking about the hexagon maze area to the south, but there are no doors in the maze; when you reach the end you should be teleported to a more open area with a switch that lowers the platform to make a very tall outdoor yard. From here things are less specific; you need to step on the toxic pools to open up massive windows, then lower the baron pillar and jump from the top of the pillar through the windows to the beige brick area.

    Hitting the obvious switch lowers a timed platform, but the platform will lower if you use it manually. There's a secret compartment on the isolated platform that has a switch which raises a staircase up the northern wall. If you can't solve the area from this point, you should probably just give up on Enigma (and Jim Flynn maps in general).

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    1. Ah, it seems like I'm not the only one who has this problem but I'm using ZDoom + Aeons of Death, he might be using normally ZDoom. To avoid conflicts between users, I will put my name at end from now on or simply use the Google Account.

      Anyway about the maze, I didn't get teleported, I reached the end and it's a door that should open. But it doesn't open. I think I will play something else (preferably a single map) until friday when I'm done with school for a week and can concentrate on ENIGMA episode. I will let you know if the tips above worked for me, as well as for Nick!

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    2. Again, I just ran through that particular wing of Enigma in ZDoom and it played fine for me. I think that the walkover teleport is a one time thing, though, so there may be some kind of actor in Aeons of Death that is eating the function. The other possibility is that you need to be running in Doom (strict) compatibility, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't when I played it. So as far as I'm concerned it's new mods breaking perfectly functional level design.

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    3. Yeah, I see now. I have watched the YouTube video by valkiriforce and you definitely get teleported in a area with monsters. No wonder why I was stuck in some other custom maps as well where I came here for asking for help. Sad to hear AEOD breaks some maps. But then I don't know what other mod should I play with custom maps. I get bored of playing original Doom over and over so I wanted to do most of mapsets with AEOD.

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  6. Oh yeah and I forgot to mention that I actually cheated instead of giving up in MAP03 by using NOCLIP to get the yellow key and in MAP04 using Flight Powerup from AEOD to fight 2 bosses.

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    1. IMO, cheating basically is giving up.

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    2. I had no other choice back then because of my obsession of playing nearly every wad released with AEOD, so there were cases where I ran into glitches or broke balance of maps because of using a gameplay mod and the map isn't meant to be played that wad.

      At least nowadays I learned my lesson and I'm playing most wads (notably the Top 100 Wads and Cacowards) in Eternity Engine for original Doom feeling, as well as for ZDoom, depending on what source port the wad requires (though the vanilla/limit-removing/boom compatible I play in Eternity). There are a few wads that I still play with AEOD from time to time, though.

      -FistMarine

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  7. Confirmed. Without AEOD, this bug doesn't happen and I get teleported but with AEOD, you get stuck. Now I see why there were some maps where I couldn't progress. Anyway the guy above with name "Nick" it's one of my friends which also had same problem but he didn't wanted to tell he played with AEOD too but he used version 6. I use 5.29.1

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  8. Well, I finished it finally. I simply noclipped in MAP06 to get through and since then, didn't used anymore cheats. But I'm happy I done this map set. Good thing I got easy bosses on MAP09, I got a weird flying guy in place of Cyberdemon and a regular Spider Mastermind.

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  9. Its quite easy to get stuck in these levels. Currently stuck in Triplet where theres two big pillars, one with a megasphere on it. You have a screenshot of this exact room a the top of this review. I really love the way he made maps, it'd be great if he returned to the community like Sverre Kvernmo recently did.

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    1. That would be fantastic, but from what I understand Jim Flynn is at least in his 60s and last I heard on the forums in poor health. Not that he couldn't, but I'm not holding out hope vs. some knucklehead like Romero coming back to do something.

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    2. Ouch, thats depressing to hear. I also had no idea he was that old.

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  10. BTW currently I'm playing this wad in Eternity Engine and I'm on MAP02. I hope this time I won't get lost in maps, though I had to consult YouTube to see what the hell I was supposed to do because I get stuck often. And there is also an exploit that allows you to exit MAP02 early due to the way Doom engine works, even if switch is located up there, you can still press it down there.

    -FistMarine

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    1. MAP04 now. I did MAP02 normally but I died once like an idiot to a revenant's fireball (was down to 27% health and 100+ blue armor thanks to shooting close to a spectre and also I ran from first wave of monsters outside and got into others, which made things hectic) and dodged right into it, even though I was able to dodge monsters very well. That ruined my perfect run. :(

      Well at least I managed to do MAP03 without dying, that went pretty well, I managed to escape from monsters but I had to consult once again YouTube to get the yellow key. I must say the maps are pretty generous with health and armor, there are many soul spheres, blue armors and even a mega sphere in each level. Let's not talk about other health items and the occasional green armor as well.

      -FistMarine

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    2. Shooting close with the rocket launcher I meant. But yeah I had no plasma and no BFG, so I didn't have many choices of dispatching the horde. I don't think I got the Plasma or BFG in next map either, though I was able to 100% it in every category (kills over 100% thanks to archvile resurrecting monsters) and in MAP02 I got 100% everything except kills 98% (missed 2 monsters).

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