Friday, June 24, 2011


H2H-Xmas is a lot of things. It is the sequel to Xmas Doom, a small 1994 Christmas-themed minisode that detailed Doomguy as the savior of Christmas. Indeed, some of the Xmas Doom personnel contributed to H2H-Xmas, most notably Joe Wilcox of Simply Silly Software, who went on to do the most reviled Duke Nukem 3D expansion, the similarly-themed Nuclear Winter. It is also one of Doom's first community megaWADs, though it was built on the foundation of the H2HMud competition, which challenged demo recorders to test their mettle in maps built by David Swift (and a few others), led by the Head to Head (H2H) Gaming Network. H2H never really caught on, though, and the ultra-hard level pack that resulted would have languished in obscurity... were it not for H2H-Xmas.

So, about a year ago, the demons assaulted the North Pole and took Santa hostage along with all of his elves, effectively holding Christmas hostage. Doomguy will not be put off by any infernal scheme, however, and checks off the naughty list. This year, the demons try again, but manage to get one part of their scheme right - they put Doomguy out of commission as he waits at the airport as Kris Kringle's diligent bodyguard. He croaks out essential information before he passes out in a speech that cribs pretty heavily from The Empire Strikes Back. They've kidnapped Mrs. Claus, but mysteriously left Santa alive. Now, it's up to the jolly old elf to put things right.

I am guessing, due to the email address provided, that Jim Elson was the project organizer project. You may not know him by name, but Jim was one of the shadow players behind TNT Evilution, as well as the brains behind Wraith Corporation, which made Perdition's Gate and Hell to Pay. Evilution would have been published first had it not been for id's eleventh-hour purchase; I am guessing that both projects were going on concurrently (as well as the now legendary Memento Mori). Joe Wilcox was the brains behind the original Xmas Doom, of course. Jimmy Sieben, his project resume essentially mirroring Elson's, was also involved in the H2H network, as was Pavel Hodek.

In fact, H2H-Xmas's dirty little secret is that a lot of these levels - namely Pavel's and Dave's - were already produced for the Head to Head gaming network prior to the Xmas collection. I'm sure that they were re-textured or otherwise punched up for inclusion, and I can't tie all of them to preexisting H2H maps, but there's a cool fourteen that I can. In fact, I'd wager that the rest of the contributors were also participants in the H2H network in some fashion, judging by a casual perusal of some H2H competition results. Plus, Spry made a deathmatch compilation for H2H, not that any of the maps besides Pavel's show up here.

The megaWAD's humble origins contribute to its rough character. The disparate bunch of levels have but the barest resemblance to the plot, with Spry's opening five carrying the vast majority of the narrative. As I mentioned, the deathmatch / coop nature of the H2H levels leave them without any real sense of place beyond whatever name the compilers thought was the most appropriate. Some of the deathmatch arenas are completely lacking in guile, turning into hair-trigger hitscanner Hell. The architecture is passable, if sometimes flat. Pavel's H2HCZEK series tried to emulate the deathmatch feel of the original id levels, so his maps tend to hold up the best from a modern perspective. There are some Things Not Yet Seen hidden throughout the rest of the pack, but it will take an antiquarian mindset to hack your way through to them.

The Christmas glue that holds the pack together is constructed from the new pickup sprites featuring goodies like eggnog, candy canes, and a computer monitor with an animated H2H logo; the festive decorations / props; and the fact that you're playing as Santa Claus himself, as reflected in the hud with his cheery mug and a sound pack attempting to portray his chronic niceness. Some things work okay, though hearing the "......OPEN!" clip whenever you use a wall that won't gets pretty annoying. But - don't let the holiday spirit con you into thinking that this is a joke WAD.

No, the humor of Santa moaning "Ohhh, my face!" loses its impact after the tenth or so death. And you WILL die, unless you're pretty experienced with this WAD, or you eat, sleep and breath Doom. The difficulty of H2HMud seems to have bled into its surrounding material. Even as early as MAP02 you'll find yourself under a full demonic assault of revenants, arch-viles, and mancubi, with little room to run or hide. The four H2HMud levels are whoppers in and of themselves, noted by Doomworld to be something of a precursor to Hell Revealed in terms of the spirit of the project. It's not all ducking corners and shooting rockets, and the fact that the levels are themselves somewhat short lessens the impact of their brutal difficulty, but you'll generally find it a consistent challenge.

My biggest problem with this mapset is that many of the levels are transparently deathmatch arenas that pay some lip service to single-player. You won't see it at the onset but once you get into Hodek's maps (though Hodek is better than some) it becomes incredibly evident. That's perhaps what makes many of the tough but short maps so difficult; virtually all monsters awake at the first gunshot and they are all clamoring for your blood, and with no safe position for you to advance from you're stuck watching your back.

Should you play H2H-Xmas? Well, it doesn't really measure up to the glut of Doom II full replacements that would come out the following year (TNT Evilution, The Plutonia Experiment, Icarus: Alien Vanguard, Memento Mori, Memento Mori II, Perdition's Gate, Hell to Pay, etc.) but it was among the first, and at the very least it's a decent, challenging output that tests your skills. The architecture is nothing special and it's almost always lacking in detail, so if you're looking for something pretty, avert your eyes. For those looking for a tough nut to crack and don't mind the appearance, look no farther.

A final note: H2H-Xmas feels like a love letter to Doom II's revenant. I'm not joking. Most of Swift's levels are chock full of skeletonized martial-artists on UV, MAP12 being the most egregious offender. The upshot is, by the time you're done, you'll be a pro at handling them in just about any situation, especially places where you can't just dump them off to other monsters via infighting.

by assorted authors

by Eric "Geezus" Spry
Short basic level with at the very least an imaginative airplane terminal setup with a clearly marked runway outside. It's a bit bogged down by pistol-whipping imps but there's a chainsaw handy if you want to take your chances. Just be careful when jumping outside the terminal, there's a chance you'll get mobbed before you touch the ground.

by Eric "Geezus" Spry
Short, boxy level. Starts out navigating Christmas trees and demons, then taking care of some imps in cages, and then has a wave of revenants, mancubi, barons, and an arch-vile. Survival depends on you grabbing a rocket launcher and plasma rifle (plus ammo) and not getting trapped. Thankfully the ammo cubbies have some health and armor to keep you afloat. All in all, quite the departure from MAP01.

by Eric "Geezus" Spry
Short level surrounded in darkness. It's got six hangars and a control tower. You need to access all six hangars to get the necessary keys and weapons (and ammo) to get on top of the structure that has the blue key and thus access the control tower. None of the hangars are difficult to clear; the biggest threats you face are either monsters sneaking up on you or errant revenant rockets from the control tower. As a nice touch, the road is lined by candy canes, edible decorations that replace health bonuses.

MAP04The Sewers
by Eric "Geezus" Spry
I'm not sure, did Santa crash land here? It's another short level. The opening room has a nice caved-in skylight with snow on the ground in the exposed area. The opening is kind of rough with some teleporting lost souls. The sewers are very reminiscent of "The Underhalls", but they're more cramped and have many more exploding barrels. My only real issue with them is that there are a few blind jumps into the arms of monsters, putting the player at unnecessary peril. That and the exit room full of demons doesn't add much to the finale.

More SewersMAP05
by Eric "Geezus" Spry
Same texturing as the sewers in MAP04, but the halls are far more open, and the traps a bit more devious. Con: The entire level (well, almost) takes place on one height. Pro: It's maze-like without being confusing and paths and monsters are constantly opened up to the level so that you're never quite sure that you're safe or that you are entirely in command of the area. There's enough health and ammo to take out the hordes here. None of the ambushes stands out, except for maybe that hallway lined with revenants.

MAP06Water Works
by Pavel Hodek
AKA H2HCZEK4. Tricky underground level featuring tunnels and a lot of revenants. Not as many as the previous map, but there are A Few. There's plenty of armor and ammo; your main obstacle will be to avoid getting hit, especially with the few hitscanners that Hodek seeded around the map. Biggest complaint, eh, I'm not sure what look Hodek was going for but there's something that could be an outdoor room that really could have used a proper sky. Otherwise, none of the rooms are remarkable, though I like the architecture of the first room (and its tricky ambush).

Valve HouseMAP07
by Pavel Hodek
AKA H2HCZEK1. A bit of a longer level from the Czech Doomer. Like "Water Works", it's mostly indoors/underground with a couple outdoors sections. And more revenants. Seriously, this WAD is like Revenants 101. There are a few nasty ambushes, like the pack of enemies guarding the blue key or the trap activated by the yellow key door (which really snuck up on me). There's also a wave of monsters in the techbase room near the end of the level that involved some fancy footwork, with the map design plus monster layout serving as my standout moment of the map.

by Pavel Hodek
AKA H2HCZAR2. Tough little arena-style level. You're pretty much under-fire by hitscanners and mancubi at the level's beginning and even when you've cleared out a little haven you've got to contend with the center room, which has a sexy pseudo-3D bridge with an arch-vile stomping around on it. The finale forces you to fight your way back across the bridge after you've cleared it, but with the supplies they throw at you, it should be a cakewalk. The hard part is just surviving the initial wave.

The High RiseMAP09
by Pavel Hodek
A rough techbase level. There's some snow on the ground and about but most of the action takes place in the building proper. There are revenant ambushes (as always), a really nasty arch-vile ambush whose main problem involves the peculiar way Hodek designed the doors to open in that hallway, and an intense firefight in the center chamber. He's also getting some usage out of a previously unseen glass texture that nonetheless blocks monster sight but which makes a cool door near the level's end.

MAP10City Hall
by Pavel Hodek
AKA H2HCZEK2. More techbase, but much harder, with a particularly nasty opener, pitting you against five shotgunners with virtually no cover. Hodek is far more restrictive on the health found in this level which means many of the curve balls he throws end up behind much harder. More cramped revenant ambushes, but the two fights that stand out in particular are the baron ambush in the penultimate room, which has a seemingly endless supply of demons sneaking up on you, and the mancubus slugfest in the nukage, topped off with an arch-vile.

Main MallMAP11
by Pavel Hodek
AKA H2HCZEK1. Very short level. It kind of resembles a mall, with the opening featuring some things that look vaguely like counter-tops, but the main feature is the courtyard in the mall's center. It's not nearly as hard as Hodek's other maps, perhaps because it's so short, but I also get the distinct feeling that this (and his "Outskirts") were primarily made for deathmatch in mind. That's okay, though. He manages to make the level thrilling by using invisible monster teleport lines to throw you off balance and the hallways in which the encounters take place have few hard turns you can use to round off projectiles, especially the ubiquitous revenant rockets.

MAP12The Court Yard
by Dave Swift
This is one of the holdovers from the original H2H competition. As such, it's essentially a slaughtermap that's been touched up with the Christmas graphics. First point, I take back everything I said about the previous levels having revenant ambushes. "The Court Yard" is probably 80% revenants, all told, and that's with around 290 monsters running around before you take into account pain elementals and arch-viles. You will use your rocket launcher, A LOT. You may also die. A LOT. I know I did. The upshot is, there's tons of health lying around, so if you do take a couple hits it's not the end of the world. The map itself is about four large arenas, the first one pretty low key, and a lot of large monster compartments. There are a few windy maze-like areas choked with revenants but when you've got your back cleared they're a lot easier to handle.

Town SquareMAP13
by Dave Swift
I don't get it. It's basically a deathmatch arena whose inner circle is full of shotgunners and imps. A perusal of the archives indicates that this is also H2HMUD04.wad, but it doesn't seem nearly up to snuff compared to the previous pain train. Regardless, it's okay. There's so much health and ammo around that you should be embarrassed if you die. It's not very townish but it's a nice break from getting crushed, I suppose. No real standout moments or encounters; virtually everything wakes up the moment the map begins. Actually, there's an SS trooper at the end, but that's not so much a highlight as it is a "???".

MAP14Mini Malls
by Dave Swift
Another re-skinned H2HMud level that doesn't really resemble its new name. I like the layout of this one more than MAP12, and it's thankfully a bit less demanding. Unfortunately, there are some gross errors, with missing textures in several areas and a pit with spectres that's inaccessible and refuses to trigger. There's more monster ambushes but most of the craziness is toned down. Still a load of revenants, though. There are two plasma rifles to fight to but not a whole lot of cell ammo. Just stick to rockets and make good use of your SSG; there's a lot less packed stuff. Favorite encounter, no, not really. The level is too crammed for anything else to really register. I suppose I like the central courtyard.

Urban JungleMAP15
by Dave Swift
The architecture isn't great, here, but I really like this level and its gameplay. It's even faster than the others and has more monster variety (but still, hello revenants!). Lots of mancubi and even some of the lesser monsters, clogging up the battlefield so you can't just spam rockets willy-nilly. The first room is probably my favorite given all the crannies and monster crossfire, and I like how it's constructed around the central hallway/hub thing that's restocked with ammo. The secret exit, funnily enough, is the normal exit, and the normal exit you have to fight through more monsters to find is the secret exit.

MAP31The Lot
by Zack "Zeek" Lawson
Did anyone even attempt to playtest this? On first glance it looks like an honest to God Christmas level with a tree lot and a chainsaw and seems decent enough with demons running around. I didn't even mind the wave of revenants and the mancubus. But when you cross a tripwire, you're suddenly confronted with maybe three arch-viles with about zero cover or ammo. I can only assume this attempted to create some narrative as the secret exit opens up behind the lot building, an alley with an invulnerability and BFG 9000 with tons of cells, but if you run up to it you auto exit, and are dumped into the next level, "Prison". I commend Lawson for the verisimilitude, at least, but I want to kill those viles, dammit.

by "Vertigo"
Really abstract level. Starts with you on top of a giant ziggurat overlooking some cannon fodder and a Cyberdemon / Spiderdemon pairing. Moves on to a looooong wooden hallway which empties into the "prison". It has two wings, both of which house multitudes of monsters behind cages. Both also feature a ridiculous amount of unofficial secrets, housing ammo rooms, invulnerabilities, and other strange things, including a barrel explosion room that's actually pretty neat as far as dominoes go.

MAP16Santa Co
by Pavel Hodek
AKA H2HCZAR3. Very short warehouse-type level with some serious Deathmatch trappings. It's one single building rimmed by a brick wall around the outside. There's a group of monsters in the exterior you have to deal with, then one inside the building that's a bit trickier, and then finally a second wave of monsters on the inside when you grab the red key. The interior is kind of cute, with a forklift and tank-truck.

Chopping MallMAP17
by Dave Swift
AKA H2HMUDDX / H2HMUDD1. Do you like revenants? Do you like shotgun guys? Do you like to fight both in a symmetrical arena-style map? Do you really like revenants? Then this is the map for you. Honestly, the shotgunners are the most irritating thing about this level. At the very least, the four corners of the map have their own distinct layers and textures, but this is an exercise in frustration, especially the shotgun-laden beginning. Then it's all about triggering pockets of revenants to wander around the fairly open map so you can clear them out. Some of the waves are fairly massive and not conducive to the map's layout, though Swift built in some switchbacks so that you can take the hordes on at a different angle. No standout encounter, just tons of kickboxing skeletons.

MAP18Stair Master
by Zack "Zeek" Lawson
I suppose this is the aforementioned hockey rink in the .TXT? It's another boring arena level, this one featuring a Cyberdemon / Spiderdemon confrontation with chaingunner spectators and an arch-vile in the announcing booth. There are some toughs ringing the surrounding hallway but they're easy to deal with. The hardest fight honestly is the hell knight bout at the beginning and you can just skip that til you get one of the SSGs.

by Pavel Hodek
AKA H2HCZAR1. Another deathtrap from Hodek. There's an outer ring of demons you don't have enough ammo for, an inner ring of imps and a revenant that you don't have enough ammo for, and a ground floor of shotgunners, a mancubus and a chaingunner that you kind of have enough ammo for, if you don't die in the crossfire. Hodek forces you to put yourself in the line of fire and while it can pay off usually you end up on the floor. There's a center construction that houses an SSG, a practically worthless plasma rifle (no ammo), and two keys, but I wouldn't suggest messing with it until you clear out the ground floor. The rocket launchers are fair game, though.

MAP20Hotel Hell
by Zack "Zeek" Lawson
Wood and concrete-based hotel-ish level. It's got a center pool, elevators, and four (albeit nearly identical) rooms featuring couches, beds and bathtubs. You've even got light switches and a master switchboard, presumably to fuck with your friends during deathmatch (a neat feature!). Actual gameplay is lackluster. There's about six imps per spacious room, a Cyberdemon tethered in the pool itself, stairways full of shotgun guys, and the hallways off the elevators have numerous chaingunners. It's pretty boring and the red key trap doesn't make a lot of sense, if you can call it a trap.

Loading DocksMAP21
by Scott "Faust" Parish
Very large warehouse level. It's got a few crate areas and what might be called a crate maze in the center. There's a lot of empty space, though. The highlight is a telegraphed red key trap that reveals a Spiderdemon ripe for infighting, not that the Invulnerability packed in with him won't sort things out. Really, Parish could have stood to pack more crates into this thing to tighten the hallways up, or maybe throw in a few waves of roaming monster packs. There's more than enough ammo for it.

by David "Lizard" Reid
Marble palace with the beginning building in the center courtyard. For having so much space it's lacking in monsters; some more demons or maybe arachnotrons in the outer area could have spiced things up. The architecture/room shaping is decent but most of the action takes place on the same plane of height, making things predictable and bland. The best sequence, eh, no real standout fights. There's a particularly goofy megasphere "trap" that has a nice buildup. You know one of the switches is bad and the other one good, but the bad switch is pretty anticlimactic. I was expecting, maybe, a Cyberdemon.

Elf-Town RevisitedMAP23
by Chris "Bullyboy" Byrns
Squat collection of square buildings in a square outdoor area. It's a key hunt with few surprises (well, the open arch-vile building is a surprise) and pretty easy battles. Most of the outer monsters are stragglers or packs of former humans. When you flip a switch, the rest of the buildings open up, and you get a showdown with a Cyberdemon with some company. Pretty boring but I like the idea behind the final fight.

MAP24Working Hard
by Dave Swift
Symmetrical medium-sized map featuring revenants and imps, with a splash of chaingunners. Due to the open nature you'll be under pressure for a good while, dodging rockets and fireballs. Accessing the blue key is a bit obscure; you have to take one of the four teleporters next to the weapon switches after which one of the locked doors opens, containing a teleport to the blue key alcove. The map's a little too open for me given the monster selection and almost all constructive infighting is absent as a direct result. Still, it's a relatively quick play.

Santa's ShopMAP25
by Eric "Cthulu" Searle
Short level that kind of resembles a shop, I suppose. There's a section for craft tables with an adjacent library. The fights are okay; there's a neat bit with the arch-viles near the end but the battle in the main chamber is the best of the bunch. The detailing is kind of plain but that's no surprise next to the rest of the levels.

MAP26Elf's House
by Mike "Arcademan" Wayne
Another fine product of the H2H sociopaths, "Elf's House" is an arena-style level that begins with you in the hole and a ton of enemies you don't want standing above you outside of it. You have to collect three keys to exit and avoid dying in the crossfire, collecting weapons and ammo on the way. The trickiest part really is getting out of the beginning pit as soon as possible and then grabbing the invulnerability plus BFG so you can deal with the rather rude arch-vile. After that it's pretty much gravy.

Living SinMAP27
by Rhett "DoomMan" Farinholt
Very boring nested-doll style level. There are three (square) rings of combat before you reach the exit room. The only reason any of them hold interest is because of a tight ammo situation. I ended the level with six bullets, six shells, and had an arch-vile in the final room, and that's with a fair bit of infighting. That aside, there are a few stabs at nice features like what's quite obviously a security desk, just the rings are too bare and unvaried for them to look anything but lonely on their own.

MAP28Main Office
by Dave Swift
AKA PROTOMUD. Another deathmatch level doubling as a single player level. I'll say this much; the geometry and layout of this map is quite interesting, symmetrical with groups of fours. You've got to explore the whole thing in order to leave but once you've cleared one fourth of it you've basically seen all the map has to offer. At the very least, the way Swift has stuffed the map with monsters will keep you on your toes until the final monster noise is silenced.

Main BranchMAP29
by Dave Swift
AKA DG-CORE. Swift's last go, another slaughtermap. I think I like the architecture of this one the best; there are two distinct halves of the level, an outdoors / mountain style with a couple alcoves and a large indoor room with multiple banners bearing the H2H logo. You've got to kind of give the outdoor area a pass at the first run because you won't have adequate weaponry to deal with the aggressive H2H banners but the rest of the level isn't hard to deal with as long as you're nimble. I have no idea what is up with the tiny sewer section, though.

MAP30The North Pole
by Joe "Sillysoft" Wilcox
Kind of bizarre house-like level. The sole major challenge is the bunch of hitscanners in the mess hall; the wave of demons that appear after grabbing the red key telefrag themselves and none of the boss spawner's minions ever appear in the map itself. The most interesting room of the map would be the center room which contains the boss spawner and an odd use of scrolling textures. I'm imagining that he wanted to fill the opening room up with blood, or at least create the illusion that that was the case (especially with the mess of gibs at the southern door), but it doesn't really carry.


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


  1. If anybody is interested in a fixed version of MAP14, I made one. You can download it here (99 KB).
    It basically gets rid of all the insane HOMs in the level, fixes a few texture alignments and also removes secrets that didn't make a whole lot of sense (since you can reach those areas easily without searching for them).

  2. Small error that I noticed quite a while back: Xmas Doom links to this page instead of its own page.