Friday, May 4, 2012


Spawn is a five-level minisode (four maps and a boss closer) for Doom II to be ran in GZDoom, released at the tail end of 2011 by Dave Billing. Unfortunately, it received very little hype on its debut. I say that because it's a fantastic little mapset. SPAWN takes place at a UAC xenobiological research facility on the planet Epsilon Eridani III (more than ten light-years away from earth). As is usually the case, something has gone horribly wrong at the base and it's up to you to sort things out so that it never so much as touches home. You have to penetrate deep into the heart of the base and eliminate the power core in order to halt this particular invasion.

Spawn's locale is a gorgeous if fairly understated techbase, some of which is adjacent to water (which gives a few nice visuals, like one particular long-ass elevator shaft). The lighting is top-notch, so that I never really felt that the map was too dark playing at the lowest gamma level. There are a number of recurring design motifs that help tie the maps together in the same general style. You'll find a lot of piping conduits bolted behind impenetrable glass, for one. If there's any real complaint, it's that the map design is as a whole very orthogonal. It's a very practical design, and certainly fits Billing's quasi-realistic techbase, but it makes the experience feel just slightly repetitive at times. On the plus side, every time you look outside you get to see that gorgeous sky (though don't look too far down or you'll ruin the magic).

Spawn's gameplay is something like Doom II techbase fights with Quake II / Doom 3 objectives guiding your progress. On the one hand, all the running around early on is kind of annoying. The first three maps form a hub which you gradually explore, usually finding an objective only to be told that you have to go somewhere else in order to grab a key, open a door, etc.. You start to feel like a gopher before too long. Fortunately, Billing has popups that tell you exactly what you have to do, and markings on the automap that show exactly where to go. So, while you may roll your eyes at having to leave a map you've just begun exploring, he does a good job of softening the blow.

The fact that the objective element is so transparent is odd considering the attention Billing has paid toward realism in other portions of the map. You will often find yourself running low on ammo and health, desperately looking for a pick me up. Well, most of the goodies are stocked in recharge stations cleverly disguised as supply closets. Opening up one of those is like a little Christmas. You'll also do well to find all the secrets, many of which contain portable powerups, I'm guessing derived from Skulltag standards. The Drain sphere converts your damage to health, and is invaluable. The Time Stop artifact, uh, stops time momentarily. Projectile attacks don't move until time starts up again, but you can build an impressive wall of plasma balls, for instance, which then promptly mows down everything you sent it toward. The Doomsphere is your standard quad damage, turning the enemies from grumps to chumps.

Billing introduces two new enemies from R667 to test your goodies out on, as well as a new weapon, a railgun. The former two drop cell ammo, which the latter uses. It's not something I could really exploit, considering it has limited applications in the tight corridors and rooms you'll be fighting in. The charge-up time doesn't lend itself to quick, close-quarters combat. The two new enemies are varieties of zombiemen, both with roughly the same HP, I think. They're both threatening, wielding railguns and plasma rifles. It's hard to tell the plasmas from the regulars, but the railgun zombies are obvious (and can shoot through their allies, so no meat-shielding).

And there's more! Billing has included an "achievements" system to give his little mission pack even more depth. Goals range from rudimentary completion % stuff, to difficulty challenges, and some less serious bits, including an "Easter egg" that requires some counter-intuitive behavior. I assume the hidden BFG is located behind the hangar door in "Waste Processing", which requires a specific number of secrets found to open. The game also has a nasty sense of humor, from modded quit messages to new obituaries and one instance of increasingly scathing HUD messages that I almost passed over. I kind of wish the wall panels had a greater presence, since I only found one actual User Log when playing. There could be a lot of fun for inquisitive players like me that wouldn't bother adrenaline junkies...

SPAWN is really cool. It's one of the most polished mapsets I've played to date, and I'm not just saying that because there are a ton of little sliding man doors. The secrets are a lot of fun to hunt down, with some wicked powerups to play with. Bits like console-activated forcefields and that map hologram in the xenobiology labs are excellent touches. It's also got a nice metal soundtrack for those that like to bang their heads while blasting beasties. Basically, play Spawn, unless its transparent objective-based gameplay annoys the Hell out of you, which by my admittedly generous estimations should end before too long. Thanks, Dave! Hope you put more fluff in the next one!

by Dave Billing

Receiving CenterMAP01
The central hub from where you access the other levels. It does a good job of introducing the new concepts, like objectives, terminals, and breakable glass, while having some distinguishing eye candy in the viewable outdoor areas, particularly the bridge to "Waste Processing". You can see the access point, but won't cross it until you're 75% done with the set. Combat is mostly vs. low tier trash with a few surprises, mostly on return trips. For instances, when you finally do open the large door to MAP03, you'll have to deal with some terrible twins. The best moment for me was accessing the SSG and backpack, which also signals an increase in difficulty throughout the WAD.

MAP02Central Processing
The first half is a natural extension of the themes explored in "Receiving Center", with tech corridors and light resistance. The big shift occurs with the level's second half, accessed via the blue key. There's an amorphous computer stack leading to a cool hologram layout before you take a long elevator with a great view down to the water level and into the computer core. The opposition is much heavier, with some frantic fighting in the darker areas and miniboss-type encounter at the core. You have to blow three fuses, each guarded by a mancubus, which probably won't be that tricky. This is also where you acquire the railgun weapon, I believe.

Waste ProcessingMAP03
Actually the last normal map you'll play on. It's a pretty varied set that takes you through the normal base to an outside area on a walkway, and through an underwater tunnel into the actual area where the sludge is shipped out. There's an annoying bit here where you have to go back through the level, hitting semi-hidden (but very easy to find) switches so that you can progress through the warehouse to the final segment. As could be expected, the hardest fights are here, with all kinds of stuff like dual arch-viles, some long-distance railgunners, and a potentially dangerous situation when you pop out of the water after sneaking in. The cavern that leads to the large bridge is one of my favorite bits of architecture, here.

MAP04Xenobiology Labs
This is a shorter map set in an underwater portion of the base whose defining feature is the Lab itself. While not bearing the wide variety of crazy equipment found in The Phobos Directive, it has some functional holding cells and numerous instances of force fields, all of which you can manipulate, either via console or by breaking things (the traditional method of FPS problem-solving). The level isn't that tough excepting a few choice ambushes, like one huge surprise you'll encounter on your way out, or the moment you open up the L-corridor cells, which can leave you feeling exposed. Your main goal is to grab the blue key, but you'd do well to grab the plasma rifle, also found in here.

Reactor CoreMAP05
A simple boss map that stocks you up before you take on the big bad. Spoilers: It's a Cyberdemon, but you can't just circle-strafe him, and he has little helpers (various kinds of troopers) that spawn in from time to time. After you gun him down, powerups or no, expose the core and enjoy your ending.



  1. Interesting, this reminded me of another gzdoom mini techbase-themed episode that was also released in 2011 (!) called s-project:

    Spawn seems pretty backtracky though, and there was one point where a door broke and trapped me in a room in the first map so I had no choice but to noclip through.

    1. spawn's biggest issues are part and parcel of most of the doom hubs that i have played. that broke ass door does it no favors tho