Thursday, October 11, 2012

Alpha 1 Trilogy (ALPHA1.ZIP)

The first time I played the Alpha 1 Trilogy was as part of a compilation megaWAD by Legacy engine advocate Jive. It greatly impressed me back then and that level of awe still carries through to this day. Rob Schweiner authored the three parts of ALPHA1 at different times, but uploaded a .ZIP package of the three separate WADs (ALPHA1, OOZI, and SOURCE as MAP01, MAP02 and MAP03) as early as '97. The current version has a few edits dating to '98, but it's all vanilla compatible, with Schweiner lamenting the infamous visplane limit in the author notes. The story is familiar, but welcome. There's an alien (re: demon) outbreak at the Alpha 1 base, and you're sent in to clear it out and eliminate the source.

If I had to compare the Alpha 1 Trilogy to anything, it would be striking a balance between the labyrinthine, abstract techbases of Rick Lipsey and the more polished but no less exploratory levels from Russian authors like Lainos. The Alpha 1 Trilogy levels are Eternal Doom big, and pushing between 300 and 400 monsters. They're mostly little guys but they're used in a way that makes them feel dangerous when you're not fighting the bruisers. The maps are pretty non-linear as I understand it, with progression gates tied to keys. The route you want to take in order to explore each level is up to you. If you hate switch hunts, then you'll find some solace in Schweiner's gameplay, where the effects of buttons are usually straightforward.

Schweiner's architecture shines in this mapset, alongside the varied yet coherent texture themes. Every major room has some recognizable landmark that clearly differentiates it from the others. Even the most hallway-centric level, OOZI, is hard to get lost in. SOURCE, the final level, is by far the most distinctive, but the others have some neat stuff, from the opening Alpha 1 base courtyard to the enormous drain pipe of the sewers in OOZI. It's just a lot of fun to run around in, even when you're not ducking imp fireballs and shotgun blasts.

If you like large, somewhat exploratory levels, you should really download and play the Alpha 1 Trilogy. They are certainly among my favorite maps dating from '97-'98 and from what I've seen one of the most obscure level packages among Doom players. I really wish Schweiner had published more material; he certainly ranks up there with Bob Evans and Jim Flynn for me, at least.

by Rob Schweiner

Alpha 1MAP01
The first map in this series is an enormous techbase, clearly divided into two sections. To the west, an outdoor area and adjacent compounds, where you obtain the blue and red keys. You have to have both to get into the inner base, which then opens into another exploratory assault. Your first few forays will be intensely dangerous with the snipers lurking in windows and all the imps that are hard to keep track of. Action steps up once you cross the threshold, with the standout encounter being the final room, which is flush with monsters to begin with. I love a lot of the visuals, like the baron / invul ambush room or the large outer courtyard. The only bit that may catch some people is how to get to the blue doors in the yellow key room. (Check those corners!)

As the name suggests, there is a ton of nukage to wade through in this map, but plenty of rad suits to do it with. Your entire adventure through the southern area, which includes ruins long forgotten and tracing the path of the nuclear waste, leads to the reactors themselves, which you can see long before you ever stand next to them from a balcony to the north. All of the segments, like the underground courtyard or the tech facilities, look very nice. Some neat fights in here. Of course, the finale is to be expected, with the first few arch-viles to keep the player on their toes. The one that sticks out in my mind is the southern area. Schweiner tucks some sergeants away in easily-missed places and the moment when he unleashes another horde of imps into the already paranoia-inducing ruins section brings some legitimacy to an often-disregarded threat.

Alpha's finale starts out in the seedy underground of the base and moves into the hell which lay beneath in several stages. There are a lot of really cool visuals here, from the long, western hallway riddled with piping to the massive underground chasm and parts beyond. I mean, if you're gonna go strolling around any of the levels purely for visuals, it would be this one. Schweiner also steps it up in the combat department. Expect more devious fights and traps, like the chasm, where you're assaulted from both sides from various heights. The standout is probably the end, which follows a tricky-when-fast Cyberdemon fight. On an island in the ether, you flip switches to release monsters into the arcane clearing. You can hit them as fast as you feel like for an impromptu slaughter or take things at your own pace. From start to finish, a level I will certainly never forget.



  1. Hello OneMan,

    Rob Schweiner here (small world!). Don't know if you'll ever see this, but I wanted to thank you for the nice thorough review and positive comments! Glad to hear you liked the trilogy - even after all this time (2012! Wow!). Top notch or not, Alpha 1 probably never got a lot of exposure cause it was released fairly late in the game. People were moving on to Quake and other games by then.

    I'm in my early 60s now but Bruce Kuehl (my main beta tester) and I still gather weekly for some video gaming. The neat thing is that my 27-year-old nephew (Ben) joined us a few years ago and recently asked if I ever heard of a game called Doom (he's playing the latest version with a friend and commented how cool it was). I said, "Oh man, I built & 'published' 3 levels for one of the early versions some 20 years ago" (which he also thought was cool). Said if I got them running he'd play them ("Gotta love the classics", he says).

    That got the nostalgia juices flowing, and got me wondering if they were still out there. Low & behold I found one site where you could still download them, but my search also led me to your review. It was nice to hear you appreciated some of the design elements. Not everyone does. One of my goals was to see how elaborate/"realistic"/creative I could make various game environments/rooms using nothing but the original Doom textures & game engine. Numerous other homemade wads I'd tried were seldom more than a few square rooms where the textures weren't even properly aligned. Bruce & I also like "spin, duck, and fire" gameplay (as you can tell) where you're constantly on your toes dodging & shooting.

    Well, next thing I knew I had all 3 levels running on the Odamex port. But I didn't peek beyond the first room - I purposely waited for Ben to sit down to play. And when he did - wow! What a blast from the past! The graphics, the sounds... Can't tell you how many times I said, "Oh yeah, I remember that!". And of course I kept seeing things I'd tweak - like your point about getting to the blue doors in the yellow key room in Alpha. :-)
    Alas... a wadder's work is never done.

    To your final comment, the main reason I didn't create more material was that I kinda got burned out on the (then) cumbersome process of making maps. Back in the day the available tools were pretty much stone tablets & chisels. Not a complaint at all - I was VERY happy to have anything! But it was also very time consuming. For grins I fired up Doom Builder 2 the other day - just to see what/if there's been any progress in that area. OMG!! What a difference! If we'd had THAT 20 years ago I probably would have done more!

    Anyway, enough babbling. Again, thanks for the review!

    1. Rob,

      Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment! The Blogger platform has a page where you can specifically look at comments and also has a function to send your email account a notice whenever someone posts a comment so it's pretty difficult for me to actually miss something.

      Even some seven-plus years after I originally played it (I played ALPHA1 in a compilation more than a year before I replayed it for this review), it remains one of my all-time favorite PWADs. What serves as the main Doom community hub, Doomworld, ran a feature in 2003 where they picked ten WADs to showcase for each year and I could easily shove a few of them out to make room for ALPHA1. I actually had a recent opportunity to mitigate this oversight but I was too wrapped up in my personal dealings to take advantage of it.

      It's great to see you checking in on things and the fact that you were drawn back by your nephew combined with Doom 2016. Tools have certainly improved and the community continues to create astounding things for this nearly 25-year old game. Perhaps you'll poke around and take a look at some of the new technology ;D

      KMX E XII

  2. Thanks! If you ever hear of Alpha 1 making a list like that, or know of any other feedback (good or bad), I'd be curious to hear. Never really got much feedback on it (being obscure, as you say).
    Have a few other projects going right now but would LOVE to check out what's new in the original Doom world - tho "new" for me would likely be old hat for you guys. Obviously I'm about 20 years out of date in that arena... ;-)


    1. Doom classicist vdgg has played ALPHA1 and has even recorded a demo for OOZI, which was his favorite of the three.

      There are some comments on the /idgames archive

      The one that sticks out in my mind is "fuckin awesome maps" since it's pretty high praise from TimeOfDeath.

  3. Thanks for links! Watched vdgg's demo. Quite impressive! Either he has a photographic memory or he's played it "more than once" as he seemed to know every turn and trap. Course, I guess you'd have to when going for a time record like that. ;-)

    Interesting how different people had different favorite maps.