Friday, July 5, 2013


Kurt Kesler made a tonne of levels, starting back in '97 with K_BASE1 and ending his major career around '01 with a last gasp in '05. KMEGA1, released in 2004, is a construction of convenience, a collection of all of Kurt's vanilla compatible releases into one megaWAD. Specifically, it includes his KMETL, KBASE, and KBRICK works, totaling 18 levels, all of which were released in '97 and '98. KBASE_4 is not included, I believe because it was a limit-removing PWAD and a de-Boomification of his KBOOM_7. Apparently some of these first works were originally made for OG Doom, as Kurt indicated in his KMETL_1 .TXT that his other files consisted of "K_Base1,Thebase1, I have lots,but am converting them from old version(Doom1)." They were never made available in that form, though, as far as I can tell.

Kurt Kesler's style is quite apparent in this retrospective of his vanilla levels. He is a fan of large scale; except for the texture usage, you might be able to line these up next to some of his contemporary, Michael Krause of Run Buddy fame. Granted, Krause tended to super-size everything. Kesler is more apt to include tighter, more claustrophobic segments. Kesler was also fond of the textures of Quake, a game he had at least one map made for. Its wallpaper and floor tiles grace many of these levels, not to ill use. It's just that Kesler is more suited to making abstract playgrounds for Dooming, much like Krause.

You can expect several tropes as you run through Kurt's works. He isn't a fan of direct ambush via teleports. He is far more likely to send enemies back to areas you've already cleared or drop them somewhere to find their way to the player and far enough that you miss the distinct sound of monsters letting themselves in. It brings a good kind of paranoia a la Doom to Doom II. He appears to love the SSG as much as I do as many of these levels focus heavily on SSG action, with the occasional appearance of rocket launchers. It can make some of the longer levels drag a bit with the higher monster counts, but it's a pretty comfortable place for me, and you are rarely scraping by on ammo. In fact, he almost always starts you off with some munitions. Health is another story; watch your step. Lastly, some of these maps tend to exhibit a bit of switch flipping and unusual exploration, but I love the intricacies of Kurt's design, reminding me of some early Doom stuff like Jim Flynn's levels.

KMEGA1 might not be for you. There is a definite playstyle exhibited in these levels that I imagine will wear thin on some, and its more abstract nature will sit poorly with players more suited to concrete environments. I think it's pretty fun, though, and the fact that it's all collected in one package makes it super convenient to play. Presumably, KMEGA2 was to follow, maybe a collection of Kurt's fourteen Boom-compatible maps. Whatever the case, you should give KMEGA a try. Just don't let the first map fool you; the rest of the series isn't quite like KMETL_1.

KMETL_1-13; KBASE_1-3; KBRICK1, 2
by Kurt Kesler

One of Kesler's first. It's a large, featureless outdoor courtyard surrounded by three Quake-textured bases. Apart from a few cheap-shot zombies you're mostly killing imps and, when Kesler feels like making things rougher, Hell knights. It's very easy with ample health (megaspheres). Well, as long as you don't pass up the no-brainer weapons cache which is loaded with everything you'll need. Lots of SSG action in very cramped interiors. There's a Spiderdemon, but it's not a threat, just kind of a pain to kill.

Ditching the Quake stuff for some dark grey metal (and some lighter sections). The monster count is a lot higher, which basically means more imps, but the level is more tied together, if a bit plain-looking in spots and harder to navigate at first. Kesler shows how good he is at throwing in sneak attacks, whether it's nested hitscanners or dripping imps and other monsters into areas further away from where the player is for nasty surprises, like when you're too busy peppering that Cyberdemon with rockets.

The beige brick is a red herring; this is another KMETL level. It's some kind of interesting looping gauntlet where you push as far west as possible before coming back and fighting through the interior to get the key to escape, all the while dealing with paired reams of hitscanners, imps, and an especially thick baron / hell knight group. You have the plasma rifle and rocket launcher, and tons of ammo, so you'll never be too swamped, just wanting for health. The finale is less interesting; most of the real action is surviving Kurt's devious monster placement in the western area.

Kind of a low-grade slaughtermap as you progress through a few metal arenas - some with a lot of criss-cross pathways - while wiping out 300+ enemies. It's mostly trash, including a lot of imps, and a few easily-destroyed packs of hell knights and barons, but some of the bigger beasties make an appearance. All of the real threat comes from the scads of hitscanners everywhere, which if you're not careful are liable to chew you up. I like the opening shootout and the construction of the bright metal middle-section (with all the loop backs and nukage) is pretty cool.

Another base level, this one a bit darker, that juxtaposes cramped indoor areas with the wide open outdoors. The open sections are crawling with zombie snipers, more of an annoyance than anything until the final leg, where your health can be quickly stripped away. As for the rest, lots of imps and zombies to slaughter with rockets and SSG fire. Most of the fights aren't that nuanced but Kesler shows again and again how easy it is to distract the player and surprise them from behind. The most memorable combat scenarios are up close and personal, like those two revenants and a hell knight in a very tight space.

More fun with wide-open spaces but with less emphasis on claustrophobia; rather, Kesler attempts to leave the player feeling exposed with the packs of monsters he dumps into previously tread territory. It's a bit easier than some of the previous material, fielding just a bit more than 200 enemies, but the way Kurt forces you through areas where you're vulnerable will highlight your ability to continuously dodge attacks from all directions rather than manage your cover. There's some curious sector voodoo going on with the red key area, but I don't have the wherewithal to figure out why it's misbehaving.

Another dark metal base with a tidy little outdoor yard leading to some lighter metal annexes. The only problem which may annoy some is that it's SSG action only, unless you like hosing the imps and stronger with chaingun fire. It's got a more connected / exotic layout with some faux-3D action using platforming and as usual Kesler likes to send trickles of monsters down your way from afar when establishing key objectives. The most memorable thing for me is a "hidden" blue key, unlocking a door behind which Kesler has hidden a mancubus, an unusual dig at completionists, though dancing with revenants in the outer yard was a nice battle.

A pretty cool abstract base from Kesler. Well, it's got kind of a concrete feel with that odd power core-ish thing and the waste trenches, but it's basically another playground for monster murder, and each area has cool setpieces. I like the outer yard with the barons and the imp inundation and the height variation in the northwest room is pretty cool, even if most of the monsters are boring / dangerous zombies. Like KMETL_7, the only major weapons are the shotguns and the chainguns with an 11th-hour rocket launcher appearance, so you might want to give it a pass if you hate fighting with shells.

This heavily Quake-flavored base has two very distinct sections, an indoor leg filled with zombies with a rectangular inner sanctum filled with all sorts of meanies (and an early rocket launcher) and a much larger outdoor area that's a bunch of rocky ledges surrounding another inner sanctum. The level is crawling with monsters and there are a ton of ambushes of all kinds you'll have to deal with. Kurt's favorite feature seems to be showing you the monsters that are teleporting behind you rather than be sneaky about it. The finale is all faux-3D ledge hopping as you remove the outer ring of foes, enduring a few nasty fights in the process, including a potentially nasty arch-vile exit. Fun stuff.

Shying away from the metal stuff with some beige brick, though metal bracing / supports dominates the level. It's got a scant few 200 monsters, but they're mostly imps and heavyweights, with the central area being rich with imps and the outdoors to the west having a lot of cacodemons to punch through. An important detail - don't forget to scour the hub for the megasphere / rocket launcher, presumably after grabbing the red key, or you'll find yourself in a pickle. There's an army to slaughter for the yellow key, a cool reveal and probably my favorite encounter. The finale has some BFG action but it's nothing stressful.

Very interesting and dangerous metal level that's back to using Quake textures. The only bad part is how slight the health is; once you hit the bit in the huge symmetric rooms with the packs teleporting onto the platforms, it's practically nonexistent. Some very memorable architecture, like the elevator ziggurats in the outdoor rocket launcher area. Two standout fights for me; my favorite is that "oh shit!" moment with the three arch-viles at the teleporter to the exit, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that hectic fight to the south with all the shit that arrives after grabbing the red key. Cool stuff.

Taking a detour from the metal stuff to something in a distinctly wood theme. The scale combined with the wood on water motif reminds me of TNT's "Caribbean" but only just barely; there's plenty of sub-level action and height variation for Kesler to shine in his wide-open spaces. It's a little unforgiving health-wise what with all the shotgun guy snipers at the onset and some of the nastier teleport traps. There's also a pillared room that's rife with hitscanners around every corner, which may slow the level to a crawl with more careful players, but there are a lot of opportunities to cut loose with the rocket launcher and with some health for wiggle room most of the nasty fights can be deftly handled when first encountered.

The final entry in the KMETL series is an indoor light-green techbase with some interesting connectivity in the southwest section and an always neat faux-3D crossover in the northern section. It's more forgiving than previous outings with some substantial health and an early armor available. The nastiest fighting happens in the northern area as it has those distant hitscanner enemies Kesler is so fond of, including a group of commandos in the final push which will chip away at the last few bits of health remaining from your handling of the mass of mancubuses between you and your egress.

If Kesler is to be believed, this is actually his first level. It's not much different from KMETL_13 in terms of texturing. As far as gameplay goes, it's a bit different, starting out in a cramped area full of all zombie varieties. The undead never let up, albeit mitigated by the occasional soul sphere. Kesler leaks in some tougher monsters here and there, though never anything substantially tricky besides that opening fight. The megasphere trap, for instance, unleashes a crowd of imps in more than ample maneuvering area, so you're hardly under any threat. It's decent, though, and I like that red key bit.

Another unusual assortment comprising a Kesler base. It starts out in full-blown silver before exploring some more typical base trappings, finally dumping the player in a part-silver and part-unusual section for the final leg where you grab the blue key. It's a little more Kesler-ish with the monster packs that teleport in, like the reams of imps that arrive back in the beginning area, where both the blue and red keys can be located. Some of the commandos feel cheap but it's a nice little level with lots of action with all of the normal weapons, including opportunity for gratuitous plasma rifle usage.

The final KBASE level is pretty massive, clocking in at just over 350 monsters. There are tons of baddies to conquer and tons of environments to do it in. Unlike the other KBASE levels, this one has a pretty good feel of connectivity with that metal-walled area in the central southern area that you return to time and time again and which you have the opportunity to fire bunches of rockets from, in addition to the SSG with which you'll be doing most of your work. The opening is pretty rough with all the zombies you have to edge past but as you press on it's plowing through imps and mancubuses. Highlights include the arachnotron-o-matic and the catwalk area to the northwest which has some tricky maneuvering.

KBRICK is a bit of a departure from the typical Kesler level. It's a fairly constrained and more importantly dark outing, with nearly all of the action based around a grand staircase that weaves in and out of the confines of a crater. Altogether I think it's some kind of castle - after all, the level's actual title is One Mean Castle. You've got to fight your way up, and then down, and then back again, with the crawl downward being one of the nastier battles you'll encounter. The offshoots to the south and east are basic but enjoyable detours. While the descent is one of my favorite moments, I also like that cloud of cacodemons that arrives early, though you'll want to duck away and grab the SSG off the beaten path. Neat stuff.

The second and final KBRICK level is better-lit than its predecessor but just as medieval, with a lot of castle walls and plenty of ground to cover. It's got an interesting looping progression. And, actually, it's got a similar progression to the first KBRICK in how he refills stuff and an early dust-up involving a cloud of cacodemons you have to sort out, probably in the more open ground area. My favorite segment of the level is the mess behind the yellow key door, housing arch-viles, instantly raising floors, and other nasties in a simple but effective layout. A nice ending.



  1. Kurt Kesler is a MAJOR influence to me, and two of my maps in RoD have areas that were influenced by his style. Especially KBRICK, and KMETL_9

    KMX E XII: If you want to do Kmetal9 ultimate justice you play the a single level version, it has an eccentric custom midi that makes the level explode with atmosphere.

    - DeathevokatioN

    1. re: KMETL_9 - That's odd, because he pretty much never uses custom midis in the single releases I've played! Interesting note.

  2. I've always admired Kesler's levels I never realised he compiled them into a megawad however. I know that he put the majority of his levels into one folder though which was really nice. It's a shame he stopped making levels as they were old favourites of mine and he is one of my most favourite mappers.

    1. Kesler was a pretty cool late-90s author who loved huge, abstract spaces much like one of his peers, Michael Krause. It would be nice to see him crop up again, just like pretty much any past Doom author.

  3. I find these levels a bit more hit and miss than his Boom/limit removing ones, but nonetheless there are some quite good levels in here, and IMO no actual 'bad' one either.

    1. Yeah, I enjoyed the Boom levels more if only for polish, but the new textures in the vanilla levels gives it a certain unavoidable attraction. What can I say - I like new textures in my PWADs!