Sunday, March 2, 2014

System Vices (SYSVICE1.WAD)

Bob Reganess was a somewhat experimental author from Doom's early period whose works would have been lost to the ravages of time with the death of Compuserve. Thankfully, Graham "Grazza" Burgess could archive his works due to a relatively open distribution clause. System Vices was probably his most ambitious project, a partial conversion featuring new textures, enemy / weapon graphics, and sounds. Released in '96, this eight-map episode probably had another installment coming - given that the filename is SYSVICE1.WAD - but it doesn't appear to have materialized. Too bad, because this is a pretty interesting outing on its own.

There is a story of sorts in the .TXT that mentions systems and vices and chaos and utopia in a vague sort of pulp science fiction fashion. The action takes place on the planet of Sverre, a place whose inhabitants love the thrill of the hunt, "killing and creating confusion". The author asserts that what you perceive as chaos is utopia to them, and then asks you "...if you are really true to your own beliefs. In other words... Who's side are you on?" It's a setup, of course. Reganess's description of the inhabitants of Sverre is evocative of the relationship between the players of Doom and the demons they hunt and that hunt the players themselves. If you complete these levels, you'll have to kill and thus presumably violate the essence of your beliefs, engaging in their own utopia and euphoria as a hunter yourself. At least, I don't see any pacifist demos on the DSDA. Not that using infighting or other pacifist strategies isn't perfectly in line with the creation of confusion.

The .TXT also mentions that "Things are not always what they seem" in the context of the demons sowing confusion. This hints at the puzzle-filled nature of these levels. Don't expect to just run through guns-a-blazing or you'll get stuck and probably throw a fit. MAP01 has an escape lift that you have to climb back on to after leaving, and in the right direction, or you won't access the hidden teleporter line that gets you the blue key. There's also a window you must leap through to get the completely optional red key. False walls, big jumps, and switch chicanery abound. If you detest such stuff, you might want to sit System Vices out. The upshot is that these levels are all pretty small, so you don't have far to go if you're twisted up. If you delight in Doom maps as Rubik's cubes, load this up.

I like all the new graphics. They definitely give System Vices a feel of its own, compared to lesser partial conversion brethren like Lord of the Flies, and Reganess has some neat structures to view like a giant spaceship and a stone fortress on a mountaintop. Sometimes, things wear a bit thin. I didn't particularly care for MAP04 - the interior of the aforementioned spaceship - once it devolved into exploring the monotonous enemy stations in each "wing". The main elevator in MAP06 is a chore due to its height and how many times you'll probably have to ride it. And, well, MAP07 is kind of boring as far as switch-pulling levels go. For every moment you're bored, though, you'll have a few that surprise you.

System Vices isn't what I thought it would be when I initially loaded it up. I was expecting something more cyberpunk, I guess. Instead, it's a tale of a human on the run in a world that wishes only discord to every thing. Reganess dares to ask us, by proxy, whether Doom is itself a utopia, a microcosm of systematic chaos that we in fact enjoy. If our participation in this killing game is in fact an extension of our moral beliefs, then I suppose the only just move is to not play it at all. I doubt Reganess took the ethical quandaries of System Vices that seriously, though. After all, "I hope this game provides some relief from the stress and monotony of everyday life. If not, well then you must be one of those bad guys that escaped from the DOOM game."

by Bob Reganess

Some kind of semi-realistic corporate building with a little warehouse and some siderooms that don't really resemble anything. It's fully staffed with shotgun guys and some weird static-zombie things that I think are cloaked. The level may be short, but don't be fooled into thinking it's straightforward. The red key is entirely optional, and the blue is possible to accidentally stumble on, but only if you rush back onto one of the office's alternate exits.

A somewhat confusing cavern complex loaded with monsters and curious moments of sector damage while passing through at least one door. The combat is okay with imp stand-ins dropping by every now and then and some tougher monsters appearing where in the previous level there were only zombies, like pain elementals a-plenty and an arachnotron. False-wall alcoves hiding a mess of imps and unraveling your routes of passage when there are so many midtexture walls draws things out a bit but it's fun exploring and finding moments like that rocket launcher, plasma rifle and megasphere.

Short and challenging map if you don't know the secrets and to get out of Dodge when the drones fly in, not that it's at all intuitive how to get into your escape craft. The space ship at the starport is quite impressive and the ruins you start in and have to fight your way out of look pretty good as well. I'm not sure what you have to do to lower the red key but I assume it's a bit of deadend backtracking. The fight in the ruins is the hardest part, with cacodemon equivalents everywhere. You've got to find one of the various SSGs lying around without losing too much health.

This is a big-ass spaceship. It's not much fun to explore beyond the initial wow factor; it's essentially constructed like any realistic hotel level, with fundamentally identical layouts for the twin engines, so checking all the side-rooms is pretty banal considering there's nothing there but zombie things and imp things. The north side has a bunch of free-roaming aliens in the void, so if you want a shooting gallery, there you go. The only fights that stuck with me were the clearing of the bridge (which does look pretty cool) and the ambush when you're almost there.

I'm not sure what this is, looks like a corporate HQ or something, or maybe another floor on the ship? Though that doesn't explain the sewage tunnels, which show off a new enemy, some kind of water-dwelling carnivore (replaces the demon) that you can't spot reliably. Reganess has some very cool-looking forcefields, one of which you temporarily shut down with the push of a button. Health and ammo are at a premium until you reach the cargo room, which is also loaded with baddies, so it doesn't come easy. Pretty cool level.

A lot of wilderness surrounding a fortress on a mountain. There's a lot of vertical action and narrow ledge climbs plus a pretty easy Cyberdemon fight if you can avoid bumping into those demon-things, which are now present in specterized form. The only real downfall to the level is the elevator in the cave, which takes a really long time to lower and rise and which you'll probably take more than once to grab all of the tasty secrets.

Short nondescript level. Well, actually, it's a square area that doesn't really resemble much of anything in terms of structures. The floor spirals around it counter-clockwise until hitting the staircase to the northwest which then leads to a grated upper tier. Most of the monsters are either zombies or imp-things, but there's a Cyberdemon running around and I guess with secrets you can probably take him out, but as it stands it's easier to just ignore him. It's a lot of running around and switch hunting. I'm not sure what even opens up the exit the last third. Weird side note - there's a hidden exit line as a normal section of wall.

Reganess's finale is something of a house level with an incredible example of simulated room-over-room. It's loaded with hitscanners, of course, and the end is a pretty underwhelming series of four identical blind drops into pits with shotgun guys. If you pick the right one, you get a red key and can leave. The floating fence around the perimeter is kind of cool, though, and I love the trick in the house (and exit tunnel out of the red door arena).



  1. Cool. This is one of my all-time favorites. Very strange and abstract maps. I think the cheesy sci-fi style music helps a lot in setting the mood.

    1. I would have liked to see a System Vices 2. There are a few neat tricks and the graphics are pretty novel.