Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The KBOOM Series

by Kurt Kesler

as featured in Super Serials


Kurt Kesler made a ton of levels spanning 1997-2001. KMEGA1 encompasses his vanilla works, comprised of KMETL, KBASE and KBRICK, and KHILLS were source port agnostic (limit-removing) maps. KBOOM is a bit more obvious; all of these levels were made to be played in Team TNT's then new Boom engine and use many of its extra editing features. Looking at the list on TNT's webpage here, I think Kesler took advantage of almost all of them. Deep water and faux-3D floors had been around in vanilla with some sector voodoo, but Boom explicitly supported these tricks. Other things like silent teleporters, scrolling floors, and translucence are neat effects that Kurt uses here and there. Well, he uses silent teleporters a lot.

The KBOOM levels are all fairly short compared to what I recall of his vanilla maps. They start out basically where KMETL_13 left off as far as design quality goes and then slowly improve. Looking at the dates, Kurt's usually frenzied production output slackens toward the end, adopting more refined design standards, and they definitely show in the finished products. He also leans toward a wider variety of fights, as opposed to big open area after big open area. Sometimes they're too cramped - KBOOM12 feels especially cheap in parts - but they all basically use the same gameplay style, so if you like one of Kesler's levels, you should enjoy them all.

Kesler was a big fan of Doom bases, and it shows, here. He mixes in some rugged terrain in most of the levels, but they're mostly tech-ish compounds, with a few castle maps mixed in for good measure. One of these (KBOOM_7) got "downgraded" to play in limit-removing ports when Kesler was brought to a crisis of conscience, presumably around the same time the KHILLS levels were created. He swung back to Boom, though, strongly and somewhat scathingly, carrying on for five more levels and a bonus, Beyond Death, which isn't part of the KBOOM series in name but certainly is in spirit.

This is the closest map to Kesler's early style besides KBOOM_2, which is fitting as it was the first one made after Kurt ended his vanilla development. It's a base map with some munitions factory, some big ass rooms for hitscan crossfire, and a large outdoor rugged staircase that serves as the site of a showdown with one of his favorite Doom tropes, an enormous cloud of cacodemons.

Not an original Boom level - this is actually KMETL_13 (also found in KMEGA1) with some additional areas and effects. It's an indoor base map with an interesting tiered flow in the first area and commandos / sergeants lurking around every corner. One of the new areas, some machinery represented by a bunch of moving pillars, doesn't add much, but I like the conveyor belt room with the SSG.

Kesler takes things in a bit of a different direction with this base / castle / outdoors map. It's wide open and feels a bit empty but has a decent opening shootout and the finish in the eastern portion with the tech altar and Spiderdemon is pretty nice. Watch out for the pain elementals when you conquer the castle; all that open area gives them plenty of room to work their magic if left unchecked.

A very short outdoorsy castle map whose major feature is a nukage river that runs through it, carrying the first wave of monsters past you like a coked-up duck shoot. At the very least, Kesler shows that he can reuse space by transforming the opening area into another murdershow. Less apt players may be threatened by the Cyberdemon at the end, but vets will line themselves up for some BFG-bumping action.

This base map has some interesting use of deep water to create little microcosms you have to fight through as you progress through the level. There's also some nice swamp growth, I believe hacked up from some stock textures. The two major fights are a little monotonous, having to kill imps and hell knights as you make your way around the rim of the reservoir you just jumped into, but the second time forces you to deal with some mancubuses as well, creating a more engaging crossfire.

Back to the castle theme with this dark and fiery level. There's some nice lighting contrast and use of flaming barrels to create several impassable ponds of fire and one fight that stuffs a handful of pain elementals down your throat when you've only got the SSG and rocket launcher to deal with them. The only real downside is that the flow is pretty much one big circle, with you traveling just a bit of it again in order to reach the exit.

Back to BASEics, but with some unusual twists for a Kesler map. Tested by Malcolm Sailor, you won't be kicking shotgun shell boxes out of the way this time. There are also a lack of nice, open spaces to dodge around in. It's pretty unforgiving from the opening shotgun guy shootout to the finale with the awkward enemy placement of hell knights, revenants, imps and commandos. The mancubus / imp room comes off as particularly effective as far as combat scenarios go.

Another base level, but this one debuts Kesler's love of faux-3D bridges alongside deep water effects for a fairly intricate level in terms of layout. As far as combat goes, there's nothing too challenging except for the final fight, which sets a pretty large wave of monsters upon you. If you're fast, you can retreat to a location with more breathing room. If you're not, you're going to have one Hell of a time.

This brick / base mashup is a pretty difficult level that does its best to keep seeding enemies into the playing area as you achieve your major objections. It's also got an effect I've only seen once in his levels, where he has three cacodemons poised like statues, but you have to know that when you get up close he's going to set those things loose on you. Be on the lookout for tricksy revenants, mancubuses, and at least one arch-vile while you blast your way through this one.

Why would the UAC build a base on an active volcano? That's the extent of your outside playing space, though it looks pretty cool, all told. Kurt throws a lot of heavy monsters at you, with several packs arriving as you retrace your steps through the smoking courtyard. When you start running into scattered imps and shotgun guys, you know something's up. Anticipation doesn't make taking out the surprise Cyberdemon any easier with the pillared pit he's in, so tread lightly.

KBOOM_11 was originally the last KBOOM map, and a castle one to boot. It's another tough outing that finishes off with a boss shooter - I know, I was surprised too - and showcases all of Kesler's favorite Boom features, including the debut of colormaps, which make your few forays into deep water a bit more believable. Throw in a cloud of cacodemons and you've got a level that's Kesler to the core. There's even an arch-vile, and you know how rarely he uses those things.

The true (or rather current) final KBOOM level, KBOOM12 is not short. I'd describe it as more medium-size, in spite of the nearly 400 monsters occupying its wilderness-embattled base confines. Take everything you know about Kesler maps - like a wave of cacos and rocket-powered Cyberdemon showdowns - and multiply it by two. Or something. The middle leg of this map also has some incredibly congested gameplay that feels a bit dirty compared to Kurt's usual antics. Still, it's fun, and killing two Cyberdemons with a rocket launcher is a little grueling but satisfying when you're finally done.


Beyond Death
K_BD is not a proper KBOOM level, but it is a Boom map that Kesler made in 1998, so I thought I'd throw it in with the rest. It's got an interesting aesthetic that Kurt said was inspired by Quake II, though as far as resembling its structure and combat, not really. I do like the architecture like the water room with the flashing marble face and the brown bridge waterway and the structure coming out of the lava is quite striking. The canyon on the east end is my combat highlight.

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