Friday, June 13, 2014

Plasmaplant (PLASMAP.WAD)

by Sverre Andre "soundblock" Kvernmo

Doom's 20th Anniversary rolled around not too long ago and brought with it the return of some old community members. Sverre Kvernmo, of Cabal / Eternal Doom fame, had stuck around as "soundblock" but made a splash with this brand new level for Doom II. Plasmaplant is a MAP01 for ZDoom that has its origins in the Cabal series, some nineteen years ago, though you wouldn't know it looking at the design. Kvernmo sends you (either the last living marine OR the humanized Cyberdemon of the Cabal) to tackle an infernal organ player who is apparently the mastermind of the (current) demon invasion and make his eternal opus a fitting swan song.

The first thing you'll notice when you load up PLASMAP is that it looks utterly unlike vanilla Doom. Kvernmo has collected an impressive set of custom textures and then painted them with some of the most painstaking sector lighting I've seen to-date. Once you get past the industrial-looking tech section that opens the level, you're in an ornate world of blue. Blue has always been a fixture of starbase maps, but I've rarely seen it used to the extent that it appears in here, outside of cool stuff like Swim With the Whales. PLASMAP isn't just about blue, though. Kvernmo plays with light and shadow to create a surreal atmosphere, though the execution is weighted more toward shadow, with structures and monsters seeming to appear out of the void.

The structure is a literal hub with no less than eleven offshoots from the main chamber. One of those spokes is much longer, leading to the rest of the level proper, but you'll have to navigate each one in order to complete the level. The blue key is sectioned off by a series of gates. Perhaps remembering "Darkdome"'s toxic reception, there's a number on each gate when viewed in the automap and corresponding numbers in various areas of the map. That way, rather than revisit each switch to see what you didn't get, you can just scan the automap and viola! Nice feature. There are a number of other puzzles / switches that do things that I don't understand, like the lost skulls trapped in the wall, or that brain cubby just north of the hub. They tend to spawn in some nasty monsters, though, so I'm sure that they offer some sort of progression.

And you will have a ton of monsters dropped in on you, for seemingly random reasons. If you examine the more arcane elements of the map's design, you'll see why. Suffice it to say, monsters are always appearing in the hub. Sometimes it's an arch-vile, sometimes it's a handful of cacodemons. Sometimes it's a bunch of zombies. And, sometimes it's stealth zombies! Yeah, Plasmaplant uses stealth monsters. Be on your toes at all times, because they come in all varieties. Kvernmo's use of stealthed creatures doesn't feel cheap, but they are a bit of a nuisance in a level where some corners and areas are so dark that monsters might as well be in stealth mode. In fact, a few areas are painted black so that enemies stationed at afar come into view depending on the angle at which you view them.

Ammo is actually pretty tight. If you're comfortable punching something to death (which may not be easy with all the crossfire you start out in), it would be a good idea because between the arch-viles and the pain elementals and the darkness, you're liable to waste some cells. Yes, cells. Kvernmo conceived this level as a plasma and pistol affair, and for the most part, this bears true. Most of the other weapons can be found (after a considerable amount of effort in UV) but there isn't a whole lot of anything besides bullets. Not that there's anything wrong with the chaingun. You'll want it for all those places the plasma gun can't reach, like all those portholes containing zombies and other unsavory things.

Kvernmo offered some advice in the release thread, and you'd do well to take it. The main thing he mentions is the location of several backpacks in the chambers immediately adjacent to the entrance to the blue hub. He also talks about not wasting cells in the portholes, which means a lot of nasties will be left entrenched in their cubbies. My word of advice - after grabbing a backpack, head right across from the entrance to the cranial facade door and take out that field of imps and arachnotrons. If you head in with a bunch of ammo and health, you've removed one of the most hazardous entrenchments and gained access to all of the other main weapons, provided you can figure out how to get them. This is what I did after restarting the map once I got "stuck" at a certain fight.

Speaking of ammo and health, Kvernmo was pretty generous in giving you a stockpile after making the run through the opening corridor. Each cell and health station can be activated once to supply some more goodies for when you start running low. There's health and ammo in other sections in the map, some of which are hidden in secrets (marked with radical signs), but this is the main one you'll be running back to. It pays to explore, especially with the arch-viles that you run into, some of which teleport back to the central hub. As long as you're well-stocked, you won't have much to worry about, but things can go south pretty fast with all those snipers hidden in the walls, some of which are arch-viles you can't immediately see. Portholes filled with flames are a pretty strong indicator, though.

It's hard to name any kind of standout fight when Kvernmo keeps up a constant barrage of enemies. The biggest one in my mind is the arachnotron / imp room that I mentioned earlier. Breaking in is total chaos with the imps on the ground and coming down the staircase, there are spiders staged fairly deep, and there are some mancubuses in the tower that work as a great spoiler. There's also a mess of monsters that invades the penultimate room at one point, including demons and mancubuses. Apart from that, it's mostly teleport chaos, including the addition of some boss monsters. A pair of Spiderdemons warps in to two key areas and you'll also have to oust a Cyberdemon (or two!) from the organ in the concert hall - the demon mastermind, I believe. Props to Kvernmo for the diabolical auditorium, complete with balconies.

Perhaps the most unique facet of the level comes in its finale. The visuals are spot-on throughout, but when you open the blue door, you find a corridor of particles streaming toward you. You've got to run forward, all the while waking up new monster spawns that will strike from behind or zoom toward you at your front. When you "swim" to the final chamber, straying to either side will find you thrown back into crusher pits, albeit ones you can escape for another chance. You can't run directly to the exit, either. There's a bit of lateral thinking required, but given enough time, I'm sure you'll figure it out. It's nothing trigger-based, at least.

Plasmaplant looks incredible and plays like a fiendish Rubik's cube. It's an enormous adventure and is pretty much everything I love about a Doom II level, and then some. Sure, I don't like stealth monsters, and I didn't like having to restart when I fought myself out of ammo into an irrecoverable situation, but the level was so fun unraveling that I didn't have much of a problem restarting. It's great that he's back in the community and I eagerly anticipate his next release.


This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's 2014 Cacowards

The Top TenBest MultiplayerRunners Up
Going Down32in24-13Bauhaus
The Adventures of SquarePushBloody Steel
Back to Saturn X: Episode 2Rage CTFMayhem 2048
PlasmaplantBest Gameplay ModWhitemare 2
Shadows of ChronosDemonSteeleYou Dig
Monster Hunter Ltd. 1/2Mordeth AwardThe Wailing Horde
ResurgenceDoom 2 in Name OnlyReconstruction/
Mayan MishapMockawardDecomposition
Urban Brawl: Dead of WinterBrutalist Doom
Thy Flesh Turned Into a Draft ExcluderMapper of the Year

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