Thursday, March 5, 2015

Nebula 95 Series

as featured in Super Serials

Nebula ShrineMudman Wonderland
Human EarringsDrown Stone

Plenty of people loathe the early days of Doom PWADs. I'm more in author Chris Kassap's camp; there's a lot of raw weirdness in Doom's first few years that I find endearing if for nothing else than the raw enthusiasm that authors had for making and sharing their works. Nebula 95 tries to channel some of that free-wheeling spirit, but there's no disguising it. Chris is too immaculate a designer to fit in with his pretended peers. Frank Zappa once named The Shaggs as his #3 favorite band, I imagine because the Wiggins felt like a holy grail of sorts, a band whose members were making music while lacking any preconceived notions about what music was supposed to sound like, or what its message should be. Kassman, however, has clearly eaten from the tree of knowledge, and while that doesn't stop one from appreciating works of comparative innocence, the consequence leaves him a marked man.

The story: wacky. If you pay close attention, you'll see all sorts of nods to other PWADs and bits of Doom stories, from your Space Saucer "Margie" to the search for your former instructor, Indigo / Crash, who has gone lost in a particularly loathsome section of space filled with a hallucinogenic gas dubbed Nebula 95, itself a reference to the less-disciplined age of Doom design. Your adventure has you hopping from planetoid to planetoid as you investigate the disappearance of your colleague, each one with a wildly different topography. Perhaps, one day, Doomguy will find his good friend. There are more Nebulae in the pipeline as of this writing, but I don't know when they'll be officially charted.

The Nebula 95 series has all the elegance of "modern" Doom map design, with some conflicting elements derived from puzzle play, and a unique presentation. Each of these works is composed of two levels, the first taking place on Space Saucer Margie, your spacecraft of choice through the hallucinogenic sector of space known as Nebula 95. These openings are largely the same, but the visuals exterior to the spaceship are tailored to the map that follows, and there's a green armor to pick up with a different micro-puzzle for each iteration. It's a cute way to start the levels off, though it might wear on those not suited for the repetition.

The main attractions come from several different inspirations. The first two, for example, are derived from multiplayer levels that Chris contributed to, and I assume that others of his may experience the same treatment. The third is an original composition, and while the fourth is as well, it was originally a Boom-compatible level created for Doomworld's Secret Santa project. All of these maps are short, but that doesn't mean that they're easy. As an example, the monster placement in NEB01 and NEB03 proves significantly more difficult to navigate than the relatively sedate NEB02. All I can say is: be prepared.

The other trappings of the series more explicitly evoke the 95 atmosphere, with MIDIs from sources like jazz and funk that run counter to MIDI metal a la Bobby Prince and the school of BGM pioneered by Klem and his contemporaries. You'll also find some unusual sound replacements and a vibrant menu graphic that, while unorthodox, is still too polished to match the MSPAINT marvels that make up the most amateurish of title screens. It's all very cool, and I hope to see more in the years to come.

by Chris "lupinx-Kassman" Kassap

Nebula Shrine
Your first stop finds you investigating a shrine that might indicate a receptive populace, but, no - it's demons all the way down. Nebula Shrine is one of the largest levels and has a nesting-doll arrangement with the central area, which you start out in; the space between, with tiers coming down from the center to the main yard; and the outer area, the scene of several platforming puzzles and an assortment of snipers on the rim reminiscent of Titan Manor. A very open and very striking adventure.

Mudman Wonderland
This planet is covered... mud, of course. Might there be sentient creatures composed of the stuff, just as Perdition's Gate had its "Planet of Living Rock"? Well, even if it did, you ought to be more worried about the demons surrounding you, which are a certainty. Mudman Wonderland is very short and very brown, but it has some neat visual bits in the exit area that give it one of the more memorable closing scenes. Don't blink, though, or you'll miss it.

Human Earrings
There is but one island on this ocean-covered world, and it has some kind of building on it. Inspection reveals another den of evil, though, with a crude mockery of humanity strung together from the remains of the unfortunate. I'd say that it's payback time, but Kassman starts you off in the midst of an ambush that will take some fleet footing to recover from. Human Earrings is a tough, action-packed offering that will have you cursing the author until the final monster snarls its last. Do you have the gumption to tackle its tricky secrets as well?

Drown Stone
Doomguy's having a fun time exploring this little planetoid, which for whatever reason has a structure built on top of a butte and... strange hydrodynamic properties. There's just one catch - he doesn't know which song to listen to. Will it be a cassette by one Stuart Rynn, or more fantastic funk? As his eyes dart back and forth, faster and faster, the decision is left to you. Drown Stone is a more midtempo adventure with a very tight layout that makes the height variation more of an obstacle than in his Nebula Shrine. It's a little tricky to navigate, but the payoff is worth it.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for doing this KMX =). I'd love to release a "season 2". Every now and again I tinker with one of the maps in cue, but to say it goes at a snail's pace would be an understatement. And to think, at one point these were intended to be released weekly!

    Now I need to listen to the Shaggs.