Monday, April 13, 2015
Back in 2011, when this blog was in its infancy, I had privately asked Doomworld Forum superstar Phml for a copy of his work in progress, PhmlSPD. Though I intended to review it, the work languished on my hard drive until... now! Some four years later, I doubt that PhmlSPD is an accurate gauge of the author's skills as they currently stand, but it's an interesting look into the growth of his talent. Interestingly, it also has a place as an undeniable influence on Doom's co-op scene. PhmlSPD formed the foundation of the cheekily-titled Chillax, an over-the-top co-op slaughter megaWAD that has become infamous for its ridiculous monster counts, and made its original debut as PhmlSPD v1.4, before polite askance by the author to remove his name from the project led to the change to the Chillax we all know and keep at arm's length. The last official version of PhmlSPD is a fourteen-map PWAD for Doom II, to be played Boom-compatible ports.
There is no plot, really. Phml was just making levels under self-imposed time limits as a means of improving his craft. The gameplay reveals his predilections toward slaughter-based gameplay, which should come as no surprise to anyone who's followed the slaughter scene. Phml has contributed to both Slaughterfest 2011 and 2012 (both of which I am deeply wary) and tons of playtesting time and demos, though how much of that is pre- and post-PhmlSPD, I can't say, and I'm not willing to do the research to figure it out. All that experience with slaughter stuff means that he has a fair idea of what is reasonable to expect of a player in such outings.
More importantly, there's a commitment to a specific gameplay ideal that attempts to accommodate two broad but different levels of skill. Phml strove to include enough leeway that a player who enjoys slaughter maps but is not necessarily proficient could eventually beat the levels using tactics that tend to slow progression to a standstill, like slowly plinking away at snipers from afar after popping out from cover, or funneling enemy hordes into choke points that leave them more or less protected. The other end of the leeway gives enough room for experts to work their magic and clear the levels at a much faster pace, though at increased risk to themselves. It's... an interesting design decision, one that I don't often see laid out so explicitly.
Phml tries pretty hard not to lock players into what have come to be known as Scythe-style death arenas. In these instances, you're trapped in a limited space with monsters pressuring your personal space, the only way out involving enduring the firefight until whatever locked you inside releases, whether it's a timed door or a switch you have to use yourself. With Phml, the only thing you have to fear is acting too slow versus an approaching horde. MAP08 and MAP10 are good examples of this phenomena, but you have a lot more playable area to run around in than a death arena usually affords. If you pay close attention, you'll find that there's generally a way to beeline to the BFG, even if figuring it out cold is far-fetched. That plays into accommodating speed runners, though. Any speed demon worth their salt should already know the mechanics of the level and use that knowledge to build a route.
It's... still not something I'd recommend to people that don't like slaughtermaps. All of the lightning-fast excitement comes from having both the technique and knowledge to keep yourself in the thick of action on a more or less constant basis. The techniques that allow less skilled players to eke out their victories run counter to action-packed entertainment and slow gameplay down to a crawl in exchange for superior survivability. As far as I know, the author hasn't changed the monster composition on lower difficulties; instead, ammo, health, and power-ups are liberally thrown at the player. This cuts down on biting your nails until you grab the BFG, but it's not like the floor is carpeted in invul spheres. There's still a very real chance of getting overwhelmed.
Phml may not approach the level of grandeur and sadism that many of his slaughter compatriots are capable of, but PhmlSPD shows an appreciable knack for hammering out a sort of workman-like slaughter gameplay that I can certainly appreciate. Does he have his own Combat Shock waiting in the wings? Only time will tell. Thanks for the deaths, man.
THESE DEMONS ARE CRAZY!