Saturday, May 30, 2015

Master Levels and Speculation

John Romero released a boatload of dev shit for Doom and Doom II, furthering the already intimate understandings of Doom's development history into previously uncharted depths. A lot of this stuff is tangentially interesting to me, but I'm not someone to go gaga over the pornographic details of how Doom was made unless it turns up something Not Yet Seen, like those art assets. One of the things uncovered during this asset dump is a file that contains at the very least this list of .WAD and .TXT names, which shows an inarguable connection to the Master Levels For Doom II.

A lot of the Master Level mysteries have been uncovered through Henrik Larsen's wonderful Master Levels FAQ, but one big question remains. According to Shawn Green and Sverre Kvernmo, the latter was a late addition to the project, who was only able to join because one of the authors that id had recruited had to drop out at the last second. Information on the individual is scanty, but id had done most of their recruiting from people who already had a few levels floating around on the internet. It's reasonable to assume that the lost Master Levels author had something on the 'net for id to find him or her in the first place, barring strange circumstances like Sverre, who worked his ass off trying to get his maps into the project... from Norway!

My assumption is that this list represents an early build of the Master Levels. MANOR (Titan Manor) and TTRAP (Trapped on Titan) are both here, along with a curious WAD named TITAN. Flynn never released a Titan series level with the name TITAN, so without knowing what it is, it could be anything from an early build of MINES (plausible) to an unreleased Flynn level (doubtful) to something completely unrelated to Flynn. WILLITS and WILLITS2 are probably ATTACK and CANYON, though there was enough overlap between the Master Levels and Ultimate Doom that they just might be E4M5 or E4M9.

There are a ton of levels from Klie, here. There's FISTULA, SUBSPACE, CATWALK, and COMBINE, all of which were selected for the Master Levels. This implies that SUBTERRA and GARRISON were among the last levels created... IF this is an early build. We also see THE_FURY, THE_CPU, and THE_DMZ. According to Klie, only two of his levels were rejected for being sub-par, those being E_INSIDE and DEVICE_1. The rest were apparently left out because Shawn Green did not have enough time to review them. So, it's tough to tell whether those levels had already been submitted and then rejected or if Klie simply hadn't crafted them yet. In either case, if we're following Klie's story, THE_HIVE was probably among the last of the levels to be built.

Anderson's stuff is easy to pick out. There's VIRGIL.OLD, which might be the Doom version of VIRGIL, which has only been available for Doom II through the Master Levels. VIRGIL03 is probably the updated version, given the context. There's also CHIRON-5. CHIRON was the original title for Ultimate Doom's E4M7, before id swallowed it up into Thy Flesh Consumed. Hence my comment about overlap between the Master Levels and Ultimate Doom, as this got put on the backburner while Shawn Green slapped E4 together.

DEADLOCK, I'm not sure about. Kvernmo did make a level called DEADLOCK, but it's for Hexen, not Doom II, and from what I understand, every level he submitted came from his Cabal series, with the leftovers eventually uploaded to the archives. Now, Jim Flynn worked with Scott Harper (aka "MadMax") on ORACLE, and then later released a level titled DEADLOCK, a sequel to his QUAD. (Ignore the '97 timestamp; these files were originally uploaded elsewhere before making their way to /idgames.) Was Harper slated to become one of the Masters? Somehow, I think the only way to know would be to ask him - or Shawn Green - directly.

BUNKER and VORTEX are total anomalies, but I still haven't mentioned Tom Mustaine. Tom submitted a total of four maps to the Master Levels, One of those was kicked out for being an "Inmost Dens" knockoff and the other two eventually found their way to Final Doom as part of TNT Evilution. We know from his own account that PARADOX was the final level he submitted. Could BUNKER and VORTEX be the original titles of his Evilution levels? I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me. The other alternatives make just as many assumptions, whether they're still unreleased material ("Titan Bunker", lol) or stuff from authors we've never heard of in the context of the Master Levels... though that's basically the same angle I took with DEADLOCK. Welp;

The big thing here is the series of files of JSF02AI!, JSF03X, and JSF05K. It's a pretty rigorous name scheme, one it shares with one single map currently on the archive - JSF01, authored by one Joe Fouch. To wit: is Joe the lost Master Levels author? On the one hand, JSF01 doesn't look that compelling as something that would make him a potential recruit. On the other hand, I said the same exact thing about some of Kvernmo's Cabal levels, and without knowing what these other JSFXX levels look like, there's no way to tell. Again, the only way to find out would be to ask Shawn Green and hope that this list and hope that it jogs his memory.

In any case, I've done enough wild speculation for one day.

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