Sunday, November 22, 2015

dead.wire (XA-DWIRE.WAD)

by Xaser Acheron

I hope you don't think that Xaser's been keeping quiet. He's got his tendrils in a handful of community projects, plus the management of both Doom the Way id Did: The Lost Episodes and No End in Sight. Heck, in 2014, he was one of the unifying forces of Back to Saturn X E2. 2015 wasn't a big year for the X-man, but there was a flurry of standalone releases to drink in, starting with dead.wire. This map was a competitor in Realm667's 2015 Doomja Vu contest, and while it did not bring home the gold, it ALMOST did, and if you load it up in GZDoom you'll quickly see why.

The setup, just a little outside the norm. You're an engineer working for the UAC and, one day, they start to get a strange signal. Not from one of the normal sources, of course. If it was a research station or a military base, you'd know what to expect. This time, it's an abandoned facility. I guess that's better than some outpost getting massacred by demons, but if anyone thought there was some sort of threat, you'd probably be arriving at the facility with some backup. As it stands, you've just got your trusty rifle as you slip inside. Pretty soon, you encounter a phantom, which isn't too outside of the norm... Then you turn the power on.

dead.wire is creepy. Its atmosphere is buoyed by an essentially brand new texture set (hailing from Chasm: The Rift), an ambient track, and tons of static. The map's reality undergoes a number of transformations that leave the player with a sense of unease, since entire areas appear to blink in to existence from the void of noise. You may also find yourself in, say, the opposite end of the level, or in an entirely different and oppressive section. Some of the level's subtle changes build interconnectivity, usually once you've secured one of the weapons, almost all of which are new.

The only returning armament is the trusty shotgun. Your starting weapon is the rifle, which fires at a faster rate than the pistol and consumes two bullets per shot. The rocket launcher is replaced with the flamethrower, which cuts through monsters and leaves a briefly lingering presence and comes with a pretty memorable firefight centered around demons and a handful of arch-viles. The M16 assault rifle replaces the chaingun, and is about what you'd expect as far as chaingun replacements go, though you don't get a good chance to play around with it given that the fenced-in encounter after you acquire it will probably eat through most of the provided ammo. The laser rifle is delightfully camp, firing real red lasers right out of Star Wars that rip through monsters. The last weapon is the prototype HRC, a BFG replacement that behaves more intuitively, sort of like a red laser rocket launcher with a lot more oomph.

Xaser doesn't include any jump scares, but some players may be put off by the prevalence of specterized monsters, versions of which appear in lieu of imps, barons, lost souls, and cacodemons... and a special surprise at the very end. Most of the monsters are now abstaining from making any noise, but these guys seem especially silent, static-bound after-images of some invasion gone wrong. Since everything is either melee-only or has a straight fireball attack, they're not that threatening, but they do a great job of sneaking up on you, particularly those lost souls. Of additional note - enemy HP has been reduced across nearly the entire board, judging from the efficacy of the shotgun. Or, uh, maybe the shotgun is just that much more powerful. I'm sure I could peek inside the DECORATE and find out, but I prefer not to in this particular case.

The combat is not that hard at all, excepting the flamethrower battle, but you can build a good buffer by zerging the first arch-vile and then carefully herding and stepping around the perimeter. Of all the other fights, including the big ol' slaughter at the end where you get to cut loose with the HRC, only the laser rifle fight comes close, and that's mainly because of the crowd of revenants that tries to get at you. I suppose that some players might have trouble with the partially invisible Cyberdemons that shoot comparatively rapid-fire rockets, but the HRC is a true atomizer and with all the cell ammo lying around it's better to go for firepower over finesse.

The progression was pretty natural to me, but I did a lot of searching around before approaching the telltale exit pad. It wasn't until I took a second look at the level when I realized that the torches stationed at the biggest encounters, which just seemed like cool visual hooks, were integral to completing the level. A switch near the exit tunnel has a corresponding torch for each of your major victories, and if you make it to the button before you're finished, the author is polite enough to turn you around with a cryptic clue.

As for Doomja Vu, well, I can kind of see the ghost of E1M7 rattling around when I compare the automaps, but just about everything else is unmistakably Xaser. The author twists the perception of E1M7 as a relatively straightforward labyrinth (an oxymoron?) with elements like the northeastern annex linking up to the westernmost section and several bits of progression that may not be as straightforward, even though there's a big arrow pointing to the mancubus ledge you use to access the M16 yard. Treachery abounds with every footstep, and players that get ahead of themselves will find the static void an uncompromising surface.

I'm still not sure what exactly is going on with the signal. Has the entirety of the outpost been consumed by the sinister static, with the player's actions slowly ushering it toward reality? Or is the engineer thrust into the presence once he throws the switch, bearing witness to the viral consumption of the outpost as it is devoured, piece by piece, blinking from our world and into theirs? Movement between either state is a bit more fluid than it initially seems, given that the area containing the assault rifle is under the starry night sky seen at the beginning and the ending. Whatever happens, terminating the signal - and returning everything back to normal, blessed silence - is a great note to end things on.

dead.wire isn't particularly big, but it's got a distinct, unique setting, one that I wouldn't mind returning to. Heck, any excuse for Xaser to go rooting around through any texture set that's not vanilla is a good one. About the only reason I think you'd hate dead.wire is because of all the spectrized versions of original Doom monsters, but it's a small price to pay for this stunning adventure.


This post is part of a series on
Realm 667's Doomjá-vu competition

Mouldy Old VoidPut Up Your Dukes!
dead.wireBlack Magnetic
The Heart of StoneCelestial Site

This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's 2015 Cacowards

The Top TenBest MultiplayerRunners Up
SunlustDon't Be a Bitch RemasteredDoomed Space Wars
ErkattäññeChaosCore CTFCrumpets
SkulldashBest Gameplay ModPrime Directive
Swift DeathDoomRL ArsenalPinnacle of Darkness
BreachMordeth AwardOl' No Name
ValiantChaosCore CTF32in24-14
50 Shades of GraytallMockaward
Sheer PoisonInstaDoom
dead.wireMapper of the Year
Return to Hadrondannebubinga


  1. Just played through this (your review bumped it up in the forums, so I figgered I'd take a look.) The visuals were gorgeous/unnerving, and the atmosphere was just fantastic. (It reminded me quite a bit of last year's excellent Reconstruction/Decomposition.) The gameplay, though... Now that I'm through, I feel confident in saying this was a brilliant map. But while playing it, man, I was not often happy. Those sneaky silent shadow monsters were SO annoying. And ammo was so tight I had to punch out a spider at one point. Every new weapon I got was basically used up at its arena. And speaking of which, that flamethrower fight... Well, let's just say that that's the first of the three encounters that I, er, encountered, and I almost immediately gave up on it and left it for last. I did eventually beat it, but man, I was about ready to just call B.S. there for quite a while. The final showdown had me rolling my eyes once I figured out who was coming for me at the end, but that HRC was just what the doctor ordered.

    So yeah, fantatsic level; I'm glad I persevered.

  2. Very cool map though I'm surprised the actual winner of the contest was not afforded nearly as much attention .

    1. tormentor pretty much botched most of the contest's publicity and word of mouth mentioned xaser's level way more than zirrion's

    2. So basically this level should have been the winner, but T667 alone decided to give it to zirrion instead?

    3. Tormentor's contest was ultimately decided by a poll, I believe, and that's fine. however, as the article alfonzo wrote mentions, no one was obligated to give zirrion's level any particular press because it was the winner. contest visibility on doomworld dropped like a stone after it was announced and there was that initial argument over the exact blueprint layout to use. i recall hearing from people that it was a shame that xaser's level was wrapped up in a contest with pretty much zero visibility, which is why i think it ended up getting its own thread after the fact.

      at the end of the day, there are only so many slots we can use to recognize stuff in the cacowards without turning it into a full magazine. i'm also frustrated with megawads squeaking in like a month before the 10th. sure, one could play them in their beta state, but knowing how much stuff like BTSX has changed since I played it makes me leery of doing this too often, and when i am balancing maintaining my review blog, my tumblr, and my personal life, i defer to the opinions of my co-conspirators (who are not simultaneously writing in-depth reviews), then follow up with my post-cacowards opinions after the fact. i will never hold myself to such a standard where i play absolutely every release from the current year, but i will eventually make it up to anyone i couldn't find the time to make it to, what with also wanting to play other releases that time forgot.

      also this isn't being argumentative or anything, just venting my spleen, because in the first six months or so after the cacowards it's more fun to play doom again because there is zero expectation of jumping through hoops to make sure that i cover as many candidates as possible which almost made me quit back in 2013.

    4. I remember the start of the project on Doomworld and all that, when the initial layout to be used was a virtual replica of E1M7 instead of a torn-out portion.

      As for awarding, the only reasonable way to include both dead.wire and zirrion's map would have probably been to give the Caco to the whole contest, as was done with 50 Shades of Graytall, but that's not really within scope since all the maps were not compiled into one wad. And I agree that just because it got the most votes in one specific community/forum, doesn't by any means imply it's unequivocally the best map and/or the only one that should be eligible to receive any awards.

    5. i would hesitate to call 50 shades of graytall a contest; the main thing separating it from other community projects is marcaek's discerning quality control, else it would probably have made the mythical 32.

    6. True, he outright rejected some maps in 50shades. He put on very marginal map after the credits as well.

  3. Are these also Doomja-vu maps (as I had previously not heard of them before):

    Put Up Your Dukes!
    The Heart of Stone
    Hell Void (unless that's the same as Mouldy Old Void?)

    1. Dukes! and Heart are. Hell Void is not; it is the first mapset Mouldy released to /idgames

    2. I cannot find Hell Void anywhere, it certainly is not under mouldy's name or email, searching /idgames. Only The Eye and Going Down show up. Can you tell me where you got the wad from (maybe a link)? Or is it really Mouldy Old Void (the Doomja-vu map, that does contain Mouldy in it's name, but is not made by mouldy)?

    3. Nevermind, I finally found Hell Void, but there was a bit of a wording issue: when you said 'the first mapset Mouldy released to /idgames', I was assuming you meant the mouldy himself that made Going Down (as in the comment above). You apparently meant to say it's the first mapset zirrion the insect (the author of Mouldy Old Void, NOT the author mouldy) release, in other words it's 'the first mapset [the author of] Mouldy [Old Void] released to /idgames'. I apologize for the confusion, just found the wording unclear.

    4. whoops all that mouldy old void talk prompted a typo

  4. Blood of Virgins and Core, are those Doomja-Vu? (I haven't heard of those names either)

    1. like The Void of Hell, they're both zrrion levels (V_BLOOD and A_CORE)

  5. Looks like that covers his resume prior to MOV...

  6. It's called Mouldy Old Void (for the itinerary and eventual review). Not Moldy.

    Also I'm glad to see this soon won't be the only 2015 Xaser treat to be up on here :)

  7. Great review. I also liked this more than Mouldy Old Void. Reminds me a bit of the maps in Rubicon Rumple Pack (for Quake) in how oppressive and moody it is. I always like it when mappers use custom textures to make give their maps a darker industrial theme than the (imo quite bland) stock base textures.