Saturday, March 12, 2016

All Aboard the Mega Magilla Gorilla Flotilla (XA-GORIL.WAD)

ALL ABOARD THE MEGA
MAGILLA GORILLA FLOTILLA

by Xaser Acheron


Xaser is nothing if not industrious. While all of the big projects continue to drift at a glacial pace, he cranked out a handful of single level releases in 2015 to whet the appetites of those who have come to wait with baited breath. This little number is All Aboard the Mega Magilla Gorilla Flotilla. Kind of a mouthful, no? Actually, while XA-GORIL was "released" in 2015, it originates as part of a jam hosted by Battle of the Bits that wrapped up in late 2014. I see that it's got ten other compatriots, some of which are familiar faces. Interesting! Gorilla is a MAP01 replacement that should be playable in your source port of choice, supposing that it isn't some crazy engine that's more broken than vanilla.


The story, if you care to read it, is Xaser to the core. Doomguy was supposed to be on vacation on some kind of cruise to Fiji but somehow got sucked into Hell, where he was beset upon by some kind of infernal navy. After a fantastic battle you'd be loathe to miss seeing, he got bored and / or frustrated and ended the battle with the mysterious powers of his mind, which were conveniently lost after the sinking of the ships, which is why you're now in a toxic caldera strewn with inundated ruins and angry demons, darting around in a panic from island to island. As for me, well, I'd like to know more about that Doomed pleasure cruise.


If the setting doesn't sound immediately familiar, just wait til the opening drumbeat of "Message For the Archvile". If it doesn't "Gotcha!" by then, well, there's no helping you. Xaser channels the Platonic form of the toxic sandbox, emphasis on both toxic and sandbox. It's a punishing level on all of the difficulty settings, I imagine, but even more so on UV. The X-Man doesn't give you a lot of leeway, which as he notes will probably have chronic FDA players crying foul, or at least finding some distaste in the act of having to "learn" a level in order to reasonably complete it. What I'm telling you is, expect to die, and be prepared to glean what knowledge you can from your experiences.


There are various resources stashed around the map, many of which are tricky to access, firstly because The Floor is Lava, second because getting to them or the items themselves are not immediately obvious. There's a squad of revenants guarding the rad suit tower, for instance, and right nearby is a cavern filled with health that might be really handy provided you can oust its arch-vile and revenant guardians. You'll come across the rocket launcher and plasma rifle during the normal course of play, but if you go digging around, you'll be able to score them early provided you can weather at least the rocket launcher battle. The BFG is a highly visible secret hidden locked with a secret key in an optional annex of the map with a pretty cool aesthetic where the relentless nukage gives way to boiling blood, and it'll make the end-of-level Spiderdemon showdown much safer.


And that finale has even more nuances depending on how you've run through the level. You can scope out the area before and eliminate the revenant snipers and tricksy pain elemental cave dwellers (accessing their health and ammo stores) before leaping through the blue key gate and starting the end of level sequence. It'll make things much simpler for you, considering that once you're in, it's irretrievable, unlike the other lower steppes that surround the level which house some exit teleporter caves staffed by monsters but one of which has a pretty important function, setting you up with an invul sphere that you can use for the semi-grueling tightrope walk to the north... or use the fast-forward to confront the revenants staffing the spiral island with the yellow key door. Decisions, decisions!


The item placement is half of the thing placement conundrum that makes the level so dangerous. The other aspect is Xaser's exacting monster positioning. You're liable to take a revenant rocket to the back of the head at any moment, and in worrying about those and to a lesser extent mancubus fireballs you'll open yourself up to the distant repeat fire of more dependable snipers like arachnotrons and commandos, not to mention the lowly imps and demons / specters. Too much time spent searching the skies and not scouring the ground. As a result, the memorability of the encounters isn't as high, but I doubt you'll be unfazed by stuff like the red key reveal or the love-in at the rocket launcher secret considering it consequentially removes one of your few readily accessible safe spaces.


Xaser has used Dark Souls to describe the tone of the gameplay. I haven't actually played Dark Souls, given that it's one of many, many things sitting in my Steam library that I just haven't gotten around to playing, but it has entered into so many dialogues attempting to describe gameplay in other works that I think I have a decent idea of what it means. As it applies to Xaser's thoughts, I believe that XA-GORIL offers a significant amount of freedom to the player with harsh (but not immediately lethal) penalties for making a "wrong" decision. This is anathema to the sort of experience that FDA players preach, extending in part to a lot of modern notions about game difficulty, about what's acceptable to subject a player to.


Flotilla does not cater to any of these views, beyond the fact that it does not include any certain death traps. Any player who may become incensed at a death that they felt they could not predict should give this level a wide berth, because there will only be angst and sorrow. As I've mentioned, you'll need to want to learn this map, at any cost, in order to succeed... even on HNTR, I'm guessing. If none of these warnings have deterred you thus far, then this might be your kind of map. And, really, any excuse to see more of Xaser's iconic level design is a good excuse.



SUCH A MEGILLAH
OVER A FLOTILLA

14 comments:

  1. Ah yes, I remember this one, I played it when Xaser had it up on Doomworld in 'public beta' or whatever you'd call it, along with his "Sharp Things" map for OG Doom from around the same period. I don't think I ever read the final textfile, but the comparisons to Dark Souls are kinda interesting, and something I've seen more than once in the Doom community recently. In many cases I reckon this reflects on how glamorous Dark Souls has become in the minds of gamers (not that I object, I'm very fond of SoulsBorne, myself) more than on any kind of actual, credible kinship in design--the assertion that "Prime Directive", which you've also reviewed somewhat recently, was inspired by the Souls games is still frankly baffling to me, for instance--but in this map's case I kind of see it. The main idea, I think, is that while the map doesn't really have a remarkably austere thing-balance all told, its balance is tight enough that mistakes you make WILL be relevant for the next several minutes of gameplay, as opposed to the next 15 seconds, you know, which requires more sustained concentration than some may be used to. Especially since The Floor is Lava, and so having to retreat or drop into the drink to ease tension has an associated overhead cost. It also forces players to move forward to gather enough resources in order to keep progressing; there's not much possible exploitation to be had here, which in some ways makes it even sterner than a lot of Souls!

    That being said, it is indeed nicely balanced, and is not utterly ruthless, and can be realistically passed on a blind run with some careful/disciplined play--I myself was able to pass it during FDA on the first attempt, albeit with a few very close calls along the way, said calls generally stemming from moments where I simply got too big for my britches and made poor decisions, which I suppose is as the author intended. I don't know how much of a connection there is between habitual FDAers and the idea that levels need to have a "fair" balance in order to be legitimate (read: "balanced so that it doesn't make me feel weak when I play)--I play a lot of FDA and I certainly don't feel that way, at any rate--but it is indeed true that Doom (and gaming in general) has something of a philosophical/factional war going on about what 'proper' balance means, with differing notions of how much time investment (via failure/repetition, experimentation/learning, etc.) it's reasonable to expect from players, and whether or not it's 'fair' to essentially place a high skill-tax on prime/desirable content. Speaking for myself, I'm glad that Xaser and some other authors choose to take the tack of simply saying "this might be too hard to play casually, you might not enjoy it, play at your own risk" when showing releases that turned out challenging, rather than trying to shoot for a sort of 'one size fits all' balance in the interest of maximum accessibility.

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    1. i guess in my mind I am thinking back to comments some FDA players had back in the day about difficulty they perceived to be unfair, but i'm probably basing a lot of this off something memfis had said (I believe that it was memfis complaining about trappy difficulty and in the same breath also acknowledging what a contrary position it was due to his own tastes in making maps and whatnot) and then extrapolated to the opinions of other players who are definitely not part of the FDA crowd, which includes highly skilled and dedicated players, as evidenced by... I think maybe Wilou84's FDA of Skepland MAP03?? So it's really an unfair swipe at the current crop of really helpful and observational FDA players based on something that I observed some several years gone that has nonetheless stuck with me as a broad generalization that includes a lot of people that just shut down when they get trolled by a level because they feel that a death is unfair and never bothered to learn the skills required to cope with surprise chaingunners and other sundry delights

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    2. Ah yes, well, that's something all of (action) gaming struggles with to a greater or lesser degree, I guess. IMO, the sort of "fairness" that players given to placing the concept of fairness on a pedestal tend to cotton to is a recipe for a very bland gaming experience, where the unexpected seldom happens. It is of course satisfying to feel powerful in a game, but by the same token, the very marrow of action gaming is overcoming adversity and dealing with the unexpected on the fly, and how is one ever to do that if the Dungeon Master never tries to pull off any dirty tricks or really sinister plots? Too much fairness is the death of fun, I say.

      Of course, leisure time is very precious to lots of folks, and losing's only fun if you believe like you had a shot to win, so I guess I somewhat understand the view that maps that require a real time investment make unreasonable demands. I'm just glad that said opinion doesn't dominate the scene! Doom's a very simple game when you get right down to it, and that simplicity betokens flexibility, so there's plenty of room for both very leisurely Sunday strolls for players who enjoy that type of play, and for Okkult BDSM body-horror levels of high-stress contortionism for those who are into that kind of thing, and everything in between. For this flexibility to be fruitful, though, there has to be an understanding that no single map or mapset can or should realistically be all things to all Doomers, and I reckon that's what a lot of players really hung up on abstracts like 'fairness' or 'accessibility' (or principled LACK of accessibility, as the case may be) or even how realistic and important it is for someone to be able to one-shot something during FDA miss.

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    3. the leisure time issue walks hand in hand with a community issue where all levels of difficulty are virtually swept away, to the point where players base their entire experience - and the author's craft - on UV. it's part and parcel of a lack of, as you put it, "an understanding that no single map or mapset can or should realistically be all things to all Doomers". There are a lot of people out there looking for some sort of instant gratification, an experience catered specifically to their playstyle. Maybe that's why mods are so popular in certain crowds, an ability to control those aspects of the gameplay that players could not be bothered to accomodate. Catering the experience to themselves, so to speak.

      Part of this also reminds me of reading Matt Tropiano's post mortem for Forsaken Overlook, which brought a distinct level of professionalism to the table when it came to creating an experience where the player flowed effortlessly from objective to objective. It's an ethos that has more or less dominated Back to Saturn X, outside of the occasional outlier like "Dirty Water". I bring it up because Tropiano talked about losing the player to confusion, brought up again fairly recently in a forum topic where a prospective author solicited tips for keeping his players from getting lost. I believe that in some aspects "flow" is just as subjective as monster-induced difficulty when it comes to accessibility, with appeals to flow broadening the target audience to players who do not fancy themselves as descended from dungeon crawlers. Which is why I'm so grateful that we still have authors like yakfak and xaser making levels that pit the very architecture of the level against the players, because it's a battle I'm ready and willing for.

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    4. I agree less orthodox is good for a change, and I also think dead.wire more or less went that way (obviously in a different way & for a different contest). And he made a UDoom Battle of the Bits map too, I suspect it will not be long till that shows up here :)

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  2. Can you please review some interesting wads out there instead of this crap? I'm waiting to see Tech Gone Bad reviewed.

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    1. What I mean is that there are many interesting wads out there that people would like to see getting reviewed instead of this crap no one heard about.

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    2. there are certainly many interesting wads out there, and contrary to apparent opinion, i would like to play them! i would love to play ALL of them. but while you might see me posting comments on this blog on this very review, i have had pretty much zero doom-appropriate time for the past month, and will continue not to have any until the beginning of April at the earliest. i have been drip-feeding the last few reviews i had prepared because i like the idea better than blowing through it all at my usual pace and leaving absolutely no updates for a month. normally, yes, we'd be on to tech gone bad and other delights like NOVA 2, and Bloodstain, and other things, and you would not have to come back and see this WAD that so rankles your nose, but at this point in time you have zero alternative. Pretty soon I will post the review for Sharp Things, and then after awhile, Comatose, and if I'm off twelve hour midnights by then you might get your wish, and stop finding this blog so boring. until then, though, you're fucked! i wish I had more time to review wads... but not because I think XA-GORIL or XA-SHARP are unpopular and crap.

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    3. actually shit lol i forgot i posted this on the 12th. gimme a sec

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    4. Alright, thanks for letting me know. I was just getting bored of the latest 10 or so wads reviewed that were mainly wads submitted for Realm667 deja-vu contest and Xaser wads. I don't mean that these wads are crap but I was getting tired of these and I was waiting for some of the more popular wads out there. Maybe the Tech Gone Bad review could be posted on 1st April, just to make it look like an April Fools joke. Just saying.

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  3. Every time I see the phrase "like Dark Souls", it always seems to really mean "I got nothing out of Dark Souls other than the fact that I died a lot, so I'm going to make some dumb and unfair crap that arbitrarily kills people and get praised for it, because I used the phrase 'Dark Souls'!"

    Dark Souls's calling cards are its intelligent approach to checkpointing and its approach to difficulty that emphasized consistency over peak execution. You never have to execute anything hard in any of the three Souls games, but you have to be consistent, and the soul-drop/bloodstain/auto-save/hollowing systems mean there's always something on the line, so you're always under pressure. In other words, Dark Souls kills you by using its meta-mechanics to make you choke, an effect that's literally impossible in the Doom engine. "I kill you because lol surprise Arch-Viles with no cover and Rev rockets with no maneuvering room" is literally as far away from the Souls ethos as it's possible to get.

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    1. at the end of the day, every trap in doom is a potential dragon's lair scenario, which you can reload and rebound from as is your wont. yeah. the closest we get to emphasizing consistency in performance are things like memorizing the firing patterns of mancubuses so that you can weave between flame thrower shots, or weaving between Cyberdemon rockets in order to deploy a point-blank BFG shot, or baiting revenant rockets so you can cut them in tight hallways, but there is usually so much other shit going around in the background and as you mentioned the line between consistency and peak execution in some of these techniques is pretty darn thin in some spots, and that yeah, doom's higher gameplay is mostly about building a strategy based on the shape of the battleground and then applying tactics on the fly as the situation deteriorates.

      "I kill you because lol surprise Arch-Viles with no cover and Rev rockets with no maneuvering room" feels like hyperbole based on what i recall but even so any level whose difficulty is based on a lack of pre-knowledge - and XA-GORIL is definitely one of those - could not lay any sort of claim to the ubiquitous Dark Souls label as you've described it. I'd point again back to dragon's lair, with the caveat that surviving such scenarios in Doom has a bigger performance gap than pushing the right button, and that can't hope to be anything but frustrating to your average player

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    2. I would entirely agree that any level whose difficulty is based on lack of preknowledge has no business ever being compared with the Souls games.

      Almost every trap in all three Souls games is openly visible, if you bother looking around. Even if you don't bother looking around, the message system makes sure you know what's coming. If you get surprised by something you didn't know was coming that can't be easily and safely retreated out of on reaction, with the exceptions of about three parts in both of the Dark Souls games (Stray Demon, Chaos Eater trap, and BoC pits in the first one; Ogre Walls and Aerie bridge in the second), it's because you got *really* careless. That's a far cry from "round a corner, Arch-Vile appears in an open area, have cells or you're dead. Grab the SSG, Vile appears, have the secret plasma or you're dead (and even then, the RNG has to favor you with flinches). Teleporter leads to secret on an upper ledge above another ledge with infinitely-tall imps; have that ledge already cleared, or you're dead. etc."

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    3. BTW, I should add that there's more than just the checkpointing that adds to the games being more about consistency than peak performance. DMC 3 US has even longer cycle times, but is more about peak performance. Dark Souls gives you a full quarter of a second of invincibility on the roll button, that also moves you out of harm's way, against highly telegraphed attacks. Unless your timing is so bad that you can't be accurate to within a quarter of a second, there's literally [i]no[/i] execution difficulty in the Souls games, at all.

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