Sunday, July 24, 2016

Flay the Obscene (FLAYOB01.WAD)

by Christian Hansen

Chris Hansen's final release in 1999 marked a turning point in his authorial career that involved contributions to 2002: A Doom Odyssey and his own virtual Cacoward with CH Retro Episode. While his Flay the Obscene series was not immortalized in Doomworld's Top 100 WADs of All Time, it enjoys a reputation by sheer word of mouth that brings it to the forefront whenever someone asks for something just off the beaten path. While eventually collected into a compilation (which does not include Hansen's 2014 follow-up), the series began with - what else but - Flay the Obscene, a two-level minisode for Doom II. The version available on the archives is v0.1 which added some extra areas and I imagine tinkered with the thing placement. It's also the edition that made it into Hansen's compilation. If you're interested in viewing the original iteration of the mapset then you can find it on the Doomed Speed Demos Archive as FLAYOBSC.WAD.

Flay the Obscene doesn't really have an overarching story beyond the typical journey into Hell to fluster another demonic invasion endemic of the plots of most Doom WADs. I believe that Hansen was less concerned with establishing a narrative and more intent on building an atmosphere and a sense of journeying through a palpable world. As opposed to a virtual reality playground for killing demons, of course. I may be misinterpreting the author's statement in the .TXT but the monsters are not specifically intended to add any challenge to the experience. Rather, they are plied to engage the player as he or she explores the purportedly alien environment rendered in Doom II textures. Hansen kind of adds more of a narrative in the follow-ups though he dropped it entirely for the compilation.

MAP12 is basically just an intro and features the gritty "In the Dark". It's a metal installation that looks like some kind of secret office built in the dregs of a UAC base. I guess Doomguy just sits at his computer all day and waits until the quantum police warn of another extra-dimensional threat, like a warped Doctor Strange... except he NEEDS Doomammo. The level has some nice fixed lighting and Doomcute stuff like monitors and a keyboard. There's also a mild Get Smart! sort of build-up as you move past the security checkpoint, down a few elevators, and a winding tunnel to the teleporter. I may be spoiling something but there are no monsters. The level serves as a framing story, further hammering home Hansen's desire to develop more of an adventurous experience.

MAP13 is where the action's at. It starts off with a couple of zombie troopers before running full tilt into chaingun guys in floating cages. Most of Flay's combat is based around claustrophobia, similar to Hansen's other endeavors. It even shares a few parallels with The Unaided Eye as there are a pair of encounters featuring Barons in close quarters. Two other fights really stand out in my mind. One is for the red key, which speedrunners can probably bypass via a wall bump (I could in ZDoom!). Grabbing the backpack and then the combat shotgun thrusts you into the grayish-green periphery where you must juggle two pain elementals that are fairly far apart and a small group of singing skeletons who teleport on to the ground floor. Gutsy players may deftly deal with the meatballs and then descend. Others might hug the tower's north wall and do some defensive posturing. I'm in the former camp, which made it a fun fight.

The other battle is just as hectic but has a bit of a different approach. Opening the red key bars leads to an arena of marble and blood (not present in the original version) that starts you off with just a couple of commandos as a teleport ambush. It quickly escalates to three mancubi in a relatively tight space. It's not especially difficult but the fatso firing pattern is a little more complex than the doddering Barons. If you do the ol' circle-strafe then you're bound to get hung up on one of their asses before you knock them down to two, so you've got to be fleet of foot. It was a good, sharp shock. Much nicer than, say, finding out that the floating Baron / arch-vile etchings in the southwest room are actually sitting on solid, invisible walls. Blowing yourself up on them with the rocket launcher didn't happen to me but I could totally see it affecting someone else.

Hansen's craft has gotten fairly ornate since AVIND. FLAYOB01 has a strong, orthogonal feel resembling the golden age of the mid-'90s. It's complete with fun set pieces like the spiraling wood / metal staircase near the beginning, the two flooded areas that follow, and the red key / Baron shrine chamber. I dig those tiered windows looking into the red key room! The outdoor topography isn't much to look at but the fortress's facade is pretty neat. The green and red area has more of a nod toward functionalism since its fetching marble slabs are jutting out of the ceiling. I also appreciate the level's sector machinery - for instance, the descending walls that reveal the SSG balcony. There's also the elevator used to drop down into the pit with the switch that raises the little catwalk to the central / eastern portion of the map. On the special effects side of things you'll even see several monsters raising from pools of blood.

I'm not a fan of claustrophobic skirmishing with the occasional hard left turn toward player exposure but I don't mind it and it keeps me on my toes. Playing on HNTR will ease the sting of the most chaotic firefights and tweak the threat levels overall. At a scant sixty monsters on UV it's pretty easy to learn. I'm looking forward to seeing where Hansen takes it from here. Maybe you will, too. No doubt some of you already have.


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