Saturday, July 2, 2016

Nihility: Infinite Teeth (NIHILITY.WAD)


Nihility is a work in progress, by which I mean that author Years has finished the first episode in 2016 - occupying Doom's second episode - and is looking to turn it into a full-fledged megaWAD as time wears on. And, uh, I don't mind telling you that I am looking forward to what nightmares may come. The recipe is sort of Shores of Hell, mixing in some of the elements from Doom's alphas and betas and then working in a bit of S.T.R.A.I.N.'s philosophy of adding in new blood to jazz up the otherwise familiar vanilla experience. Oh, yes - Nihility is vanilla compatible, crowbarring its gameplay changes both shocking and subtle in with DeHackEd.


I'm not really sure what the overall story is. While the action takes place on a location that resembles the Doomed Deimos base, the end text of the episode and a few of the level names - all of which are in German - subtly suggest a different framing narrative. I can't help but think that the player character is trapped in a very specific aspect of Hell, a fate reserved for those who commit suicide, with phrases like "...hear the sound of your family choke on your body", occurring after the final level, "Bestrafung", which a machine translator assures me means "punishment". There's also the name of the secret level, "Hirntod", corresponding to brain death. Heck; the main title of the project is Nihility. and the phrase "NO LIFE" appears both in the end text and the actual level geometry. I suppose that I won't really know until Years continues to flesh out his adventure.


Nihility has a lot of things going for it. The design has solid shades of the original Doom with the author's own particular spin. Anyone well-versed in the episodes will be able to spot homages in aesthetics, structure, and gameplay, but these are more like occasional bits that were lovingly cribbed rather than spotlights that the levels were designed around. There is definitely a strong E2 feel, from the opening level to the last, with snatches of immaculate, pristine techbase juxtaposed with the malign influence of ultimate evil. Some of the side-areas have a more utilitarian nature, like locker rooms and hospital beds and computer banks. It's mostly quasi-realism, though, like The Shores of Hell but with even more height variation and interconnectivity.


The next thing you'll pick up on, perhaps even simultaneously, is the atmosphere. Nihility has no music tracks, reducing your aural experience to aleotoric performances constructed from the sounds of your weapons, the groans of the monsters, and carefully placed ambient noises. The last element ranges from beeping computers to running water to more viscous liquids to humming machinery and more. Doom minus Bobby Prince, whether it's MIDI metal or his more sinister pieces, is an odd experience, but it absolutely works and hammers home a sense of desolation and... well... Doom.


The author sets things even further apart with the DeHackEd manipulations. The weapons aren't much different, with the pistol being replaced with a slightly faster rifle and the chaingun with a likewise faster machine gun. I think that the plasma gun is a bit stronger, too, but I have not learned to read DeHackEd in order to confirm my suspicions. Years also pads out your bullet count by another 100 for a grand total of 300 (600 with backpack). It's a nice gesture, and while I can't say that I ran into any of the ammo limits besides shells while playing from pis- err, rifle start, I'm sure that continuous players will enjoy being able to stock up for the very useful machine gun.


These changes are very helpful considering the new monsters that Years has appended to Doom's original roster. Everyone appears in their original formats, save for the lost soul, who has inherited some behavior from S.T.R.A.I.N.'s doppelganger. This will come as a surprise to anyone who has internalized its old behavior, not just because it is now capable of shooting projectiles which it will do right before it charges, but because it can attack again while in transit. These fuckers will harry your ass, especially in more open areas where they appear in greater numbers. On the other hand, this makes them much more potent at infighting since they get to launch a ball of psychic energy in addition to their screaming strikes.


The rest of the monster additions follow a similar philosophy to S.T.R.A.I.N., which eschewed the more difficult enemy behavior of the arch-vile, mancubus, and pain elemental for derivatives of the originals. The gray imp is a slightly tougher version of the original whose attack pattern is park and bark, much like the arachnotron. There are three iterations of the Baron, the first basically analogous to the Hell knight and the second a slightly tougher - and gray - variant that stands and shoots just like the gray imp. The final version is derived from Vader's winged sprite edit, known elsewhere as the Lord of Heresy. It's sort of like a faster, tougher, more mobile mancubus, though the spread is the same for each volley, and the fact that they're Baron plasma balls might make them that much harder to duck. All I know is that I dreaded dealing with that shit, but not as much as S.T.R.A.I.N.'s demon lords.


The two more exotic additions are the kamikaze trooper and what I'll call the wraith, only because its sprite is clearly derived from Doom 3's monster of the same name. The former only really appears in the later levels of the episode, arriving as part of monster closets that cause the player to second-guess their initial approach or as spoilers that arrive in the middle of larger, more orchestrated teleport ambushes. They explode when killed and as their attack and lack the deafeningly obvious announcement, procured from Serious Sam, but I don't recall ever thinking that their placement was in any way cheap. The wraiths are another story, functioning as faster, lithe variants of the standard pink demons. Of all Nihility's monsters, these left the biggest impression me due to the coupling of their deportment with some very distinct enemy sounds. You'll want to be a steady shot when a group of them are bearing down on you because they will be on your ass and tearing it up with the slightest lapse of awareness. Many of my episodic stumbling blocks were situations where I was forced to confront groups of wraiths in tight confines. All I can say is that the machine gun is your friend; be prepared to park in a corner and spray wildly.


All of these new creatures give Nihility an undeniable edge of unfamiliarity which handily combines with the freewheeling Shores of Hell theme augmented with textures new and old, area-appropriate ambient noise, a total lack of any musical soundtrack, and level titles that are at the very least immediately foreign to me. It's a multi-faceted attack on just about every plane that players operate on, resulting in a potent atmosphere that I hope will be plied toward new angles as Years further develops the overall shape of the megaWAD. Speaking of attack, the author is not content to merely tread water in the IWAD's setups when it comes to combat. You'll still get incidental fights, but Nihility is equally parts trappy with monster closets, teleport ambushes, teleport repopulation, arena battles, and even the occasional black magic of monsters jumping around using devious teleport lines.


Nihility is an aggressive, unusual mapset that does a great job of expanding the action of the original Doom without really stepping on Doom II's toes. I don't know if the author has the room in DeHackEd to make the rest of the episodes feel just as fresh, but I believe that I'm going to love watching Years try. You're going to get more than you bargained for if you're just looking for a plain Shores of Hell replacement. For those who are open to something a little more off the beaten path with the added surprise of it functioning in vanilla, there's Infinite Teeth.





NIHILITY
INFINITE TEETH
by "Years"

DammerungE2M1
While it contains some very clear homages to "Deimos Anomaly", the sheer volume of monsters and some other elements - like your brief moments walking around outside and the number of areas connected together by teleporters - makes for a different experience. The monster closets come on pretty thick, but you should be fine as long as you don't get too ballsy and try to burn through rifle ammo in lieu of the punchy shotgun. There are some pretty cool areas to journey through; I particularly like the marble and blood annex to the east.

E2M2Speicherung
Combining familiar elements of "Spawning Vats", "Refinery", and "Containment Area" with new material to form a sprawling adventure with secrets and surprises. While there are crates, there is no crate maze, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a maze to be found. The pressure is always on, especially in those dark areas where Years is fond of throwing spectres at you. You'll also see the first appearance of the slightly unfamiliar-looking Baron, who teleports away to build tension for the inevitable showdown. While there are a handful of great, panic-inducing ambushes, my favorite encounter takes place behind the yellow key door, forcing the player to move or be overwhelmed from several different directions while continuing to be wary of the new lost souls.

ObstgartenE2M3
The homages are becoming less distinct, leading to a cool, dangerous level whose major threat isn't really from overwhelming the player but sheer exposure with all the windows and portholes giving monsters plenty of vantage points from which to assault the player. There are still a few en masse teleport ambushes, but nothing on the level of the big finish from E2M2; again, the true danger comes from the monsters' ability to filter through the layout and surprise the player in a more organic fashion. I will say that the bit glut of wraiths as the level's finale came as quite a surprise as a monster that announces its presence with all the authority of an agitated skeleton, not that they felt anywhere near as dangerous.

E2M4Die Hallen
Borrowing inspiration from E2's largest levels, most obviously "Halls of the Damned" but also the more tech-oriented portions of "The Spawning Vats". It's a wicked, sprawling map that really leans on the player, using the more mobile wraiths and the rapid-fire gray imps to really lean on the player, leading to some great firefights like the ambush in the northwestern area that treats you to a bunch of monsters on the opposite ledge plus the cacodemons running in between and the stuff immediately in your face with only a lonely pillar as your initial cover. The northeast nukage / pillar room has that same sort of nervousness about it, mainly because while it's very open, most of the floor is poison. I really dig the architecture, adding a feeling of height and depth to some of the areas to play against the generally flat feel of E2.

Albtram-HausE2M5
A large and difficult level that will grant the wraiths your respect in case they hadn't already earned it. The ammo is also pretty tight, with no secrets to be found apart from the classic "teleport pad in a pit actually leads to the plasma gun", where most players probably wouldn't bother. There's a cramped and dangerous Hellish annex that shows off the pissed-off Baron, a little tougher but much more persistent than its lesser brethren. I also like the little secret annex, descended of E1M2's "Nuclear Station", debuting the kamikaze troopers alongside a pretty straightforward BFG trap. Tough, but electrifying.

E2M9Hirntod
Years dials things up for an intense map with many memorable moments. It's the most modern-feeling of the levels so far, with several teleport arena fights in the central room with the sacrificial skull structure that includes a soft finale featuring the kamikaze troopers and an earlier battle that's rife with the newer, super-lethal lost souls. There's an element of environmental danger to the southeast with the enormous channels of blood. The northwest, with its teleport lines and moody lighting coupled with the quick-moving wraiths creates an atmosphere of paranoia and action that's not unlike Aliens. There's a long, secret sequence to the BFG - complete with Spiderdemon showdown (!) - that begins with a limited-availability locker room that must be opened, I think, by the zombie inside. If you blink, you'll miss it. Having the BFG in hand changes the character of the final battle, a pretty cool feature. Outstanding stuff.

BlutfabrikE2M6
The layout looks more like classic E2, including homages to "Command Center" as well as flashes of E3 ("House of Pain"), but the truth is that it's deviously complex with all the "solid" midtextures and windows. Navigation, via automap or otherwise, will be a challenge, though the author is kind enough to offer some neat shortcut teleporters to point you in the right direction. It's got the same sort of combat elements as E2M5, but Years is more free with the ammo, so you've got that going for you. There are also some neat little touches built into the more abstract layout that give it a nice sense of place, like the medical facility / lab areas and the grisly spikes that await you at the bottom of the blind drop just past the western crusher gauntlet. That rising blood trap just about fucking got me. A very cool level.

E2M7Kloneteildienst
Another enormous techbase map. It's very well interconnected and has some impressive major areas like the enormous segmented staircase that runs from west to east as well as the tall, circular hallways that dominate the center of the level. The author lays on the claustrophobia and tougher Baron monsters, making for several deadly encounters like the big rush of wraiths in the southeastern storage area as well as the ambush in the darkness of the red key zone. One of my favorite bits is a long sequence of timed triggers that leads to a sinister secret area featuring... chambers containing stasis-bound marines! There are other bits of technology, too, that suggest that this facility is being used to manifest monsters, including the Lords of Heresy, but the green marines were a surprise to me. Fun stuff.

BestrafungE2M8
Here it is, the biggest one of all. "Bestrafung" again takes a couple of elements from "Refinery" (the rippling floor) as well as E3M5 (the four corner teleporter boss arena), but it's still very much the author's creation, seemingly centered around a handful of large, outdoor areas that serve as battlegrounds for highly dangerous firefights. E2M8 appears to be a hotbed of monster closets and teleporter traps and highly punishing monster placement. While I was pretty conscious of the danger of the Lords of Heresy, I didn't really feel their power until this map, though I'm sure some of the scenarios - like the barrel room to the northwest - would have gone much smoother if I'd saved a few rockets. The southern yard with yellow key begins as potential hitscanner Hell and then moves into teleporter-induced claustrophobia when you return at a much later time. The eastern section leading up to the finale is perhaps my favorite sequence, with nice big windows exposing you to the various flying and not flying monsters as you nervously await the raising bridges. I'd hate to think about taking on the penultimate Hell noble fight without having that invul. The Cyberdemon showdown is in a pretty cool area with a suitable techno-Hellish casket, but you'll want to get rid of all those pesky fliers before kicking the big one off as big boy comes with his own crowd of potential supporters... who will all kill each other if given the opportunity. A fantastic finish.

NO PARTICULAR NIGHT OR MORNING

This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's 2016 Cacowards

The Top TenBest MultiplayerRunners Up
Tech Gone BadAeonDMWarphouse
Ancient Aliens32in24-16THT: Threnody
Nihility: Infinite TeethBest Gameplay ModBloodstain
MutinyDoom 4 DoomStrange Aeons
Absolutely KilledMordeth AwardEchelon
Elf Gets PissedDoom the Way id Did:Shadow of the Wool Ball
ComatoseThe Lost Episodes
MiasmaMockaward
Alpha Accident: Terra NovaLudicrium
Japanese Community ProjectMapper of the Year
Blades of Agony E1Lainos

4 comments:

  1. Pleasure to read the review, as always. Nihility probably made more of an impression on me than any other episode for (Ultimate) Doom since Double Impact--abstract, atmospheric, and most importantly, bloody as hell. Very fine stuff, certainly hope the author is able to make good on his plans to eventually build it into a full megaWAD. The one thing I'm on the fence about is the total lack of BGM--kinda feel like some incidental tunes, Resident Evil style or the like, might spice it up here and there--but I got used to it in the end, I suppose.

    On that note, one significant typo in the text: in the paragraph where you talk about the soundtrack, you used Sandy's name but presumably meant Bobby Prince. ;)

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  2. This episode definitely deserves its recognition, though like Alpha Accident I wish the author would return for more! He even promised some revisions to the existing episode, not that the episode isn't good without them.

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    1. alpha accident's e2 is currently in progress. idk about nihility but i imagine that if it was worked on in total secrecy the next ep will appear with similar fanfare.

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