Monday, September 12, 2016

Ancient Aliens (AALIENS.WAD)


About a year ago, I think, I was treated to some really cool screenshots from a secret skillsaw project, coming strong even after he had released Valiant in 2015. The color scheme was incredibly unique, looking somewhere between a coastal sunset and a Lisa Frank trapper keeper and using a lot of... alien imagery. It wasn't originally to be a full megaWAD, but I guess a bunch of people couldn't wait to play around with the texture set. Thanks to skillsaw and friends, we now have Ancient Aliens. Released in 2016, it's a Boom-compatible megaWAD with some ZDoom / Eternity extras that only serve to enhance the experience.


The opening has you hunkering down in front of a Central American mural depicting a so-called ancient astronaut, taking a hit from a ceremonial pipe, and then embarking on a vision quest. As you encounter your spirit guides, you discover... visitors... that seem all too interested in Earthen antiquities. Though you must dig to uncover the truths behind their appearance, you'll experience revelations that no mortal should have to endure beyond Jupiter and the infinite. Will you be able to save the Earth from its engineered fate? More importantly, will anyone in their right mind believe you?


Yes; there are aliens. Two of them, in fact, if you're not counting the demons, which usually stood in for xenomorphs in the classic days of Doom WADs. The mancubus and arachnotron have had makeovers courtesy of Eriance's Demon Eclipse project, adding to Ancient Aliens's fresh look. The basic alien being borrows a bit from Obituary's "predator" monster, zipping around and leaving a difficult to follow outline. The tech troopers were hitscanners, though; whenever the aliens pause to shoot, they fire a couple of bursts of purple plasma (shared with the arach) that will burn your ass up if you're not careful. Thank goodness they're fragile, standing somewhere between the shotgun guy and imp in terms of health.


The other alien actor sort of cribs from another bygone TC, STRAIN, as it's a slow-moving flier that shoots revenant rockets, not unlike the Holo-bot. These guys launch missiles in bursts of three, though, and they explode when they die, which can make for some hilarious chain reactions but also means that they are dangerous to hug, requiring another layer of situational awareness on the player's part. I believe that they are close to the lost soul in toughness, taking roughly two regular shotgun blasts to die. Thankfully they leave behind nothing for the arch-vile to resurrect, not that you wouldn't just frag them again and splash ol' archie in the process.


The two combine with the hot new graphics to make Ancient Aliens one of the most visually stunning mapsets I've had the pleasure of playing, with plenty of goofy tricks to keep you smiling. Observe the early "Navajo wolf warp" that takes you to your first shot of action. It's a psychedelic light tunnel accompanied by a wolf howl that just manages to avoid overstaying its welcome. You'll see similar spirit animal feats, and while they taper off as you continue to play through the megaWAD, they are replaced by some gorgeous flying saucers. These superterrestrial sentinels are host to some of the most memorable gimmicks, whether they are housing keys or serving as the link between other worlds or just other places in the same level.


Ancient Aliens explores some pretty unique themes, the base of which can be traced back to 32in24-14: How the Hamburglar Stole Christmas. While a megaWAD for the happy holidays, there's also a gentle sprinkling of Egyptian iconography which sort of points the way toward the second half of AALIENS's first episode, thereafter appearing in a fashion that suggests that the aliens have nothing better to do when gallivanting around the universe than dropping lithic palaces. I'm sure that the texture artists have a much better idea of how much 32IN24-14 there is. Except for one moment, though, skillsaw stays away from the cold and snow and embraces desert scrub, archaeological oddities, alien planets and fortresses, and lots of Day-Glo.


A lot of this is in just the various lights used throughout the levels, but you'll also see - and walk across - plenty of platforms that are only outlined with neon plus a bunch of other careful wireframe stuff that seems like a logical extension of those glorious lightbridges that dominated the all too brief "A Lightbridge Too Far" from Valiant. Ancient Aliens is not lacking for cool visual effects, and while most if not all of them are derived from really cool cheats (like the viewscreen switching to travel mode in the flying saucers or, uh, pretty much every "transparent" platform) they only go to show how elbow grease and, uh, a couple of engine changes allows authors a lot of leeway when it comes to creating experiences that diverge further and further from the original Doom.


My biggest misgiving with Valiant was that some of its levels felt like they blurred together. Ancient Aliens largely dispenses with that sensation; part of this is due to the guest authors as well as the ease with which it moves between settings, especially once you've engaged the second episode. skillsaw also adopts a variety of goofy gameplay gimmicks, whether it's several levels featuring virtually invulnerable Cyberdemons, endless arachnotrons, or spirit animal telefrags. I also like the little microcosms contained "within" the flying saucers as well as the myriad worlds visited using them, albeit briefly, executed with gusto in "Leave Your Sol Behind".


All of the guest authors bring their own concepts to execution, too. I'm fond of the arch-vile / barrel room in AD_79's "Code", along with the bifurcated red vs. blue layout that changes what weapons you have available and when. stewboy's "Grey Dwarf" seems well-aligned to my tastes, cramming a labyrinthine layout into the shape of a ship with tons of secrets and an aesthetic that appears to downplay the vibrant colors of the rest of the mapset. lupinx-Kassman's "Culture Shock" is another show-stealer in the grand tradition of "Shaman's Device" of Community Chest 4 fame, taking place in some kind of aerial zen garden with crazy teleports and absolute attention to detail, plus a few Easter eggs I wouldn't dare miss, all the while fitting in with a megaWAD that includes animal spirit guides, flying saucers, ancient astronauts, and the Illuminati. "Trinary Temple" by Pinchy is another adventure level but is far more sprawling in its execution, with some great set pieces plonked down in a topographic ocean.


Joshy's two works are pretty disparate. "Nectar Flow" fits in with the gorgeous ruins aesthetic of the first episode with just a bit of Speed of Doom-style slaughter here and there whereas "Floating Arena" throws out any pretense of competing with elaborate Day-Glo fantasy, content to stay safely within the bounds of its name while piling the monsters on. essel's "Acerola-Orion" sits very comfortably among the alien planet-themed levels as a rock-solid action map with a lot of height variation to conquer. On the flipside, Tarnsman uses a more or less flat plane for the action of his "Egyptian Metaphysics", which takes the lush look of MAP08 and MAP10 and places it in the void complete with compelling islands in the level's periphery.


I must also mention the outstanding soundtrack from stewboy. If you're a true Doom murderhead, you've probably heard some of these songs before, and some will no doubt be upset that it's not MIDI metal. Rynn actually has a Bandcamp page for the soundtrack, so if you're curious, you can listen to a very varied selection of sounds that seems steeped in exotica. "Birdsong" is one of my perennial favorites, but there is so much to enjoy if you've got an open mind. It's pretty much the perfect OST to a planet-hopping, peyote-smoking, neon-fueled romp through the antiquities and beyond.


Another thing - and I've tried to show it through the screenshots used during this summary - this experience comes with a bunch of beautiful skies. Well, perhaps "backdrop" is more appropriate considering that some of these levels don't actually have an atmosphere. Sure, a lot of them are basically palette swaps, but I believe I've said before that skies do so much to set the visual character of a level, and these come through in spades. The cold blue of "Daylight Under a Dark Sol" is one of my favorites, evoking an feeling of forbidden, unknowable beauty. The one used for the space platform orbiting Earth is pretty neat, too.


Ancient Aliens is wicked cool and oh so smooth. Every year has its share of never-before-seen Doom moments and skillsaw has orchestrated a super shotgun blast to rock the community yet again. Will we see anyone else try their hand at crafting scintillating scenes with these resources? I want to believe. Until then, I'll go ahead and mark this particular case as UNSOLVED.







ANCIENT ALIENS
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne

EPISODE ONE
ONE LAST VISION QUEST

The Ancient Navajo Wolf WarpMAP01
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
This level opens with a charming little brick hut... with a pipe. And an ancient astronaut. And a bad trip. If the Cyberdemon seems really daunting, that's because you're not supposed to kill him! Ol' Cybie is somewhat controllable source of rockets, and there's a secret telefrag when he's done all the work he can. Of course, that leaves you with the unenviable task of coaxing all of the monsters into his line of fire, including the dudes from the back lot where you can grab a rocket launcher (or just kill them the normal way), but it's all good. A stunning visual introduction to Ancient Aliens's style; the coyote wormhole is quite charming.

MAP02Sanctum of the Wastes
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
A gorgeous little outpost level that cranks up the heat. Sure, there's no Cyberdemon, but Paul leans toward claustrophobic monster closet traps for much of this level, showcasing the danger of the revenant but also serving to debut the mancubus's new look. The awkward upper walkway to the north makes for potentially tricky footwork vs. the level's second revenant and there are even more in the basement, which starts out as a cool reveal that lowers you into a pit, converting the level geometry. I like that the soul sphere secret is a completely different part of the level. The secret to the green armor got me killed when I found it; quite a surprise, that one. While architecturally banal, the cramped passage to the east is a nice contrast to the more vibrant and open segments.

Arachnotron ArrivalMAP03
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
While the writing on the wall may indicate otherwise, there's nothing particularly exotic about your situation, just that the two arachnotrons on the turret platforms will be replaced via teleporter quite a few times. Save your ammo and suck it up. The result leaves you kind of boxed in and hurting for cover whenever you spring one of the inevitable ambushes in an area exposed to their fire, requiring an advanced economy of movement on the player's part, particularly in the western half of the level, where you're open to plasma fire most anywhere you stand. The level's fever pitch occurs just prior to the end of the arachnids and, more importantly, right after snagging the first combat shotgun. I like the ol' climbing switcheroo staircase gag in the northeast.

MAP04Bad Medicine Men
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
The shamans are, of course, a pair of arch-viles watching over the red and yellow keys and while not absolute area denial will have you hurting for cover, a difficulty compounded by the three mancubuses stationed on the ground floor. It's all about player exposure, whether it's the demon battle in the water pit with the blue key or the comical ruined staircase you need to prance up to get to the red, which also lets you snag a teleporter that gives you an expedient method for handling the fatsos. You don't actually have to duke it out with the viles, though; Paul has seen to that. Some of the tighter fights leave me thinking that the Berserk is meant to be the skirmishing weapon of choice...

Last Refuge of the AnasaziMAP05
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
More Cyberdemon spoilerage in a large, outdoor sinkhole with structures built in the cardinal directions. Cybie is an ever-present threat, probably until you snag the combat shotgun or plasma gun, but you get some relief when you enter the side-areas. That's when the regular monsters become your problem, though. The lush paradise to the west is the scene of one of the toughest fights, throwing mancubuses and demons at you after handing you the rocket launcher and a pair of arachnotrons hiding behind the waterfall to keep you from hanging out in the center. The skeleton ambush to the east is only problematic because the only way out is through, but there's enough space to go dancing. Don't miss the secret neon delight to the southeast.

MAP06Sinkhole Showdown
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
A level that escalates - err, rather, de-escalates - rather quickly. Each lowering of the ground floor exposes nastier waves of monsters hidden in the surrounding caverns, the second including a couple of arch-viles for sheer panic induction. You'll get a hyper-concentrated dose of the same experience in the northernmost area, which has a bit of a hornet's nest thing going as moving around too much will unleash an arch-vile, a potentially nasty situation given the congestion. Fast, fun action; a real blast-a-thon.

Dare to Fly Where Eagles SoarMAP07
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
Plies the same sentry-monsters-to-telefrag gimmick of MAP03 but with mancubuses. Again, if you're willing to hold out - and it's a fair bit easier in this layout - you can channel your animal spirit to take each one out. You'll have to take the teleporters, anyway, in order to get the keys. The progression should be familiar now; visit the ancillary strongholds built into the level's sides and oust their inhabitants, weathering some sort of ambush gauntlet, and then use all three keys to exit. The ambushes are fairly tame, except for the pack of Barons that boil out of the switch passageway in the eastern annex. The whole platform / staircase thing you jump down to the exit platform is a great centerpiece.

MAP08Ancient Aliens
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
A wonderful little adventure level with some amazing eye candy in the form of the three alien saucers seen hovering over the level. Stepping under them will teleport you "inside" the alien ship and treat you to a claustrophobic battleground that you must conquer in order to progress. The second of these, involving arch-viles and specters in irregular, cramped tunnels, is the nastiest. You'll want the plasma gun and as much ammo as you can get. The third is my favorite, turning the ring layout into a bit of a complex fight with several fronts. The first isn't too bad, but on your return you'll have to tackle a massive brawl with mancubuses, revenants, and arachnotron snipers. There are quite a few troublesome snipers, actually, like a handful of commandos that are pretty good at chipping away at you from across the level, but they're more annoying than anything... unless you're already running on empty. Very cool level.

The Nectar FlowMAP09
by Josh "joshy" Sealy
Don't be alarmed by the monster count! "Nectar" is a low-grade slaughter full of zombimen and imps with healthy amounts of tougher fare, like mancubus snipers in the high points overlooking the cistern that dominates the level's eastern half. That said, you'd be a fool to think that packs of basic troopers aren't dangerous in their own right. There's a lot of purple liquid to trudge through and some gorgeous scenery with architecture that I would describe as cavernous. You'll still have a couple of joshy slaughter moments to contend with, like the pure rocket suppression encountered after grabbing the blue key and the huge wave of monsters in the lowest level, but those latter guys are pretty easy to play with a slight bit of awkward movement. Nah; I'd be way more worried about the arch-vile trios that pop up at the darnedest times. A gorgeous gorge of a level. I dig how joshy uses the Egyptian reliefs; simple, yet satisfying.

MAP10Gift of Denial
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
skillsaw takes things to their logical extreme with this choked river fortress. The opening is mell-pell as you try to sort out the various entrenched monsters in the starting zone. It sort of calms down but then explodes back into action for several pitched fights, one of which is really cool. The southeast battleground creates several tiers and then populates them with monsters, you standing at the bottom, and then raises each one up in reverse order, allowing the beasties to pile on your floor but giving you more area to play in. The packs aren't very special, but it's a neat gimmick, and there's that element of panic if you flub too much with the rocket launcher. The finale is a big, nasty brawl, though, with no less than three Cyberdemons in an irregular outdoor space packed with mancubuses, arachnotrons, and nobles, not to mention the pack of revenants - backed by an arch-vile - that guards the red key. Sure, you get a BFG, but taking out all those Cyberdemons in such a strange space is tricky, to say the least.



EPISODE TWO
APPLIED EINSTEIN

On the Origin of SpaciesMAP11
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
Escaping the earthy tones of the fist episode for the cooler colors of a lovely space station. It's a good starter with a few big surprises, including a jaunt to some now familiar lunar topography. The shockers will be two of the new enemies, one of which is very fast but fragile, the other being something like a slow, flying revenant, akin to STRAIN's holo-bots. The action is very fast and quickly turns rough, whether it's the series of ambushes on the moon or the devious cloaked aliens. The run back from the saucer - which has its own particular, chainsaw-heavy challenge - is made difficult through several snipers.

MAP12Magenta Heat
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
A glowing, jazzy spaceship interior with the alien version of nukage. It's a trappy series of corridors and monster closets that hammers home the danger of the new enemies and may make you regret shooting your rocket load due to a particularly nasty monster arrangement that puts the player between a bunch of shotgun guys (rock) and an arch-vile (hard place). It's tight, action-packed, and a great level in which to hone your twitch reflexes.

Polychromatic TerraceMAP13
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
A gorgeous, terraced space platform, bringing to my mind Mechadon's level from 50 Shades of Graytall... architecturally, at least. It's nowhere near as big or confusing, but it IS liberally staffed with monsters. All the zoomies and the hornets' nest style make for a level that's tricky to break into and all the avenues in the central region coupled with the space pit make for tough skirmishing, particularly when Paul jumps your ass with a bunch of the predator aliens, as is what happens after grabbing the yellow key. There is an optional area with a plasma rifle, unlocked with the red key, while the blue key leads to a cool dynamic fight where you're pinned down between two sides of imps on a bridge with turret imps in each corner. You'll get caught up in the... Crossfire! I like the alien stone caverns on the edges, giving the level a slightly more grounded feel.

MAP14Blazing Boulevard
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
Life's the same, you're moving in stereo... The level begins with a bisymmetric arena that slowly opens up with a few cool transformations, like the day-glo platforms rising up to cross to the other side. The southern and northern areas are a bit different, the south with a cool "Technoprison"-ish bit where you can see all the monsters you'll fight before you move down to greet them. The technological fissure to the north is a nice change in visuals; its imp / Spiderdemon fight has a nice dynamic, but the suspense of hearing all the aliens on the other side of the barriers swarming and ready to be unleashed has more tension.

Wormhole JunctionMAP15
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
Total chaos within the walls of this orbital fortress. You're driven clockwise around the central structure, fighting off the incumbent monsters - including a Spiderdemon and a Cyberdemon - and fending off the copious newcomers. Once you have the blue key, you can chase down the red and yellow ones to the north and south, respectively. The firefights around the yellow are kind of tricky but can be cheesed if you avoid waking up the arch-viles. The red is more straightforward, but moving forward with both will raise the final spiral in the massive staircase and usher in the final big ambush, complete with a few arch-viles... excepting the pack of aliens lurking at the exit, anyway. The secret exit isn't complex, just easy to overlook, and comes with a neat inverted spiral reveal. The layout makes the skull-bots very dangerous, not that they aren't in a level as open as this. A real thrill-ride, through and through.

MAP31Grey Dwarf
by Stuart "stewboy" Rynn
It's cold outside but there's some kind of atmosphere as evinced by the railway that leads to the normal exit. "Grey Dwarf" is a wonderful, enormous spaceship made up of densely packed corridors and rooms with Doom-style hopalong progression. Well, the main horseshoe arc is pretty wide-open, but it's a faux-3D wonderland liberally populated with those darned stealth aliens as well as most everything besides the big two. Exploring is usually rewarding, and in a nice change of pace, it feels like many of the computer panels perform some kind of function, though they aren't always obvious. There is a secret yellow key that affords you access to the BFG as well as the secret exit, so you'll want to dig around for that while you hastily pick off the zippers while sprinting with caution. The big ambush at what I can only describe as the bridge is my standout fight, a whole bunch of frantic dodging.

Ossuarium ExoterreMAP32
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
Stepping away from all the lovely neon colors for a gorgeous slice of something that looks like Hell, complete with a few walls full of bones, plus one of my favorite Doom MIDIs. It's a tight and difficult level due to its very trappy gameplay; think columns opening up and unleashing a storm of blitz aliens or an influx of revenants from all directions converging on your location. You know, that sort of stuff. When you're not picking your ass up off the ground, you'll be enjoying battles like the balcony fight for the blue key, which has pain elementals and cacodemons in your face and a pack of demons, zombies, and fatsos on your ass. A wonderful treat... provided you don't get whiplash.

MAP16Leave Your Sol Behind
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
Wow. Uh, this starts out as a cool space platform level that turns space traveler, with homages to other things Paul has participated in. There's the lightbridge that forms the core of the opening orbital platform, of course, but once you get inside the spaceship you visit three other worlds, one of which appears wrought from the snowy 32in24-14, the next having a fiery quality that for some vague reason reminds me of BTSX E2. The last is a tower in the heart of an alien caldera, where you use your spirit animal telefrag powers to eliminate the Cyberdemon guardians... not that it's quite that simple. Both the winter and fire planets have some sniper / exposure gameplay going on, but the fire has a cool second phase where the floor drops out and you have to balance rad suits against forces emanating from newly revealed caverns. A fun, fantastic journey.

Daylight Under a Dark SolMAP17
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
Those azure arches look wicked cool. "Daylight" has the same sort of architectural sensibilities as the orbital platform levels, what with the day-glo platforms and angular architecture, but the addition of the alien topography makes for a unique experience. The main gimmick is you waking up two Cyberdemons on both sides of a ravine, steering clear of them until you collect the BFG much further down the road, at which point they're fairly easy to take care of. I like the two-front chokehold right after the first teleporter jump, what with the mixed monster packs throwing a bit of uncertainty into the mix. The finale is potentially brutal, throwing two Cyberdemons and a wave of lost souls into a medium-sized outdoor area. I suppose there's enough cells lying around for you to try to spam at least one of them to death, since lining up bumps will be tricky. A dark delight.

MAP18Illuminati Revealed
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
In case the big fuckoff pyramid and backward speech doesn't clue you in, this is a boss shooter level. You can't get telefragged, but that's cold comfort when there are as many monsters to start with, not to mention good ol' skillsaw slaughter gameplay. Throw in not knowing where to go at first and you've got quite a challenge; double if you somehow avoid picking up the tucked-away BFG. Some of the areas are relatively shielded, and while the cloud of cacodemons tends to build up as you make your way through, it won't really start biting you until you reach the top floor with the yellow key. That one is pretty easily handled with the rocket launcher provided the Cyberdemon starts infighting, but it's probably easier yet if you have the BFG (I failed to snag it on my first playthrough). From there, you're a couple of dirty ambushes away from the exit, one being an arch-vile fivesome with admittedly plenty of cover. You just gotta love that Illuminati centerpiece.



EPISODE THREE
YOU'RE THE ALIEN NOW

Crash LandingMAP19
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
Kicking the final episode off the old-fashioned way, with a Tyson level. skillsaw classes it up with a nice atmospheric trek through the crash site before beginning the hard stuff as you enter the alien outpost. As per usual, players inept at Berserk-fueled gameplay will loathe many of these fights, particularly the yellow key battle which floods your small space with demons and imps and uses an arch-vile to pin you down behind those handy columns, not that the revenant / arch-vile pillar waltz for the blue key is that much easier. At the very least, there's plenty of health, so if you're ever going to get used to the unforgiving Tyson style of gameplay you could do a lot worse.

MAP20Code
by Brayden "AD_79" Hart
AD gives you some decisions to make. Like, super shotgun or rocket launcher. Your next choice is between the weapon you didn't pick and the plasma gun, which will also determine which of the two keys you grab first. The astral, alien code flying through the air gives things a surreal feel, and I like the more earthy appearance after having so much neon score my retinas. AD's combat is pretty exacting with a few hairy moments like the blind elevator that locks you into the south side plus some pretty inventive encounters. One of them has a couple of suspicious barrels marking some arch-vile holograms; if you don't keep the barrels from blowing up, you'll have a special guest. Or two. The skull box room to the south puts health, armor, and ammo on top of your arch-vile pillars, so you have to be quick and careful considering the room is filling up with trash monsters in the back.

Cyberbullying: Beyond EarthMAP21
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
This fusion of alien ruins and tech uses a stalwart Cyberdemon sentry as its main hook. This guy appears guarding the blue key and then disappears, only to reappear and continue the cycle until the finale, where you're finally given the tools to defeat him. The other motif is a cluster of wireframe tetrahedrons, looking cool if nothing else in the darker, unearthly portions of the map. Since skillsaw doesn't want to give you enough leeway to kill Cybie early, you'll need to be both precise and persistent as you make your way through the level, including a moment where you have to use one teleporting crowd of imps as a rocket shield while blast your way through the other. The foxhole with the zapper aliens is a potentially harrowing affair, too.

MAP22Acerola-Orion
by Sarah "esselfortium" Mancuso
A level in the grand tradition of "The Living End", occupying the spaces on the edges of a massive fissure. essel does a pretty good job of hiding it, though, what with all the glitz and the crazy teleports. Most of the snipers that harass you are generally within weapon range, though there are some troublesome baddies like arch-viles and revenants in a few spots or choke points where you're liable to get blasted in the back while trying to push through some trash monsters. The scenery and architecture are gorgeous, all of it ending up in a curious circular maze populated with revenants and other creatures that gives way to a wide open space with a few arch-viles you'll have to handle deftly, either through speedy death or quick cover. A very cool level.

Trinary TempleMAP23
by "Pinchy"
A massive adventure level, most of which occurs outdoors but is built around the foothills of a massive temple, including marshes, ruins, and a dam. "Trinary" is more about exposure than anything else since you'll be facing a constant drip feed of monsters spread about the level as you progress. Sometimes it's chaingunners, and sometimes it's arachnotrons. A large number of players will no doubt be quite annoyed. Pinchy has created a bunch of very cool set pieces, essential to an adventure level, up to and including the temple itself, which has other neat things like a terraced fountain but is otherwise a fairly straightforward if fairly trappy clear, the main shock occurring in the final battle which starts out fairly light with imps and cacodemons before trading the latter for those skullbots and a pair of Cyberdemons to finish things out. I'm not sure where I grabbed the yellow key, but you'll want it, too, since it's needed for the BFG. Lots of cool things to see... especially the descending saucer at the exit.

MAP24Culture Shock
by Chris "lupinx-Kassman" Kassap and Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
Is this Nirvana? "Culture Shock" starts out with a short briefing in the saucer. giving you a nebulous preview that hardly does the actual location justice. The majority of the level is composed of floating islands in puffy white clouds, looking delightfully feathery. It's also host to several secret areas you'll want to find, Easter eggs rendered with Kassman's charm. The combat involved is tight and punishing, working off both claustrophobia and player exposure, culminating in a Cyberdemon showdown but including other elements like an arch-vile who leisurely awaits you in his reading chair, perhaps hoping that you'll just go away, and a storm of monsters that must be fended off with the rocket launcher after dropping through a well. Moving around the islands is accomplished through ladders and ropes, some taking you to isolated elevations, as well as chains of partial hoops that quickly teleport you on the horizontal, almost as though you're flying. It's a lovely, unique adventure; it's too bad that there isn't more.

XenoarboreumMAP25
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
The neon tubes of monsters lend a very distinct if abstract aesthetic, furthered by the fact that some of the gameplay necessarily involves stomping through the void. "Xeno" is actually a pretty subdued level, but the monster placement is more precise, with difficulty encountered in crossing that ridge to the west or jumping down into a perfectly innocent pit with a plasma gun and tons of ammo and then being caught between a pack of demons and a Cyberdemon. There's a lot of action concentrated around the central structure which morphs and opens up to allow a greater ease of access but serving as a great chokepoint for monsters to try and hold you out. Pretty neat stuff; I especially like that wireframe sphere that surrounds the yellow key.

MAP26Egyptian Metaphysics
by Richard "Tarnsman" Frei
"Metaphysics" returns to the themes of the first episode, but with challenging monster placement that walls you in with all sorts of low-tier snipers on the high ground. Tarnsman ensures that there's no safe space to begin with, forcing you out the starting alcove with a couple of beefy monsters if you linger. Your only real hope is to rush for the rocket launcher and slay those arch-viles, after which you can sort of relax. The rest of the level is pretty trappy, but Frei gives you plenty of room to move around in, so you should be good as long as you're not blindly shooting rockets everywhere. Well, uh, you'll probably want to have the secret BFG for the final fight, which pits you against a bunch of arch-viles in a pit. On that note, it's also a pretty cool level for secret snoopers.

Kingdom of the Crystal SkullsMAP27
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
Floating in the neon alien void along with like a hojillion square, stone pillars. It's an outstanding visual and comes with a few other cool gimmicks, like the three skull keys you have to collect in order to open the final gate and odd alien tunnels accessed via the various flying saucers that complicate your progression. It's a lot of fast action with the occasional desperate ambush, usually involving arch-viles; the abundance of rockets and cells ought to make things fly by. The catwalk section that leads to the red key is my favorite bit of action, handling hard targets with the rocket launcher while dodging assorted fireballs until you can move forward and really put the screws to that peanut gallery of imps. Very nice.

MAP28Floating Arena
by Josh "Joshy" Sealy
This is a little closer to what I expected from Joshy, not that there's anything wrong with "Nectar". "Floating" is a straightforward slaughtermap where you can really exploit infighting and crowdshaping but also have enough cells and ammo to cut loose with your own weapons rather than weaponizing Hellspawn. The keyswitches will unlock more of the island, revealing more hordes that must be contended with. I think that the most subdued portion of the mapset, a platforming segment in the void that's immediately followed by a cramped tower with mancubuses and a Cyberdemon plus the aliens, is the most potentially aggravating section.

The Ones Behind it AllMAP29
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
The big finale. You're probably for the plot twist, something that pleasantly surprised me, but you'll have to muscle your way through a few crazy, cramped skillsaw slaughters, the last of which has shades of "The Final Countdown" as you battle it out in the eye of a xenomorphic hurricane. You're forced to handle mancubuses and then arachnotrons in an increasingly larger space until the final walls fall and you suffer through several waves; the key is to survive until enough of the monsters are whirled into the center, where infighting and some careful work will thin them out for the culling. The leadoff has a pretty nasty fight what with all the revenant and alien snipers, but it's otherwise straightforward arena slaughter through and through. That reveal, though...

MAP30The End
by Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne
Home at last at an island retreat. You'll have to do the bare minimum amount of sleuthing to make it to the end credits, witnessing along the way other cool things like flying saucer tractor beams. There's something else, too, something that cannot be told, only experienced. It's a great way to round out a fantastic experience; my favorite implication involves a couple of 20th century foxes.


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

21 comments:

  1. this wad is crazy. kinda hard but very well made. keep it up skillsaw. And KMX, keep this site running. i come here nearly everyday

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  2. Thanks for the review, kmx, and you're way too kind (as always)! There's been lots for me to mull over in the months since release so here are some random, disorganized thoughts.

    You're right that this wasn't intended to be a megawad, at first. When I started the project, I was just messing around with a few things that I thought were interesting to explore - custom palettes and ammo deprivation. That's why so many of the early maps focus on turret gimmicks that require telefragging eventually. That's also why there are colorful neon lights everywhere in th ruins without any explanation - I just wanted to use bright colors. The idea to make the mapset alien themed didn't come along until later. I more or less tried to fit the idea of the alien story into the Southwest/Native American themed maps I had already made.

    I don't typically enjoy comic book films but I'm pretty sure seeing Guardians of the Galaxy and it's super colorful take on space opera is what made me want to make a space episode using the aaliens palette. Since I already had ruins maps, I think aliens were the easiest way to thematically tie space and ruins together. I think the occasional silliness/humor/injokes emerge out of necessity since mapping can sometimes be tedious/challenging and telling a silly story that ties everything together gave me some incentive (and willingness) to see everything through.

    I'm glad that you highlighted Stewboy's musical (and mapping!) contributions as well as those of all the other mappers who were willing to put up with my incessant nagging on IRC. I've been told by some that the guest maps detract from the overall consistency of the project by some, and I guess that's a fair criticism, but I also think the criticism you leveled at Valiant regarding levels blending together is a fair one. Guest maps are IMO a great way to address that. There's nothing else in the set like Pinchy's map, Kassman's map, or Stewboy's map, and the maps by other BTSX alumni are also a breath of fresh air IMO after the umpteenth skillsaw map.

    Working with Stewboy was really beneficial for me. Sometimes, he'd have a finished map from me, and come back a few days or weeks later with a midi that suited that map great. Other times, he'd shoot a random midi my way and I'd have to make something to fit it. It was a symbiotic relationship IMO. Both of us got pushed somewhat out of our comfort zones in order to match the other's ideas. I kind of wonder if any other doom wads have had a similar story. Of course, I grabbed plenty of midi's off of his back catalog as well.

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    1. Hey just wanted to comment that I found the levels in Valiant anything but 'blended together'. So many unique ideas and level designs... Really it is the most varied megawad I've ever played, and also probably the highest quality overall. I haven't yet played AA (it's on my to-do list), just wanted to thank you again for Valiant. Such an amazing megawad!

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    2. it's an odd criticism from me but pretty unimportant since idk if anyone could read either review and come away with the idea that i disliked them. i loved the appearance of "Spiraling Into Nether" and "Genocide Motor", rather than have the molten void be some kind of one-off appearance. on the other hand, they feel like they could just as easily be parts of the same level, a sentiment i had more strongly for parts of the first episode. while i could dig into this a bit deeper it's a minor observation and i think i've done whatever passes for me raking paul over the coals as often as ive been singled out as a relatively "nice" reviewer

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    3. it's most definitely a fair and valid criticism that helped pushed me to try to do things to get more diversity in each episode in AA, such as the guest maps and the thematic transitions in e2 and e3. E1 doesn't really have a thematic shift except when aliens suddenly appear I guess.

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    4. well, aliens appearing comes with a swap from dusty southwest desert-ish to a more lush, more aagyptian look. plus dose saucers

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  3. Map trivia time!
    MAP01 - initially opened with you directly in the wolf warp. Tarnsman had the idea of putting the peyote pipe at the start to give the player a moment to settle in before getting blasted by the cyberdemon.
    MAP02 - the first map. I made this one just to test the palette and various textures. It was cut for most of development, but stewboy didn't realize that. He wrote a great midi for it (one of the best midi's he did, IMO) and it elevated the map enough that I was willing to put it back into the set with some adjustments.
    MAP03 - the warning message at the start was added extremely late into development. I'm not sure what the reaction would have been if I hadn't included it :D
    MAP07 - Running straight forward and waking up the whole map to grab the armor and RL is extremely satisfying. I get sad when I see someone play cautiously here.
    MAP11 - This is my last moon segment. For real! ..right?
    MAP13 - My interpretation of my favorite underrated Sandy map, The Courtyard.
    MAP18 - IMO the best example of a midi stewboy wrote for a map that was already finished. Really great stuff.
    MAP24 - My contributions to this map were fairly minimal - I did the eastern island in the foggy section, and everything past the RK door in the upper section. Kassman was the real wizard here :D
    MAP25 - This was IMO the best example of me mapping to match the feel of one of Stewboy's compositions.
    MAP27 - Visually, my favorite map in the set, and probably my favorite map I've ever done in that regard. I am REALLY happy with the areas around the south and west with the laser bridges and floating monoliths.
    MAP29/30 - End maps are REALLY hard to make. The idea here was to distinguish the maps in different ways than I had in previous projects - ie, Vanguard has an unabashed slaughter map to close it out, Lunatic has an arena, Valiant has a custom boss fight - so I needed something else that would be new and different. The idea was to close the wad out with story elements told through the maps. The whole reveal and silliness came naturally since the wad is really tongue and cheek already.

    Wow, I wrote waaaaay too much. Thanks again kmx.

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    1. no, thank you for all the wonderful info! the ammo deprivation gimmick / telefrag thing was something i picked up on but I had no idea that the initial intent was with that as the main thrust. re: map07, aaliens and your other stuff accentuates playing... aggressively, whereas something like fellow 2016 release bloodstain must be played like a cover shooter if you are to survive. i am more of a fan of the looser, astronaut-friendly style of your work. also, i'm very happy with the ending stuff.

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    2. Re: MAP02's music, I think I can safely say that "The Incessant Flow of Time" is my favorite piece from the (just fantastic) soundtrack.

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    3. As much as I love working with skillsaw for the mapping talent, AA surpassed my previous experience with all the fun we had on IRC just coming up with more injokes during the alpha/beta stage. The penultimate map reveal had everyone going crazy with more silly ideas.

      The last map started pretty much as the Pirate Doom-styled thank you area and the speech corridor, but when Tarnsman suggested the peyote pipe for the map01 intro (alpha just vomited you in front of the cyb in 0.1 seconds), it of course had to be tied in for the outro as well. The _other_ shocking reveal with the scientists started from a bugreport in the first Joshy map where he used a stalagmite in the central arena, which showed up as a "lost" scientist in the compiled alpha. The limestone block lifting vista is supposed to indicate that the pyramids were actualy built by the UAC, because it makes no sense at all, by which I mean perfect sense open your eyes sheeple, although that one probably doesn't translate clear enough, heh. The final reveal was added because skillsaw didn't bother with an outro text at all and I really wanted one more plottwist to turn everything on its head _again_.

      Kudos to skillsaw for soaking up all the good ideas and implementing them, I think in the end it adds the bow on the giftwrap that Valiant perhaps lacked and felt more like "a bunch of maps".

      -dew

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    4. i loved all the scientist shit, i mean in MAP29 it's clear they're the "ones behind it all" so seeing them actually assembling the pyramid is sort of hammering it on but a nice touch to actually witness it. the twist to the mulder and scully conversation was the perfect finish, i havent laughed that hard while playing doom in awhile

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  4. Masterful review of a Godly megawad. Great job on this KMX!

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  5. This is an awesome Megawad. One of the best in environments.

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  6. Thanks for the review KMX! There were actually several botched map attempts before the idea of ruins in the clouds came to mind for map24. And here they be:
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/5hq9ldpc3zm5hnr/AAStuff.zip?dl=0

    The the intro in the saucer and the Cyberdemon arena finale weren't in the first few release candidates of AA. I added those areas in later to sorta help the map feel more connected with the rest of the wad. Originally the map was intended to be much longer, but starting the map from scratch only a scant few weeks before compilation and also having an exam around the corner sobered me up. Thankfully Skillsaw is a chill dude and did whatever he could to help me make it, including designing the scenario with the giant ambush after you drop through the hole in the upper cloud section. As such it is probably the best piece of gameplay in the entire map haha

    There are a ton more ideas for the cloud theme that I didn't get around to using, and I have sorta started an Eternity/Zdoom map thing with this theme that uses truecolor sprites and portals and whathaveyou, but there's also a metric ton of both RL commitments and even commitments to other projects before it sees the light of day =P

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    1. very cool background info! look forward to seeing it whenever it comes out!

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  7. While I finally got finishing the mega wad, due to Biological psychology classes, to me this is by far the one of the best wads out there. Design, look, and the absolute 80's psychedelic feel to it is amazing.

    FUN FACT: Since this mod is Boom compatible if you load in the "Smooth Doom" mod, (I'm using GZdoom 2.1) with Ancient Aliens, you end up turning Doom Guy,all the weapons, props, and monsters into this psychedelic mess that ends up fitting the wad due to the retro colors. I'm guessing this is a glitch with textures being meshed with sprites and textures, but hey it really adds a whole "tripping on balls effect" that's already in this wad.

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    1. I assume that this is due to the fact that Ancient Aliens uses a different, remapped color palette which Smooth Doom's sprites are not made for but no less hilarious.

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