Tuesday, November 29, 2016


by "Lainos"

Lainos graced us with three releases in the 2016 season. Comatose was a continuation of his exploratory style, further expanding the world of Sacrament. Urotsuki 2 took the broad architecture and texture experiments of his Urotsuki trilogy and folded it into the mythology of the Object series. Lilium has something from both but belongs to neither. It is not an invitation to explore one of Lainos's very personal worlds but rather a chance  to share in something intensely personal. Granted, it's still a Doom II level, a MAP01 replacement for a limit-removing port that can play .OGG files. As always, pr-boom+ is recommended by the author and I concur since pointing yourself toward the park crushed my framerate in ZDoom.

Lilium has no included storyline and its Lainos PWAD titlepic hallway you walk through to enter the area proper seems unusually self-aware. Behind you, a gory subway wreck. In front, a city locked in an endless winter. The tone is depression, first established by a bleak repeating extract of music which doesn't quite loop properly such that it sounds like it skips whenever it goes through another cycle. Then there's the city in winter setting, a classic motif heightened by the desperate writing on the walls. A lot of it is unintelligible but you'll see the occasional "It's Winter forever" and perhaps the most important script located on a fountain near the level's beginning, "-45°C WITHOUT YOU". As an American I would scarce dare to guess at the meaning behind the "Go Hard" posters plastered everywhere - as nothing in Lainos's levels is without purpose - but I doubt that the connotation is a positive one.

After establishing this gloomy setting Lainos reinforces the feeling through a grueling combat gauntlet beginning in the park beyond the fountain. It's a maze of fenced-in passages broken up by the occasional lamp and bench with medikits and shell packs spread throughout. As you navigate the outdoor labyrinth you'll conjure forth groups of imps scattered amongst the trees. At the heart of this web lies some sort of monument. To me, it suggests a war memorial. There is nothing else to discover but uncertainty and pain; roughly 200 imps can be found in the forest if you activate and kill them all so full clear at your own risk.

If you didn't figure it out after the first couple encounters Lainos carries over one of the gameplay surprises of Comatose: monsters lacking alert and idle sounds. Some, though, will be happy that the author leaves partial invisibility to the specters. The resulting ambushes come with such clockwork frequency that you're never in anything but a state of heightened dread, beginning inside the imp warren and rolling on to the frozen sluice network that takes you down the eastern side of the map to a sort of outdoor market. The aqueduct continues the same crushing feeling. While it breaks away from the imps, who appear atop the walls, you're generally stuck between two high-HP monsters like mancubuses or arachnotrons with every attack. To add insult to injury, it's a long trip.

The market begins something more like Doom's normal action due to the closer confines and then opens up again when you reach a curved network of alleys. Afterward you go underground and into the sewers through a crusher gauntlet that you'll have to climb TWICE and a subterranean shantytown constructed from cardboard boxes. It's an unusual theme but combat avoids becoming too crazy since the inhabitants are almost exclusively shotgun guys with the occasional ambush by a squadron of revenants led by individual arch-viles. At the end you'll come full circle to the railway station, admittedly accessible at the beginning of the map but mostly barred from exploration. The railway interior is probably the nastiest portion of the level combat-wise due to its monster placement which includes surprise arch-viles plus, you guessed it, friendly skeleton porters.

Snagging the yellow key begins the final leg of your journey. If you'd poked around before then you'd know that the key opens up the circular mall but when you venture outside now you'll see two obstacles. One, a Spiderdemon, sits in the roundabout brandishing Lainos's billboards and flying the Russian flag. The other is a line of spectral but impassable soldiers who force you to contend with the Mastermind. You must remove them by using a switch that you might have seen before but had no apparent use and which the arachnomomma is now guarding. The mall is the scene of the level's finale; its symbol appears to be a white rabbit wearing a big, purple lemniscate for glasses. It sort of reminds me of Elton John but it is almost certainly drenched in symbolism given all of the "Winter Forever".

The big showdown is actually a pretty elegant firefight. There are two arch-viles in the back but due to Doom's pathing they aren't great at working their way around to you on the upper tier, which leaves you to contend with the two Cyberdemons, one in the front and one in the back. The vanguard you can take out straightaway by way of the BFG if you're any good at Bumping. The other you'll want to lure around and away which may not be in the spirit of aggressive, wildman Doom gunplay but I can't imagine that doing it the other way would be any more fun. Once cleared, you're free to flip the switches and remove the barriers and... ascend to the winking blue singularity.

Some of the symbolism contained in the level will remain inscrutable without asking the author directly, which I am loathe to do because doing so removes some of the "fun" involved in puzzling things out. Additionally, as admitted in the .TXT, there's a lot of the author's own pain and angst woven into the fabric of the map itself. I would prefer not to call up the very emotions that he may have intended to exorcise. One of the messages sent is quite clear, though. At least, it is to me. The war memorial is pretty much THE central structure in the park, bookending the majority of the level's action with a peculiar showdown. The casualties of war appear to weigh heavily on Lainos's mind since a barrier of silent soldiers bars you from completing the map until you have dealt with the "Mastermind", which rallies around the Russian flag. It's an interesting image... especially when juxtaposed with the posters proliferating the map.

I'm less sure about the mall but it's clear that going hard like the Spiderdemon isn't the end to your quest. Instead, your final confrontation is in a consumerist temple. While it's no bank, as was the case with Echelon's second episode, it's a location of obvious importance to capitalist societies. Once you've slain the demons within you're free to move on, rising over the central shop. The importance of the interior basin slipped by me at first but given the context I'm inclined to believe that the floating flowers are pink lotus blossoms (or more likely lilies, hence the title, Lilium). As my good friend Wikipedia informs me, "the lotus represents purity of the body, speech, and mind as if floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire". Is it any wonder then to be surrounded by these vessels, symbolic of rebirth, as you move above this material plane? Consider also that pressing the switches around the periphery of the mall reveals the torches in the basin... lighting votive candles, perhaps?

The white rabbit seemed the least parseable item of the level's denouement but on closer inspection I think I can tease out a few details. This creature, appearing to peer through the whole of eternity, stands poised over the entryway to the mall in both the outside and inside. The two frozen escalators by the entrance each have their own white rabbit but lack the lemniscate. The marked lagomorph in contrast sits at an elevated position, superior to the shops of the mall, and mirrors the player's own ascension. I posit that the risen rabbit symbolizes a being whose perceptions exist within the corridor of time infinite but in accordance with the tenets of Buddhism recognizes its existence outside of this mortal coil, beyond "attachment and desire". The critical actions of the PWAD thus suggest a potential path to achieve Nirvana. Not literally advocating violence, of course, but symbolic of conquering demons of a more... personal nature.

As for why all of this is related through a PWAD, you need look no farther than the level's very opening. The player begins next to a subway accident; a calamitous event. Emerging from the wreckage, you are confronted with a hallway lined by screenshots of most of Lainos's works from recent memory. A moment of shameless self-promotion? I am more inclined to read it as a bout of soul-searching, re-establishing who he is in the wake of some sort of tragedy. Exactly what I cannot say, but in emerging from the chaos the author expresses himself perhaps his purest way: a Doom PWAD.

Other aspects of Lainos's vision mean less to me but in seeing them I realize that my own attempts at PWADcraft might end up much the same but changing out his anime title music references with only the wildest of 60s and 70s psychedelic and progressive rock... and probably a lot of synthwave. I'm not any sort of an anime connoisseur so it was nice of Lainos to provide scannable QR codes (now being a mainstay of his as evidenced by the ones linking his PWADs) that link to some stuff I've never heard of. Elfen Lied - which I only know in passing - appears to be more important than the rest since the PWAD shares its name with the former's title track and snatches of its Latin lyrics are scrawled on the level's walls. And, of course, what appears to be fan-made music derived from My Little Pony, which gets its own billboard in the roundabout.

Lilium is... something else. The glut of Lainos's works exist in a sort of fantasy world and it's simpler to speculate on as it has its own mythological framework. Lilium feels more textual, or maybe relevant is the word. I recall something Russian Doomer Shadowman once said about investing his works with a "second sense". I won't belabor the context of the statement (you can read about it in my review of his The Inquisitor) but I think that it highlights an important difference in community attitudes about what a Doom WAD can be. The RDC, for instance, tends to practice as though it can be more than a demon-killing simulator. You may play this and just see a weird journey from a trainwreck through a deserted, icebound city. I experience it and see another potential of this aging game engine actualized.



  1. Looks great, normally Doom maps are just a variety of bases, and abstract places, that make no constructional context, but a Russian Urban setting seems great.

    P.S. Also KMX E XII have you heard about the 20 monsters or less mega wad challenge that's going around the ZDoom forums, heard its coming out the 18 of this year in DEC.
    [Link] http://forum.zdoom.org/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=54247&sid=b84d32e733ad5082ef02279e77132ffd

    1. sounds cool. the other day i was thinking about what a collection of entryway length maps might play like. in my head i was calling it "enter the way"

    2. Sounds great, entryway length maps could be a fun mega wad. We did have that one wad 50 Shades of Gray wad, and Tormentor667's wad's always have some theme to it

      Also KMX E XII will you be reviewing the 20 Monsters Challenge [Community Project] when it comes out. I mean this mega wad sound's like the opposite of a slaughter wad, but if you look at what monsters some modders can and can't use, I'd like to see how they pull this off in game like Doom.

    3. maybe? one of the things i am kind of driven to do is mop up some of the stuff i didn't get around to playing in 2015 and 2016.

  2. addendum: i am purposefully glazing over the anime / MLP stuff referenced in the pwad. i know that it may be important in context to the WAD's message, but I do not have the stomach to do in-depth anime watching n stuff for a full contextual reading.