Friday, December 23, 2016

The KZDOOM Series

by Kurt Kesler

as featured in Serial Killing

Kurt Kesler was a pretty prolific author who eagerly embraced several source port standards, cementing him as an early adopter and experimenter. Most of his levels were made for the original Doom and collected in KMEGA1 but he also horsed around with the Boom format as per KBOOM and, on a few occasions, source-port agnostic (limit-removing) as in KHILLS. KZDOOM is, you guessed it, his series of levels for Marisa Heit's ZDoom. This seven-level collection was published over a period of time spanning 1999 to 2001 with the unfinished scraps of KZDOOM8 released in his k-maps collection in 2003.

The author's use of ZDoom enhancements tend toward the tasteful with features like polyobjects used to make sliding doors and machinery. You'll also see scripted monster spawns, colored sector lighting, and water that you can actually swim in, not to mention sloped sectors. Kurt tried experimenting with gameplay modifications here and there, most notably in the opening KZDOOM1, but such dalliances are the exception rather than the rule and purely mechanical in nature. Of course, it wouldn't be an early ZDoom map if it didn't have everyone's favorite, the stealth monsters, but the winking intruders are more of a rarity.

If you follow Kesler for any great period of time you'll notice a few motifs. He likes his zombies, he favors combat shotgun and rocket launcher play, and his levels usually contain some sort of naturalistic locale within which the "fabricated" structures reside. Most of the time it's Kurt's favorite, the "base" theme, but this series also includes a gothic fortress and secretive ruins. While Kesler's levels are rarely aggressively hard you may have to deal with the occasional belabored encounter *cough The Power Plant cough*.

The KZDoom series is definitely worth checking out for featuring a variety of settings and neat features, especially the seventh's usage of the newly available slopes. I think that the elements Kurt uses would make a great baseline for a larger ZDoom mapset, maybe even a megaWAD. Y'know, something not trying to showcase absolutely everything available in an engine advanced some sixteen years at the time of this writing.

Your objective: escape a high-security factory. Kesler's first ZDoom outing is a techbase level in a sort of rocky wilderness. Enhancements include polyobjects like swinging doors and rotating machinery plus the oft-questioned feature of stealth monsters. Kurt makes a lot of tweaks in this map that didn't really play out for the rest of the series, making zombies faster and tougher but giving your shotgun a much higher rate of fire. Watch out for cacodemons!

More songs about buildings and food- I mean, Doom. Kesler dumps the super-powered zombies of the debut for a prominent cacodemon motif, appropriate given that the alternate title is "Cacodemons Revenge". Rather than beginning in an installation, you work your way through a canyon that's also the site of several facilities built into it. The polyobject enhancements continue, but there's also a splash of deep water as well as scripted intros and outros.

In "The Alien Water Thieves", you're tasked with shutting down some sort of demon-staffed pumping station. Kesler was a world-building fiend, creating spacious outdoor areas in which the structures that the demons occupy sit. It's got all the bells and whistles of "Revenge" plus kickin' rad 3D floors, colored lighting, and ACS scripting. Part of this spawns in monsters rather than using traditional teleport coffins while the rest sets the pace of a daring escape as the pumping station explodes around you to lethal effect.

Just in case the title didn't clue you in, "Castle of the Damned" is a thematically different beast than the previous levels, taking you through gothic fortresses, volcanic wilderness, and the bowels of Hell. One of the more memorable scripted events has a hole open up in the Earth, the invasion point for lovable, huggable stealth cacodemons. The field trip is more of a linear cavern crawl, harried by some tougher foes before another explosive finale.

On the one hand, it's kind of a return to form in Kesler's affection for base levels surrounded by nature. On the other, "The Evil Place" is an industrial complex built within some kind of slag-filled caldera that you definitely don't want to fall into. It's still got the classic Kesler vibe what with its mutant army of zombies and generally fullbright lighting. The good - the author doesn't skimp on the health and it's action-packed from beginning to end. The bad - a boring Cyberdemon shootout that fronts an obligatory IoS showdown.

A large map with a more scarce detachment of monsters. "Hidden Valley of the Aliens" takes the canyon setting and populates it with brick and mortar ruins. You won't have to worry about rockets exploding on the trees, though; imps and demons populate the ground and canyon walls. There isn't as much ZDoom packed into this one as in previous installments, but the tricks are plenty good including persistent, ambient fire and there's even a frustrating scripted near-death trap right at the end.

The finale shows off one of the biggest enhancements made to ZDoom in 2001: slopes! "The Power Plant" files off some of the rougher edges in Doom's visuals and features fun stuff like sliding polyobject doors and wild, colored sector lighting while remaining true to Kesler's favorites: tech installations, scenic canyons, and lots of chaingun guys. The only downside is a Cyberdemon four-way that pushes you to use the rocket launcher and will include a sudden Spiderdemon invasion depending on when you kill a specific one of the goat-legged skyscrapers.

No comments:

Post a Comment