Monday, January 23, 2017

Null Space (NULSPACE.WAD)

NULL SPACE
by Russell Pearson


Russell Pearson started making maps back in the early days of the community but then took a break until 2000, where he started looking over his unreleased works originally created as part of a TC entitled DoomTown3. Pearson ended up putting his past behind him while working on a level that better reflected his changed sensibilities as of the year 2000. He even went so far as to axe a section of level that he liked but felt did not fit the spirit of what he was trying to do, leading to 2001's Deleted Scene. The final product is the much beloved Null Space, a MAP01 replacement for Doom II, also released in 2001.


Like the rest of Pearson's levels, the framing narrative is short and to the point, with you just having arrived at an enormous complex of wood and stone suspended in a shapeless void and staffed with Hellspawn. Unlike Heretic, Doom II didn't have an ending that was too open-ended, considering your complete and thorough devastation of the Stygian pit. Teleporting from a moon of Mars to an actual, factual Hell which can subsume portions of our own reality, though, leaves the door wide-ass open for all sorts of adventures that fit within the community's theory of the eternal Doomguy, embraced in Doom (2016) with the Doomslayer. Null Space is just the latest Hellion hidey-hole to be rooted out.


If you take a look at Pearson's previous levels - particularly Tunnel Run and MAP02 and MAP03 of DoomTown - you'll see that stringy segments of Hallways are a major motif. Russell's fondness for passages remains in Null Space, but the layouts are much more interesting, with torturous hallways tightly packed in with the rooms and areas they connect. There are three major sections for action, the first two being such tunnel-driven hives, connected by a long catwalk that spans an impressive vista. The last area is the site of a progressive arena battle with a monster-free coda that is more of an echo of Pearson's BLASTEM2 than his other, polished works.


And that's where the nuts and bolts of Null Space work, combining the fun if foxing layout and action of BLASTEM2 (including its Cyberdemon-led finale) with the polish and detailing that dominated Pearson's other, underground levels. Secret-sniffers will have six Easter eggs to hunt for, including an Eternal Doom-worthy notch on the wall hinted at with a subtle floor graphic. Kewl! You also get an echo of Blastem2's many sawtooth drops if you should unravel the level's largest secret, opening up a number of drop tubes, one of which dumps you in the diamond-shaped room with the T-junction that sits in the center of the first floating fortress.


Of course, the real draw of Null Space is its aesthetic sense. The fusion of Raven brick and Doom metal and wood works fantastically to render this sprawling, eldritch fortress. Of course, the real magic is in the exterior areas where Russell creates the feeling of a truly torturous megastructure with all of the towers and underhangs and other crafty cheats. He also does a great job of reminding you when you're travelling through the level's interior spaces by making catwalks out of the paths in the hallways, suspended over an infinite darkness. The void may not be the most colorful backdrop for all this action, but Pearson absolutely sells it while simultaneously (and sneakily) conforming to the common thread of interior tunnels that run through so much of his early material.


The action is a bit slow to start since you're battling fairly high-HP monsters with the regular shotgun, but you'll find the ever-essential combat shotgun early on which will become the weapon of choice for much of the map, balanced later with the plasma gun and the rocket launcher and chaingun offering supporting roles. If anything really drags down the pace of the level, it would be all the imps caged in the level walls a la "Downtown". It's an essential motif, and one that's cleverly done with all the cheats in the outdoor areas especially, plus Pearson does you a favor and takes the imps in the cages overlooking the north-south catwalk and teleports them at a later time. However, diligently cleansing other holding cells (especially the red key "courtyard") will be a tedious job given that you can hardly tell where the imps are unless you're already shooting and scrutinizing.


The fights are actually really cool, imps-in-the-walls notwithstanding, though they're more fixtures than furies. The non-linear north and south segments are pretty open to wandering monsters making for organic surprises and moments where demons invade from every available avenue, often the floating red gasbag variety. The arena battle is actually pretty sedate, since the BFG is offered up at the beginning, letting you knock him out quick and take the unleashed waves at your own pace. I guess you could keep him alive to help out with the following baddies, but why risk catching a rocket on the back of your head?


I love the look of Null Space with all its embellishments. There's so much great trickery going on in those huge outdoor areas and the texture scheme has a supreme elegance. If you're dying for more Null Space action, the closest direct descendent you'll find is the author's own Null Space Junior, originally included in Congestion 1024. Its seeds, though, are scattered throughout the years that have followed. Thanks, Russell!



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