Saturday, August 19, 2017

TV1998 (TV1998.WAD)

Thomas van der Velden has enjoyed a pretty prestigious authorial career, releasing Revolution! and its sequel, Harmony, all on his lonesome. He also made contributions to the much-lauded Plutonia 2 (among other things). TV1998, a collection of twenty-two (22) levels for Doom II, was released in 2004 but all of Velden's heavy lifting was performed before Revolution! in 1998 with a little bit in 1999, hence the title. Its release appears to be one of those happy accidents where someone finds a forgotten backup of materials long thought lost. TV picked it up, dusted it off, wired it some new skies and a TITLEPIC, and sent it back into battle.

TV1998 doesn't have any written story but it could be crowbarred into any invasion-era Doom narrative. One level features a city still being decimated by warfare and another is explicitly labelled "Warzone". The implied story begins on the frontline of Earth's resistance fighting a one-man war in occupied territory until you meet the other members of the Earth Defense Force (MAP04) after which you're cut loose. You commandeer a train home and whether aimlessly or having some purpose wander the ruined planet kicking in the heads of the unholy until you find a portal that allows you to take the fight to Hell. The monsters are much better at trapping you on their home turf, with several avenues dedicated to blood sports, but you consistently emerge victorious. Do you ever soothe your troubled soul? I'd like to think so, but TV1998 lacks any sort of definitive climax as it ends after MAP22 where the player character leaps out of another Satanic citadel and into a giant pool of blood.

While I haven't played Revolution!, I know its reputation as a megaWAD isn't too hard in terms of difficulty, has relatively short maps, and is committed to pushing the limits of your imagination. All three of these are more or less features of Velden's Promethean maps. Sure, some of the levels can be grueling due to a lack of health, abundance of hitscanners, or choreographed combat, but you're never too far from the beginning to just try again with a fresh Doomguy. Most of it also tries to feature settings that are either novel in their nature, such as "Dune"'s sandworm belly crawl, or in their execution, like the scripted scenic destruction in "Home". It's all in the vanilla engine, though, so there's quite a bit of stretching to be done.

TV sort of frontloads the DoomCute realism in this collection, running from MAP01 to MAP10 and to a lesser extent MAP11. You've got the worm and the explosions but there's also a forest / jungle (MAP03), trench warfare and drowned jeep (MAP04), a reasonable stab at a moving train (MAP05), a hotel complete with blasted neon sign (MAP07), an office complex (MAP09), and a classic Looney-Tunes rocket (MAP10). "Me and My Shotgun" marks a turning point toward the abstract DoomCute that you find in the map titles of the Serenity series. There are still some bits of identifiable architecture, most notably the jail structure in MAP15, but the second eleven (11) levels are more typical of a Doom II experience. With the occasional brilliant detail, of course. I just can't get over those false crates from MAP18.

TV1998 is an easy comparison to the works of '94-'95 era author Chris Klie in that both favor short levels and tend toward a "classical" style of difficulty but aren't afraid to throw things at the player like hallways composed of crushers. Velden isn't quite as inventive in his death traps and for your Doom money his levels are better to navigate in that they are more recognizable as places and less like machines built to stall players on their way to the exit switch. That may well be his niche among other action blasters, e.g. Adam Windsor of Demonfear and Erik Alm of Scythe.

This is a pretty cool older Doom megaWAD. I like the ways Velden tried to make the game seem more varied and advanced than its limitations dictate and if Revolution! is as much of an authorial leap as I've read, I'm stoked to play it. As a side note, neither TV1998 nor TVR were blessed with an original soundtrack on their release. Jimmy marshaled a MIDI community project to retrofit Revolution! and then hand-picked his own selections for the standalone TV1998 MIDI Pack; if you're tired of hearing the OST, then you might want to give this one a try.

by Thomas van der Velden

An outrageous level where you crawl through the digestive track of an enormous sandworm while you avoid its crushing guts and battle its former victims. The other threat you'll have to endure is its stomach acid, perching precariously on some swallowed vehicles. The trick, if there is one at all, is in avoiding as much damage as possible before the big showdown outside the worm's bloated corpse. You'll be surrounded by zombies including one chaingun guy who will definitely be your primary target, considering his side of the monster grants cover versus the guys on top of the dune. The worm and the escape ship are some great set pieces and hint at wonderous things to come.

Ditching the worm for a low-key villa in the rocky outlands. Except, it's swarming with hitscanners, and you're likely to get swiss-cheesed to death before making any major inroads. I certainly wasn't expecting to get blasted based on Velden's early reputation. The level's namesake comes from a couple of pipe networks; you have to take one to get to the front door and the other in the back is both sewer and secret passage. The combat shotgun in the graveyard is a tantalizing treat and features a nice little set piece fight where the dead rise to defend their prize. The rest is mostly using cover and exuding patience.

It's punchy, but that's because there's a berserk pack right at the start. Of course, it hardly tempers the long length of lava you'll have to travel before reaching the real action. If all the vine walls didn't clue you in, you're in a jungle. One with huge tree trunks. At one point you're expected to use a handy chainsaw to clear out some overgrowth in order to enter the marble temple. Berserk play is pretty easy for most of the map but there are a handful of enemies you'll want to battle with conventional arms, the biggest coming as a clever sneak attack at the level's end. The chopping-thing is a neat little gimmick that hit its most recent peak with You Dig.

Thomas wastes no time in cramming all the weapons you'll need into your hot little hands. “Warzone” has a decent complement of monsters, mostly zombies, and covers a broad swath of naturalistic landscape. It looks like this particular war zone is situated in a network of canyons and while the big trench isn't very inspiring, it's right next to a Duke 3D-style exploding wall. Well, it's situated behind some barrels, so hopefully you fire wildly enough that one of your hitscans misses while also blowing up the waste drums. The combat toward the end is pretty fun; I like the imp ring / central mancubus shootout and the last big ambush behind Chekov's Door is just meaty enough to not feel trivial while simultaneously avoiding any real difficulty. Your comrades in waiting serve as a nice finish.

Taking the slow train from Philly. It's the closest you can make one in Doom, at least, which makes it a novel setting for vanilla levels. The train cars themselves don't make for terribly exciting gameplay with one major and one minor exception, but the tight confines ensure that you're going to be challenged or at the very least blunder your way into taking some damage. The minor exception is a near-dark car fielding specters and no way to really cheese it outside of backing into a corner and firing / swinging wildly whenever you hear them wake up, a recipe for tension. The other is the metal crate room which separates players into two categories: the quick, and the dead. Could have used some monsters repopulating the cars during all the backtracking.

A mild-mannered city level that's probably much closer to someone's idea of "Downtown", completed by buildings ruined by all the warfare and one cinematic destruction just to set the mood. The action is very low-key and limited to monsters from the original Doom in incidental arrangements, suggesting that the occupation is well underway. The biggest threats come from the assorted elevator floors and a central building infested by cacodemons, but Velden pulls his punches on both obstacles since the monsters are too few for the former to really surprise and there's plenty of space to duck and weave through the latter. It's nice to just explore, though.

Hostile HotelMAP07
Still in the urban theme but coming out swinging against the player with a nasty start as you frantically try to blow up the barrels and ice the mancubus / revenant leaving you with a friendly demon. The building itself has a toxic moat that you won't want to fall in as the only step out is on the north end. It's also got a bunch of snipers on both the inner and outer portions of the level, making the long walk back to the bridge a grim proposition provided you don't straferun across the channel. The hotel layout is pure DoomCute with a reception office but only a couple of beds and a dangerous dark room that rewards you a berserk pack if you can navigate it. The broken HOTEL lettering is pretty cool and I appreciate the mix of meaty incidental monsters, the weird but fairly forgiving blue key fight, and the imp courtyard to the north.

This one, I'm not really seeing the "store" unless it's just referring to storage as in the little warehouse at the map's beginning. It's a small outing but it feels more substantial, especially since Thomas has a couple of choice ambushes waiting for you in the backtracking areas. Well, it's probably just one in particular, but the mid-progression arachnotron is a very welcome sight. This is the toughest of the maps to suss out so far since you can poke in a couple of directions and I often take for granted that things like the blue key fountain aren't usually simple lifts. Some nice vanilla visuals in the northern courtyard.

Now this feels like an office complex. It's a surprisingly large level, at least for Velden, and fields a sizable atrium, several actual offices including a closet, and some sort of meeting room. Then you've got stuff like the southern section, a large chamber heavy with zombies and fitting no approximation of any abstract space excepting maybe a parking garage. Good luck getting your car in, though! Velden uses meaty monsters in tighter spaces and layers on imps and zombies in the more open sections so the action strikes a pleasant, classic balance. The puzzling garage annex has for me the best combat of the outing.

MAP10The Rocket
The titular craft is DoomCute sector work, your end goal, and the subject of some great area reuse; you access the pad's lower level to get one of your keys and then raise it to the upper tier in order to finish the map out. In between there's a tense imp encounter in a curious cluster of rooms and curved hallways and some open-air ambushes in the outdoor storage yard. Oh, and a Spiderdemon. It's possible to get slammed by taking the wrong elevator up to greet a trio of Hell knights, capable of quickly tearing you apart. The correct conveyor will net you a plasma gun and tons of ammo so you can kill the Spider, slay the Hell knights from the safe side of a mesh fence, and then take their precious yellow key. Once you call the rocket up, it's bang, zoom! Straight to your Doom

A secluded urban area; the concrete walls have me imagining an outdoor segment of a much larger complex. I didn't understand what the ice was at first but looking back at the opening area upon my exit I realize - it's the only way you have to circumvent the broken bridge! "Ice" has a few nasty tricks up its sleeve, the biggest being an irregular crusher hallway that spits you out using your own momentum into a toxic cistern overlooked by a couple of Hell knights. You don't have to hang around and kill them, but if you want to, you'll need to take some rockets up the elevator and use the limited dodging space. It's otherwise pretty light with the action excepting an outdoor thoroughfare sporting a handful of commandos.

MAP12Me and My Shotgun
A much more abstract level in the style of a nightmarish tech facility with monsters lurking in the walls or portals to pockets of Hell appearing. The gimmick is the way it ham-handedly forces shotgun shells down your throat along with both varieties of killing sticks. In spite of all the doors there's only one real route to the red key, your main objective. After that you ditch the incidental fights for one great visual, a staggered wood / metal / floor light staircase covered in imps with cacodemons rising from below. It seems like a very Sandy Petersen thing but for all I know the author was thinking of Romero's "Perfect Hatred" - or perhaps neither! The steps going up are a red herring, anyway, since you can't climb it. The true path lies in a set of shallow steps leading down behind the big one, an interesting juxtaposition. I think you can skip all of it if you lure out the floating gasbags.

Structure 999MAP13
A tight map where the action takes place within a superficially symmetrical structure. The unique encounters / setups are in the building's corners and most have two separate tiers, the higher requiring access via one of the pairs of elevator pistons. Combat in each wing is tight given the confines but there's so much health and ammo that it would take some serious eye-glazing to get iced, unless the commandos in the southwest wing just plum snuck up on you. The ending sequence is "Dead Simple"-lite; you've got to kill the mancubuses and arachnotrons overlooking the center and flip the switches each one guards to raise access to the central platform. I'd be mildly worried about the monsters within the exit since the available floor space for dodging without having to take the long way back is limited.

MAP14Wood and Evil
Velden delivers a timber and metal fortress built in a boxy layout plus a rusty sewer but keeps it fresh with some nice interconnectivity. The blue key is visible from the starting area and there are plenty of other instances that use the library as a nexus point for exploring the level. Opposition leans heavily toward hitscanner Hell once you hit the first big room; the foyer, if you will. Shotgun guys and chaingunner snipers abound. I'd say that they're far more threatening than any of the larger beasties but there are barely any apart from a handful of cacodemons and a pair of arachnotrons to close out the map.

Village of the ViolentMAP15
It's a city-style level with a large sandbox but you've got to plow through all the sandcastles in the correct order. The opening bit, featuring the quickly collapsing house you start in, is pretty fun and I really enjoy the northeastern arc of the map from the physical tech column mixed in with the sprites to the inspired architecture of the eastern demi-ring to the resulting elevator- and switch-fu required to get you to the north side. I'm not sure how I feel about the weird blue key barrel trap since the only goal seems to be to move to a place where the megasphere outdoes the explosive damage. The prison (zoo?) storing all the commando snipers lacks for any exciting combat but it's decently DoomCute.

Very short but action-packed. My first instinct in the poisonous muck was to run through the mancubus gauntlet; while the platforms lowering and placing them on my level had me on edge, your situation will change once you flee up the staircase. This unleashes a Spiderdemon who is more than happy to infight with the fatsos. In fact, the fleshies easily smoked the arachnomomma in my playthrough, leaving you to clean up using the rocket launcher. The east half is not nearly as exciting but the monster placement is a bit more personal. The red key is surprisingly considered a secret; there's some author dickery where entering the cacodemon alcove opens up the pain elemental cubby but taking the teleporter sends you back to the level's beginning. Not sure what that's about.

The evil eye is not central to this piece... but the layout of the cavern immediately after it is! Velden starts you off in daylight and then sends you exploring a subterannean lair with splashes of insidious ruins. There are tricks, like the E1M9-inspired imp pillars to the north, as well as traps. The revenant checkerboard nightmare with the crushers is one of the latter. It's not too hard to take on from relative safety using the combat shotgun and it's probably better at a distance since crossing from marble to red or vice versa uses the lift action to lower all of the arguably alabaster squares, making things tedious. The end room has some meaty monsters on the top tier and they're liable to stonewall you or get a few cheap shots in before you can cut them down. The secret plasma gun feels like it's too little, too late. Great visuals, though.

MAP18Dark Niche
A dusky brown fortress with a lower level you have to access through chutes. The facade lulls you into a false sense of security but you'll screw yourself if you get careless because attrition is a very real threat. There's barely any health and the three encounters leading up to the specter / cacodemon tunnels are heavy with hitscanners and the passages in the opening nukage entice you to take some damage exploring. The cage match is the most dangerous battle from an exposure standpoint as you can hang back and snipe for the other two if you're low on health. Of all the things in this level I really liked the faux-crates featuring in the northernmost room. The fact that the back side is textured in intestinal organics is nightmare fuel for an overactive imagination.

A blazing row involving - what else? - but a fortress built inside a larger stone wall structure, complete with an ash and cinder moat. Most of the monsters are imps, both at the beginning and toward the end, but the revenant gatekeeper may pose a potential problem once you've raised the bridge. The final fight is cutely choreographed; the intent isn't to take the stairs down but to jump off them, grab the invul sphere, and then slowly climb up as you collect rockets and dump them into the Spiderdemon standing on top of the exit.

MAP20The Portal
I don't think I've seen the IoS graphic used in this particular way before. "Portal" starts out looking simple and for the most part it really is but the indoor portions of the map might still mess you up. I'm mainly thinking of the shutters that are only open to ankle-height where the zombies can still get you. Of course, bullets fly both ways. I'm not sure what's up with the pair of huge corridor elevators behind the red key door barring some sympathetic actions but the IoS obelisk itself is decent fun to climb up. None of the monsters are troublesome and you ought to have both a plasma gun and a ton of cells for when you get to the top. That arch-vile hideaway near the level start might catch you off-guard, though.

At first glance this looks like a simple marble coliseum map spectated by imps and zombies. Ammo quickly dwindles, though, and soon enough you'll be running from the demons and Barons as you try to escape to the outer areas where you'll find pockets of ammo and armaments. The combat is more awkward than anything especially since desperation naturally encourages the chainsaw and Berserk fist. You won't get the latter until after opening up all four pens, but you've still got plenty of ground to cover at that point. Biggest disappointment - two enormous monster footprints and no Cyberdemon. Bummer! 

A tough little level in marble and wood pandemonium. There isn't a lot of health to start with and the blockmap makes using the chainsaw against the demons in the spot you'd naturally regress to a tough act. You could use the torch in the corner, though, or with foreknowledge run to the combat shotgun and its two shell boxes and lay all to shellination. "Harko" is the second level to feature an arena but this is more of a cage match. Thankfully, Velden fulfills the promise of the footprints from MAP21 and includes a Cyberdemon showdown. After grabbing a megasphere and a ton of cell ammo to slap into your plasma gun, of course. It's easy to feel cocky with so much scratch left over but the enemies remaining in the portions of the level that follow ol' Cybie warrant your consideration. For your final dose of DoomCute, TV has built his initials into the wall of the first combat zone. A decent sendoff.

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