Friday, September 8, 2017

Forest Valley (FOREST.WAD)


Forest Valley definitely doesn't resemble a forest, nor does it really resemble a valley. The sky, though, is unmistakable. If you've played the Heroes collection you may recognize it as the backdrop of the second episode. Jean Serge-Gagnon is a quintessentially 1994 author, delivering some of the era's least endearing aspects in a relatively playable format. Forest Valley's final version was released in 1995 and includes a preview of his subsequent project, OTTAWAU.WAD. It's a partial episode two replacement that covers E2M1 through E2M4 as well as E2M9 with a few crude graphical accents and some new music.


FOREST doesn't have a plot. It is described as a five mission PWAD, though, which implies that these levels are not meant to be taken as one contiguous journey but as isolated vignettes of evil-cleansing action. I assume that the location is inspired by the Ottawa River valley in the same way that OTTAWAU derives its setting from the University of Ottawa. The only real evidence of both forest and valley is the ubiquitous sky texture. It works out a bit better than in Heroes since the bright backdrop has no chance to contrast against mood lighting in levels that had been designed against the original skies.


Gagnon's first two levels are largely abstract maps. E2M2 is unusual for its network of irregular (non-orthogonal) marble corridors. E2M3 is a HOUSE.WAD style of level. E2M4 is an unusually brilliant three-dimensional maze; you navigate via dropping down to lower levels but start out at the top with one annex that must be accessed by braving a poison floor area. It's my favorite in the whole set as an engineering feat. E2M9, accessed by a tough secret exit in E2M4, is the "preview" level from OTTAWAU.WAD. It's another stab at doing real (but mundane) locations in the Doom engine but while the interior area suffers for it there's some fun to be had in the outer yard.


The architecture is for the most part very basic. There are a few flashes of interesting visuals but FOREST is dominated by boxy rooms and incidental monster placement with the occasional custom texture bearing an affable hint directed toward the player. The best fights are usually in the great outdoors since that's where Gagnon likes to put flying monsters, mostly lost souls. There are also a ton of secrets but most of them feel like they're of the Wolfenstein 3D variety; it's hard to parse out the giveaways when texturing looks so slipshod. E2M9 has a couple of weird innovations going on with glass textures and the hall of mirrors effect which might be novel enough for a look, supposing you don't pass FOREST and go straight to OTTAWAU.


It's not exactly rife with visual bugs (granted, I'm playing in ZDoom) with one major exception. Gagnon is a poor hand at maintaining the upper portions of the levels, causing bemusement in E2M3 with stuff like doors disappearing into the sky. Things are even worse in E2M4 but it's not apparent unless you travel to the map's upper tier / outer ring, where the true height of the ceiling as dictated by the apparent height of the walls cuts off the bits that should logically be visible over their tops. Certainly the sort of pet peeves I've seen drive current authors up the wall when commenting on recent releases.


Forest Valley is a mapset best consumed by antiquarians. Most of its design will bore or irritate Doomers of today. As with most of these dubious delectables, though, there are flashes of creativity that are seen elsewhere either rarely or not at all. If huge boxy spaces, long toxic corridors, and "real" floor space architecture don't appeal to you, then you might do well to give Forest Valley a pass. Otherwise, have at it, marine!





FOREST VALLEY
by Jean-Serge Gagnon

E2M1
Jean-Serge starts out really promising with that curved hallway and staircase leading from the look at the outdoor area. The rest of the level is suspiciously flat and full of scattered zombies garnished with imp ambushes and a few Barons to "spice" things up.  You can either tear into two of the goatmen with an invul / berserk combo or brave the blood tunnel to get the rocket launcher. The blue key ambush is actually kind of fun since it's several monster closets full of imps and shotgun guys in a relatively small area. It's got a lot of secrets if you're into pushing and pulling the map for the Hell of it.

E2M2
Starts out looking like a marbleized bit of "Barrels o' Fun" and quickly spirals into irregular marble corridors populated with Doom trash. The northwestern area with the soul sphere courtyard looks decent enough and makes for interesting combat with the glut of lost souls and at least a cacodemon but the long trek through the winding blood corridor is deadly dull, doubly so for the cramped passages leading to the imp cages. Heck, I barely made my way past one of the lamps in the western one and then had to cheat my way back through it. I guess Doomguy got too fat for the return trip!

E2M3
This one is a bit more interesting, both because and in spite of the fact that it's more of a MYHOUSE.WAD level. Some areas, like the kitchen, get a lot more love while the northwest portion is full of huge boxy rooms with zero sector furniture. It's the same monster mix and the encounters are just as unremarkable with the exception of a teleporter trap in the level's exterior that puts you in a bit of a hard space. The four cacodemon fight in the southwestern wing is similarly tricky due to maneuvering, but you might be able to obliterate it with the secret BFG by then.

E2M4
Remarkable if for nothing else than being a massive yard surrounding a brown metal cube containing a three-dimensional maze navigated by drop-downs and a few secret passages. The exterior has an upper ring of imps and demons that kind of pick at you; I'd be more concerned about cacodemons sneaking in through the windows of the cube. The interior is purely incidental combat weighted toward zombies. You can exit this level quickly if you take the high road through the maze, but you'll have to solve its one-shot secret (hence the provided warning) before you can take the alternate route to E2M9. Neat stuff.

E2M9
A "preview" of OTTAWAU.WAD, appearing there as E1M1. With some significant graphical differences, of course. This is the other variety of MYHOUSE.WAD along the lines of SCHOOL.WAD, I assume patterned after the University of Ottawa. On the interesting side, a weird attempt at mirrors using the "hall of mirrors"effect and transparent glass textures. On the other, way less sector furniture than E2M3, the only real exceptions being a row of bathroom stalls with sector toilets and a little kitchenette tucked in an alcove off the hallway of tiny rooms. Oh, and the big bloody pool, but it's not even a set piece fight. The outdoor area has more action than the rest, mostly due to an abundance of lost souls and a couple of sniper perches.

MISSING THE FOREST FOR THE TREES

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