Friday, September 8, 2017

Forest Valley (FOREST.WAD)

Forest Valley definitely doesn't resemble a forest, nor does it really approach 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. The final version was released in 1995 and includes a preview of his subsequent project, OTTAWAU.WAD. It's a partial episode two replacement covering 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 they are not meant to be taken as one contiguous journey but as isolated vignettes of evil-cleansing action. I assumed that the location was inspired by the Ottawa River valley because his followup set, OTTAWAU, is based on the similarly-named University. Thankfully Jean-Serge Gagnon stopped by the blog to inform me that it's actually derived from a photograph he took of the Gaspesie region of Quebec and went so far as to peg it as being somwhere west of the Gaspesie National Park. 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 pieces that had been designed for 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. The occasional custom texture bears 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 full of visual bugs (granted, I'm playing in ZDoom) but there's 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 elevation 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. Much of its design will bore or irritate Doomers of today. As befits 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 this one a pass. Otherwise, have at it, marine!

by Jean-Serge Gagnon

The author 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 by imp ambushes and a few Barons to "spice" things up.  You can either tear into two of the goatmen using 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.

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 featuring the soul sphere courtyard looks decent enough and makes for interesting combat given 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!

This one is a bit more interesting, both because and in spite of the fact that it has a MYHOUSE.WAD feel. 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. The main exception is 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.

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.

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 reflective surfaces 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 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.



  1. /idgames link mistake (it's nukemine instead)

  2. This is a mapset I had when I was very young, but it definitely doesn't stand the test of time. And the title seems to only refer to the sky texture perhaps.

    1. As mentioned in the second paragraph: "The location appears to be inspired by the Ottawa River valley in the same way that OTTAWAU derives its setting from the similarly-named University. The only real evidence of both forest and valley is the ubiquitous sky texture."

    2. Actually, that forest was actually a picture I took in an area called Gaspesie in Quebec during a summer trip. I wonder if I can ever find it again, but I know 100% where it was taken... around this area

  3. This is super cool to find - it's been quite a while :)

    Thanks for such a great review - is it still possible to play Doom with levels like my FOREST or OTTAWAU wads?

  4. Sorry about previous comment - I wasn't signed in as correct account - hopefully this one works...

    This is super cool to find - it's been quite a while :)

    Thanks for such a great review - is it still possible to play Doom with levels like my FOREST or OTTAWAU wads?

    1. Thank you for stopping by and providing information on the background!

      Yes; it's actually very easy to do play PWADs (even old ones) provided that the player doesn't have to run a bunch of old DOS utilities first to "install" it, so to speak. I played FOREST cold on a modern source port with zero difficulty. Someone made a patch for OTTAWAU to allow it to be played without having to run all the setup utilities first as a way of gettinga round the "no modifications" distribution clause and while I haven't tried it yet myself I definitely plan to and have not heard about any difficulties in using it.

    2. Also I used your provided information to correct my assumption on the setting of Forest Valley. Thank you so much!