Friday, October 6, 2017


Shamus Young has gone on to much fame as a blogger about all things geek culture. Back in 1995, though, he was making WADs like everyone else. As far as popularity goes, his authorial career peaked at Doom City, a single map released in 1995 with a bunch of custom textures to simulate an actual urban environment at a higher level of recognizability than Doom II's abstract locales. His first publication was Slugfest, a ten-level episode for id's sequel also released in 1995. It attempts to straddle the line between PvE and PvP while using a series of small maps whose layouts are clearly oriented toward deathmatch but are also arranged for demon-slaying.

Slugfest has no given story even though the end of each level ties into the beginning of the next. It has another gimmick pervading nine maps of the set and which makes more sense in the first eight because MAP09 and MAP10 break the deathmatch mould with constructions that are rooted in single-player if not co-operative. The feature involves grabbing (usually) all three key colors in whichever hidey-holes young placed them as their corresponding key doors stand the way of the exit switch. MAP09, which is entirely linear, still has the keys at various obvious points but I suppose it forces the player to hang around in enemy fire a bit longer rather than merely race along the catwalk like a troublesome Mario Kart track.

The action works. It's definitely more compelling than the H2H deathmatch arenas from H2H-XMAS. The latter puts the boot on your throat with hitscanner Hell but Young breaks the siren song of symmetry by twisting the areas surrounding the main arenas with traps and crannies to keep you engaged. Sometimes the surprises carry more of a bite but I'll take a short, sharp shock over rote repetition. It also has the benefit of finishing fairly quickly, allowing you the margin to play fast and loose and not fret over the amount of progress lost if you die. That's more or less the essence of arcade-style gameplay, I think.

The architecture may not immediately stand out but the things I see in here have me looking forward to the rest of Young's output, whether it's the inner / upper ring chamber dominating MAP03 or the aesthetically dull yet stylistically bold trip through the void in MAP09. Shamus shows that he's capable of making off-kilter room shapes and snatches of layouts but his concessions toward what the idea of deathmatch levels ought to be hamstrings Slugfest in terms of the total single-player package, which is why I find the prospect of Torment and Phobos - Relive the Nightmare so tantalizing. It's still pretty good as fast food / popcorn Doom.

Slugfest also has a bunch of new sounds as well as its own soundtrack, scored by the author. It's not the most distinguished selection of tunes I've heard but the length of the levels barely gives the compositions any time to overstay their welcome and it's always nice (though not necessary) to hear something other than the very familiar original Doom soundtrack. It may be enough to hold your interest if the latter tends to send you D_RUNNIN to the hills. MAP04 stands out for its tense build-up to off-kilter and slightly manic synth lines. I appreciate the bass line from MAP02 but like other choices I'm not sure whether the flute is the best delivery method for the main melody.

I like Slugfest. It's not one of the most memorable '95 PWADs I've played but it's fast and fun and points the way toward Shamus Young's promising authorial career. If you prefer quick action and don't mind deathmatch-oriented layouts then you might do good to give this one a try.

by Shamus Young

The centerpiece is an outdoor courtyard with some sort of decorative pool and passageways to the west, north, and south that lead to upper tier segments. The threat level is pretty high since there is a pain elemental awake at the very beginning and a few surprise chaingunners that will be competing for your attention. If you can get a lock on the outdoor yard, the periphery is very simple to clean up and snag the three keys. You've got to last, though. The plasma gun retrieval sequence is cute.

The danger is less immediately apparent in this dark brick annex but you're definitely in a hornet's nest. Boldly pushing forward is liable to get you killed, particularly with the western corridors converging at an arch-vile and fielding a broad arc of commandos in one leg and the more manageable imps / shotgun guys in the other. Unveiling the SSG should be the first order of business, after which you ought to be careful as you poke around. The pond to the northeast isn't so bad, especially if approached from the top side. Just don't get caught rushing around in a panic.

A tight network of tunnels affixed to a circular center chamber rendered in a sort of STARTAN gone wild. The shotgun comes easy. The main weapon upgrades, not so much. You'll need to chew through a slew of dangerous zombies to pick up the combat shotgun and brave both a mancubus hallway and potentially a bunch of specters to net the rocket launcher. The main sources of attrition are the upper ring of zombies hanging out in the outdoor round and imp potshots while you try to handle the revenants coming at you from the west end. I really like the outdoor area.

The main gimmick of this level is - I believe - an enormous teleport ambush that takes place once you venture into the center and snag the combat shotgun. If you run out just as fast, though, the dangers glut of monsters is free to build up in the inner yard while you clean out the sewer halls bordering the interior area. You'll just have to be on the lookout for those darn specters. The water pool turning to blood and the lightswitch are some neat visual features. Young's accompanying track complements the feel of warp-fed panic.

A little tech arena with a tan stone innermost sanctum and a corridor / stair ring that surrounds it. Most of the action will happen there and it's not too daunting but for one particular surprise - two arch-viles appearing after having slayed a large pack of demons. I managed to survive, but it was touch and go there for a little while since I only had the combat shotgun. I like the crossbeams in the outdoor section.

An unremarkable STARTAN outpost. Most of the monsters are either former human sergeants in one of two rooms or a hallway full of demons best dealt with using the combat shotgun. I like the Berserk / soul sphere secret room in its computer panel assemblage but the central outer yard is wasted space, fielding a single cacodemon.

A greenish-gray tech installation in two parts. The opening bit is a tight network of doors and corridors that sort of drags down the pacing and is populated mostly by hitscanners. The second area is a large outdoor pit with a few balconies featuring a mancubus, a revenant, a Hell knight, and a couple of cacodemons in the center. I couldn't get one of them to fly up and meet me. The door segment has some decent surprises since there's an arch-vile and a pain elemental lurking around.

This time it's a Phobos base whose central section is derivative of the starting area from "Nuclear Plant". It's appropriately thick with hitscanners but not much else excepting a few revenants here, a Hell knight there, and maybe a mancubus. All of the heavy monsters are concentrated in the southwestern portion so managing attrition ought to be your top priority. The flashing, scrolling EXIT band is cute and I like the tech-heavy southeastern leg.

An enormous change of pace, eschewing the Deathmatch-oriented layouts for a linear trek through the void on a precipitous brick catwalk. Most of the monsters are perched on pillars in the periphery. It's a nice look after the small arenas. The population is almost entirely comprised of imps and Hell knights so you'll get a lot of mileage out of the SSG, rocket launcher, and plasma gun given at the beginning. Complacency is your true enemy what with those long-distance imp fireballs. The stuck imp in the northeast corner must be hit by combat shotgun spread if you're looking for a full clear.

A small marble arena featuring a portrait of the author that spits rockets (an incognito Cyberdemon) and ostensibly a massive teleport ambush. In practice it's a drip feed that gets in the way of you trying to fry the soul of the author with plasma. It's awkward but if you really want to you can try to trick ol' Cybie into doing your dirty work but the layout is less than stellar for such a task. If you don't somehow deal with the Cyberdemon you'll catch Hell trying to grab the elevator up to the exit since it's in a little alcove point blank behind the ol' rocket dispenser.


1 comment:

  1. It's interesting to track the progression of Shamus Youth's tunes throughout his works. It's like the music slowly builds up into the pattern recognizable in Doom City.