Friday, November 10, 2017

Squares (1SQUARES.WAD)

by Costa Lappas

Squares, a single level released for Doom II in 1995, has earned a place in community history for two reasons. It was one of the earliest slaughtermaps in a sense that's distinct from levels containing slaughter-like encounters (i.e. the teleport ambush featured in "Suburbs") while connoting some sort of challenge. It's also one of the pillars upon which Huy Pham's Deus Vult was built, a fact that's more obvious in the release of the alternate / early version Deus Vult Zero. In the .TXT, author Costa Lappas advertised it as "extremely hard if not impossible to complete on the hard level". A quick look at the DooMed Speed Demo Archives shows at least seven players to have successfully cut their teeth on 1SQUARES while playing on Ultra-Violence and one finishing the map on Nightmare, so it's certainly not insurmountable.

The construction of the level is very basic, consisting of sixteen square rooms bordering what appears to be a circuitous-shaped corridor but which will be revealed as another room. The chambers located at the intercardinal directions contain starting weapons, ammo, and a megasphere so they're essential for replenishment. The rooms at the cardinal directions are trapped and while they contain tantalizing upper-tier firearms and appropriate ammo doing battle inside will put you at the mercy of a Spiderdemon overseer on the inner track and a mixed wave of monsters including Barons of Hell, pain elementals, and shotgun guys, plus a cage in the back fielding three arch-viles on the highest level of difficulty.

The connecting rooms are filled with monotypical squads of monsters that will usually be ground into oblivion using the door as a choke point. The one major exception is a chamber full of arch-viles who are far more threatening due to their maneuverability and may force you back into the mancubus room that precedes it, supposing you don't approach it through the southern ambush where you'll find the level's BFG. You'll need one of the two secret keys to get there, though, and all three are required in order to reach the exit. Secret keys will be a bit of a gaffe in a level that appears to be as simple as this one but the author points you in the right direction in the Wolf 3D room. Oh, yeah; you get to kill Nazis in this map.

The finale continues the obtuse progression since the level's innermost walls are actually one single door which you wouldn't necessarily find out unless you get 'stuck' with the obvious points and try looking for something in the blank space in the center. This won't trip you up in source ports like ZDoom that color code key-activated geometry on the automap a la Heretic, but people who played Squares when it was originally released were not so fortunate and may have been treated to a rude surprise upon actuating the door. The inner sanctum is actually easy to bypass since the brace of Cyberdemons still leaves a big enough gap for you to run to and flip to the exit switch and plenty of margin if you use one of the invul spheres. If you want to do a full clear, though, you'll have to grab the power-up and then run back to one of the rooms fielding cell ammo as quickly as possible so as to allow you to spray BFG shots with impunity.

Because of its particular construction, Squares reveals a few of the original Doom engine's limitations. The sheer amount of things prevented players from saving their games but the meat of the weirdness is based around the fact that the level naturally directs the player toward holding monsters at doorways for chokepoints before eventually surprising you with arch-viles, potentially forcing you to yield ground. If they get a hold of any crushed monster corpses you'll have to put down ghosts in addition to any existing nastiness but the simple layout should make cooking them with rocket splash damage a piece of cake.

Some twenty-plus years after the fact, I don't think of Squares as challenging. The majority of its combat naturally tends toward safe yet dull behavior and once you figure out the safehouse for the finale you've little to fear from the mobile rocket launchers. There's a bit of a thrill when playing aggressively and doing so isn't incredibly risky (like the mancubuses / revenants) and I imagine that players achieve true catharsis is achieved when figuring out how to complete the level as quickly as possible sans rote doorway camping, a process reflected in the demo war preserved on the DSDA's page for 1SQUARES. Such effort is a bit beyond me but I appreciate the players who put so much work into it and the sort of early slaughter play that Lappas offered back in '95. I wouldn't be surprised if Huy Pham liked it too.


1 comment:

  1. Huh. Wow. I've seen this wad's name thrown around a few times, but had no idea it was the basis for Deua Vult. Its kind of a testament to Doom's fundamental gameplay mechanixs that a fun map can be designed even with the most barebone architecture and clever monster/item placement. Doom could have been a corridor shooter lol.