Friday, January 5, 2018

Beta Labs 2 (BLABS2.WAD)

There's always been some level of interest in Doom's pre-release history and it's reponsible for a fair bit of inspiration for projects in the community. The successful ones borrow the assets and then make regular maps in their own particular idioms (Favillesco, Alpha Accident) while the failures try to fulfill the promise of Tom Hall's Doom Bible. If you're not going to catch a fish, though, you might as well not catch a big fish. Serious_MOod helmed a release from the former category, 2015's Beta Labs, and recently followed it up with the similarly-titled sequel, BLABS2, in 2017. It's a five-level minisode for limit-removing ports, spanning E1M1 through E1M5, concluding on an end credits map in E1M6.

Like its progenitor, Beta Labs 2 lacks a narrative. It also misses some of the elusive human element that gave the original such a distinct character. The little utilitarian embellishments are few and far between and consist mostly of blocky desks tucked into corners and one small medical facility. The end result is a technically proficient group of levels with increasingly complex layouts that feels more like Doom as an abstract dungeon crawler rather than Doom as fighting your way through UAC installations. Only "Server Domain" stands out as a recognizable location and even then that's mainly because of copious amounts of tech textures rather than any resemblance to a server farm.

It's still a fun, challenging set and the interconnectivity and architecture are top notch. Sometimes the complexity of the layouts approaches the labyrinthine as is the case with E1M4 ("Corrupted Base") and E1M5 ("Mouse Holes"). I can only wonder what the remaining maps would have looked like when complete. Unfortunately, the authors lost their enthusiasm for the project and released the finished levels to be free of it. The lack of verve is only underscored by the laconic music selection, which appears to borrow from the unpolished / in utero Bobby Prince files supplied by John Romero. The familiar but less interesting arrangements dull the edges, creating a slightly muted experience.

I don't mind the continued adoption of the rest of the Alpha resources, though. The projectile sprites are at least uniformly cartoonish, particularly with the imp fireballs, and the ancient lost soul adds a certain supernatural flair that eschews the halo of Hellfire for an eerie, almost ectoplasmic explosion on death. The authors also continue to utilize the early pickup sprites, but the evil scepters and skullchests of Beta Labs (corresponding to health and armor bonuses) have been replaced by blood-filled chalices and devil daggers. My favorite change from vanilla is the bayonet, which replaces the fist, accompanied by a powerful metallic thrusting noise when contacting an enemy. Inappropriate for fleshy manifestations from Hell, perhaps, but the positive feedback is palpable.

Beta Labs 2 is another interesting Alpha adventure but its divergence from the previous episode's stylistics reflects a loss of sight of the qualities of Doom's early development period that inspired the authors in the first place, returning to more traditional level design. Hopefully the shift to GZDoom will better enable Serious_MOod to reflect his or her own passions related to Doom's Alpha and reject the baggage that necessarily comes with designing maps for classically-oriented engines.

by "Serious_MOod", "Chaingunner", and "Brain"

by "Serious_MOod" and "Brain"
A simple but tough level to start in featuring a healthy mixture of tech, nukage, and reality bursting at the seams with a few transformations. Opposition starts out light but most of your ammo favors the rifle, causing you to favor it and save your shells (if you even find the shotgun) for bigger fare like the cacodemons. The gasbags aren't the only E2 parallel - the plasma gun makes a guest appearance in a secret annex that you must access via teleporter. I think the author does a good job of milking the haunting vibe at the beginning though the MIDI metal sort of ruins it.

E1M2Waste Storage
by "Chaingunner"
This is a short map steeped in green goo and featuring a fairly open layout that lets the enemies come to you. The shotgun guys make their debut and the cacodemons are nowhere to be found, giving this more of an E1 feel. The irregular layout, which combines rooms angled at 45 degrees, makes for visually interesting spaces. I like the little Easter egg / blue armor annex.

Server DomainE1M3
by "Serious_MOod" and "Brain"
Quickly busting into a larger level with a more complex layout. Segments include a blue tech / metal series of hallways showcasing a serious corporate vibe and the shadowy outdoor vistas to the west and east, giving the alien planet a grim atmosphere. Lost souls appear in force making for some interesting fight dynamics. The standout encounter is the red key trap which lowers the entire room you've been fighting in to reveal a toxic pit boasting little safe space to stand on and several specters in the muck among other things making for a desperate battle. The interconnection in the northernmost and southernmost sections really builds that feel of real space.

E1M4Corrupted Base
by "Chaingunner"
Chaingunner knocks it out of the park. This dense, networked map is full of monsters and landmarks and weighted toward claustrophobic combat. The opening shootout's long drip feed of imps mixed in with zombies and demons sets the tone, to be capitalized on in bits like a cavalcade of foes that wake up and start moving toward your position in the northwestern-central network of chambers. The southwestern section is very cool and features a nukage channel running down and to the southwest and a staircase / lift sequence to return you back to the rest of the map. I also like the tram, a feature I was not expecting and which boasts an interesting, sinister gifted yellow key.

Mouse HolesE1M5
by "Serious_MOod"
S_M's finale is the most convoluted of the set, using a variety of barricades and locked doors to control access to an impressive array of chambers and passages that better resembles the hive of some insect - or rodent - than a laboratory. The spaces are highly interconnected with apertures that provide for equal opportunity pot shots and make navigating by the automap a bear. It's a superb brain twister; it's been a long time since the layout of the level itself presented an obstacle to me. You may be leery of the sheer amount of switches. They usually result in a straightforward effect but the progression feels like you're revealing the level in bits and pieces at a time. Combat is very demanding since there is a dearth of ammo at the start. The chainsaw is a much more useful pickup than the shotgun in the early game, particularly because of the enormous pack of demons just north of the room with the small crates.

E1M6The End
by "Serious_MOod"
A tiny end credits level to neatly divide BLABS2 from the rest. It's cute but does little to assuage the lack of the sort of pitched climax that tends to conclude Doom episodes.



  1. I´ve just discovered your site and it´s awesome! Keep doing!
    I like Hell based maps. Which maps/wads do you recommend to me?

    1. Here are some episodes for the original Doom that I would stand by:

      Back to Hell (BAK2HELL)
      Bedlam (BEDLAM)
      Base Ganymede's third episode (BGCOMP)
      ConC.E.R.Ned's third episode (CONCERN)
      Doom the Way id Did's third episode (DTWID)
      No End In Sight's third episode (NEIS)
      Incineration (PE3_INCI)

  2. Love your work. Re Escribiendo's comment, I would love to see a bunch of Top 10 lists for different categories.

    1. I believe that I am uncomfortable producing top 10 lists but I do see the virtue in curated lists for people in search of a particular experience. I do have a list of quintessential releases meant to serve as a primer for newcomers; the idea was to cover a variety of gameplay experiences and then point the way toward other megaWADs with similar gameplay.