Monday, February 26, 2018

Dataville (DATAVILL.WAD)

by Sam "Metabolist" Woodman

Dataville isn't the third iteration of the Testament of Judgement project but it is a likewise hilarious demonstration of his boundless enthusiasm. In mid-2000, the flavor of Sam's month was Hacx to the tune of a prospective new series entitled "Alternative HacX". With Nostromo's design documents in hand, Woodman was committed to building a new set of levels per the original plans. Dataville is the first and only fruit yielded by the Banjo-strumming author. It was designed for the original release but works absolutely fine with the 1.2 IWAD published back in 2010, which is what I used. The most important things to know are that it has to be played in some sort of limit-removing port and occupies MAP19.

I don't have Nostromo's Hacx bible in hand but I do remember the original cyberspace levels. DATAVILL reads like a clumsy first attempt. The layout is dominated by basic, functional symmetry and I think that every weapon and monster is crammed in as though Woodman were checking a box with each appearance in order to reach a quota. The actual playing area consists of cramped spaces and bits like the long hallways stretching down to the Thorn Thing make combat teeter between awkward pulling teeth and dull, uninspired room clearing. Grabbing the keys is literally taking the first in the northeastern chamber and then working back to the west, each room virtually within jumping distance. The end result is a perfunctory demonstration.

Hacx's textures don't really lend themselves to traditionally attractive cyberspace levels. They tend to look something like a cross between dungeons excavated out of rock formed from the compressed ruins of a dystopia; early CGI art of the mid-90s; and fullbright neon. Dataville doesn't break this mould and the goofy orthogonal patterning on the floor cannot hope to help matters but Woodman does a few interesting things. The shimmering animated midtextures are used to mark ambush triggers, sectioning off weapons and resources. Sam sort of uses self-referencing sectors to simulate the surreal, floating locomotion of the digital frontier. Since most of the action occurs on a flat plane of rooms in the level's upper tier, though, all you really have are a couple of glorified elevators and an invisible ring of stairs in the periphery of the exit room.

The biggest success for me was the central chamber with its blue datacore obscuring the appropriately psychedelic exit teleporter. The combat isn't anything special, but it's the most interesting area in the level in terms of architecture. I also kind of like the numerous structures of suspiciously similar origin glimpsed beyond the periphery of the playable area. The main microcosm is a pretty blunt tour of Hacx's features but the monumental data structures suggest a multitude of virtual vaults waiting to be cracked by the hacker. The simplicity of the level design thus becomes the portrayal of a rudimentary, brute-force protection scheme. At least, it's fun to think so.

Dataville has the dubious distinction of being the first Hacx addon I've reviewed but it's also one of but a few as its lack of passionate purveyors is only rivalled by the other members of the obscure offshot organization - Strife and, now, Doom 64. I wouldn't make it your initial introduction to Danny Evanger's world but if you were greedy for every aspect of Banjo Software's debut, you might as well give DATAVILL a shot.


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