Monday, February 12, 2018

Triple-Play (3X-PLAY.WAD)

by Bill McClendon

Bill McClendon's main claim to fame was as one of the authors of The Unofficial WAD Designers' Handbook which offered lots of great information for prospective authors looking to dip their toes in the Doom pool. While BM would eventually go on to contribute to Requiem as well as STRAIN (the latter also sporting his partner in crime, Ron Allen) he was initially unwilling to reveal his works for the judgment of his contemporaries. His main concern was the thought of being held to a higher standard due to his hand in assembling the guide, which among other things contains a list of typical errors including
Texture Misalignment
This is the single most common error made by level authors. Although it has been mentioned several times in this document, properly aligned textures are an absolute must. Enough said. (The Unofficial WAD Designers' Handbook, Release 2.1 by Ron Allen and Bill McClendon)
That's painting a big target on your back for someone to post a "Gotcha!" Thankfully, Bill got over his fear of retaliatory nit-picking and presented his first official release, Triple-Play, for Doom II in mid 1995. It's a MAP01 replacement like so many others and the author recommends using IDMUS 18 to invoke "Waiting For Romero to Play" as the intended, complementary soundtrack.

3X-PLAY lacks a story but it does have a gimmick and it won't be apparent from a single, isolated playthrough. The author describes it as "semi-random monster placement" and I'm not sure if it refers to the layout of the teleport ambushes, specifically the northeasterly three-chamber cell. It would still be a bit different from Roger Ritenour's incredibly messy teleport-fed invasions in Phobos. What I know for sure is that Bill has used the skill flags on ALL of the interactive things, putting weapons and keys in different places along with the usual monster changes. The level isn't attractive enough to me or the new routes such a substantial twist to really justify three separate playthroughs for HNTR, HMP, and UV - at least, not in TYOOL 2018 - but I appreciate the effort.

The layout is pretty blocky but McClendon makes things interesting enough by using windows so that, standing in the viewing box just south of the red key door, you can see into nearly every major thematic section. The one exception is the brick and mortar starting area and its adjoining southeast segment, feeling like the basement of the map. Of course, seeing all the themes together makes the map appear as a mishmash, lacking cohesion even if the individual portions are internally consistent. It really just depends on how much visual variety you can stand in your maps, particularly at one time. It doesn't really bother me; I'm more put off by how featureless the level appears to be outside of the scattered pillar platforms. The parapet-like structure behind the red key door is about as crazy as it gets.

Bill has changed monster placement around for each difficulty but it's not too far from the standard progression. The overall positioning between UV and HMP is basically the same but there are less large enemies and the remaining ones have been shuffled around to different places. Easy mode is gutted to an almost comic extent with a heavy lean on regular zombies, imps, and demons, not to say that there aren't a few revenants or an arch-vile in your future. While the rooms are rectangular and simple, the glut of windows means that you can expect attacks from just about every direction.

Triple-Play has a handful of big surprises. The most insidious in my mind is a horde of lost souls lurking in the easternmost area, turning into a devilish drip feed once they're awaken. One of the battles is a hectic firefight with a bunker of commandos overlooking a field full of scattered ammo, barrels, and barons, arguably the most dangerous. A slightly similar shootout exists in a blood and stone holding cave but since there aren't any barrels the maneuvering is only tricky if you attempt to save the ammo that's laying on the floor. The end run on UV is a potentially thorny scenario since invading arch-viles will create quite the army on the western side and the sheer number of arachnotrons crammed in the southeast make punching through an awkward endeavor. If you can get past the latter, though, you should have access to a sort of safe room / weapon closet to help with the former.

3X-PLAY exhibits a solid build and if you're not picky about how it looks you ought to have some decent fun navigating this virtual reality battleground. I think that DIAMONDS, aka The Corruption of Substation Alpha, is the better of his two solo releases but his debut is functional if not distinguished.


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