Friday, October 26, 2018

Hell Medley (MEDLEY.WAD)

Hell Medley was uploaded to the /idgames archives in 2005 but it was available elsewhere as early as April of 2003. It will probably remain the relatively obscure first work of a Czech powerhouse who went on to tag team Kama Sutra with soul brother Jakub Razák; rescue Plutonia 2 from the disinterest of Sam Woodman; and might right now be polishing the almost-finished KS2! I'm talking about Adolf Vojta, of course. MEDLEY was originally ADA and is a collection of the author's earliest levels (initially crafted in elementary school and then tweaked during HS) spread out over the original Doom's first three episodes plus one from his friend who introduced him to WAD editing. The final product includes sixteen maps replacing E1M1-E1M3, E1M8, and E1M9; E2M1-E2M9; and E3M1 and E3M9.

There isn't any sort of a concrete story but Adolf (aka Gusta) included author notes in the original .TXT that include some of the design history and its inspirations as well as level titles. The first episode doesn't have a lot of cohesion since it carries references to real world locations but you could easily shoehorn the second - which is completely filled out - into a typical doomed Deimos moonbase... Even if it has little if anything to do with the "Shores of Hell" style. The third episode looks like it was used as a holding pen for a few outliers. E3M1 is likely there because it's a Tyson level and Vojta already had a token E1M1 in the same slot so he needed to cram it somewhere else to ensure a pistol start. E3M9 is the aforementioned friend-of-the-author entry, distant but not so far as to be exiled to, say, E4M9.

There are two general trends present in Gusta's included works. First, most obvious, and pointing the way toward his involvement in hardcore mapsets KSUTRA and PL2, he likes slaughter. It's rarely anything crazy and truth be told usually involves big open spaces and tons of bodies but it crops up over the course of the collection, most prominently in E1M3 ("Greek"); E2M4 ("Control MEGAcenter"); and E2M7 ("Main Command Post"). Sometimes you're just plowing through hordes of zombies and imps a la E2M5 ("Warehouse") with such excess that I'm reminded of The Innocent Crew. I'm not in awe of the style but it works and gives way to freeform fun.

I'm intrigued instead by the devious efforts of his more engineered combat scenarios. I think E2M6 ("Courtyards") is my favorite in this regard since the titular features - especially the one sporting the yellow key - make for neat pitched fights. I also really enjoyed the manic start of E2M3 ("Lunar Surface") and its large network of granite outcrops. The webs of stone structures foster a tidal wave of organic ambushes that seem as though they are without end. The tougher bits of MEDLEY will feel especially dickish since you're looking at scenarios like getting locked onto a tiny catwalk with cacodemons on either side unless you know the secret of opening up the bars on the opposite end; cramped Cyberdemon fights; and the big boss chamber of E2M7.

The other feature: Gusta employs relatively ancient design sensibilities when it comes to level progression and secrets. Think more Eternal Doom than Hell Revealed. One thing you'll notice is all of his buttons are repeatable switches which tends to make it hard to distinguish between the ones that you've pressed and the others you haven't. You'll also find yourself trekking back and forth through large swathes of the level to figure out what the last couple of buttons you pressed did. Yeah, it's usually a door going open, but you won't know for sure until you scoure the entire layout several times over. I suppose it could always be worse; thank goodness Vojta avoids deadend backtracking a la Herian / Herian II.

This can make exploring a chore whether or not you're keen enough to realize the logical location for the latest progression point but I had a lot of fun since I enjoy twisting maps around like Rubik's Cubes to see what they reveal. Medley's secrets are even better and relatively numerous. Some of the puzzles are devious enough that I could also see them showing up in, say, the arcane machinations of No End In Sight. The one to impress me the most is also Vojta's proudest. Some of the rest of the nuts and bolts of E3M1 don't quite work out but the trick to the red key is ingenious, to say the least.

As far as aesthetics go, MEDLEY's architecture and detailing are relatively simple barring the occasionally inspired area or lovingly-detailed prop. Its soul is somewhere in the early days of the community; if I didn't know when it was released then I would have pegged it as being produced around 1995 or so. Expect to see objects that look completely out of place like, say, a desktop computer or vertical piano. You'll also see geometry fun with Vojta's name appearing several times within the span of a single level (E2M4) and an incredibly accurate model of a real world hedge maze. Doomcute gameplay considerations include moments of very simple slaughter - like a corridor crammed full of plain zombies - as well as barrels o' fun.

I don't know whether Hell Medley approaches the quality of Kama Sutra and if the /idgames reviews are any indication then it is a very different beast, even if some of these found their way into KSUTRA after author overhauls. If you're the sort of player who really enjoys stuff from the early days of the Doom community's history, like 1994-1995, then you'll be sure to have a ball. I certainly enjoyed most of it.

by Adolf "Gusta" Vojta


"The Well". A very short opening level with a few scattered imps and zombies providing hardly any threat. The big step corridors remind me of Return to Phobos for some reason but the staircase down and to the nukage pit room is clearly derived from "Hangar". Most of the fun is in Vojta's purposefully broad strokes. Also the fact that you can "grab" the green armor and yellow key. It's '94 Doomcute.

E1M2Baronovo Sidlo
"Baron's Lair". In direct contrast, this is a much larger level with an exponentially greater bodycount. It's also kind of a puzzler given how far away the switches are from their effects. Nothing beyond intuition directs you to go back and check out the end of the barrel slaughter corridor, for instance, and you have even more gophering to do in order to lower both sets of bars. By far the most dangerous encounter of the set is the viny maze since you're opened up to hitscanners and can't see them very well. The best way through is as fast as possible. Afterward you can let the rest of the world catch up. The construction of the titular annex - your starting point - and its surrounding areas is pretty cool.

"Greece". The monsters practically swarm with several enormous groups located both indoors and outdoors as well as a few hefty teleport ambushes. The last of these includes a Cyberdemon who is available for  choice infighting. There are some prime moments for rocket slaughter; it felt immensely satisfying to clear that large, eastern room just east of the "den". I had even more fun figuring out the secrets, though, and getting stuck only to hop in the moat and then turn around to see a little Doom dinghy put a smile on my face. The skull shrine to the north is a cool detail and I like the tech colonnade / lightcasting seen in the first hallway.

E1M9Bludiste na Leeds Castle
"Labyrinth of Leeds Castle". It is a faithful geometric recreation of the titular maze, built from a reference postcard acquired during a spell as an exchange student in the UK. Almost all of the difficulty lies in the fact that the hedges are hidden on the automap so making it to the red key is still trial and error but you're thankfully not under too much stress, just some scattered lost souls. The red key guardians are easy to smite given the BFG in the same area and the box o' imps outside isn't much more than a speedbump. If you hate labyrinths then you'll want to give this secret level a pass.

"Colosseum". After a very short windup that tries to force you to trigger the monsters to be subsequently teleported in you arrive in semi-circle arena sitting. Killing the Barons is a little awkward but there are so many cells and rockets that only the careless should perish. When they're done blinking in to their slaughter you get a more complex dance with a Cyberdemon as cacodemons kick in. Still, you have plenty of ammo to spam the BFG to victory both here and into the final crowd. The exit rocket is a cute touch.


"Cellars". The simplistic design has a faint echo of "Deimos Anomaly" but the architectural spark just isn't there. You have a few cool things to see, though, like the inexplicable eastern sluice. The secret plasma gun ledge and resulting ambush was probably my favorite bit but Gusta has also included a host of hidden sectors that extend the gameplay for secret sniffers. Some of the sector machinery displays the same amount of guile as the original Doom. It appeared in a previous level but in this spartan arrangement the painstaking texture alignment on the staircase wall has a fresh, unusual look.

"Vineyard". Another puzzley back-and-forth map in a predominantly tan theme. It doesn't have anything quite as bad as the overgrown catwalk in E2M1 but there's a light echo in a rectangular room in the southeastern portion of the level. I think that having patience in figuring out the next progression point will be a greater challenge for the average player than the combat. Especially when big show battles like the five cacodemon salute are paired with enormous, outdoor areas.

E2M3Mesicni Povrch
"Lunar Surface". The majority of this map is a vast Hellscape along the lines of "Slough of Despair" and all of its granite plutons. They start out clustered in the center of the level and then spread out as you move to the southern and western areas. The action is the greatest at the beginning since hordes are moving in on you from all sides and you're desperately trying to beat them back using the shotgun. There is no safe place to run away to, though; you'll have to make your own or die trying. The enormous horde of cacodemons hanging out in the bloody bay makes for an interesting invasion encounter. I also like the DoomCute piano in the northern bunker.

Ridici MEGAcentrumE2M4
"Control MEGAcenter". A silly proto-slaughter level with a huge rectilinear outdoor horseshoe. There are two separate instances of the author building his name into the level geometry. One of them is plainly obvious on the automap but the other must be seen while playing. Vojta gives you the big guns and tons of rockets but the cell ammo is pretty light to start. The big breaking point is your journey through the southeastern annex, beginning with a tight Cyberdemon showdown. When you make it back to the playing area you can finally cut loose using all those rockets as the mysterious doors open and unleash mixed packs of zombies, demons, cacodemons, and Barons. I have no idea when the exit door opens up but you will find  a computer desk there complete with a chance at yet another secret BFG.

"Warehouse". Well, uh, there's a room featuring a spire of crates that you can climb in order to get some Cool Stuff. The rest of the action feels more like slaughter a la The Innocent Crew with hallways full of easily slaughtered monsters. Granted, you could completely hork up the rocket launcher grab in the blue / yellow key door corridor and thus be at a supreme disadvantage against the tide of imps. The bridge fight that immediately precedes it is another really dangerous encounter since the mechanism of your egress isn't telegraphed and it's a lot harder to wait out the cacodemons until you can run out the way that you came in through. The teleporter hub, the scene of several higher-stakes shootouts, is an interesting feature.

Zdrcujici miseE2M9
"Crushing Mission". A very silly quasi-techbase level with some interesting sector machinery. There is definitely a reason for the Spiderdemon sitting on the invul sphere! If you don't find out why on your first try then you eventually will. The weirdest part of this map is the moment toward the end when you trigger a teleport invasion and all of the baddies merrily land on the central pad which is now a crusher death engine. It's, uh, certainly something. The second Cyberdemon is potentially a bit tricky but I like that the author was kind enough to add cage alcoves on both sides to protect you from some of the splash.

"Courtyards". This one is pretty fun. It has a big teleporter-fed ambush, an outdoor area flush with monsters to grind down, and a few tricks and turns featured in the catwalk-over-nukage sections to the south and north. The centerpieces is a quasi-mirrored courtyard showcasing tech columns, divided by a wall that sports a concave top. The monster count is pretty big but you chew through it fast with all the available rockets. This also makes the marble outdoor area a wicked cool blastathon. Great stuff.

Hlavni stanE2M7
"Main Command Post". Strong echoes of E2M4. There's a huge outdoor area surrounding a central compound - the headquarters, I'm sure, since it's staffed by two Spiderdemons and a Cyberdemon - and an isolated, more traditional looking annex. The exterior ring has the same sort of easygoing OG Doom slaughter but this map has quite a few Cyberdemons. The most problematic of these elements is the Cyb in the interior since you have to time your assassination just right to get him infighting one of the Spiders while you fry the second by using the plasma chainsaw. The other annex has some interesting cinematic pieces. The enormous nukage slide is evocative and I like the bit with the marble catwalks.

"Burial Ground". Things really heat up. The dueling Spiderdemons guarding the keys at the beginning are hardly an indication of the following chaos. The meat of the map is a marble crosswalk that's the scene of an enormous crossfire and features beefy Barons on your level, imps staged in the corners, and free-roaming cacodemons as the main scourge. It gets a little crazy but you can do a lot of work with the BFG and rocket launcher. Pretty fun!


King ArenaE3M1
Looks like a normal tech installation but it's actually a puzzle-centric Tyson map. You have to wait for the Berserk powerup, though, and go 3-0 against some Barons. There's still an opportunity to 'splode imps using the copious amounts of scattered barrels. A few things in the map seem broken but it might be a problem with ZDoom since I've run into issues involving razor-thin margins on the shooting height before. My favorite bit is the secret red key; rather ingenious, I think. Disappointing that it ends in a sector 11 shootout gauntlet.

E3M9Mistnosti vseho hnusu
by Lukas Terek
"The Rooms of All Filth". Small, tight, and not at all difficult. Getting pinned in at the start might be the biggest threat. And maybe your eyes glazing over and taking too much damage before winding up in an imp encounter following a teleport. It combines infernal Hell, techbase, and marble in a sort of hodgepodge.



  1. Nice review. Btw, you have this penchant to switch between addressing mappers by their first, last and nickname. I find it endearing, except this time it's also funny, because in Gusta's case all three of those are Czech first names. Is it a three man team? Is it multiple personalities? It's Ada Gusta Vojta! (He actually is a three man team, I guess.)

    1. All the better to finish KS2 with!

      First / Last / Nickname is me trying to break up the repetition that comes with writing about an author. The more occasions I have to mention them by name, the more it switches! If it's someone who's only offered a nickname then I tend to get a little creative.

  2. I thought this was a mixed bag. I liked the E1-maps and E2M6 but the rest was (to me) average at best. Still, glad to have some more Ultimate Doom maps to play!

    Btw, in your map description of the last level it says E3M8. It should be E3M9.

    Also a happy new year!

    1. Good spotting!

      I imagine that E2's biggest fans will be 1994 connoisseurs. I think that its sentiment is much in keeping with that era.