Monday, October 15, 2018

No Sun (NOSUN.WAD)

NO SUN
by Malcolm Sailor


MS was a fairly prolific author of maps if not at the same production rate as workaholic wunderkinds like Paul Corfiatis. His biggest claim to fame was his CHORD series, probably followed by his contributions to The Talosian Incident as part of Black Star Coven. The former showcased outstanding architecture, lighting, and grueling combat while the latter had him developing short but scene-setting levels to further a narrative through the limitations of idtech1's gameplay. His work on TALOSIAN may have ultimately directed his talents toward the aesthetic of the CHORD levels but I'd like to think that NOSUN - a MAP01 replacement for Doom II who also kicks off its own sequential series - is the work that caught John Bye's attention.


These single releases compose his most significant solo attempt at a sustained narrative and setting. The flash-fiction setup spends much of its time establishing a deliberately absurd dystopia including slaves, near-global imprisonment, and ubiquitous pollution. It's interesting when juxtaposed with CHORD's complete lack of a setting. A research station orbiting Earth discovers that the heat from the sun is dissipating. Further investigation reveals an alien station built on the surface of the sun. The interlopers appear to be "poisoning" it in a secretive gambit to eliminate our life. You, a prisoner of war, are being sent to the outsiders' outpost to first shut down their operation and then take the fight to them. The other option, of course, being death.


I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting from NOSUN but it still surprised me. It's definitely a location level and its custom sky reinforces some of the craziness of being set ON THE SURFACE OF THE SUN. I wrote a long bit in GOAWAY09 about Sailor recommending you use your imagination or the sky from John Anderson's Inferno series but I realize now that the note's inclusion in GOAWAY is almost certainly an oversight born from Malcolm using this PWAD's .TXT as a template for the former as they were both uploaded at the same time. Except one of the updates the author made in 1997 must have involved crowbarring in the asset in question.


Much of the level takes place inside of the alien installation. It starts out tight and claustrophobic with small hallways and little nondescript rooms like a cargo bay but then spills into a considerably more open network of underground tunnels complete with rails... but no railcar. This marks the point where the scenery rockets outside of Sailor's wheelhouse and also gives way to neat visual-only side areas like the eastern sector machinery window looking toward an outdoor catwalk and the massive ship pad and surrounding station area complete with a mysterious row of something that looks like heat-absorbing power cells.


It's a little tricky to get around at first but this is largely because two of the corridors are opened by using MARBFACE switches that the author is kind enough to explicitly mention in the .TXT. Combat shotgun fetishists will enjoy since it drives most of the gameplay. The rocket launcher is optimized for only the area you find it in and by the time you have the chaingun it isn't all that useful. While you fight a fair amount of trash early on the trend is toward heavy monsters once you reach the tunnel with an emphasis on arachnotrons and Barons. One of the more interesting fights is an invul-fed brawl in a fissure on the sun. It's not blazing or anything but it's a cool scene. You'll need to use both it and the rad suits to slay all of your enemies and survive. The optimal use of the invul won't be immediately obvious, though.


The monster placement may be more annoying than some players can stand. Part of this is due to using Barons as doors, the most potentially awkward situation being three guys who are actually covering the door exiting from the sun trench. They will easily ruin your day if left standing. The other awkward elements come from arch-viles. One of them staffs a quasi-infinite imp turret (better than the chaingunner batteries of The Plutonia Experiment, I imagine). Another sits in the climax area where there is virtually no cover, necessitating a speedy kill with the afforded invulnerability or ducking in and out of the saucer bay... after telefragging the three guardian Cyberdemons.


It's a great leadoff to a more story-focused phase of Sailor's career, uncharacteristic in its focus and presentation. I look forward to see what the rest of the gap between here and CHORD1 looks like. If exploring a quasi-mysterious installation on the SURFACE OF THE SUN sounds cool to you then you ought to give NOSUN a shot.



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