Monday, January 7, 2019

Short and Hard (SHRTHARD.ZIP)

by Malcolm Sailor

Quick is GoodBaron GateCenter

3PACK_1 and DS-61-2 (later updated to DS-61-3) were among Malcolm's earliest releases in 1995. Both consisted of ZIP packs containing multiple, separate PWADs. In 1997 he released Short and Hard, the third and final of his collections prior to the largely archival MSSCRAPS. SHRTHARD has one thing in common with 3PACK_1 in that it contains Quick is Good, which was released nearly a year earlier in 1996, but the overall experience has been streamlined. There's only one .TXT for all three PWADs and none of them occupy the same map slot so they can be loaded together. They don't follow any sort of serial pattern, though. QUIKISGD occupies MAP01; Baron Gate has MAP27; and Center can be found in MAP31.

All three are difficult to some degree but each one accomplishes this feat via a different approach. Quick is Good feels the most like a small-scale "normal" level with tougher monsters including arch-vile surprises. BARONGAT just has tons of hit points to chew through while Sailor tries to offset its linear, straightforward layout by using tricky surprises and a few interconnections. I had more fun with CENTER because Malcolm affords the player some mobility within the two main playing spaces. Ignoring the very chaingunner-heavy side areas, not to say that Baron Gate didn't have a bunch of them to deliver in a few select closets.

In a way this sort of feels like a passing of the torch to the CHORD series since it seems as though the author is keen on having you Berserk punch at least one revenant to death and the monster density of BARONGAT feels similar in spirit to CHORD1. Some of the silly stuff still remains, though, like a get out of jail free card for what would otherwise be a soul-crushing finish to CENTER. It can't hope to compare to the painstaking detail work and encounter design of CHORDG or CHORD3 but they're safe, clean levels for anyone who prefers the early days of the community.

Quick is GoodMAP01
The only concrete setting of the bunch since it has a little chapel and some side buildings for you to investigate. It's dangerous to go outside but you've got to start somewhere and a tactical approach should give you the positioning you need for a full clear. The biggest difference between QUIKISGD's gameplay and the other parts of SHRTHARD is its sort of adventure game sensibility. The blue key puzzle has tripped more than a few people judging by the ones who cared enough to comment.

MAP27Baron Gate
28 Barons later, all of whom appear in the main courtyard. There are a ton of high-HP monsters while everything weaker than a specter is a commando. You do get the rocket launcher at the start and if you're diligent in how you bring in and round up the goat men then you can save both time and ammo. The other fights trade mostly on congestion; one of them appears to encourage you to chainsaw a couple of pain elementals. It's easier than you think! It looks like a few speedrunner tricks could really save a lot of time here; for instance a potential arch-vile jump for an early exit. You'd have to be careful in where you kill all the Barons, though.

This one is cool even if the early Hell knight-sitting-on-the-teleporter-start leads you into thinking otherwise. You can play peek-a-boo with skeletons and flying monsters in the outer ring or give it a miss entirely, proceeding directly to the main event and its small but powerful three-ring circus. The rooms coming off the interior are kind of dull to clear but the penultimate fight involves a Cyberdemon, a drip feed cacodemon teleporter wave, and plenty of plasma. Choose wisely at the end.


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