Sunday, March 17, 2019

Disjunction (DISJUNCT.WAD)

Disjunction had its genesis in TerminusEst13's Doom Upstart Mapping Project series. DUMP is similar to several other events (e.g. The Joy of Mapping) in that it is all about getting people psyched to make levels. floatRAND was a participant in the fantastically bloated DUMP3, dubbed the BFG edition. His or her three entries - "Felt" (MAP45 there and MAP05 here), "Lambda Base" (MAP57 cum MAP02), and "Electron" (MAP09 nee MAP65) - formed the foundation of a single episode, released in 2017 as Disjunction. The final product is an eleven-map replacement for play in Boom-compatible source ports.

The adventure does not have an explicitly-stated story but there is a sort of narrative in the progression of the levels. The entire thing begins in a stunning canyon base. You open the door and head inside, discovering a vast military complex including an organic supercomputer. The journey then takes you through the ruins beneath the base before emerging at the perimeter of a vast industrial complex, the "Gamma Sector". Its end draws on Dante's Inferno as its penultimate stage is "Malebolgian Crimson" (MAP10), a reference to the vast eighth circle of Hell where fraud is punished. From there you drop down a chute into "Judecca" (MAP11), the innermost portion of the ninth and final region of Hell where - according to Alligheri - Satan was contained and the traitors to their lords and benefactors were completely encased in the ice of Cocytus.

It isn't so obvious at its onset but as I continued to play Disjunction I started to see that floatRAND's single biggest influence was Sunlust and between its two authors probably Ribbiks. The opening "Leaden Skies" (MAP01) feels like a significant outlier because its primary marvel appears to be in its location. Based on the environmental design and devoid of any context I would have guessed that it was an Eternal level. Of course, my suppositions at this time are mostly based on his pre-Voodoo Guns reputation as most of my Alexander S. experience is weighted toward ICAR2015 and End Point which are more representative of his love for classic-style megaWADs.

The level and encounter design quickly changes once you enter the front door, though. The author shows a propensity for placing the player in uncomfortable positions in highly atmospheric locations. "Lambda Base" appears to be alone in its darkness, drawing water from an incalculable reservoir, and throws monsters with tricky attack patterns at a distance (arachnotrons / mancubi / revenants). "Neural Net" (MAP03) has a highly interconnected layout and is constantly ushering meaty monsters into its limited playing space. The sprawling auxiliary complex is wicked cool but the transition to the supercomputer that it supports is the true showstopper.

The next three map minisode slows things down a bit. "Aqua Regia" (MAP04) features a punishing ammo balance and superlethal enemy placement before culminating in a button-pushing finale. It also ushers in one of floatRAND's favorite tropes, putting the player in the middle of a vast space while a horde of cacodemons slowly advances from the periphery. It's the template for two more finishing fights though each one has its own particular wrinkles. "Felt" has the claustrophobic encounters but gives you more room for ammo and is one of my favorites for its impressive secret switch machinery and three-dimensional library stacks maze. Its two-tone color scheme might leave a bit to be desired - wood / bookcases and electric emerald - since the shelves and panelling have natural green highlights. "Serpent Temple" is great because it's non-linear and I dig the Super Metroid Lower Brinstar theme. It also feels like the point where the author starts to settle into Ribbiks's Sunlust groove with the radial architecture, a wink toward "Go Fuck Yourself"'s circular track, and an intricate dynamic light. I hope I'm not alone in thinking that the last bit was an essential part of the Zach and Daniel showcase's aesthetic appeal.

"Gamma Sector" delivers on this promise with a tightly-designed level that feels like a slice of an early Sunlust outing. It's also a nice breather before moving on to the final, fatal stretch. "Foundry" (MAP08) is the most straightforward and features some great, easygoing slaughter as well as a congested elevator-themed brawl at its climax. The encounters in "Electron" feel more engineered in contrast, including but not limited to the crazy floor-becomes-lava roundabout. "Malebolgian Crimson" embraces the insanity, though. Its side areas give you some space to breathe but its beginning taxes your ability to even approach the map while the finish trades helter-skelter for choreographed chaos. It isn't all roses for me since "Foundry" has a fairly painful maze section while "Electron" has a definite engineering deficiency in the way Hell nobles are allowed to approach the base of the lifts at the end of the Cyberdemon race track. I like it, though, as much as MAP10's opening had me in despair at even establishing a foothold.

"Judecca" closes out on the same style of gameplay seen in MAP01, just with tons of heavy monsters between you and your ultimate goal. Its relatively straightforward arrangement of beefy enemies on ledges and in crevices feels at odds with the preceding encounter design. It would certainly help if floatRAND had included some flier ambushes and not saved them all for the start - one of my favorite moments - and the Cyberdemon swat finale. I dunno how much the author would have had to compromise, though, given how invested he or she appears to be in allowing the player to jump over the crater walls and into the thawing waters of Lethe at any given point in time. I only just now realized that the bridge-like structure seen early on is actually a dam whose discharge has frozen in place! That's cute.

I like how Disjunction smoothly builds from its initial, MAP01 difficulty to a Sunlust-lite at its peak without ever really betraying the WAD's gameplay style. Outside of the beginning and ending, anyway, which are just fine as bookends. Upon closer examination, however, its moments of peak difficulty don't seem to be any more approachable on lower skill settings. I actually found the start of "Malebolgian Crimson" to be even harder because I couldn't cheat my way into the soul sphere bunker via arch-vile jump. I also didn't find the HNTR monster composition of the later levels to be significantly different outside of the removal of the overly dickish arch-viles. There are less enemies, to be sure, but the gist of each fight is pretty much the same.

If you haven't gleaned it from my Sunlust comparisons then DISJUNCT looks pretty freakin' sweet. There's a big difference, though, in that the former is more abstract throughout its execution whereas floatRAND's levels have a greater sense of utility. It's more of a difference in flavor since reality-based purpose is often at odds with smooth and engaging gameplay. The nadir would be something like a realistically laid-out office complex. There are ways to bend the setting to make for a more dynamic encounter space but if you remain fixated on the fidelity of its representation then it cannot play to Doom's strong suits. The author is great at blending functional environments like the supercomputer complex of MAP03 with the concepts that make the microcosms of PWADs so much fun to explore.

floatRAND's solo debut portrays an author who is capable of working in and even inventing a multitude of themes, great news for a community that is twenty-five years old as of this writing. I can only imagine what the next adventure will bring. Whatever comes, I hope that there is a bit more standing room afforded to less blessed players on the lower difficulty settings. If this applies to you then I suggest taking a tour on -nomonsters, loading up your favorite overpowered weapon mod, or just activating degreeless mode and going wherever the breezes blow you.

by "floatRAND"

Leaden SkiesMAP01
A gorgeous desert canyon base for the opener. The scenery is magnificent and gives me a sense of scope and worldbuilding that I haven't felt since the opening bits of Vaporware. I also enjoy the bit of scripting with the elevator pop-up switch. There are a bunch of monsters but many of them are zombies and the action is assisted along by a multitude of strategically placed barrels. The hangar bay is a nice centerpiece and works great gameplay-wise because it gives the player a ton of room to move. I was expecting it to have more monsters but I'm pleased to see the author giving the architecture enough room. The player can really drink in the atmosphere.

MAP02Lambda Base
An enormous complex in the middle of an underground lake. The implied narrative with the reactor core and teleporters is interesting. I just can't decide whether the glowing pipes are for coolant or geothermal energy. The initial clear of the outer area is interesting since the skeletons and arch-vile make it dangerous but not impossible to hang around in the open. The revenant tower to the southwest felt incredibly treacherous the first time I saw it. floatRAND steps up the slaughter of zombies to TiC proportions with the big corridor in the central compound. I really like the look of the tiered hallway room where the teleporter equipment is. The big final ambush looks dirty but there are plenty of ways "out" for more cautious players.

Neural NestMAP03
This appears to be a supercomputer and its surrounding infrastructure, all of it underwater. It's a bit of a slow starter since the SSG, rocket launcher, and plasma gun are deeper in enemy territory. The action is solid, though. The majority of the map takes place in a dingy, highly-interconnected complex with more chambers than corridors. Well, your routes start out constrained but the level gradually opens up as you play. All of the supporting technology makes for some great visuals. The most memorable bit for me is the transition to the finale. It's a tunnel lined by tangled computer cables and leads to a pretty big firefight in the bright beige confines of the mainframe room. I didn't realize this at first but it's an organic supercomputer, whether or not it was to begin with. The big brawl at the end is the obvious standout encounter since it's got some real infighting opportunity. I also really enjoyed the smaller scale and panic of the blue key ambush.

MAP04Aqua Regia
It's a beautiful level, an underground ruin partially swamped with water, but there is a huge shift in the tone of its encounters. This is all about tight ammo balance and claustrophobic combat and feels frustrating after enjoying the first three maps. My nadir was the lock-in fight at the pool to the west but I was so wrapped up in trying to kill the arch-vile ASAP that I missed the forest for the trees, so to speak. The finale is an interesting setup but in practice drags for ages. The initial foray against the cacodemon horde is kind of intense but some of them may do what fliers do best and rise up out of your sight. This requires a run back to the alcove at the beginning of the catwalk to "reset" them. The pillar activation sequence that follows is a big ol' grind. Fighting one pain elemental in the open area with a rocket launcher is bad enough but having to do it several times over is yawning through gritted teeth. Gorgeous but grueling.

A relatively large library marked by green tech carpets and highlights. The bits with radial architecture look very sharp. It's linear up until you snag the red key but I think that picking the eastern path first is much harder than tackling the three-dimensional stacks maze. Less rewarding, too. Both routes have their share of brain-twisting sector machinery but the east is wrapped up in a wealth of secret timed switches and doors. Its combat practically begs for having the plasma gun, especially the yellow key lock-in fight. Same with the tri-key pedestal, really, though there the author gives you a little more breathing room. The finale is supposed to be a slaughter but at a glance I guessed that I could just step back and let infighting do almost all of the hard work. And I was right! Pretty fun stuff.

MAP06Serpent Temple
The Brinstar theme goes a long way toward making this level. It's a mysterious sanctuary divided into five distinct sections. The start does a great job of cluing you in to the progression by raising quintuple serpent switch pillars in an arc along with another button in the immediate area. Using the lonely station causes one of the obelisks to lower so that you know early on what you're looking for. As far as the layout goes it's closer to "Neural Nest" insofar as its interconnectivity. The atrium is a circular hallway and the scene of the tightest single encounter. My favorite segment consists of the radial ruins to the southeast. The action isn't too crazy and the dark gray structures have a vastly different aesthetic. I also like the presentation of the western area, though, with its multiple tiers and scanline teleporter alcove. The finale is as crazy as it gets. The enormous, darkened hallway makes it difficult to spot both the two Cyberdemons as well as the metered-in cacodemons. It feels like a very dangerous fight, especially since you're limited to the rocket launcher in terms of power weapons. You can skip it but you'll need to work out the purpose of an otherwise strange secret. There's a lot of great detailing. I really enjoyed the squared sinewave pattern overlooking the eastern yard.

Gamma SectorMAP07
A change in pace. The dark metal / neon green aesthetic reminds me of Sunlust's "Proxyon". The encounters aren't anywhere similar, though, and at a tight 80 monsters it comes across as a much more intimate environment. Most of the enemies are found in the level's upper regions. The main exceptions are the finale and the plasma gun ambush. The latter is one of the better fights since it gives you a new weapon and plenty of cells. The other skirmishes feel more like methodical room clearing, even the eastern mancubi pillars / revenant balcony combo. There's a demon dance club, though, that all but begs you to go Berserk on a four-way skeleton samba while the devilish DJ spins on from his booth. I love the green electrical decoration.

Dingy metal and molten slag. There are three wings: the northwest for the red key, the southern for the yellow, and the northeast is the exit. You can do the first two in any order. RED is the color of player exposure, opening on a treacherous labyrinth chased down with revenants and arch-viles. Later you have to endure an entrenched Cyberdemon serving as a turret / hazard as you make your way around a circular room. YELLOW features open-air slaughter and plays both fast and fun. floatRAND gives you wide corridors to bait infighting and lay down rocket suppression fire. The finale is somewhere in between with the multi-tier elevator brawl. The enemy hordes rarely feel too oppressive since the pillar monsters seem to be semi-stuck in their positions. The Cyberdemon finish might feel a little claustrophobic, though. I wasn't enthused with the switcharoo labyrinth but the rest of the fights are wicked cool.

We're very far away from MAP01. Some of the earlier gameplay and aesthetics hinted at Sunlust but this is a pretty credible Ribbiks-lite map in the vein of "Go Fuck Yourself". It isn't anywhere near as chaotic or meaty but the spirit is there. The centerpiece encounter is arguably the yellow key fight. It's a DDR nightmare that gives you a tight and constantly shifting movement space. A seemingly never-ending supply of revenants in the center harry you while cacodemons invade from the outer edge to act as spoilers. It helps to have a preternatural sense of how the rockets are arcing. The leadup is a pretty good claustrophobic slaughter fight that gives you the chance to really cut loose with the plasma gun. It helps to know about one of the elements so that you can hammer it dead from the start. The Cyberdemon race track feels like the weak link because the climax has Hell nobles teleport onto the catwalk and bunch up at the foot of the elevators of the northern complex. If they gum up both sides then infinitely tall actors will screw you. I actually liked the clusterfuck brawl for the blue key. It's basically "outlast the monsters until the BFG becomes available". Great visuals; I really enjoy the secret area seen from the outdoor track fight.

MAP10Malebolgian Crimson
Completing the transformation into excruciating, uncomfortable setups. This marriage of blood, metal, and flesh is a nonstop series of intimate deathtraps. It's tough to figure out how to proceed in the hornet's nest since you're outgunned and overwhelmed from the very start. Pressing the obvious switch seems like a terrible decision when you still have three arch-viles thumping around for your blood. The only way that I could even start this map was by letting one of the archies jump me into the soul sphere / armor hub. There I could grab the scads of rocket ammo and then return to the pit of death. The switch alcove itself is actually the safest place to be and lets all the Hell nobles bunch up on the catwalk sides so that you can efficiently shell them with rockets. Once you finally get all the shit calmed down you can move on to the key wings. The small-scale encounters aren't nearly as cruel but the little platforming bit after the specter / chaingunner hall might be a bit much for some. The central crossfire looks crazy but you can afford to be careful. Up until you snag the BFG, anyway. The finale is my favorite fight. Once you know the arch-vile spawn pattern you can quickly grease them with the BFG. You still have to be cognizant of any revenant rockets while waiting them out, though. The transition period where the viles die and you try to bait the outer horde of cacodemons into the center is a make-or-break moment. Very nasty but cathartic to finish.

The name is appropriate enough for this betrayal of player expectations. Your journey through the innermost recesses of Cocytus bears little relation to the action that has gone before. This uncomfortable canyon crawl is epic in scope, a slog of an adventure, and bland in encounters. The end goal is the spire in the level's and it makes for a neat centerpiece. The surrounding material is basically one long exercise in pulling teeth. One of the more memorable moments has you probably running up to BFG bump a Cyberdemon only to find a handful of arch-viles waiting nearby. You can always run right back down, I guess. The action feels less carefully designed, as though floatRand put more trust in Doom's core mechanics to carry the fights. Don't forget the arachnotron snipers as you come across them, either, because they're way worse when you're in the center of the level. There is no great buildup to the pillar itself. Just some scattered revenant packs, a modicum of mancubus-bashing, and then a super obnoxious third tier. It has four cyberdemons on the outer ring, pain elemental emerging from the inner, and a huge wave o' cacodemons at the outside. It looks like the safe strat is to sort of punch through when stuff gets dire and then encourage the Cybs and cacos to infight while you eat up enviro suit time. I really enjoy the end, though, insofar as it looks like you're actually getting cooked by the raw heat of the exposed core.



  1. Those screenies look AMAZING. I need to add it to The List, but I'm beginning to despair at the number of quality WADs I still need to play...