Tuesday, March 5, 2019


by Richard R. Ward

Rich published a couple of large and wicked cool levels back in 1994, RRWARD01 and RRWARD02. In 1996 he uploaded part of the remains of his aborted Doom episode, Nocternal Missions, to be followed by a last gasp in 2003. RRWARD03, the first of the two later releases, is just as much an E1M1 replacement. It's a very different level in scope, though, which makes me wonder just what Ward was up to with the entries that didn't "[work] out very well". .TXT appears to describe the mapset as it was intended to be and mentions "bad jokes, weird maps and lots of bloodshed as only DOOM can bring it to you". My interest is certainly piqued; the author is unfortunately some fifteen-odd years distant from being convinced to show us the rest.

The PWAD has a story but it's more of a flimsy justification for nonsensical adventures. Richard appears to have been breaking away from the dense narratives accompanying his first two levels. The player is still a space marine but you're under the throes of a terrible hallucination brought on by too much alcohol and pizza. I'm not sure whether this adequately explains the sights that you confront in RRWARD03 but I don't need any story text to load up a WAD. I just enjoy reading them. The more convoluted the better, actually. A psychotropic experience may seem like a cop-out but nothing else really fits.

The level is incredibly DoomCute. You might have an inkling of what you're getting into when you hear the MIDI rendition of U96's techno remix of Klaus Doldinger's theme from Das Boot, ever a staple of early Doom PWADs. If not, then it will probably hit when you discover part of the vast and secret tunnel complex that makes up the playable periphery. The clinchers, though, are the map's two stars. One is a giant turntable in the level's northern annex while the other is an enormous hi-fi stereo set to the east. The latter is plastered with a thorough array of custom textures and leaves zero doubt as to what Ward was attempting to render.

The author doesn't really help you out with any context within the level itself. You start out in a dingy green octagon from which you can access the marble hallways that lead to the three level wings. The audio equipment is presented as-is in exterior yards, almost like some kind of enormous outdoor art gallery. The western annex is closer in appearance to Rich's previous levels. It's got an anomalous-tech-of-dubious-purpose vibe. As far as encounters go I think that it's the best since it fields a good number of demons. The rest of the map is mowing down zombies and imp snipers and feels relatively uninspired when compared to the first two RRWARD releases.

You can still see Ward's idiosyncrasies on full display. One of these is the aforementioned series of hidden tunnels which also figures into a few layered secret chains. You'll have to master some of the sector machinery in order to acquire each of the three keys and it isn't always obvious what elements are interactive. His debut was also pretty big on using organically-presented monster closets to add some excitement to the inevitable backtracking. You'll see a little of that but most of the phenomenon is confined to the starting area. The progression is actually pretty non-linear; you only need the keys to access the exit and can tackle the annexes in any order you like.

The combat may not shine but it's still RRWARD to the core, just with the added "What the Hell?" benefit of the turntable / stereo system. If this was supposed to be part of an entire episode then I'd be stoked to play the rest of it, weird though it may be. If you're looking for some light quasi-'94 flair with a dash of puzzle play then you could do a lot worse.


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