Saturday, May 11, 2019

Garden of Delight (GARDENSD.WAD)

by John Bye

Bye went on to have a career in the games industry but he got his start by reviewing user maps for Doom. It wasn't long before he began to make them. John's work is glazed over in current discussions of the community's history because his peak style does not reflect the overall trend toward action-oriented mapsets as depicted in Erik Alm-centric retrospectives. In some ways his goals as a level designer were and remain diametrically opposed to the zeitgeist of what we are calling the "modern" era. Garden of Delight is as good a showcase as any of his tendencies. Released in 1996 after CyberDoom, it's a MAP01 replacement for Doom II.

There isn't much of a story especially when compared to the in-depth articulation delivered in his debut. That was attempting to set up what the highly abstract environments were representing in cyberspace, though. This is a far more concrete setting and it's not a stretch that Bye describes it as a medieval chateau. A castle of fortress would have a slightly different connotation. There isn't any sort of justification as to why it's infested or what brought you to it. The goal is to clear it out, though, because purging the Earth of the demons' physical evil is a victory for humanity.

This level covers a lot of ground but doesn't have a ton of monsters. You start off in a neat-looking 3 x 3 grid of copy and pasted marble structures. The fight is actually pretty good since there are a handful of shotgun guys spread out among the cells and you will have some initial uncertainty as to whether or not you've gotten them all. The southwest portion of the map is a chapel-like structure that has been lifted wholesale from Bye's CyberDoom, including its showcase encounter. I haven't seen reuse this brazen since my tour of Rex Claussen's pre-2002 catalogue. It's architecturally interesting but I would have preferred to see a new cathedral-type layout.

A similarly-sized portion of the map is given to a big fuckoff hedge maze. The red key is located in its center and it's guarded by a caged mancubus who feels like a decent miniboss. You can get in and out pretty quickly but I wager that it's annoying for max kills. You can explore the rest of the layout but it offers little reward apart from the shotguns dropped by the zombies stuck in the dead ends. Ammo might be a little tight but that's because two of the secrets overlook the level's finale, a large underground cave. It's staffed by an arch-vile who can wake up and then wander behind the level's yellow key door. This puts him between you and the otherwise easy to acquire plasma gun.

It might not be so bad if you find the super shotgun but it's in a nested secret and thus very easy to miss. It's a long hallway behind you, too, which makes for either a dangerous power play or a lengthy tactical retreat. The chateau interior looks decent at least. The sector light work in the level is pretty good, particularly in the study with the fireplace. It points toward Bye's painstaking ambient environmental design, a principle that would rub off on Malcolm Sailor during their work together on The Talosian Incident. You can see the same level of detail in the cathedral section from his debut but it fails to shine because of a lack of contrast.

In some ways I was let down by Garden of Delight. It wasn't as boldly imaginative as CyberDoom and even carbon-copied one of its wings. Bye's attention is focused in very specific areas, leaving the hallways looking comparatively plain, but I can see a much clearer line between this and his later 1996 and 1997 releases. I'm holding out hope for other wild experiments in his back catalogue but I'll be happy with his more relaxed offerings.


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