Tuesday, May 28, 2019


Most of Kristus's career has shined a light on the periphery of traditional Doom gameplay. His debut, Codename: HYENA, established himself as an author who was ready to make changes to Doom's core gameplay. He threw his artistic weight behind them, too, and while the overall look may fall flat to the average player its raw ambition cannot be ignored. Phobia showed a willingness to embrace new tech. Specifically this was Legacy and its "advanced" features like scripting, free-standing surfaces, swimmable water, and dynamic lights. Ni'mRoD: IXNAY on the HOMBRE continued the relationship with a 2002 Doom II release that replaced MAP01-MAP10. It's also playable in GZDoom - more on this later.

The title is the main character's name and appears to be derived from Kristian's friend and partner in WAD crime, Markus Sundén. The latter's handle was NimRoD and the two formed the core of Unholy Software. The subtitle comes from The Offspring's album of the same name, a band and subject near and dear to the duo's heart. Just look at the names for HYENA's deathmatch episode! The plot is pretty thorough and set thirty years after Hell on Earth. The new government created a program to engineer an army of cyborg soldiers to better prepare for the next inevitable invasion. The genesis was founded on a mass abduction of infants twenty-five years prior.

All of the cyborgs are codenamed DooMs and spread out all over Mars and its moons, presumably because Earth reasoned that it would be the source of any subsequent invasion. When it finally happens things go down pretty much the same. Except, uh, now you're now facing former cyborgs instead of lowly humans. This is in addition to a different STRAIN of demons, none of which are quite the same when compared to past experience. Your mission is to put down the Martian insurrection by any means necessary. It isn't until late in the game that you realize the stakes at play. Which, uh, don't make a lick of sense.

The UAC's last line of defense against Hell consists of a series of nuclear silos on Mars. This is of course an awful contingency plan. I'm not sure what they were supposed to nuke besides the red planet and its sole remaining moon; it's not like this universe has demon ships a la TNT: Evilution. I could buy a radiation purge / quarantine of the satellite system since this is part of the setup for Doom 64. The only way the previous invasion stopped was when Doomguy (here named Flynn Taggart) brought the fight to their home turf, a fact that Kristus reminds you of. NIMROD's story only ties together for me if Hell's malign influence was responsible for the UAC's conspiratorial incompetence. The ending is ambiguous; you're told that the control system for the missiles is not operational before the fade to credits.

The .DEH tells a different story. Earth is explicitly destroyed in MAP30's ending text but it isn't seen during the course of normal gameplay. I prefer the cliffhanger because it's more consistent with Ni'mRoD's tone - black comedy. I imagine that part of the atmosphere is unintentional; Brad Carney's (aka Carnevil) voice acting is hilariously amateurish and conveys the image of a flustered cyborg having an increasingly bad day. I actually liked Steve Dudzik's (aka Lüt) performance as Havoc, even if his character as written appeared to not give a shit. I could barely understand Kurt Kesler as Colonel J. Mortar; thankfully the text is printed to the console. Some of the asides are more blunt, like the smart-assed reminders delivered after charging the ship's battery in "ExDeus - The Twice Risen Starport" (MAP08).

Whether you enjoy it or not, the plot is relatively unintrusive outside of a single cutscene in "Phobos - Transportation Central" (MAP02). The meat of the episode lies in enormous, expansive techbases. They have a ton of bells and whistles courtesy of the Legacy Engine. "True" room-over-room is probably the most significant feature of the whole affair. I haven't played a great many PWADs that took advantage of it to NIMROD's extent. The layered surfaces evoke the capability of contemporary games like Quake II in a way where ZDoom at the time could not due to the complication of three-dimensional space. This enhances the episode's realism-derived immersion. It also makes its layouts more challenging to navigate, resulting in slower-paced cerebral gameplay. When you're done killing all of the monsters, anyway. Some of the secrets exploit the concepts of Doom's limited geometry that most players take for granted.

Scripting is just as important if not as blended into the nuts and bolts of idtech1's gameplay. Some of the stuff is pure eye candy a la cycling machinery while others can have a direct and immediate effect on your well-being (falling debris). Other bit are more crunchy and include things like horizontally bisected blast doors, pumping down sewer levels, and planting bombs to blow up busted barriers. One of the most elaborate set pieces involves an objective that you have to destroy but which is impervious to conventional firepower. The solution involves some nearby crane controls; you should be able to work it out for yourself. A fair bit of scripting covers important story elements and objectives, either backing up the sound clips or taking over entirely for the later portions of the episode. I already mentioned a cutscene and if a Doom WAD has to include one then I hope that they use MAP02's exchange as a model. It sort of reminds me of the dialogue in Strife. More comic-panel type stuff, please.

Kristus is responsible for most of the mapset's character but he had a few special guests to help him out. I'm completely unfamiliar with Markus's work outside of his deathmatch levels in Codename: HYENA. I couldn't tell you where Ni'mRoD ends and Ebola begins since it feels indistinguishable from the latter's work. I don't have any experience with Michael Niggel though I know him as the leader of the aborted Twice Risen project. He is responsible for some of the PWAD's most memorable setpieces though the cliff face wall crawl may be a dubious feature for some players. The holo-table, generator, and ship are all wicked cool. Kurt Kesler's level is identifiably his when you look at all the crazy moving machinery made out of sectors. The sloped surfaces of KZDOOM7 are understandably absent but seeing him try on layered, solid floors is a treat.

Ni'mRoD makes a few changes to monster behavior and even has new graphics for most of the human-derived monsters. The basic zombie equivalent comes in two varieties, the latter having a firing pattern similar to the SS Nazi. You can't tell them apart, though. I was surprised to see how rarely shotgun guys were used over the course of the mapset, even morso since they use the stock graphics. Chaingunners get a new skin but behave exactly the same. The green cyborg is a bit different. He appears to be based on the Hell knight / Baron replacement from HYENA as far as his model is concerned. He's way worse to fight, though, and is basically a less durable arachnotron (dies in about three shotgun blasts) that can fit into smaller places. The red variety appears once during the mapset; it exists for Kristus to use the shotgun guy's codepointer to drop a gory "key".

Most of the appearing demonic cast has gotten a makeover. Imps and Barons have a new, sort of green death and decay palette. The former aren't any different while the latter take over duty for the arch-vile. The "archdemon" trades quick movement and the ability to resurrect others for a much shorter windup time to hit you with unavoidable damage. They feel about as annoying if not quite as threatening. Demons are now big and black and are capable of leaping forward a short distance if you're within range. This makes them a bit more threatening since they can get in a charging loop as you sprint away. I even saw one jump up a vertical height to chase me up an elevator. Spectres, revenants, arachnotrons, cacodemons, and Hell knights are just about the same. The red plasma feels like it hits harder, though. The lesser goat-men appear to have faster fireballs in GZDoom but they're the same old speed in Legacy. I dunno what's going on there, if anything.

The heavy use of hitscanner monsters and death engines like the green cyborg and archdemons makes for very slow and deliberate gameplay. If you're playing on UV then I would expect to die a lot. Hopefully you're capable of learning from your mistakes and act tactically while adapting your strategy to clear rooms and hallways with as little attrition as possible. Some pistol starts are worse than others beause of level non-linearity, MAP07 being the best example. Many of them are just stacked against you at the start so if you enjoy picking apart monster placement for survival than beginning from scratch is the way to go.

You do get a few weapon alterations in your favor, mostly amounting toward a significantly faster rate of fire with the shotgun and chaingun. The shotty change makes it good for focusing down tougher monsters. The CG becomes a powerhouse and great go-to weapon for just about any fight, particularly when you need to stunlock a powerful enemy in a corridor. The rest of the weapons apart from the BFG feel about the same. Ol' painless appears to have lost its unintuitive invisible death rays and instead deploys a powerful spread of explosions that wipe out all of the normal monsters. It's way harder to use in the tighter spaces, of course. The super shotgun does not appear at all but its long reload time would make it a terrible weapon against so much of NIMROD's bestiary.

This episode was originally conceived of as a deathmatch set but it spiralled out of control into a singleplayer showcase. Kristus and company would eventually go on to fulfill its promise as a part of Team Future with Ni'mRoD - Project Doom for Skulltag, which was published a few years later in 2005. IXNAY on the HOMBRE is definitely not multiplayer-focused but the author sort of vouches for the first four levels as being the best-suited for the job. As a single player I defer to the expertise of someone who as actually treated them as such, though. And probably NIMRODPD since I can only imagine that all the scripting and doors and ladders can trip you up.

It was also originally designed for Legacy but Graf Zahl loved it enough to crowbar in support for its features in GZDoom, an honor also bestowed to Kristian's original release of Phobia. Ni'mRoD is basically functional in it but I ran into a few bugs related to scripts, something resulting from an invalid camera location. The second one didn't break my game but the first is part of the level transition from MAP04 to MAP05. I imagine that it worked in the olden days when ZDoom's code base was less strict about what you feed into it, a problem plaguing contemporary releases like Virgil the Doom Poet's Lost Seraphim.

The other game-breaking bug comes down to the way the port handles the difference between normal keys and the severed hand. MAP02 utilizes the latter as a sort of gruesome access token but uses a regular keycard in MAP04 and MAP06. If played in GZDoom, these other instances are replaced with the separated appendage and treated as blue skull keys when acquired. This wouldn't be a problem but for the fact that one progression-blocking door expects to see the card version, stopping you cold. It all behaved properly in Legacy, for what it's worth. Again, the difference probably comes down to the way in which the engine expects this to be executed some fourteen years after the fact.

There's one bug that's common to both ports. It appears to be an improperly-flagged linedef in the sewage sluice area of "ExDeus: Twice Risen Starport" (MAP08). It doesn't end your progress because the other leg of the piping isn't jacked up but it's a weird detail to see in an otherwise polished PWAD. I wonder - was the error introduced when the file was updated in 2005? If you don't mind the immersion-breaking script errors then GZDoom is about as functional. Just don't forget to swap the sector light mode to LEGACY unless you like wandering around in deep deadly darkness. The original target port looks a little different in GL mode due to its light halos and doesn't have any problem rendering the caution striping around the missiles in MAP09. Ol' GZ seems to struggle there.

The soundtrack is pretty cool. Most of it comes from Paul Corfiatis. pcorf's selections have a darker, serious tone that match the initial intrigue of a lone cyborg skulking around Phobos. There are a couple of other tunes from the now infamous Sam Woodman, too. MAP06 is completely at odds with the rest of the music in its bouncy, upbeat feel. MAP09's fits though it could stand to use a different song for when you activate the boss. MAP05 and MAP10 have a much stronger MIDI metal feel. The latter is credited to Chris Armstrong aka "PuNCK" while the former has no formal documentation in its script lump. I do see that a Jacob Pipkin aka "Wisp" is also on the credits list but I wouldn't be surprised if PuNCK was responsible for both.

Ni'mRoD was an interesting mix of amusement (hear Carn doing Christian Bale Batman) and awe. I saw Kristus do suitably Quake / Hexen II-ish things with Phobia but IXNAY on the HOMBRE really stepped up his game. It's great to witness the raw ambition see in HYENA coming to fruition and I can't wait to see where he takes Legacy in Phobia: The Age. It's also interesting looking back at a time when GZDoom was not the de-facto source port for designing "advanced" levels. NIMROD is a fair bit different from typical Doom II action but it's an easy recommendation if you love projects that incorporate other FPS elements, Quake II in particular. If you haven't played it yet but are looking for a new world to explore (and don't mind maybe pistol-whipping a couple of arachnotrons in MAP01) then you ought to at least try.

by Unholy Software (Kristian Käll et al)

Phobos - Deserted UAC Storage FacilityMAP01
by Kristian Käll
Very light action but it helps to establish the atmosphere. It's deadly dull killing arachnotrons with the pistol equivalent, though. You also get a sense of NIMROD's sector machinery. There are destructible monitors, the elevators, and most importantly the scripted bit with the backup generator. The base really does have a haunted feel as you walk among all of its empty cranes and warped bowels. The author really went all in in terms of all the filled out scenery for you to explore, particularly the perimeter.

MAP02Phobos - Crate Factory
by Markus Sundén and Kristian Käll
A much more substantial level. I'm getting HYENA flashbacks with all the hitscanners. You'll see some Hellspawn, too, but they feel like they've been tweaked to be more threatening. This is an expansive factory-type level. It feels kind of silly to be having shootouts among crates which ostensibly contain explosives. Whatever, though. The layout is complex and requires you to navigate conveyor belts, snag a severed hand, and even has a secret area unlocked by hacking the security mainframe. Cool! The optional annex also has both a wicked sliding door as well as a blast shield. The player feels most vulnerable during the early game when ammo is fairly tight. It will suck if you manage to miss the shotgun and it would be easy to do so since it's tucked into a little slag pit. Very cool and logically integrated. The cutscene with Havoc is cute. 

Phobos - Transporatation CentralMAP03
by Kristian Käll
Hitscanner slaughter! This level has a lot of great props as well as architecture. The wrecked elevator stands out in particular but I also appreciate the "mission briefing" computer and the transport rail. I don't mind the masses of bullet-shooting monsters. The green cyborgs, though, are incredibly dangerous in the cramped hallways. Moreso than the Barons that they replace, anyway. The sewer section is kind of spooky and tricky but mostly because it's so freakin' dark in there. I didn't get to see the new demon behavior before but the dregs give them a chance to shine.

MAP04Phobos - The Sub-Sewers
by Kristian Käll
This one is short, claustrophobic, and ammo feels pretty tight... From pistol start, anyway. No new monsters but you get some cool showcases of swimmable water, a pack of explosives to plant, and an air duct sequence. Legacy's freestanding platforms make "Sewers" a technical treat. I missed the bomb at first because I forgot that GZDoom has a LEGACY sector lighting mode. The remote-like item is easy to miss when you're inflicting eye strain on yourself.

Phobos - The Underground Sewer FacilityMAP05
by Kurt Kesler
If Kurtis had independently released this as KLEGACY then I wouldn't have batted an eye. The treatment plant is a wild showcase of Legacy's scripting features with a ton of crazy sector machinery that reminds me of the KZDOOM series. The distinguishing factor - beside NIMROD's cyborgs - is over / under surfaces to create a highly complex and multi-tiered layout. This map can be quite challenging to navigate. My chosen direction bypassed the retinal scanner so I had no idea where the exit path was at first. It's also very challenging since his trademark monster placement highlights their altered lethality. Lots of cyborgs tucked into corners and stuff. Just getting inside the facility is a feat considering the green-suited snipers. I was completely surprised by the modified arch-vile. The scripted cave-in is a great way to finish this tour de force.

MAP06Phobos - Shipping/Receiving Spaceport
by Kristian Käll
An impressive installation. My favorite use of over / under surfaces here is the outdoor area in the eastern part of the complex. By the time you set foot on the ground you may have forgotten that those road-like structures are actually the roofs of the opening tunnel. I also appreciate the sprawling optional area. It digs deep to a defunct elevator and a plasma gun. I wish it felt as strong as the ones the arachnotrons / green cyborgs are toting, but I digress. The early combat is very tricky from pistol start. You must be more tactically-minded than normal, especially when considering a very early Archdemon appearance. It may take awhile but once you get the plasma gun (which also has a nearby megasphere) you can relax a little.

ExDeus - The Alpha OutpostMAP07
by Kristian Käll
This techbase is so freakin' huge. There are a ton of different directions for you to push in and it's easy to get stuck at a horrible entrenchment of enemies. It doesn't help that ammo feels so concentrated in a few locations. The plasma gun / BFG equivalents are in secrets, too. The Ion Cannon itself is located via an annex just north of the starting point but it doesn't open up until you've done some serious exploring. If you reach the outdoor area with the large cells then it's probably a good time to go back and check to see whether it's opened. Another stumbling block is the yellow key (which also has the backpack and a glut of shotgun ammo). You can actually skip it and finish the level thanks to a strafejump or two but it's easy to miss because it's behind a door that it unlocks. You have to shoot out a window to reach it which isn't at all intuitive. The key isn't visible while looking in said aperture and none of the other transparent panes can be destroyed. It can be seen from the outside but good luck noticing it when you're desperately avoiding death. The crate lift / drop puzzle is super cute.

MAP08ExDeus - The Twice Risen Starport
by Michael Niggel and Kristian Käll
Eschewing the enormity of the body of the outpost for a much more compact adventure. The opening involves a perilous climb across a cliff face and is potentially the level's most frustrating moment. A lot of the action is heavily weighted toward firing rockets. This has its advantages and is way better than the hurried shotgun sniping that I've been doing with some of the Archdemons. The claustrophobic hallways make it challenging in close quarters scenarios, though. I'm still enjoying the latitude to just blast apart an entire room, lurking Archies notwithstanding. You'll run into a couple of sealed doors; make a mental note beause these open once you reach the hangar bay. They're required in order to charge your ship's battery. Limiting you to one cell at a time seems like an arbitrary restriction that only serves to pad the level out since there is nothing interesting lurking behind the second one's door. I'm not sure why the thing placement at the core is the way it is. I had to leap over the horde, run inside the generator room, and then shell the monsters from the opposite side before I soaked up too much Archdemon damage.

Mars - Base 16 - Nuklear Silo, Mariner 6 CraterMAP09
by Kristian Käll
Kristus puts in a lot of effort to make this look less like a boss arena. The fall into the flooded lower reaches is a nice deviation and the side areas feel more fleshed out than the padding scene in MAP01. The altered Cyberdemon - B.A.M. - is a complete monster. It has your BFG-equivalent and fires two shots at a time. If you get trapped in one of the corner booths then the blasts flying up from under the catwalk will cook you dead. Find your superweapon, max your ammo, and then burn it down as fast as possible. Oh, and watch out for those Archdemons.

MAP10Mars - Base 16 - Nuklear Silo, Mariner 6 Crater
by Kristian Käll
A cinematic finish, ending on a whimper. I love the scripting that makes the base look like it's falling apart. It really gives the action a sense of urgency. The fights aren't even all that threatening since you can slaughter it all with the tucked-away BFG. I'd be more worried about the scripted explosions and falling objects.



  1. Hey thanks for the review. To be frank I've many times thought about revisiting this project and give it a bit of spit and shine. But in the end I decide I rather work on something new and let it be what it was. Curious about the bug you mentioned in Map08. So I'll probably go check that out when I get back home.

    1. Thank you for the drive-by! I agree that it's better in most cases to make a new microverse rather than try to polish an old one. Definitely looking forward to the expanded Phobia and, of course, the Heretic / Hexen dishes.

    2. Has it ever been fixed for GZD? I'm feel like replaying this old gem.

    3. (Legacy doesn't even launch for me for some reason)