Saturday, June 15, 2019


Grain of Salt is someone who I was peripherally aware of as a member of Doomworld's slaughter fan brigade, a contributor to community projects like Slaughterfest 2011. I actually did play one of GoS's levels back in 2013, a bonus map from Hadephobia ("Scotch Bonnet"). I also downloaded a solo release, Green Goddess, though I have failed to actually do anything with it. Fruit Salad is her second personal publication that I'm aware of, a six-map episode for Doom II for play in Boom-compatible ports. It was released in late 2018 and might generously be called a holiday-themed set since its themes are split into ice, mountain, and Christmas. The last one isn't entirely festive but the colors are there.

Fruit Salad is very much a reflection of GoS's gameplay predilections but it has two hooks going for it. The first five of these maps are bite-sized and would have comfortably existed as setpieces in larger levels. It's liberating to encounter them in this sort of format. You only have to worry about each one's particular microcosm and not the fights that take place before or after them during the course of a slaughter gauntlet. The sixth one is sort of an exception; it is a slightly longer and very much in-your-face experience, clocking in at around 700 monsters by closing time. It took me a little while to figure out whether I was supposed to fit its two halves together. I suggest laying the first to rest before activating the second. Your mileage may vary, of course.

The other big hook is in Grain of Salt's presentation. The author has included several different colormaps and uses them to change the palette of the levels to fit the theme of each "world" (ice, mountain, and Christmas). This doesn't make drastic changes to enemy colors but it will change stuff like the eyes and projectiles as well as player pickups. The health bonus sprites have been changed out for charming little gems that I read come from Kid Chameleon. I never played it since we had a Super Nintendo growing up but I remember fancying it after reading about it in a now ancient issue of Game Informer.

It's also important to note that Fruit Salad has two different palettes. One of them is the normally intended range - by the author, at least - while the other is the FS_PINKPALETTE.WAD included in the .ZIP. The former results in a relatively traditional range of colors with red, blue, and then green gems while the latter makes parts of the PWAD look like they've been run through a retrowave filter. It changes a few of the textures in the levels, too, most notably turning the sky and water in MAP01 and MAP04 to purple. The alterations aren't as immediately visible in the other levels but they're definitely there.

The episode's three worlds are actually cycled through twice. While their alternating arrangement breaks up the thematic progression, the way that each setting is broken up into two parts reminds me of Sonic the Hedgehog's zones and acts. The gem pickups appear to double down on the spirit of this association. When you combine GoS's engineered aesthetic with the small levels built upon abstract layouts you get a very charming experience. I would play the shit out of a megaWAD of maps built like this. The duration of each level is short enough that saving feels pointless since restarting wasn't much of a time sink. I felt pretty comfortable throwing a brand new pistol start Doomguy in for every attempt so it engendered something akin to an arcade game.

There's a bit of meat in each setup, too, and none of the surprises are designed to instantly kill you if you don't anticipate them. There are no hot starts. In fact, while you often begin in the middle of the monsters, every one of them is turned away from you so that you can formulate an initial strategy. It isn't guaranteed to work, of course, but it's less frustrating than having to generate one on the fly. You get a bit of leeway in figuring out the flow of each challenge. It may build up and overwhelm you but you'll have learned something from the experience, slowly teasing out a solution.

Fruit Salad is a fun mapset. I'd even go so far as to recommend it to people who are wanting to get acclimated to slaughter but are afraid of picking a place to start. The levels employ some of the fundamentals of the style and you'd have to learn them one way or another. MAP06 even goes so far as to demonstrate that simply having a BFG and loads of ammo does not guarantee your victory. I don't know if I'll get to see more Fruit Salad worlds but it's nice to have these happy few.

by "Grain of Salt"

Ice World 1MAP01
A pretty soundtrack alongside a neat opener. I'm not 100% feeling it as an "ice" domain since it's limited to the sluice / ground floor but it's a clean and elegant design. The layout has a sort of tiered racetrack feel with two separate crowds of Hell nobles, one of which is between you and the exit. The other main confounders are arachnotrons and mancubi in the peanut gallery. It's a nice exercise; you can take your time if you quickly rocket the most limiting baby spiders. 

MAP02Mountain World 1
A death arena with a dastardly secret! "MW1" would serve as a cool setpiece encounter in a larger slaughtermap, too. As it stands you get to focus on its particular dynamics alone. The revenants up on the top floor look threatening but the real action is on the ground level. I wouldn't really start it until you elminate the arachnotrons, I think. Preferably by getting the Cyberdemon to ice them all. The moment you take your first shot a cavalcade of demons and Hell knights are going to storm in from the BFG area. This makes grabbing it and thus thinning out the herd much more difficult. I somehow managed it, though. Fun stuff.

Christmas World 1MAP03
A symmetric slaughter. The holiday theme mostly shines in the winter pine forest in the periphery. It's all about sticking the landing, by which I mean handling the revenant / Hell knight ambush waiting at the rocket launcher. Once you get them cleared you can quash the potential influx of imps and then take your time with the rest of the hooligans. The galleries in the exit room look kind of annoying but you have plenty of cover and a decent amount of rockets. Provided that you spend your shells on the goat men, I mean. The tiered construction gives this level a great, abstract look.

MAP04Ice World 2
Back to MAP01's theme, purple and gray. The pressure on the player is a bit more immediate. There are mancubi opposite a toxic pit and the only way through has a squad of shotgun guys blocking your path. My main goal was to quickly make a safe space and then keep myself from being forced back into the starting area. It's actually pretty easy to do. The main obstacle comes when you poke your head into the adjacent segment and wake up the revenant / Baron pair. The level's least intuitive feature is the leap to the exit platform. Just line yourself up straight, back all the way up against the wall in the beginning area, and then run head on.

Mountain World 2MAP05
Another tiered trackway sort of level. It has a neat grimy tower with blue highlights. You can skin this cat several ways. The preferred method - as indicated by the enviro suit - appears to involve using the toxic canal to the south in order to shape the crowd and provoke infighting. At some point you'll have to pluck the rocket launcher and plasma gun from their mancubi overseers. Crowdshaping is critical, here, in drawing them all into the exit alcove so that they pose no obstacle. This one took a little longer for me to get a feel for compared to the preceding maps.

MAP06Christmas World 2
Ditching slaughter-lite for a total clusterfuck. The first part involves clearing out a death arena which has a whopping five Cyberdemons among other things lurking in the tunnels. The second half opens up when you grab the yellow key and introduces an enormous and eager mob of revenants. They are swiftly backed by Hell knights and, to round things out, a hefty number of arachnotrons. I tried to keep the Cybs around for the latter assault for infighting potential but it wasn't working out. You have a ton of BFG ammo, anyway, and the arena is built for you to shape the revenant horde and blast it into oblivion. Using sustained firepower over a long time, of course. This gives you plenty of margin for when the arch-viles finally make their way into the playing area. It's a little exhausting but it feels great when you know that you have all of the skeletons and archies dead and can take your time.


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