Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Mossvale Dungeons (AP_008.WAD)

by Alex Parsons

Alex made a bunch of maps for his World's End series but he's probably known better for being a contributor to the first Community Chest. His peers Gene Bird and Sphagne submitted levels that they had originally released as standalone singles. Parsons's maps are however exclusively available as part of CCHEST. I dunno whether they were sitting on his hard drive before he submitted them or if he made "Ground Floor" and "Mandrel" specifically for the 2003 project and then retroactively dubbed them a part of World's End. Whatever the case, Mossvale Dungeons is the eighth level in the series and was published back in 2002. Like most of his solo stuff, it's a MAP01 replacement for Doom II and targets limit-removing ports.

The series is named as such because World's End is the geographical location where you begin. It's been a long journey, too, entering The Underground and emerging into The Outlands where you confront your first major bastion of evil. After clearing out the Foul Ruin you make your way through Sinistrad, an outpost on the edge of the more densely infested territory. The perilous trek through The Highlands leads you to another stronghold, the sprawling Mossvale Estate. You survived purging the demons from the external grounds but the foreboding building to the southeast remained. Thus did your quest take you into the Mossvale Dungeons and the evil below.

AP_008 is a much smaller - and easier - level than the preceding adventure. It's sort of like the occasional lair that you might find in Diablo II with the Estate serving as your current portion of overworld. There is an appropriate overlap in architectural style, too. AP_007's exit was in some sort of green marble palace at a fountain / pool terrace that was now flowing with blood. The vast majority of the Dungeons feel like the sort of underground aqueduct that one might expect to see supporting such a place. It's made of similar material and has the same fluid stagnating and coagulating in its dregs.

The primary dungeon environment is dark, complex, and attractive. There's tons of height variation, interconnectivity, and light / shadow contrast. It's also slightly labyrinthine as well as difficult to read on the automap because of Parsons's architectural style. It doesn't look like your typical sewers, by which I mean one central channel and elevated pathways on either side. The player's path through the structure is ultimately twisted. In one case it's counter-intuitive as your first major progression point requires you to jump into one of the pools of poisonous blood in order to reach a switch in the southeastern area.

The western segment is much simpler and consists of a small network of granite caves. It's fairly naturalistic and in line with the rock tunnels seen elsewhere in Alex's levels. When you take this alongside the marble stone and sanguine streams you could generously call its theme E4. The bestiary is almost there, too. You're mostly up against zombies, shotgun guys, and imps while occasionally encounter chaingunners, demons, and spectres. The last ones are mostly placed in the blood pits in a perfunctory manner. I think that there's one mancubus in the entire thing and a couple of Barons. Parsons's most dangerous monster is, of course, the revenant. They're unwelcome surprises and tucked into corners the same way other authors like to stuff commandos.

The walls of the sewers are orthogonal but there are plenty of little alcoves for you to get hung up on while you're trying to dodge homing missiles. When you combine it with a cramped maneuvering space composed of narrow, zig-zag sidewalks you'll probably be more comfortable playing peek-a-boo around a corner. One big departure from the author's previous material is the complete lack of a super shotgun. Most of your work is done with the regular shotty and chaingun while the rocket launcher serves a limited-use / power-up role. Another thing that nudges it toward Thy Flesh Consumed, I suppose.

It's nice to have a level that's intense without throttling the player every step of the way. The past four maps of the World's End series were especially rough on players. AP_008 comes as a relaxing, refreshing play. I am again in awe of Parsons's ability to take a single architectural theme and spin it into a significant portion of the level while keeping it interesting throughout. He is a hidden gem of an author and it's a shame that his CCHEST entries aren't representative of his capability to create a sprawling, epic adventure.


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