Saturday, August 31, 2019

Doom the Way id Did: The Lost Episodes (DTWID-LE.WAD)

Doom the Way id Did generated a ton of buzz in the community, who turned out to craft approximately 100 submissions. The only event that I know to have surpassed it - as far as single-player levels go - is the 10 Sectors contest. It has also enjoyed a number of spinoffs during its lifespan, including the long-lived but recently finalized Ultimate DTWiD. It's crazy to think that a handful of levels went on to form the foundation of No End In Sight, something like an 850% increase in volume. All of Callum Guy Oliver's entries were gathered together in their own package, PhobosDeimos Anomaly, in a posthumous tribute. A few even saw solo releases. The lion's share of the "rejects" were published as a gargantuan collection dubbed The Lost Episodes. DTWID-LE saw a beta release in 2012 but thereafter entered a drawn-out polishing phase where a few new maps were made or substantially changed. It didn't see its first iteration on /idgames until 2016.

As it stands, this megaWAD has a jaw-dropping fifty-five (!) levels spanning six episodes. The first three mirror the classic trilogy's progression as an alternative to the 2011 release. The fourth is sort of Thy Flesh Consumed - from hopefuls before the project's scope was finalized - but also contains Inferno-themed spillover for a varied, Hellish experience. The fifth selection is additionally available as an individual E1 replacement for non-MAPINFO ports. An unsurprising ton of folks made techbase-style submissions, be they Phobos or Deimos. The sixth is only accessible in stuff like Eternity or ZDoom and is effectively a boss gauntlet-style proving ground. Xaser the compiler also saw fit to include the original versions of levels which were altered in post-production. There are a few caveats, of course, since one of the maps wasn't even provided in a finished state.

The Lost Episodes has a whopping 24 authors but 1/3 of the team has credits on roughly 3/4 of the content - and I'm not even counting the organizer. DTWID-LE feels like a varied release despite this. It helps that the more prolific contributors are interspersed with each other as well as people who only submitted a map or two. Many of these levels were disincluded from a project where folks tried to develop works in the style of the original Doom. Not for playability concerns, mind you. They failed to make the final cut because they did not fit in. The homages could have been too obvious. Perhaps the authors were incapable of stamping out their own indelible sparks in sublimation to another's style. Or maybe they just came away with the wrong lessons after studying the originals and played up unusual features like a comedic impression.

Some of these works were developed during the five-year dead dog party following DTWID's release. In this way they are sort of an extension of the nervous energy that also propelled No End In Sight to overstuffed megaWAD status. They form a minority of the set, though. Xaser's "Darkside Lab" (E1M8) is the first to appear and replaced Emil Brundage's "Enigma", a Lost Level found in NEIS. "The Mourning Halls" (E4M6) is an enormous endeavor, built by Marnetmar on a base made by General Rainbow Bacon and kitted out by Alfonzo. It continues the grand tradition of 2002: A Doom Odyssey's "Dementia" in being an enormous, green marble construct that either steals the show or ruins E4's pacing. Depending on your sensibilities, of course. I loved it. Previously in the E4M6 slot was "Forgotten Caverns", another Emil reject that moved on to the NXL-bromance. "Weeping Hollow" (E3M9) is new creation from the DTWID-LE superfriends and is based on submission fragments by both Marn and Alfonzo and built upon by Xaser. It should thrill fans of the not-quite-id.

Marnetmar invested a lot of energy into the DTWID brand. At ten total works, he was only outdrawn by the late Callum Guy Oliver (PD1-ANOM). It's tough to get a feel for individual styles in a project where you are trying to emulate id Software but it's plain to see that Jeff enjoyed collaborating with other authors. I am including Xaser's edits in here but it's not as though the two weren't working together during the lengthy post-production phase. He also tried his hand at boss levels on four different occasions, five if you count the original version of E3M8. The arenas make it tough to estimate but it feels as though Marn prefers large, labyrinthine layouts that you can get lost in. Judging by "Infirmary" (E2M3), "Dark Passage" (E2M7), "Mourning Halls", and "Recycling Plant" (E5M3), at least.

Michael Fraize aka Marcaek is the other big member of the youth brigade. He had a grand total of eight submissions, one of which made it into DTWID (the inventive "Vault" (E2M8)). His contributions seem more willing to embrace environmental hazards, particularly crushers, perhaps heralding his "Crushed Spirits" (MAP24) from Doom 2 the Way id Did. The geometry of offerings like "Bean Oversight" (E4M9) place his submissions among the more eclectic of the group. This goes double when you consider the unique architectural setpieces seen in "Manufactorium" (E3M2). Michael's work for the project may not fit comfortably among 1993 but it's full of enough novel visuals and architecture that I could have easily played an entire megaWAD of his own material.

ellmo beat Marnetmar as far as contributions during DTWID's development. He also had a relatively strong footprint on the final product, with five of his nine entries making the roster for the 2011 megaWAD. Going into The Lost Episodes I knew that he would be a name to look out for. His rejects are a fairly varied bunch. "Rend of Misery" (E2M6) is a nice, large Deimos base level. "Waste Treatment" (E2M4) has the textural style but it's unusually stringy in terms of how the player flows through it. "Landing Zone" (E5M1) is an interesting attempt to kick off E1 but plays the engine's hand too strongly at the very start for folks looking to emulate the success of "Hangar". "Pit of Despair" (E6M5) is a cute boss map but the halo of shotgun guys comes on a bit strong.

The bulk of Captain Toenail's material was ill-fated due to the decision to develop Ultimate Doom the Way id Did "in-house", so to speak. He managed to float two into the main project but three of his other four submissions were meant for Thy Flesh Consumed. They feel it, too. "Bridge to Nowhere" (E4M1), "Despair" (E4M3), and "Phlegethon" (E4M4) all contain prominent elements of E4 levels in mash-up fashion. They're fun as a nostalgia trip but don't really meet DTWID's goal of fitting seamlessly among the originals. Not when you can look at it and instantly know what geometry the author is borrowing from, anyway. It's nice seeing stuff for the fourth episode without getting brutalized! He also tried his hand at a Spiderdemon boss level, "Anomaly of Evil" (E6M6), but it doesn't really add anything to the encounter trope.

Lorenzo Davia crafted four levels for DTWID-LE. None of them made it in so he later published them as Until the day you die. They still appear here, though, and three of them are perfectly cromulent techbase levels. There's nothing wrong with "Biosphere" (E2M1), it just didn't grab me apart from a flash of genius thing placement. Viny, overgrown Deimos fans may enjoy. "Supply Station" (E1M2) is kind of unwieldy. Well, the southeastern E1M3-inspired hallway looks like hot, overwrought garbage. "Quarantine Zone" (E1M4) is pretty fuckin' good. I imagine that the main thing holding it back is the blatant E1M7 homage in the western area. His obligatory boss level attempt, "Intrusion Zone" (E6M2), has a hot start and then peters out to a dull Baron grind.

Hellbent was the dude who kicked this madness off and half of his four entries made it into Doom the Way id Did. I really enjoyed his joint venture with Marnetmar, "Observatory" (E5M2). It's unique in making the shotgun an optional side quest, even teasing you by placing a sergeant behind a cage. Setting it up where you must lure imps out on a ledge in order to make an elevator safe is such a smart moment. "Hell's Mosh Pit" (E6M9) was never going to reach the final lineup but it's no less appreciated. The claustrophobic, cerebral encounter design could be spun as a sign of the difficulty involved in suppressing your own ideas to better emulate someone else's. Or you could argue that they're Sandy Petersen's sort of gameplay innovations as seen through the original Doom.

Nick Laurent had two strong E1 entries in DTWID. His showing here is a tag-team outing with Jon Vail, the 40oz mouse, called "Security Outpost" (E1M1). It's a credible reinterpretation of "Hangar". Walter Confalonieri made the roster by combining forces with the formidable ellmo. As for his Lost Levels, the E2M4-ish opening of "Petersen Station" (E2M9) winks too strongly at the player - among other things - but I enjoy its mood lighting and atmosphere. It looks like Marcaek helped out with "Hell Breach" (E3M1) in post-production. It's a weird but interesting level and features some of the more memorable setpiece encounters of the entire set alongside ingenious secrets that help to balance out resource austerity. Icytux's "Stygian Caverns" (E3M6) doesn't seem as focused as his "Malebolge" (DTWID's E3M3) but it's a cool labyrinthine Inferno level and leverages Hellscape topography. Always a plus.

Both of General Rainbow Bacon's submissions were retooled to widely-varying degrees for the Lost Episodes. The embellishments made for "Sheol's Descent" (E3M7) were not nearly as far-reaching as the previously-mentioned "Mourning Halls". XenoNemesis's "Tartarus" (E3M4) shares this distinction but most of the alterations were done to improve interconnectivity. The same goes for c30n9's "Demonic Halls" (E4M2). I believe that both are better for it, becoming wicked cool maps. The latter author also made a stab at a boss level, "The Land of Awe" (E4M7). It tries to put some teeth on the E3M1 pit opener but is mostly difficult by way of grueling ammo austerity.

matt534dog has two offerings here, the first - "Babel's Gate" (E4M7) - also getting the Xaser treatment. His other outing is yet another boss level, "Deimos Fortress" (E6M4). It has a nice twist on the E2M8 setup but is of course too evocative of the original. Mr. Chris has two levels in this set, a sprawling E2 base with Marnetmar plus a little help from phobosdeimos1 (E2M7) and the pretty solid "Nukage Dump" (E1M3). The latter samples a bit out of "Toxin Refinery" but stands out for its quasi-realistic sector props. Between megasphere's "Logistics Facility" (E2M5) and "Diabolico" (E4M5) I feel that the former is the more inspired. It has all sorts of crazy connections and offshoots including a tasteful "Containment Area" tribute. I'm mostly let down by the latter's stale, boxy room shapes.

Mithran Denizen's sole entry is "Pumping Station" (E1M6), one of the Phobos-themed levels to really lay the pain on the player. Foodles, who had a few episode replacements of his own, graces us with "Necromanteion" (E3M3). It's a pretty cool underground Hellish city level a la "Pandemonium", just not as crazy interconnected. "Sanguine Refinery" (E5M7) is Shadesmaster's offering, merging Romero's space-age hallway style and aspects of "Deimos Lab" as well as other things. Taedium only supplied a boss level, "Temple Guardian" (E4M8), and it's one of the most difficult due to its simple, two-tier setup. Mr. Freeze worked alongside Marnetmar for the original layout of "Ninth Circle" (E3M8) but Marn rebuilt it for DTWID-LE. He also tagged with Mr. Chris for Cold Steel, a level found in this release's first lineup but since taken out. I won't belabor the other independent rejects here, but there are more still.

As the archivist, Xaser had a large role in shaping this enormous package. One aspect involved ensuring that levels had backing tracks for their originally intended slots. I appreciate the drive to replace the NEIS-bound pieces with brand new material. His original work is identifiably so as it features spirals and other bits of radial architecture. I'm also pleased to see how tasteful his post-production edits were. The core of the originals is maintained while adding outdoor areas and connecting passageways to both better flesh out their virtual realities and keep the layouts from feeling stale. The only in-depth alteration to surprise me is his appending of an enormous, false finish to "Phobos Garrison" (E5M4) by Jon Vail.

Jon aka "40oz" (of then-recent UAC Ultra) was one of the strongest voices during DTWID's development but ultimately had a falling out based on the changing direction of the project. It began as a community collaboration with loose workshopping. Partway through 2011, though, it ultimately gave way toward a more stringent quality control phase that saw new submissions replace much of the early level design. The creation of the dtwid IRC channel was a concurrent event and a good portion of the following production took place there. Only 40% of the July 24th alpha survived to make the final running; I can understand the concern in things taking a less egalitarian trend. I imagine that he felt vindicated when UDTWID was announced with its authors and slots already chosen.

Vail ultimately withdrew from Doom the Way id Did but his levels found their way amongst much of the material that he had so passionately engaged in. At seven entries, his voice is one of the strongest in the megaWAD. 40oz tag-teamed "Security Outpost" (E1M1), an E1 starter with Nick Laurent, and tried his hand at a boss level in "The Pain Yards" (E6M3). His standard levels are fun to play and are generally techbase-oriented. "Transfer Hub" (E1M7) is pure KDItD; the previously-mentioned "Phobos Garrison" may have started that way but the finish takes it to another dimension. "Cooling Towers" (E2M2) was an early Deimos favorite in the alpha and "Science Facility" (E5M5) offers another aspect of corrupted installation. "Purgatorio" (E3M5) is the big exception, a super sexy marble and inferno hub. It looks too good to be id but makes me crave for more classic Doom stuff from Jon.

One of 40oz's fascinations with the initial development style was the aspect of open collaboration, no doubt an outgrowth of him working alongside Super Jamie for UAC Ultra. Vail loved the idea of talking shop amongst his peers as well as introducing and guiding folks new to idtech1 level design. Some eight years later it's clear just how important the latter can be. This was the first big project for a handful of folks. Marcaek went on to become an incredibly productive member of the community and project manager in his own right, organizing the semi-joking 50 Shades of Graytall but also picking up the MAYhem series. On the flipside, matt534dog helmed the ill-advised Interception. Its roster has a bit of overlap with Doom the Way id Did: The Lost Episodes including Marn, C30N9, GRB, and Memfis (who offered up an E1M1 replacement but was virtually ignored). Unfortunately, hasty bugfixing left players incapable of reaching the exit of two of its levels during normal play.

Alfonzo got his start with his involvement in DTWID. He became a powerful multimedia conglomerate in his own right that spanned sporadic events like Doom Radio and the Doomworld Roulette sessions. He also shouldered part of the Cacowards for about a year longer than I did and has shown himself to be a competent, creative songsmith in projects like Jimmy's Revolution! MIDI Pack. His footprint in The Lost Episodes isn't as strong, relegated to the powerful and moody "Kepler Dorsum" (E1M5) and post-production effort like Xaser and Marn. His workmanship solidified with D2TWID, though, and has spanned several dozen speedmapping sessions as well as work on The Adventures of Square.

phobosdeimos1 had a ton of energy both within and without DTWID; his authorial career was cut short by his untimely demise. In an uncomfortable irony he failed to make the cut for both the main release and the overflow megaWAD. Of course, his submissions were collected into PhobosDeimos Anomaly out of respect. He would have likely been a prolific author with his unique, rough-cut style. The bulk of Marnetmar's authorship was defined by both Doom the Way id Did and its post-production period. And, outside of that, hanging around in its IRC channel. Jeff felt the need to reinvent himself in 2016; I wonder whether the official release of The Lost Episodes struck a chord. I spent a lot of my own free time post-2012 hanging out in the same IRC but I was saying unhelpful things to both Marnetmar and Xaser.

I was excited at the prospect of playing DTWID-LE but never enough to take the time to play one of several betas or release candidates. I was just an asshole looking for an arbitrary "official" seal of quality and I knew that "The Mourning Halls" was part of the equation. I had especially enjoyed Doom the Way id Did's second and third episodes and attributed part of this to more artistic leeway while trying to emulate Hall and Petersen. The Lost Episodes to me would showcase mountains of material where people had been less capable of reigning in their own impulses. I believed in the absolute creativity of the author over, say, stuff that had been cut for keeping too closely with the specific content of the original trilogy.

I now know that there are many, nuanced reasons for the final contents of this sprawling double-megaWAD - and parts beyond. I still feel bad for waiting so long to pick it up, especially after its release to the archives in 2016. Marnetmar - it was absolutely worth the wait. The icing on the cake was when I found you describing GRB's "The Rending Halls"  as "pretty much perfect" while trawling DTWID's old development thread. Thanks to you, Xaser, and all the other hard-working folks who showed their love for The Ultimate Doom. May the passion endure forever!



Security OutpostE1M1
by Nick Laurent aka "hobomaster22" and Jon Vail aka "40oz"
A fun action gauntlet in the "Hangar" tradition. The layout is a spiral that you work from the inside and then out, ending to the east. Plenty of interesting architecture. Similar to E1, it has a very "soft" look with barely any right angles in the geometry. Nick and Jon have worked some height variation into the outdoor area. The two towers are appreciated and I like that ho40 has a plan to get you to those spaces and leave no stone unturned. The armor nukage yard is an obvious homage but accessing it is refreshingly straightforward.

E1M2Supply Station
by Lorenzo Davia aka "Ultimate Lorenzo"
A bigass labyrinth-style techbase. The opening is an obvious "Nuclear Plant" homage and there's a similar strobing computer maze. The southeastern corridor evokes shades of "Toxin Refinery" but it tries too hard and sticks out like a sore thumb. It otherwise approaches a Tom Hall-ish layout. It's cool that there are two yellow key doors and I enjoy how the blue key is hidden. The main motif consists of three large chambers that dump monsters into them as an ambush, each one escalating higher than the last. The final one makes for a pretty desperate firefight considering how little health Lorenzo has spread around the level.

Nukage DumpE1M3
by Chris Pisarczyk aka "Mr. Chris"
Shades of "Toxin Refinery" with similar northwestern annexes, starting chamber, and green goo catwalk in the room subsequent to the exit. The author does a great job of stealth-releasing a ton of monsters into the layout during the big backtrack, making for some dynamic combat. The nukage vats are more DoomCute than anything, though, especially with the goofy barrel o' sergeants reveal. The combat is pretty punchy given the amount of shotgun guys and how easily they seem to sneak up on you. The windows and interconnectivity help, too.

E1M9Relay Station
by Michael Fraize aka "Marcaek"
This level has a large layout that features several open areas - one of them something like a computer room - and a small E1M2-ish tech maze. The wide playing spaces and number of enemies makes it fun to blast through. I also like that the author is constantly opening up new areas to make existing rooms bigger and even linking back to previously explored bits. If you're looking for a "Military Base" homage then it's a fairly sneaky one. At least, the exit loop feels like an echo of E1M9's toxic trench.

Quarantine ZoneE1M4
by Lorenzo Davia aka "Ultimate Lorenzo"
A pretty cool installation. The main, opening chamber looks neat and I dig the 45-degree cant of the exit wing. The overall architecture is pretty swanky. I see thematic shades of "Central Processing" and "Computer Station" in the starting area and western annex, respectively. The level isn't big on ambushes but Davia has a healthy amount of interconnecting windows. Hitscanners - shotgun guys in particular - have a fairly decent chance of scoring potshots. I'm surprised that there isn't a way to reach the plain-looking outdoor area to the north.

E1M5Kepler Dorsum
by Augustus Knezevich aka "Alfonzo"
A dark and foreboding adventure. The labyrinthine but irregular layout suggests "Computer Station" but the highly-interconnected spaces plus structures smack more of Tom Hall. A couple of sawtooth drops make puzzling things out a bit challenging. It's a very cool level. Ol' 'fonz has some beefy monster closets lying in wait for backtrackers but they don't organically re-seed the layout like Romero. The northeastern elbow with the lowering-enemy ambush is my single favorite encounter for sealing off escape and the sheer amount of meat. The architecture is freakin' sweet; I particularly enjoyed the southeastern crater.

Pumping StationE1M6
by "Mithran Denizen"
Another cool, large level. My favorite feature is the northernmost structure across from the courtyard. Its presence alone performs some great world-building - whether or not you figure out how to access it via the secret entrance. It feels as though the layout expands in unexpected ways given how the east and west paths out of the nukage trench route back to the main area. Mithran Denizen does a good job of alternating between classic, piecemeal monster placement and mobbing hordes. The best example occurs in the western tunnel out of the toxic channel since your back is ultimately against a damage floor.

E1M7Transfer Hub
by Jon Vail aka "40oz"
This is a fun and fairly fast play. The shotgun is buried a little deep so you might find yourself doing a decent amount of pistol slinging early on. I like how many optional rooms that the author has crammed in. The dark computer chamber opposite the starting area is a good example but I also like the stuff based around the west side of the map. The opposition is numerous and belligerent but Vail rarely overwhelms you completely. I think that a few of the monster closets on your return trip make up the most of the resistance. It's cool to see that Jon let you run through some of the windows.

Darkside LabE1M8
by Xaser Acheron
Unmistakably the author's. Spirals are something of a calling card and the big show is based around two of them. It's a very cinematic piece in keeping with "Phobos Anomaly" since it starts out in a spooky, abandoned base. I also appreciate the exterior shot of the power core-ish thing. The lab undergoes a few transformations to reveal an altered reality which leads to the big showdown. Xaser puts a slightly new spin on things by manipulating the playing field and spreading out the Barons. The way it opens into the outdoors is a great closing touch. Very cool stuff.


by Lorenzo Davia aka "Ultimate Lorenzo"
If you didn't get enough of vines and warped trees in E2 then LD has you covered. It's fairly plain. There isn't a whole lot to suggest that you're in Deimos apart from the sky and a few features like the gargoyles bordering the staircase windows. The cacodemon is a smart spot; when it wakes up it comes from an initially obscured window and then floats down to greet you. I actually had a little start when we bumped into each other. The combat is otherwise unexceptional. The shotgun guys behind the vines in the walkway will probably annoy some folks.

Cooling TowersE2M2
by Jon Vail aka "40oz"
The main hallway builds off the signature toxic channels of "Deimos Lab" for what I assume are its titular structures. It then adds one major path to the west where you do most of your dungeoneering. Jon does a great job of adding side areas to explore, including a small but lovingly-stacked crate storage area. The combat feels a little wild at first, especially since you're a tad bit outgunned between the caged imps and the lost soul mini-maze. You'll be tripping over ammo by the time you're done, though. Fun and slightly spooky.

by Jeff Shark aka "Marnetmar"
Marn does a pretty good take on Tom Hall's quasi-realistic style. The enormous slaughter corridor to the southwest and the computer-stacked hallway that overlooks it is a great, large-scale piece. The layout is very open and is heavily weighted toward pistol and shotgun use, not counting secrets. The rocket launcher is a very late acquisition but if you find it then you'll have an easy time with the big end-of-level brawl. There are two different plasma guns, one easier to find than the other as long as you remember to check the furniture. The map has a survival horror feel at times since you're nearly overwhelmed at the start. You'll have to do a bit of scrounging in order to scare up some supplies and the meat is as heavy as it's ever been. The actual "Infirmary" bit is DoomCute and tiny.

Waste TreatmentE2M4
by Jacob Zuchowski aka "ellmo"
Short and sweet. This map is built out of irregular geometry but still has a sort of internal logic. Check out the way that the nukage channel runs from the center to the southwestern portion of the level. I also had to smile when I followed the chunky tech guts structure into the tunnel toward the end and found a big plasma cell. The teleporter which sends you to a previously unexplored part of the southeastern area feels really smart. While you never return, the way that it links back with the rising staircase is a cool detail. I also like the various automatically-moving elevators, making for some creepy ambiance. Very cool stuff!

E2M5Logistics Facility
by "Megasphere"
This one actually feels huge and labyrinthine. It's tough to navigate because various sawtooths are built into the layout, forcing you to find your way back through different routes. It also feels fairly novel for including wilderness areas that feature Hellscape topography - especially the south-central segment. There isn't much of a unifying theme, though, so expect the typical scatterbrained Deimos style. I appreciate Megasphere's complement of little optional areas, only existing to be explored. There's a teleport ambush with the blue key grab but, again, not much in the way of memorable encounters. The geometry is the true challenge.

Petersen StationE2M9
by Walter Confalonieri aka "daimon"
A cheeky gauntlet of references to Sandy's (and by that token Tom's) work in both Doom as well as the sequel. It is a fairly cool Deimos base though you can change the atmosphere with an early light amp goggles pickup. This vastly changes the look of the big outdoor area which is otherwise dangerously dark. The powerup ruins the ambiance but lets you enjoy much of the combat at a faster pace. As a Deimos base it doesn't really come across as one of Hall's interconnected dungeon layouts. The technically stringy layout has been coiled in on itself and visually linked in a few key places to feel more complex. Cool lighting effects, though.

E2M6Rend of Misery
by Jacob Zuchowski aka "ellmo"
This one takes some of the base elements of "Halls of the Damned" and then spins a tangled complex around the facade's periphery. Ammo starts out tight at first, mostly because there's a Baron smack in the start area. It's easy to skip, even if it results in exposing your backside to green plasma when you're in the outdoor atrium. You'll get plenty of gunsnammo to return and take it out, though. The biggest shocker is a one-time limited opportunity secret that gives you the red key. It grants access to a few choice powerups including a soul sphere and plasma gun. Very neat architecture; I love the various spiral staircases.

Dark PassageE2M7
by Chris Pisarczyk aka "Mr. Chris", Callum Guy Oliver aka "phobosdeimos1", and Jeff Shark aka "Marnetmar"
This is an enormous kitchen sink level with a simple hub-spoke layout. The central area looks ominous due to its blinking corridors and various offshoots but your mission is deceptively simple. Follow one leg to its end, grab the key, and then head back to open the next. It's atmospherically sublime, though, and the authors have crammed in a ton of optional offshoot areas for you to explore and find goodies like health and ammo. The plasma gun is tantalizingly and obviously out of reach for the first half but I think that it's an inevitable pickup. The western bit is significant for having both a long way and a short way to the red key.

E2M8The Gate
by Walter Confalonieri aka "daimon"
A pretty snazzy setpiece and a decently Hellish firefight to kick things off. You're on an island with some tech on it and surrounded by a lake of fire. The lost souls and demons aren't much of a match against the rocket launcher but you know what's coming up next. Activating the teleporter ushers in the token Cyberdemon. The slightly closer confines makes dodging rockets potentially tricky but the trash enemies are the main confounding factors. You don't have to keep them alive in order to kick off the fireworks.


Hell BreachE3M1
by Walter Confalonieri aka "daimon" and Michael Fraize aka "Marcaek"
A pretty good opener that raises the stakes for the third episode. Most of the level consists of a network of caverns / outdoor areas but the eastern fortress has a sort of hodgepodge "Pandemonium" vibe. Ammo and health are tight to start but there are a bunch of stashes hidden around the map, some more convoluted than others. The path to the backpack and then uncovering the last two hidden enemies got a wry smile from me. The western portion is dominated by damage floors and precarious catwalks. The ambush that occurs after snagging the red key is a great standout encounter since the pressure's on and there are even more surprises.

by Michael Fraize aka "Marcaek"
The trappings of Hell give way to looser IWAD interpretations. This one feels like an industrial slice and even has a few computer panels. The sector machinery can't compare to Chris Lutz's Inferno but it's decent and points the way toward the cybernetic bosses and Doom II baddies. The red brick factory portion feels a bit rote but the slab / core area to the west and outdoor segment north of it are wicked cool. The thing placement backs up from the oppressive E3M1 but the open layout does a fairly good job of sneaking monsters behind you.

by Matthew Edwards aka "Foodles"
Riffing again on the Hellish base of "Pandemonium" including the classic water-on-the-ceiling. It's another hub and spoke but there are only two of the latter. I mean, the exit wing is more of a stub. It's a fun blastathon with a kickstart of an opener. Matt tries to set you up for the next level by way of a straightforward secret plasma gun. You just have to remember walking past the other red key door while exploring the east wing. Which, incidentally, is hooked up in a delightfully torturous manner. The plane of action has a lot of gradual height transitions in small staircases.

by "XenoNemesis" and Xaser Acheron
Love the pacing in this one. You start out in hostile territory and then must fight your way across a lake of lava to reach the hub. After that it's picking your way through a tight but labyrinthine layout of irregular tunnels and occasional chambers. The author afford you a surprising amount of play time with the plasma gun and rocket launcher, always fun. Both can figure into the meaty final ambush whose texture scheme smacks more of the X-Man's work. Woe betide the player who lacks significant killing power.

by Jon Vail aka "40oz"
A freakin' awesome subterranean Hell level. Sort of an underground marble ruin. The layout is jam-packed with monsters including an early crowd of imps but it's counterbalanced by copious amounts of ammo and health. I love the architecture; the paired-chamber atrium with intercardinal offshoots looks great. The tech gorge to the west feels a little weird and flat but it works. It's not like Hell has to make any internal sense. Vail has a couple of pitched beefy fights which will be more memorable if you only managed to get the shotgun and chaingun. The rocket launcher and plasma gun were thankfully easy to sniff out. Great stuff! I even enjoyed the theme of the bubbling blood-roof maze that makes up the northeastern chamber.

E3M6Sygian Caverns
by Henri Vuortenvirta aka "Icytux"
The texture scheme of "Slough of Despair" makes a huge showing here but it's covering a relatively organic network of tunnels and canyons. That's the east side, anyway. The west consists of a more traditional Hellish fortress. It's a fun level to explore and even has two different routes for you to take, both using the red key. The secret exit is actually pretty simple to access but you'll need to pay attention in order to ensure a proper line-up. The monster placement feels a bit claustrophobic at times but you get to spend a lot of quality time with the big guns. Provided that you navigate the plasma rifle trap, anyway. Just a cool E3-themed adventure.

Weeping HollowE3M9
by Augustus Knezevich aka "Alfonzo", Jeff Shark aka "Marnetmar", and Xaser Acheron
This is a superb outing. You start out inside a fortress and then teleport to the other side of the map where you're opposite the structure, buffered by a cavernous Hellscape. The outdoor area makes for an interesting battlefield since it has spread-out monsters, stuff to get hung up on, and a Cyberdemon. It also has a decent cacodemon ambush, triggered after exploring the blue key / plasma gun guard tower. The fortress itself is fun to unravel since it has a lot of buttons that either permanently open doors or alter level geometry, revealing new delights. The mark of Xaser is all over the structure given its heavy use of circular geometry. The cryptic, gore-tech architecture makes for a great aesthetic. My favorite feature - the false floor / ledge trick in the rocket launcher ambush zone, also the scene of a great pitched battle.

E3M7Sheol's Descent
by Sebastian Graham aka "General Rainbow Bacon" and Xaser Acheron
GRB provided a pretty good network of subterranean caverns. The X-Man massaged the architecture and layout into an even cooler adventure. There's something like a "Limbo" gimmick with the key-locked teleporter cells. They're tied to the snazzy eastern temple, which slowly reveals itself as you explore. Like many fun Hell levels the geometry of the map seems to change with every step. This sometimes links back to earlier segments but at others it ushers in waves of new blood. "Sheol" has an impressive bodycount. A good portion of its monsters are lost souls and cacodemons but the plasma gun and rocket launcher are early acquisitions so smoke 'em if ya got 'em.

Ninth CircleE3M8
by Jeff Shark aka "Marnetmar" and "Mr. Freeze"
A fairly simple Spiderdemon arena. It's complicated by a bunch of self-stroking platforms that sport most of the level's supplies. Since the boss is on a pedestal you don't have to necessarily worry about cover the entire time. There are a handful of confounding meanies, though - four cacodemons and a Baron on the floor. Slow and steady wins this race. Up until you hose the Mastermind with plasma, anyway.


Bridge to NowhereE4M1
by "Captain Toenail"
The Cap'n eases into things with some light lifting. This map's opening smacks of "Hell Beneath" but much of its inner workings draw from Anderson's "...And Hell Followed". The monster concentration is fairly dense but the author provides plenty of health and ammo. You might find yourself backed into a corner or two but I managed to avoid the coroner. The start, including your first inspection of the corridors off the opening area, makes for the roughest spot. I like the kinder, gentler E4.

E4M2Demonic Halls
by "C30N9" and Xaser Acheron
This is another post-production level. It sort of echoes the "E4 is ruined Earth" hypothesis if only in the opening facade. The old layout is all still there but the X-Man has complicated it by tripling the number of interconnecting passages between the major areas. The end result is challenging to navigate due to height differences and apertures but chock full o' tasty goodies. The start is pretty nasty since the weapons are relatively deep in enemy territory. My favorite bit is a light / dark side flip of the northeastern area, resulting in a gore-tech engine that's emblematic of Xaser's style. I enjoyed the massive unveiling of the secret exit wing, too.

Bean OversightE4M9
by Michael Fraize aka "Marcaek"
Ostensibly an E1 level (which fits considering "Fear") with some overtures to "Military Base" but also a few other asides. It establishes its own identity through the main playing area, which is a giant toxic pit that's crossed by way of a network of catwalks and circular platforms. The opening difficulty combines this with a bunch of avenues for hitscanners to chip away at you. The attrition-based hazard encourages you to move quickly and while the walkways are fairly wide the threat of falling off is still there. Zombies come in droves via a variety of monster closets so have fun mowing down the walking dead. Fun stuff.

by "Captain Toenail"
A credible echo of "Fear" but this symmetric techbase also has an unearthly, corrupted vibe once you get beyond the lava-drenched courtyard. The way that you access the inner and outer recesses of the east / west chambers complicates the layout in a cool fashion. The fact that you have to endure peanut galleries of hitscanners and imps also adds a considerable element of player exposure. I dig the marble temple to the west and its "Hell Beneath"-esque tribute to Quake.

by "Captain Toenail"
This one uses the opening of Romero's "Against Thee Wickedly" as a springboard. It also folds in the similar aesthetic of the granite cave in "Perfect Hatred" and a bunker that cribs from Magee's "Unruly Evil". One of my favorite bits is the bloodfalls area to the southwest, which on the automap is patterned after Moorcock's Symbol of Chaos. You might recognize it from Heretic or, say, TVR. It's interesting to see some of Ultimate Doom's connective tissue stretched out for a whole map.

by "Megasphere"
Another dungeon crawler layout from the author. This one is just as scatterbrained as "Logistics Facility" so if you're into changing the theme every other room then it's got you covered. It also feels less inspired because so many of the rooms feel boxy and have next to no architecture to cover up the blemishes. The individual moments are okay, though. I enjoyed the fakeout with the pit in front of the yellow key door since it leads you to believe that you'll be raising a bridge at some point. The long, molten tunnel to the blur sphere is profoundly weird.

The Mourning HallsE4M6
by Jeff Shark aka "Marnetmar", Augustus Knezevich aka "Alfonzo", and Sebastian Graham aka "General Rainbow Bacon"
An enormous marble palace with individual wings for each key and a common area to tie everything together. The inner sanctum has a "Living End" vibe with how things are accessed off the outer walkway. It's very challenging to navigate because of how large it is. There are many different directions for you to poke in but it's balanced to kit you out regardless of where you start. It's also fairly dangerous throughout the whole adventure. The opening just has you outgunned but other pitfalls include a pitch black cave full of specters as well as a Cyberdemon turret hazard.

There aren't a huge number of pitched fights but the aforementioned battles plus the meaty Baron and caco ambushes stick out. It has more of a drip feed pacing a la 2002ADO's "Dementia" but they're very different levels. Pallai carefully led you through his fortress, opening it up to nonlinear exploration in a linear fashion. Marnetmar more or less leaves you to your own devices. The author may have set up a speedrun route that skips all of the keys, sneaking you into the Cyberdemon fight, but I didn't care to test it.

There are quite a few secrets to discover. A few of the areas serve as annexes in their own right, e.g. the chainsaw thing which also unlocks the BFG. The big gun is found as part of a chain secret, a sizable stroll that might as well require the enviro suit in the north canyon. "Halls" also has a ton of great visual moments. One of my favorites is the point as you're crossing over into the inner sanctum and the antechamber walls fall away. Another is after you reach the southern exterior and some of the terrain collapses to reveal the exit.

The atmosphere is superb. There are lots of points where the place feels deserted but rest assured that something is lurking just around the corner. The architecture is gorgeous and tastefully features some sweet lightcasting. It barely resembles GRB's original. You can see the skeleton of the northernmost spots but it's crazy to see how much work Shark put into this. The final product isn't very DTWID - not that the post-production phase aimed for it - but I do get a hint of "They Will Repent" here and there. Don't miss this!

E4M7Babel's Gate
by Matthew D. aka "Matt534Dog" and Xaser Acheron
Another sort of freewheeling fortress, featuring red rock outpost just as easily as a bog-standard storage room. Deimos, if you will. It's a fairly large map and its rooms are chock full o' monsters both beefy and not. The northeastern cacodemon surprise is an early moment of panic that sticks out in my mind. Most of Xaser's architectural alterations expanded the outdoor areas to make things feel a bit more interconnected. It pays off; while it lacks any sort of cohesion, "Gate" is not short on excellent visuals. The exit is one such moment but I also like the southern lake of fire and its shadow-casting pillars.

Temple GuardianE4M8
by "Taedium"
An ominous intro that segues into a ballbuster of a fight. You have to deal with two Cyberdemons and the dynamic is different because there is one on the high ground and one on the low. The lower floor guy can't really hit you if you're in the back of the upper tier but this restricts your areas of relatively care-free movement. You can't be too fast and loose with the rockets if you want to kill both Cybs, either. Only one is required to safely exit, though. Cool looking palace. Quasi-grueling launcher fight.


Landing ZoneE5M1
by Jacob Zuchowski aka "Ellmo"
An average E1 opener. It looks a little more evocative of a hangar, though, since you start on the pad and it has observation decks on both sides. All of the enemies are either imps or zombies so you're far from any actual threat. Provided that you make a beeline to the shotgun, anyway, which can be observed from the starting area. The curved staircases look neat.

by Jeff Shark aka "Marnetmar" and Xaser Acheron
Another take on "Hangar" but with a couple of E1 tropes wrangled in for good measure. One of them is the soul sphere in the secret-accessed outdoor area. The other is the rising-stairs-to-exit-platform seen in "Toxin Refinery". It's a cute level and gives you a significant number and size of optional areas to explore. The inexplicable toxic pond makes me think of some pretty corporate reflecting pool.

by Jeff Shark aka "Marnetmar" and Jason Root aka "Hellbent"
Hey, it's my jam! This is a superfun toxic base map. It's short but has a few secrets, including a trip to a sizable outdoor yard. My favorite element is the fact that you can do the whole thing with the pistol and still feel like a badass. Unless you hate your trusty sidearm, of course. Getting the shotgun is an endeavor and wholly localized in the optional northern annex. It has a smart bit where the switch to open the door to a shotgun guy is guarded by imps in close quarters. You need to hit a button to reach it, too, but it isn't so much for physical access as it is for getting the imps out on the balcony. From there you can pistol snipe them without having to get tore up.

E5M3Recycling Plant
by Jeff Shark aka "Marnetmar" and Xaser Acheron
Another pretty cool nukage facility. As a twist, you start out in the 45-degree angled wing and then move into the rest of the level. It isn't particularly difficult in the E1 sense but the network of corridors does a great job of organically funneling monsters toward the player. Again, as was the case with E4M7, Xaser's polish mostly improved the feeling of connectivity. The original geometry was basically untouched... but a few areas did get swapped around. Favorite moment, the secret outdoor area to the north and the big specter invasion.

Wayward OutpostE5M9
by Michael Fraize aka "Marcaek"
It's an aesthetic retread of "Deimos Anomaly" but it looks more like an actual, derelict UAC base. Part of this comes from the scattered storage crates. The other reason is because of the tense tech guts maze that dominates the southeastern area. It starts out in utilitarian server racks before going down the rabbit hole and winding up in the standout encounter, a telegraphed imp ambush. Mechanically it feels like a pale imitation of E2M1 but I enjoyed the more grounded trappings and the bits where it really goes off the rails. Like, the outdoor secret area leading to the red keycard.

E5M4Phobos Garrison
by Jon Vail aka "40oz"
The first part of this is a fast techbase. Nice geometry, architecture, the sort of thing that makes you wish for Jon to do his own Doom episode (or megaWAD) at some point. It's bold in giving you the chaingun up front so it's full of zombie slaughter goodness. Xaser's addition is an 11th-hour fakeout that drops you into a corrupted landscape with an army of monsters between you and the true exit. The lack of cacodemons or Barons makes for a fun fight since you'll aim to kill all of the hitscanners first. While dodging fireballs and lost souls, of course.

Science FacilityE5M5
by Jon Vail aka "40oz"
A big ol' Doomed Deimos base. Some bits look fairly normal while others like the southeastern section have the dark, spooky dungeon feel. I love the macrotecture in the northern, "U"-shaped hallway. Vail actually does a bit of sneaky world-building with the hole on the upper ledge in the westernmost area. I like it! The opposition is thick and while you get all of the non-BFG weapons your route has a strong hand in how quickly you grab the big guns. Given the number of Barons and cacos, well, having rockets or plasma will really help speed things up. You should have them for the finale, anyway, which has an echo of the "Bruiser Brothers" setup.

E5M6Disposal Area
by Michael Fraize aka "Marcaek"
Overgrown Deimos theme. This has a bit of the Hall sense in its realism but it better reflects actuality in having stuff like enclosures that are ostensibly meant to be jail cells. Another cool bit has some crushers mashing waste (well, blood here) into a grating. Sector machinery features in a few other areas, too. There's a rudimentary teleporter puzzle that may catch folks who can't take a hint but it's only two obstacles deep so it isn't hard to brute force. The most memorable segment - to me - is found in the blood canals / retention pond area to the north. The enviro-suit imposed time limit adds an element of suspense.

Sanguine RefineryE5M7
by Cris Oliveri aka "ShadesMaster"
Sending us off with a network of creepy passages that's partly evocative of E2M3 but also "Deimos Lab" due to the opposed, curved hallways. "Pandemonium", too, due to the hidden, organic mini-maze. Showing you the yellow key up front is a cool way of giving the player something to work toward. I like that the exit wing is revealed to be in a previously unlinked portion of the layout, nestled amongst some tech guts. The playing field feels a bit flat with precious little height variation within individual rooms but it's a fun dungeon to crawl.

E5M8Like Rotten Meat
by Jeff Shark aka "Marnetmar"
For whatever reason I was really drawn in by the image of demons barreling toward me down the darkened hallways. The inevitable Baron showdown is way beefier than it typically is and all but requires the fundamental slaughter skill of crowdshaping. If you don't then good luck getting past the mob of goat men in order to get more rockets. The finale is an over-the-top Cyberdemon sendoff that won't have any bearing on your victory unless you let it. Having the main battleground be a giant, red cross is pretty metal.


Deja VuE6M1
by Jeff Shark aka "Marnetmar"
It's named as such for several reasons. The most obvious involves a Baron of Hell showdown in a giant, FIREBLU star. Jeff also sends you through a creepy but relatively normal maintenance tunnel and then immediately chases it with the corrupted version. It's rough as a start because you're given shells but no shotgun. Punch those demons to death if you can! The teleporter annex has simple but effective macrotecture and has the look of a nightmarish technology setup.

E6M2Intrusion Zone
by Lorenzo Davia aka "Ultimate Lorenzo"
The first part is a low-tier ambush that's exciting due to the cramped quarters and mix of monsters. The second is a dull grind where you drag the Barons around the entrance bunker like a carousel as you slowly shotgun them down. It's seven-pointed stars, though! Very different. The way to dusty death has a cool-looking teleporter compound.

The Pain YardsE6M3
by Jon Vail aka "40oz"
The main structure looks cool. The initial promise of the encounter is a lukewarm battle against some pinkies and a Cyberdemon. The rocket launcher is proffered but Jon has sneakily provided a quick Tyson route. The Berserk pack helps but astute players will recognize the telefrag setup when they see one. The layout makes it tricky to line up but it was more fun than dusting ol' Cybie with ineffectual explosives.

E6M4Deimos Fortress
by Matthew D. aka "Matt534Dog"
I wasn't initially wowed by the setup but this turned out to have a nice surprise. The opening descent into the arena has a cool structure and the cramped layout keeps the Cyb from being a total cakewalk. What's this, though? The fight isn't over? The second phase gives you a lot more room to work with so it isn't as threatening but the added monsters let me orchestrate some decent infighting.

Pit of DespairE6M5
by Jacob Zuchowski aka "ellmo"
It's a Spiderdemon showdown but the arena looks nice and it has great infighting potential. This is mostly thanks to a small crowd of cacodemon observers who linger around the outer ring. The inner complement of shotgun guys are probably the most dangerous facet of the encounter since you're just getting your bearings. Knowing how to raise the steps to the third tier is very helpful.

E6M6Anomaly of Evil
by "Captain Toenail"
A simple, pentagram boss arena for the Spiderdemon. The rocket launcher pillar is about all the cover that the player actually needs. If you drag it around to the opposite side then you can run into its den and snag a plasma gun for even easier mode.

Land of AweE6M7
by "C30N9"
This one tries out the "Hell Keep" hook by bringing you up and out of a pit. The welcoming party is pretty beefy, though, and you'll want to work it with infighting if you have any illusions of kitting out for the finale. The boss encounter isn't inherently difficult but the interfering red rock pillars allow the various lost souls to organically surprise you. Provided that you let them linger, of course. The age-old strategy of tethering it to a Baron and then taking advantage of the distraction works about as good as ever.

by Michael Fraize aka "Marcaek"
The granite rock buildup is a nice change of pace. This is a pretty cool boss arena since it has a number of encounters building up to the Spiderdemon. Fraize then complicates matters by sinking most of the rock formation into the ground, leaving you with several smaller bits of cover. The closest one has damage floor on one of its sides, making it less dependable for carefully killing the Mastermind. Neat stuff.

Hell's Mosh PitE6M9
by Jason Root aka "Hellbent"
The single hardest fight is saved for last, naturally. The title isn't kidding; this is a dark hole of death. The object is to live long enough on the killing floor that you can escape up the stairs, snag the rocket launcher, and activate the Spiderdemon. At this point you can more or less take your time, strike surgically, and prepare for the boss. Maybe even bait it into killing a few of the guys on the ground floor. A nice swerve to cap things off.

2010-2011: THE LOST YEARS

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  1. Not sure if on purpose but E6M2 and E6M3 have the same picture, except when I click on E6M3 it shows the correct one.