Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Park (PARK.WAD)

by John J. "Spook" Bye

Bye released a handful of small, single releases before declaring his Magnum Opus, after which he vowed to stick to less time-consuming level design. The result of this three-month creative streak would outpace his previous levels in just about every aspect and result in his most accomplished solo work - Cygnus IV. Two of its maps actually saw additional publication in 1996 - apart from the not-quite-megaWAD. The Park is the first of them, being the opening level of the episode. It's a MAP01 replacement for Doom II. Spoiler alert: if you've already played the entire fourteen-level publication then this offers absolutely no mechanical differences.

The author has an extensive story setup. It's part of the early wave of PWADs that elected to base their works on other planets and solar systems. In this particular instance, a recently-established UAC colony on Cygnus IV has gone silent and the first rescue crew broke contact - willingly or not - shortly after they arrived. Your combat unit is deployed and manages to identify the wreck of the emergency responder vessel. Bye's wording glosses over an important detail. It looks like they were checking out some recent construction but it's a long way from any of the settlements so the new buildings were put up by something else. That's when your ship is shot down and while you're not the only survivor your entire crew was scattered by crosswinds as everyone parachuted down.

This is still very much in John's style. Virtually every major chamber has a square shape and all of the lightcasting from torches is done with chunky, squared-off halos. The bits of angled shadows - like the ones based around the central structure - look pretty cool, though. It would have been easy to copy and paste the architecture for the intercardinal monuments, too, but Bye has a separate look for each one. The author has also opted out of the tight hallways that connected the rooms of Magnum Opus. Most of the passages here are double- if not triple-wide and the spacious areas offer plenty of freedom of movement for the player.

Which might be great if John were at all interested in pushing projectile-dodging. Most of the roaming monsters are hitscanners, though. They would have the advantage in normally open areas but Bye's arrangement of rooms, yards, and passageways make this a relatively banal room-clearing exercise. The biggest exceptions are the imp / mancubus viewing boxes in the cardinal directions; an awkward and potentially early arch-vile fight; and a Cyberdemon surprise. Ol' Cybie appears to be broken in ZDoom at the very least, though. I was prepared to dodge around to diligently slay it with the afforded super shotgun but it appeared to be incapable of targeting me for whatever reason.

The Park is an important bridging point between Bye's previous works and the direction that Cygnus IV would ultimately take. The perfunctory room and corridor clearing arrangement has some atmospheric exploration due to a dearth of opposition. One later entry eschews combat entirely... not that you would know in vanilla until you had finished it. The custom soundtrack is another important stepping stone in John dabbling in the auditory avenue to better control the player's experience. It's also the only qualitative difference between this entry and the episode as a whole. The original track has an upbeat tone as where the collection has a darker mood as befits the beginning of covert ops.

If you've played CYGNUS20 then there is no reason to check this individual release out. Unless, of course, you consider yourself something of a MIDI aficionado. Without the rest of the episode it's a decent, fast play with instances of scaled-up abstract '94 architecture, otherwise notable for the careful shadowcasting.


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