Sunday, September 15, 2019

Out of Phase III: One Cloudy Afternoon (OPHASE3.WAD)

by Karthik Abhiram Krishna

2002 was KA's year. He made a technical leap forward with The Other Side of Phobos, a stylistic one in Congestion Control (featured in Doomworld's Top 100 WADs of All Time), and put a nice bow on his Out of Phase series. OPHASE3 is of course the third release of the trilogy, a MAP01 replacement for Doom II. Looking through the .TXTs it's clear that he was working with his brother Varun at this time as well as a team for a project called The Ninth Gate which would have been a full E4 replacement. The roster included Tobias Münch, Pablo Dictter, and Damian Lee (aka Lexus Alyus) so he also appears to have fallen in with good company.

Karthik went through the trouble of making a story for the first OPHASE and the setting of the second sort of reinforced it. You were in a slice of techbase that was floating in an infinite sky, probably the result of a botched UAC experiment. Abhiram built on this for Congestion Control, where a test causes a fusion of realities at a UAC facility. There is nothing particularly weird about Out of Phase III, though, and KA has disinclined to provide any sort of narrative, apparently self-conscious of whether the level's length deserves one. This didn't stop me from writing an entire paragraph about it, naturally.

One of the /idgames comments hits it right on the head: the core of OPHASE3 is basically a Congestion 1024 level. I'm not talking about the rules of the project but the fact that, ignoring the secret areas in the periphery, its playing area fits in a (roughly) 1184 x 1088 grid. The extra bits aren't very large, either. You're talking about a couple of closets for cacodemons pop out of and which must be accessed via teleporter. Oh, and an initially inaccessible caged enclosure. I appreciate Karthik's unintentional spin on the whole 1024 phenomenon. Maybe a more lax rule set based on this could serve as a fun jumping-off point for another megaWAD, sort of the opposite of rf 1024's doubling-down where nothing exists beyond the grid.

It's considerably less difficult than 1024, though. You get the SSG off the bat and the plasma gun is a quick and relatively painless pickup. The latter may make the map feel outrageously easy if you're looking for a challenge but less practiced players will need it when riding up blind teleporters to stuff like mancubi. Suppression stun is a powerful ability, particularly in a level where you aren't given much room in which to maneuver. Many of the doorways are quite narrow, enough that monsters may have a tough time getting to you. Those moments where you get some leg room are usually marked by mobs of cacodemons, the most adept space-stealer of all. You will have to fight a couple of arch-viles but they aren't nearly as dangerous as the ones in OPHASE2.

The design philosophy is a bit different from Out of Phase II. The first OPHASE was a complete original whereas its sequel was built on parts from two different Doomworld Speedmapping Sessions. Karthik hadn't quite got his shit together as an author, of course, so One Cloudy Afternoon appears to be lightyears ahead of the rest of the series. The sky looks much better, too - just take a look at OPHASE2's mess of green, brown, and red gradients. It was apparently made by Abhiram's brother, Varun, and based on a photograph taken by Tobias Münch. The light gray isn't colorful but it contrasts well against the dark brown metal interior.

But, yes, Out of Phase III is a short techbase rendered in dark metal and brick. Abhiram's style at this time involved riveted, dingy walls with thick borders separating the more colorful inlaid textures. The tan panels in the starting half of the sewer area look good but the aesthetic didn't feel right to me when looking at the ICK stuff on the opposite side. Maybe it's only the juxtaposition of the two. It doesn't have anything crazy out-of-this-world like Congestion Control. Apart from maybe a Baphomet wall icon, the torches, and the gargoyle-adorned wooden exit door, at least. I guess that the use of "Death's Bells" may give the micro-adventure a more desperate, otherworldly flair.

This is a fun little techbase level with plenty to dump shells and cells on. If you want something for a very short romp then this might tide you over. I'm certainly enjoying the trajectory of Karthik's design sensibilities. It'll be interesting to see where he goes, especially when tag-teaming individual maps.


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