Friday, October 18, 2019

Enjay Doom (NJDOOM1.WAD)

Nigel Rowand has one of if not the longest and continuous careers in the community. His Waterlab GZD was released in 2017 and he had probably the first "complete" megaWAD in 1994. If you want to be an ass then Enjay Doom was technically published as three individual episodes before being collected and put on Compuserve. It's not as though each one was separated by years worth of development. This compilation formed the basis of several of his future megaWADs. It was followed by a Doom II conversion and, later on, a retooling for ZDoom. I half-suspect that it's also part of his private project, the Aspects total conversion.

NJDOOM has some parallels with the 1993 story. There's a Phobos, a Deimos, and you go to Hell. Nigel was at the forefront of Martian alien ruins, though, and the UAC sticks their foot in it by initiating an archaeological investigation. It wouldn't have been a terrible idea but for the fact that the antiquities show signs of "Devil worship". The whacked-out researchers even went the extra mile and tried to contact anything lurking beyond the firmament of our reality. Things turned into a classic case of "be careful what you wish for" and you're stuck mopping up the remains. This marine's story appears to be concurrent with the events of Doom since the dig site is described as being on the "far side of Phobos". Opposite the teleporter labs, I assume.

It's going to feel like faint praise but Enjay Doom's strongest suit is fairly subtle when compared to its peers circa 1994. Its authorial indulgences are relatively restrained in deference to Serenity, Infinity, or the Heroes compilation. The architecture isn't as consistently dazzling as the stuff that the Möllers would put out with Slaughter Until Death or The Evil Unleashed. It isn't quite as difficult, either. NJDOOM doesn't have the incredible modifications or atmosphere of the Aliens TC. It lacks the grand sense of adventure invoked in INVADE2 or even INVADE1. It barely has any custom resources beyond new skies and the typical spackling, e.g. stuff like the TITLEPIC and level names.

Enjay Doom excels at being a solid set of 1994-era levels. It features simple, mostly sensible geometry; complementary texture schemes; easily navigable layouts with room for player movement; and difficulty at or below the original trilogy. I think that the average user would be ecstatic to find all of these in an old mapset. I mean, maybe not the ones demoing slaughtermaps. There's an undercurrent of folks who bemoan the trend toward increasing difficulty as it's tough to find something that bills itself as having a UV on par with Doom II, let alone the OG. They may want to give NJDOOM a good look.

Of course, the porridge could just as easily be too cold. Skill levels have become notoriously difficult to pin down as the player base becomes ever broader. Nigel's combat style is fairly up front and while you won't get all of the coolest guns without secrets even finding a few - most of which were fairly obvious to me - will amp up the fun factor. Invulnerability spheres are an unusually common powerup in the hidden recesses. Some folks may find this type of thing placement a bit patronizing but you don't have to grab them! They may also take issue with the way in which Rowand introduces monsters. He doesn't mirror the original progression; rather, lost souls and cacodemons appear fairly early in the first episode. I think that the author cribbed a couple of setups from "Tricks and Traps" for E3 but I don't know when Oh Hell originally came out.

NJDOOM rarely puts any substantial pressure on the player. The playing spaces are wide enough that you typically have plenty of room to maneuver to superior positions. Exceptions exist like the three-by-three grid tunnel section of "Psychic Research" (E1M7) but they are the spice of Doom life. As far as hot starts go, the only thing that exists in my mind is "St Satans" (E3M6). You could theoretically run around the starting area forever but you don't have enough ammo to kill all of the pinkies and caged cacos. This sends you running into a gauntlet of environmental hazards, chiefly crushers. Rowand is otherwise not big on squishing the player, usually resorting to sporadic damage floors. The levels have plenty of explosive barrels, too, but they're typically placed for the player's benefit.

Enjay has a fairly common format to his layouts, also exemplified in my recent memory in Paul Corfiatis and friends' 2002: A Doom Odyssey. You start out at the end of an annex and then work your way to a hub. From here you explore each successive offshoot and open the next leg in line until you move on to the exit or yet another hub. Not every level is like this but the layout occurs so much that I can't help but notice. Nigel is often kind enough to dump you out at the next door you need to go through. You'll also see a few small sandbox setups. I like the later E2 levels since they have a slightly more non-linear feel but my favorite deviation is "The Long Run" (E1M6). The main feature is a superlong hallway where you must ostensibly take cover from a gaggle of imps at the very end, ducking into alcoves as the fireballs pass by.

At a brief glance the layouts may look complex but the flow is essentially linear. The maps are stringy without looking like it because all of the spaces are coiled together. You still see flashes of interconnectivity here and there, even as early as "The Ruins" (E1M1), but it feels like maybe half of the levels have them and only one example exists in each one that does. "The Old Town" (E1M4) sticks out because it features a large, free-roaming playing space in its reconstructed marble commons. "Platform 1" (E2M1) has a similarly-centralized area but it feels fresh because of how Rowand routes the player through it.

The author didn't procure any custom textures but the new skies offer some novelty. E3's souls in the sky may either be creepy or tacky depending on your sensibilities. The mixture of marble and UAC tech may throw some folks off in E1 but it's justified story-wise by the outpost building around and integrated into the alien ruins. The outdoor flesh gutters of "Spinal Trap" (E3M7) feel fairly unique. I'm sure that I've seen blood tunnels before but the only ones to stick out in my recent memory are in Erik Alm's "The 24 Cyber Spirits" from the One Week Mapping Contest (MAP11). "Pyramids" (E2M4) is a decent enough concept but its execution feels banal, maybe the most 1994 of the whole set in terms of going all-in on a really dorky idea. In contrast, "Bridge to Despair" (E3M2) and "Death Fortress" (E3M5) have cool structures and show that Rowand has some chops outside of the dungeon crawler paradigm.

Enjay Doom hasn't enjoyed the same level of popularity as its peers in the years since. I imagine that this is due to a variety of factors. The original work was uploaded to the now doornail-dead Compuserve and only interred in /idgames in 2006, three years after Doomworld had done its Top 100 WADs of All Time. Nigel had made several major revisions to the original release in the intervening years, too. This includes a conversion to Doom II as well as two different iterations of Enjay ZDoom reflecting the changes in the engine between 1999 and 2001. The latter two did promptly find their way to the archives though without the originals they lacked some historic context. Its status as perhaps the original megaWAD has been supplanted by the existence of its more visible descendents.

NJDOOM won't dazzle you if you're comparing it to the wonderlands being made in GZDoom and Boom-compatible engines today. Doing so with an exclusionary eye, though, does a disservice to the community as a whole. It is a magnificently modest mapset and there is little enough content for the original Doom as it is. If you want more action free of the terrors of 1994 then make sure you take a trip here to the far side of Phobos.

by Nigel "Enjay" Rowand


The RuinsE1M1
A cute kickoff. Enjay has a pretty solid hand on architecture and layout so each individual room has something interesting about it, as blocky as the corridors may seem to be. The opening area has a slight echo of "Nuclear Plant" but I think that "Hangar" has a stronger element in the level's DNA. Changing up the paneling every now and then is a great way to avoid wall-papering in even these most basic spaces. The outdoor ruin is a nice portent of things to come, I hope. I like that the secret areas are fairly large rooms unto themselves.

E1M2Rad Pits
Corridors and nukage. It's a pretty cool level; my favorite details are the secret areas with switches that raise bridges across the green stuff. It's nice to see Enjay building in irregular alcoves into the first, southwestern hallway. It incidentally follows a more explicit E1M2 homage. Lost souls and cacodemons make surprising early appearances. The former are used pretty effectively in first a distant monster closet and second a three-way crossfire ambush. The blood well feels like an incongruity until you remember the plot line. It's a fun little setpiece, though.

Research DepartmentE1M3
I don't get much of a sense of a laboratory but it's clear that the UAC structure has been integrated with the ruins. The marble sections look more benign but the red brick area has active infernal lava. It's not much of a hazard, though. The room shapes are pretty boxy but Nigel has some neat architectural structures. I like the marble staircase leading up to declining ceiling chamber, for instance. The descending, automatic lifts make a nice motif to tie the varied texture schemes together. The spacious layout leaves it with an empty feeling, even given the modest monster population. The big fuckoff FIREBLU forcefield plays into the poking-around-the-unknown theme.

E1M9Teleport Lab
No crazy machinery, just a simple hub where you investigate four wings in order. Each area has a teleport ambush but the only one that you're immediately forced to deal with is the first. All of the other waves appear in the atrium or someplace sufficiently distant for you to be able to take your time. The monotypical monster placement and assaults make for less than thrilling combat since you're rarely in any danger. In fact, it ought to be smooth sailing once you take down the shotgun guys.

The Old TownE1M4
Now this is cool. It's a marble "city" style level, a sandbox playground featuring little tunnels to run through and pillars to duck around. It isn't super thick with enemies so you might drop your vigilance and get smacked upside the head. The yellow skull key is your obvious, final goal but you have to locate the nondescript red card first. The battles behind the key doors are thematically consistent lock-in fights. Nothing too scary but the blue one has a cacodemon who might sneak up on you. Fun stuff!

E1M5Communications Lab
A sudden surge in the monster count. Nigel also bucks the trend of overstocking the player with ammo. This is a large level but it's difficult to get lost because the author is careful to route you close to the next step of your journey. The only real exception is the finish since you have to backtrack all the way through the southern half to reach the red key door. Health can get a bit short if you keep screwing up like I did but Rowand uses Berserk kits in a fashion similar to checkpoints to reset you to full. Hairiest moment, probably the southeastern caged tower because of the exposure to cacodemons while distracted by demons. Getting "trapped" in the prison is a nice closing hook.

The Long RunE1M6
The first part of this level is a pleasant series of small rooms with decent opposition. The real show happens once you climb down the stairs, though. The gimmick is a super-long hallway lined by alcoves - something like 22 on each side - for you to duck into. You'll find monsters and powerups tucked in along the way and maybe even a couple of surprise teleporters. The interesting bit comes from a small group of imps at the very end, lobbing fireballs that come at you in the manner of turrets. It would be so easy to disarm the obstacle with a well-placed rocket but I liked it so much that I had to wait until the finale. I'd love to see something like this in Doom II but using an infinite-respawning arch-vile trick. Such a fun idea.

E1M7Psychic Research
An E1-flavored gauntlet. It feels like there are monster closets with shotgun guy trios every ten steps. Some of the level design is purposefully disorienting. Early on you'll encounter a 3 x 3 grid of square tunnels. Enjay gets some good mileage out of a few walkover teleporter lines, sending you to a further, deeper cell. This happens in a later place but not to such an ideal effect. Another fun bit of atmosphere comes from a darkened hall with lurking sergeants that lights up once you're through. Nigel has incorporated cool floor sector art to jazz up the otherwise plain architecture. There's a fletched arrow that heralds the standout encounter, a real bloody brawl.

Demon PitE1M8
This is a bit more involved than your typical KDitD closer. After a brief intro at the facility you teleport to the overworld. You don't spend a lot of time there but it's a welcome change of scenery. From here it's clearing offshoots in order, then moving into an indoor area where you do the same thing. You encounter a few Barons but Nigel isn't big on using them to exert any real player pressure. Judging from the ammo dumped on you, at least. The finale has a sector 11 finish but in an interesting twist you can take in an invul sphere from an earlier part of the level. This lets you clear the massive horde of demons before you succumb to the exit. Not great but the FIREBLU reveal of the burning runway / staircase is a cool moment.


E2M1Platform 1
This level's centerpiece presages Thy Flesh Consumed's marble and wood theme. By far the most interesting construction, it consists of opposed balconies overlooking a deep yard with a couple of irregular wooden platforms. The sudden, extreme height variation is a great change-up and I like the "Downtown"-esque imp alcoves at the west end. The rest of the map is pretty straightforward and has an ineffectual, torturous catwalk over molten lava.

The LakeE2M2
This opens up on an E1M4 homage and then starts cruisin'. It's a dorky 1994 level at heart and has two fun setpieces. The first involves opening four boxes and releasing three different monster packs. The second is the titular feature, a lake with a little wharf and dingy. And a bunch of beasties. You have a ton of ammo and a secret chaingun but this is actually a tough map because Enjay didn't leave a lot of health lying around.

Stairs go down, and sometimes they go up. The architecture is dominated by steps, a few of which are interestingly irregular. The only area that really stands out is a garish, rectangular chamber covered in lights with blinking, luminescent pillars. Most of the level consists of a long descent. Nigel has a few surprises lying in wait for the return trip but he also wisely has a teleporter shortcut back to the starting area. You'll skip the fights but it ought to help out folks who just want to escape alive.

Kind of underwhelming. It's four pyramid structures and each one is a perfunctory "hub" that you must solve before moving to the next. The first one has a spooky atmosphere due to the music and the quasi-deserted setting. You keep running into the same basic structure, though, and the connective tissue feels like so much busywork. I'll grant that encasing the final step pyramid in an ASHWALL as a sort of teleport ambush is a nice switch-up.

E2M5Mission Control
Hey! It's my jam! This is a sprawling dungeon crawler level with a broad variety of areas to explore. Small numbers of monsters are lurking around every corner and some bits are just non-linear enough that a demon or lost soul might surprise you. The layout feels like it almost explodes at several times but it truly branches beyond the red key door. Enjay manages to make the simple, largely orthogonal architecture look pretty fuckin' good. The eastern half is my fave but the whole thing is a real treat for 1994. Great stuff!

The TheatreE2M9
Yes, it has an amphitheatre. The buildup is your typical key-hub NJDOOM pattern. Explore tiny wing, get key, move on to next. The tiered stair area behind the yellow door feels like a fairly novel segment of architecture. The finish is fun for just letting you cut loose with the not-so-secret plasma gun against a squad of Barons. I'm tempted to say that the imps on pillars ambush feels wasted since Nigel doesn't wait until you reach the end of the room. It gives the actual encounter some visual oomph, though.

E2M6Detention Complex
Keeping on with the expansive dungeon feel. You can't go too far without solving major progression points so there is a logical flow to the way in which you explore the level. This one feels more pen-and-paper-ish than "Mission Control", I think, due to its jumble of rooms. It's a fun clear, though, and even has a small, optional outdoor area a la "The Spawning Vats". The automap reveals a few of the monster closet locations long before you trigger them. I love that one of them opens into an inessential annex of its own, though.

Main BaseE2M7
This is another superfun installation adventure. A lot of the spaces here are rectangular but I don't really care because they're hooked up in interesting ways. Each leg of the annex is its own circuit and dumps you out near the next major progression point so you're not in any real danger of getting lost. As far as features go, I like the cavernous concrete chamber to the west. A small maze rises up once you grab the blue key and the red stripe gives its walls a sinister look. I also enjoy that the exit path crosscuts the first explored wing. Not a lot of tension on the player but Nigel does put you between a demon pack and some lost souls during the techblue gauntlet.

E2M8Exercise Yard
It's more like an obstacle course but what else can you really have when you're playing Doomguy? It's basically a Cyberdemon showdown with two cages, one full of cacodemons and the other Barons. You have more cells and rockets than you could conceivably need and plenty of room to dodge.


Hells GateE3M1
The move to Inferno brings more interesting room shapes and wall accoutrements. Also dat crazy-eyed sky. The opening bit and following staircase are a nice shake-up from the orthogonal base segments of the previous episodes. Dropping into the depths through the relatively ornate shaft opening is a great hook. You actually have several falls to navigate. I imagine that the secret teleporters are more for the purpose of convenient deathmatch than allowing the solo player to return to the start.

E3M2Bridge to Despair
The titular structure looks wicked cool. There are a lot of other fun details, too, like a "Slough"-style granite area (but indoors) and some narrow, earthen walkways. The most curious feature is basically a red brick version of the teleporting imp setup in "Tricks and Traps". The supplied rocket launcher lets you wreck it before it ever really starts, though. Between it and the "sky" portal exits I wonder whether and how much of the episode was designed after Doom II.

Hells OnionE3M3
It took me a minute to figure out what the title meant but once you peel away the first layer you ought to realize. This puts a fun spin on Enjay's usual hub-and-spoke level design. The northern leg has great orthogonal but irregular geometry. I like the bit where you teleport into an ambush in the east leg but the closets link back to the place you just came from. The finale lets you cut loose with the plasma gun, even if it's mostly against imps. The first and second annexes are a bit eye-strain inducing in their use of strobes but the former adds some contrast with regularly-lit alcoves. Fun stuff.

E3M4Ring of Pain
Still some boring, rectangular rooms here and there but the overall look is a bit more interesting than most of the stuff that has gone before. The big, not-quite-hexagon pit room is a great setpiece but just about every step through the west wing has some cool ideas. One of them feels like the rocket launcher / demon room from "Tricks and Traps" except the shotgun is your weapon and there are less pinkies. The exit room may be my favorite little indulgence: red outside, a blue inner layer, and a FIREBLU interior. Very neat.

Death FortressE3M5
This is a pretty cool location-based level. The opening is kind of hairy and folks who can't aim for shit with the shotgun might have a bad time; health starts out tight. I was pleasantly surprised by the second imp ledge. The fortress facade has a simple but badass look. Great architecture by Nigel, both there and the crenellated wall overlooking the courtyard. Once you get inside you are basically good on shotgun ammo. This might be a bit of a grind but a few secrets will get you a rocket launcher and a plasma gun. The latter lets you really tear through the final, meaty portions of the level. I also enjoyed discovering the nested secrets that lead to it.

E3M6St. Satans
The first part of this level is a smorgasbord of environmental hazards. You are flushed by the demons into an enormous crusher setup - great detail with the moving spinal columns. Evading the rest of the guts leads to a slightly perilous catwalk segment before you can move on to the second. The other portion is a little linear sandbox. A few buildings have a ton of imps on the top ledge. The infernal cathedral is a cool piece of architecture with its cherry red St. Peter's cross. Player pressure virtually evaporates once you neutralize the running of the demons but the outdoor shotgun guys might get a sucker punch in. The secret exit is a fun little circuit, particularly the FIREBLU portion, but you only get one shot at the blue key...

This is a "Warrens"'d up version of "Hells Gate". The only thing you miss is the portal on Deimos. True to form, it's the same up until you reach the exit. Then you have to deal with the tacked-on Cyberdemon / rocket launcher / invul sphere encounter. The newly revealed areas aren't that big. One of them has the shotgun guy alcoves thing going on but it's eight instead of thirty-four. The other is the intended way of returning to the main playing area vs. the pre-existing return teleporters.

E3M7Spinal Trap
This is basically a sewer level but done in Hell so it's all guts, spine, and blood. I don't mean to belittle the theme; we haven't really seen something like this, let alone in the Inferno. Two significant portions of the map are composed of fleshy networks with wandering imps, demons, lost souls and then later cacodemons. A lot of the floors are damaging but the sluices are bordered by short plaforms for you to safely stand on. Nigel really wants the player to have fun so there are plenty of enviro suits, invulnerabilities, and - most importantly - cell ammo. One particular secret has a backpack and three big ones; I switched exclusively to the plasma gun and never looked back.

Real monsters! For whatever reason Nigel has elected to up the stakes of the finale. It's still a Spiderdemon arena - this one in a big, granite crater -  but you're given the plasma gun and a ton of cells. There's a circuitous red rock tunnel that makes up the outer perimeter and is basically safe but for a handful of Barons. The inner region has roaming fliers and a couple of big surprises. Nothing crazy, mind you, but it didn't play out entirely like I was expecting. A decent finish.


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