Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Baron's Domain (AV46SP01.WAD)

by Will "Archvile46" Hackney

Will was a part of the source port boom scene and parts beyond with a career spanning 2001-2007. Later known as Kid Airbag on the Doomworld Forums, he had a standalone release - the finished portions of his Doomed Once More episode - as well as a few single levels. His most lasting contributions were to the Community Chest series, with an entry in the first iteration as well as CCHEST3. Unlike a few of his peers - namely Gene Bird and Sphagne - his submissions were exclusively developed for the collections. The Baron's Domain is the first of his small collection of solo publications, a MAP01 replacement for Doom II that should play back in any source port.

Hackney was something of a writer judging by the .TXT. AV46SP01 has a long story that I suggest you read because many of its details are reflected in the level design. The adventure takes place on Io, the player serving as a lowly security officer at a UAC research station. The Corpseration discovered an alien temple on the moon and built an adjacent lab in an attempt to unlock its secrets. They manage to open up a dimension-traversing gate. Things don't seem so bad at first but the site loses contact with the investigation team and it isn't long before the demons start to pour through. You receive a grim transmission detailing all of this info, also relating the marine contingent fighting a losing battle. Someone managed to rig explosives to destroy the temple but died before he could set them off. It's up to you to finish the job, protecting both the Io colony and the rest of the universe.

The primary draw of The Baron's Domain - at least, to me - is its unrelenting DoomCute design. The layout and room shapes are primarily orthogonal and include offices, bunks, a warehouse, and park benches. One of the more clever details has a tiny theater room that, through writing on the floor, advertises a showing of ID4 (Independence Day). The second episode's burning city sky is used smartly. Other bits include cinematic scripting. The air duct you take to the hidden BFG collapses and the temple's destruction is accomplished by locking you in a protected chamber for thirty seconds and triggering staggered explosions. It does sort of sound like a controlled detonation.

Much of the environmental design reflects points made in the narrative. You'll find several instances of slaughtered marines, indicative of the places where they holed up to make their last stand. You also have packs of abducted demons locked in enclosures like raptors from Jurassic Park with a nearby armory in case things get too rowdy. The actual architecture isn't great but it's functional which is about all you can ask for from a first effort. The DoomCute structures and narrative via thing placement are the places where The Baron's Domain excels so I'm already looking forward to see what Hackney does with more unusual level geometry.

The combat features tons of meaty monsters and makes the SSG available relatively early on. The start is a bit hot, though. You face the back of a cacodemon with a couple of nearby zombies. There is a shotgun in an adjacent room but you wouldn't know where to run to at first. I ended up running into the northern, wide hallway and then the courtyard where the SSG is. You won't have a ton of ammo but it isn't too hard to flit about and flex the monsters to death. Things get more perfunctory when you start getting shells and other weapons though the first walk through the warehouse can be a bit hairy due to the sheer number of mancubi.

Most of the fights that are intended to be "big" have something hamstringing them. Your return trip through the crates reveals a couple of square packs but they're bound by blocking lines so cheerfully infight themselves to death. A similar instance has a mixed pack of big monsters in the courtyard, including a Cyberdemon and a Mastermind, and they are just as easily goaded into slaying each other. The Cybie encounter in the cavernous marble temple has a passable '94 scale, though. The three of them poise a decent encounter with the BFG since there's no telling how they'll matriculate your way.

I dunno how folks took DoomCute in the early 2000s. The emphasis on "professional" level design in the modern scene has people looking down on stuff like The Baron's Domain as 1994-ish. This has more to do with the eternal clash between notions about what people should be doing in the engine vs. the things that individuals want to do in it. There is still an audience for it today and if AV46SP01 piques your interest then you ought to check it out.


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