Saturday, December 28, 2019

Maximum Breakdown (MB01.WAD)

by Brad Spencer

Brad is probably best-known in the community for his single-player contributions. They figured into the 2000 Cacowards with Atomic Tomb as well as a portion of the legendary Alien Vendetta. I get the feeling that deathmatch was his real passion back in the early '00s, though. This is mostly due to how much of his pre-AV work was focused on multiplayer. Maximum Breakdown actually began life as the kickstarter for an 11-level episode for Doom II but Spencer found that he loved it too much in DM to make any more. The end result is a MAP01 replacement for ZDoom, originally released back in 1999.

MB has three files. MB01 is the single player / normal Deathmatch release. MB02 is specifically laid out for a situation vs. bots that Brad included specific rules for in the .TXT. MBFX includes some replacement sounds which include new noises for the pistol and shotgun in addition to a few ambient audio clips and a new music track. As far as settings go, the atmospheric noises and some colored sector lighting seen near the start appear to be the only reasons for going with ZDoom. Jumping wasn't even considered apart from placing some player-blocking lines to ensure that leaping players can't wander, e.g. behind the starting area. There are also no practical situations where mouselook is warranted since most of the action occurs along a flat plane. The sole exception involves a couple of cacodemons gated outside of the main area; I couldn't get one of them to come up from the bottom of the cliff.

The layout consists primarily of either canyon / trenches or man-made tunnels, giving the end product a very earthy look. Spencer has included some spots of tech where someone built panels and machinery into the rock and dirt. The first two highlights are found early on. One of them is a blasted-out brick building and nearby you'll find the author's sole instance of colored sector lighting, a deep red containment obelisk for the plasma gun. It's neat to have moments where keys accomplish multiple things rather than gate the player behind a single door or switch. It actually has a neat moment in the level's implied narrative. The northwestern bunker presumably had a little storage receptacle for it but the key is nowhere to be found inside.

The combat is relatively easy as long as you don't mind the tight ammo balance. Brad tries to alleviate the vanilla thing placement with a secret chainsaw found near the start. It's fairly obvious but I still somehow managed to miss it. All of the monsters are Doom trash enemies excepting the couple of cacodemons found at the northernmost point. If you manage to give the demons the RZZZZ then you won't have to worry about getting pushed back while chipping away at them using the pistol. Not that this is a particularly difficult feat to accomplish. The tunnel supports give them a decent shot of taking a bite out of you while you're trying to backpedal, though.

I'm not really feeling the ambient noises. They don't repeat cleanly into themselves and you have to be pointed directly at them to hear so they end up sounding clumsy instead of adding to the atmosphere of the level. Sector lighting could have been pretty good, too, but - as is the case with Kaiser's DSV - it's featured as a showpiece rather than woven into the detailing infrastructure. I can imagine that Spencer was just coming to grips with using some of the ZDoom bells and whistles and, had he finished the episode, may have gotten more comfortable incorporating them. He certainly had no issue making a snarky end-of-level intermission text using MAPINFO.

Maximum Breakdown is a cute, earthy level. It's nice to see since so much of what I know Brad for is his work in techbase-oriented maps. It's also interesting as an alternate-history piece since he is so closely associated with working inside vanilla limitations. It may disappoint fans of his horde-heavy encounter design, but his versatility is appreciated.


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