Thursday, February 25, 2021

Evil's Playground (Diabolique part two) (EVPL.WAD)

Time for another curveball in Pablo Dictter's portfolio. This publication primarily exists for Evil's Playground, released - I believe - in 2001. The subtitle is Diabolique part two, a reference to a previously-created level called - you guessed it - Diabolique. I'm not sure when the latter was created but it was included in the release of EVPL as something of a bonus, isn't available otherwise, and both were purportedly part of the Diabolique project. Pablo had his hand in like three or four different Doom avenues alongside his River of Fire series, Good V/S Evil (where An Infernal Place came from), and a couple of others that released later. Even if he was compelled to carve up The Gates as a failure. This dead-end PWAD couplet replaces E3M1 and E3M2 of the original Doom.

There is no written record of what plot Pablo had envisioned for the Diabolique project. It's plainly obvious that he meant to evoke the marble Hell of Doom's third episode as glimpsed through portions of "House of Pain" and "Unholy Cathedral". The latter is astoundingly obvious in the original Diabolique, which appears here in the E3M2 slot. I might go so far as to call it a tribute to E3M5 but for the first half being all elbows. Dictter dispenses with the more confusing aspects of the "Cathedral", though, namely the corner teleporter interface in the yard. You only get the slightest taste of Sandy's original design and there's no threat of getting lost or confused.

Evil's Playground is better put together and features some more original moments. Of all the stupid crates and corridors stuff that has thus far dominated Pablo's detailing, I believe that this level puts in some leg work toward earning it as immersion. The idea can't fully develop because of the limitations of Dictter's level design at this stage in his career but I was pretty pumped to encounter the Phobos halls to falling walls ambush. It's a cool moment and punctuated by the intensity of the imp / demon swarm but I wish that Pablo had milked the clean KDitD trimmings a tad bit longer or indeed anywhere else in the map. Hell messing with Doomguy by bringing him back to visions of the first moonbase for repeated fakeouts would be a pretty cool hook.

E3M1 is otherwise an improvement on the marble and tech formula first glimpsed in his They Will Repent (House of Pain Part Two), right down to the symmetric starting area / teleporter hub. There is thankfully not a lot of teleporting around to do as Pablo apparently ran out of ideas for the southeastern vine-covered cavity. The northern bit is cool enough, though. There's a slight bit of interconnection with a window on the upper tier and I appreciate how the area behind the blue key door routes back to the teleporter's hallway. You should really be able to jump through the window, though, and the continued / ubiquitous presence of crates has reached laughable proportions.

Combat is not particularly challenging for either level. "Diabolique" is mostly a shotgun blastathon and gives you plenty of room to dodge beasties. Its two biggest threats are the demon / Berserk chamber should you fail to handle it wisely and a handful of damage floors. The one that you have to fight through is obvious but the couple of sequential 20% lava chambers should be carefully navigated. Evil's Playground parties hard at the start - love that Phobos fake-out - but turns into slow pressure battles against big foes that are partially (or mostly) mitigated by a very early plasma gun pickup. The small size makes it fun for people who just want to load up a Doom romp, though, and if you die you're never far from where you were at a scant 30-40 monsters.

I'm tired of Pablo's context-deaf greebling with all the crates but some of the aspects of Evil's Playground speak to more thoughtful level design. Dictter is definitely not at the same place he was when he released They Will Repent during the previous year and it feels like he is and in some ways has been on the edge of a breakthrough. It will be interesting to see how the rest of his 2001 shakes out.

by Pablo Dictter

A small network of elbow-shaped chambers or, uh, corridors. It's hard to tell. This level has a very strong "Unholy Cathedral" feel. It's all green marble with cherry red cracks in the wall except for - as an /idgames comment points out - the second half. The demon / Berserk room and lava chambers kick off a sequence of more overt homages. You teleport into a fun-sized version of the E3M5 courtyard for a jaunt against a handful of cacodemons. None of the monsters are particularly threatening but the demon encounter in the Berserk room might throw a sloppy player. Dictter outfits you to easily slay the sole Baron.

E3M1Evil's Playground
More marble silliness from Pablo. But, but, there's actually a thematic justification for why there are crates in this corner of Hell! EVPL fails to live up to the potential set in its opening moments. Dictter gives you two fakeouts in quick succession, one throwing you from the eye-rolling start into hot water. The other lures you into a benign but obviously suspicious Phobos-style corridor and then tears the walls down to reveal a pretty congested ambush. I would have loved to see a level that kept toying with the player through E1-textured areas and Hellish reveals. Instead, you roll right into Pablo's fragmented teleporter wing setup a la They Will Repent (House of Pain Part Two). One of the spokes is barely a trifle but I like the way in which the northern segment is routed / interlinked. Not sure about the Baron hiding in the techguts wall, though. 


No comments:

Post a Comment