Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Blind Alley T., "Waste Processing" (BNDALYT.WAD)

by Gene Bird

I'm continuing my whirlwind tour of Gene Bird levels here with BNDALYT. His Blind Alley series was released piecemeal from 2002-2004 from a set that had been in development since roughly 1997. I call it a "rainy day megaWAD" because of how many releases ultimately accrued but GB's original intention was for something the size of a Doom II episode. Each entry debuted once the author was comfortable with its given level of polish. The alpha-numeric designator T signifies that this was originally designed for the MAP29 slot, I suppose arriving after Spirit World - Headquarters. As it was published in 2003, however, Waste Processing is a MAP01 replacement for Doom II.

The tale behind the action is the sad, old story of you sitting at your home when your neighborhood is ravaged by a demon assault. Doomguy or not, you grab your gun and head to root the demons from your hometown. The level design of Blind Alley is pretty abstract with the occasional DoomCute trappings to give whatever location that you're in some semblance of the real world. In the case of Waste Processing, you don't have to worry much about sewage. Bird already tackled that theme with BNDALYO, "Nukage". This setting mostly consists of something like catacombs with a couple of waste vats toward the end of the map.

BNDALYT doesn't deviate from one core tenant of Gene's level design philosophy. Much like the blind alleys to which the series owes its name, you can only proceed down one progression path. If you see two doors then one of them is going to be locked until you make your way to the end of the other. This isn't great if you're looking for the atmosphere of the level to draw you in but the primary focus of his maps is delivering a constant supply of monsters to you as a sort of shooting gallery. Most of the beasties are to be met with the super shotgun with the chaingun, rocket launcher, and plasma rifle available to support. The rocket launcher is especially useful here due to a few of the setups.

GB's previous release, Octagon of Fear, wasn't exactly easy but his thing placement was fairly straightforward with only one - albeit major - teleporter trap. Waste Processing has a bunch of wrinkles that keep players on their toes, from dual monster closets early on to pell-mell warp zone warfare in the red skull key room (my favorite fight). To my earlier point about the rocket launcher, a handful of beefy enemies will be found occupying high-ground positions. Explosive ordinance isn't strictly necessary but it's so much more convenient. I also thought the huge cistern-like structure to the northeast made for an interesting sort of ambush as the enemies on the top tier are probably alerted before you teleport up. Monster positioning is generally not a huge concern in Bird's prior levels but if you blithely stand by the elevator in the second starting area then friendly faces are sure to make their way over to greet you at the top.

The layout is in practice as stringy as ever, consisting of a few long segments of linked rooms, but the architecture is quite a step up from Gene's usual fare. Bird's aesthetic sense is generally pegged as somewhere ranging from 1995-1997 with a sometimes-implied criticism that, well, it was released around five years later. Waste Processing wouldn't pass for the prettiest levels of Doom's golden age but each room is distinct and a few are among the best work that GB has done thus far. My favorite is the three-tier chamber that sits at the end of the second, major level fragment. It has some neat features like metal pillars that lead up to a switch tower as well as a fence that you need to jump over in order to access the first lower, quasi-secret floor. Which, by the way, has a few cacodemons out of sight to start, making for a startlingly nuanced encounter.

The slatted fence room that occupies the northwest corner of the map is cool, too, even though the pillars make it kind of obnoxious to deal with all the shotgun guys and revenants. Another early, cool construction is the curved staircase foyer found north of the crypt-like building that you first teleport into. South of it on the opposite side you'll see a circular cage fronted by three torches that's deliciously lo-fi yet picturesque for classic Doom II. Even when Bird is at his most basic - the cross-platform room that kicks off the second, major level fragment - there's something weird afoot that turns the simplistic architecture into a pleasant surprise. In that particular case, the entire platform is an elevator that lowers to reveal the monsters in the other three corners.

Waste Processing may not be as evocative as, say, Spirit World - Headquarters or Monster Mansion in portraying the real-world spaces that Gene sets Blind Alley in. There are some solid instances of the abstract architecture which thrives in Doom, however. The combat is more devious than usual, too, which makes for a more interesting trip down another accommodating, Bird-brained shooting gallery. I doubt whether it will make any converts out of 2021 players who are used to much more exacting standards. Anyone who is the least bit disposed toward the more raw days of '94 and '95 level design, though, ought to chow down on this.


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