Monday, April 25, 2022

Entryway (KARMEA.WAD)

by Esa Repo aka "Espi"

Espi solidified his status in the Doom community with the superb environmental design of his Suspended in Dusk. The four-map PWAD had been in development since at least 2001 going by the name One Hell of a Day, as evidenced by his early release of its first level. Entryway (KARMEA.WAD - Google translates to "lurid", "spooky", "infernal") is a MAP01 replacement for Doom II and it's fascinating to have it available as one can juxtapose it with the "final" product seen in SID's MAP01 slot. The author had a clear architectural style as seen in here as well as his E2M1ER and LAITOS as the latter originally appeared in the DoomCenter E1 Mapping Contest. It's his subsequent development as an environmental artist through to 2005 that differentiates KARMEA from its latter incarnation.

Suspended in Dusk never had an official, provided story but what you gather through the action is the tale of a space marine making their way through rocky wildlands to a derelict, overrun UAC base. It metamorphed from One Hell of a Day so it's reasonable to assume that KARMEA's overall implied narrative would be similar if not exactly the same. The title, though, makes it seem like the player character showed up to work one day and found it eerily deserted. I suppose that it's possible that the PC is a delivery person or inspector or some other type of UAC employee who cold pulls up with no inkling that anything is amiss. Up until the monsters start to pop out from around the corners, anyway.

The resemblance to SID's MAP01 is understandably uncanny and, as mentioned, the skeleton of this level is pretty much the same. This is a concrete starbase map with a ton of staircases that connect myriad elevations. It also has a dingy lower level / basement that comprises the map's southern portion. The theme of the player encountering dirty, unkempt recesses of the base would go on to be developed in Suspended in Dusk with extensive dark metal sections and cavernous recesses. The ribbed stone walls found in KARMEA serve as an appropriately grimy stand-in but Espi would go on to cultivate the disused look of the base over the next four or so years.

The author's careful work with upper / lower texture cheats and midtexture walls have been essential aspects of how he detailed his previously released works and Entryway is no different. At this phase of his career, Espi clearly tended more toward using textures to augment the appearance of his geometry as opposed to complicating the playing area with sector detailing. Entryway hints at the future and adds something new to the mix with a custom "flat" (floor graphic) created for incidental detailing, a cracked concrete segment. It caught me by surprise when I noticed it in the basement section, I guess mostly because of how monotextured the floor had been up to that point. It's cool to see it pop up here, knowing the depths of environmental design that were to come.

In terms of action, this is basically an OG Doom level. The only sequel monster to appear is the Hell knight with the majority of the beasties consisting of zombies, shotgun guys, imps, and demons. Your weapons are limited to the shotgun and chaingun, early on, with the rocket launcher appearing much later. Espi would go on to take a much harder line with Suspended in Dusk. The zombie shootout at the gatehouse leaves you unprepared for the mini-cacodemon swarm that sends you packing deeper into the base. It's pretty easy to establish yourself in KARMEA and, while the pickup placement points the way toward Esa's thoughtful storytelling, the biggest danger comes from overconfidence leading to sloppy play. The interconnections offer some vantage points for monsters to sucker punch you while you're unawares but the simple projectile-tossing beasties dulled my reflexes due to a perceived lack of threat.

There are some interesting architectural setpieces secreted about the hallway- and staircase-laden layout. The texture scheme leaves things looking a little plain but the copious height variations and interconnections shine through. The opening hallway and its huge, upper windows makes for a great, scene-setting vista and survived, with some world-building additions, in the final product. The stepped pit area behind the yellow key door is pretty much intact, though the connective tissue that adjoins it to the main area underwent one of the more significant renovations. I really like the outdoor area to the north with its control tower. It looks more geometrically dynamic - I guess more like a virtual playground and less like an installation - in this original incarnation due to the size and prevalence of the staircases. The server stack area to the south maintains the general shape of the curved, western window but had probably the most severe alterations of the larger rooms. It's still a neat segment to run through but the final version helps to better drive home the idea that so much of the base is suspended above a dark, cavernous unknown.

Entryway is cool to have as a snapshot of his creative process, much in the same sense as Tolkien's drafts found in History of the Lord of the Rings. The community generally goes nuts for this sort of in utero material when it comes to id's iterations on OG Doom and Doom II. I can only imagine the sheer shock of what would happen should the original draft of something like TNT: Evilution be made public. If you are a fan of unassuming and relaxed Doom II levels, especially if you like the more laid-back gameplay driven by the original bestiary, then you would do well to give this one a try, curio or not.


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