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Posted on 13 December 2018 10:36 in misc
Last updated on 14 December 2018 10:19
doom videogames

I first played Doom in, probably, 1994. I was 6, and it terrified me. I mean real, genuine fear - the game was dark and spooky and I didn't understand how things worked and that certain parts of levels simply didn't matter; "secret area" did not mean anything to me, and in fact the notion of progressing through a level in a linear way to reach the exit was not really anywhere in my head. I was wandering, and sometimes I would progress, and the connection between the two was not clear.

I remember standing at a doorway in E1M2, a door that hadn't been open when I first passed through which revealed a secret area - it was clearly a maze, I had no idea it was there until it suddenly was, and beyond the reach of the bright light shining through the doorway I saw flickering passages.

I couldn't proceed. I remember cowering there, in the safety of the reliable light beaming from the hallway I had traversed countless times already, afraid to proceed into the uncertain depths. It felt like I didn't belong there, and the idea that I was a powerful, unstoppable soldier whose job was to intrude on this place did not penetrate to my mind.

So then the internet came along. I was - eight, nine? My parents got a modem, they got service through the local phone company, and somehow I found Walnut Creek's What a cursed hellhole. It completely ruined the game for me.

I don't exactly know where it all came from. It was gone by the time I was old enough to really think about this. There was no index, no curated .htm that explained what all this was about and maybe surfaced a set of recommendations. Google wasn't even really terribly useful yet, and I had no idea what it was or how to use it. What i had was an FTP client and this folder that had countless, unending miles of user-created content, almost all of it bad.

I remember wandering through a blocky, poorly-rendered NCC-1701D at a time when ST:TNG was still airing new episodes. There were so many renditions of myhouse.wad, and I thought those were dope as hell. Something about putting a real place into a game (Doom was very abstract) tickled my fancy tremendously, and I downloaded as many of these as I could. But what really got to me were the weapon mods.

Sometime in the mid 90s my parents bought a copy of Tricks Of The DOOM Programming Gurus, which was of course not actually about programming at all, as I recall, but did come with tools and instructions on how to create your own content. Somewhere in that book was a screenshot, in dithered black and white, of a PWAD whose name I could not pronounce. I remembered it as Obtuary for years, until sometime in my teens I learned it was actually called Obituary. I would not actually play this WAD, for reasons I can't remember, for probably ten years after I first saw it.

What grabbed me about that screenshot was the weapons. 

Two mother fucking pistols. It was 1996 at this point and I had played Rise Of The Triad, which had double pistols, but somehow something about seeing two pistols in Doom just floored me. I wanted it so bad, and if I had to guess, it's because the weapons in Doom are (forgive me) very boring. I deleted my lengthy review of Doom guns, thank me later.

I really wanted new guns. I wanted something punchier, and this set me off on a wild chase through that lasted years. This of course was to be a fruitless pursuit, because the degree to which users could modify Doom at that time was very limited. Graphics, sound and levels could be changed, but no new functionality could be added - no new weapons, no new monsters, and no new weapon behaviors - the shotgun had to fire exactly once and then reload, and you couldn't do anything about that. DeHackEd, a very clever binary editor, was able to adjust things like the length of time weapons dwelled on a given frame, but couldn't add new frames or new behaviors.

At that time (1998?) things like ZDoom were not really on the radar. They may have existed, but I didn't know it, and googling this stuff was hard or impossible. ZDoom broke the game right open, adding the ability to create completely unique new weapons, items, enemies and everything else, with as much behavior as you could ask for. Later editions converted the game to true-3D OpenGL, added lighting, shaders, and lots of other capabilities. This version of the game was capable of endless expansion, and if I'd had access to it as a child I would have devoured it - but I didn't.

Instead, I spent my time downloading PWADs that simply changed the appearance and sounds of the weapons. A couple mods, such as Aliens TC, included DeHackEd patches that made the feeling a little more complete - Aliens TC gave me an autorifle that fired at an absurd rate and had a bitchin' sound effect ripped from the movie. It was almost enough, but I wanted more.

I trawled through Walnut Creek CDROM's FTP for years, downloaded thousands of WADs, downloaded every tool, eventually did my own mods and hacks, and absolutely wore the game out. I wrung it completely dry, poked into every crevice and crack that I could until it was no longer a world that held the power to frighten me, but just a pile of BMPs and WAVs and frame indexes. Eventually I checked out of Doom.

Over the years I revisited Doom. I saw when Boom, ZDoom and other source ports materialized and got major updates. I think I played the game with realtime lighting and shadows once, sometime after Doom 3 came out. It was still just Doom though, and couldn't hold my attention as a game, only as a technical accomplishment.

A few years ago I, unfortunately, became aware of Brutal Doom. In short: it revitalized my interest in Doom, but is apparently made by an asshole. I haven't looked into this, but several people have told me that it's a bunch of stolen work cobbled together by a terrible man and that I shouldn't play it. This is fair, and I'm not anymore anyway.

It did however get me to believe that I could enjoy Doom again, primarily because it replaced all the weapons with ones that are far more powerful (a complaint I had,) with punchier sound effects (a complaint I had,) crunchier action (a complaint I had) and much more impressive animations. This finally satisfied my desire for Cooler Guns, and I played through 75% of the game this way.

This, too, became old. Doom does not contain enough meat for my imagination to sink its teeth into at this stage in my life, and after a while I no longer cared much for Brutal Doom either. I think I deleted it.

At some point, I came across the Russian Overkill mod.

I look at this thing, and I immediately assume it was made by a shithead. Researching people to find out if they suck is difficult when they're part of a community that mostly exists on forums rather than social media, so, I don't know anything for sure, but all the elements are there for me to just assume this guy is an irony-poisoned 4chan /k/ edgelord whose entire concept of Russia is extrapolated from Guy Ritchie's character Boris The Blade. A place that is comfortably culturally distant and irrelevant is a great one for an American to live out his fantasies of some exaggerated Klingon hell-world that celebrates war and wholesale slaughter with a smile and a hearty laugh.

I also assume he stole all the art.

But something about it tickled me, so I installed it. It's completely absurd, and by "completely" I mean it goes far past where it needs to. It's "just" a weapons mod (the actual levels you'll play are just the normal ones from the original game, with the original enemies) but the intent, to portray your character as some jocular, magical-realism mass-murderer rings true.

The title screen regales us with a majestic orchestral, vocal score that I'm sure was lifted from whatever fantasy epic was popular in the year this was released, as the camera whirls around a castellated monument covered in the many, many weapons this mod provides.

The menu text has all been replaced with obnoxious repetitions of the same jokes: "Russians Drink Lots Of Vodka", and "Motherland." This kind of humor was all over the place in the internet of 1998; I remember reading this kind of cheap, lazy comedy in .TXT files that came with unknown PWADs based on South Park or the ancient "clubbing seals" meme.

This mod was released in 2011. It's almost like, while Doom modding has changed, the modders never did. Maybe it's true - maybe the author of this mod was making DEADBABY.WAD in 1995, and this is the culmination of many years of honing his craft.

The "pistol" is now a duplicate of the flare gun from Blood, although curiously they didn't use the Blood sprite. I'm kind of surprised by this. It kills shotgun troopers in a single shot, and has blast damage.

When you kill your first shotgun troop, they drop a tank cannon. A literal tank cannon; that's what it says when you pick it up.

On and on it goes from here. I think enemies drop randomized weapons, otherwise it would be impossible to get all the weapons in the game - as you can see from the absurd ammo display on the HUD, there are a tremendous number of types of weapon, let alone weapons themselves. I counted 43 weapons, some completely original, some ripped from other games, such as the rare and powerful Excalibat from Rise Of The Triad (which plays an anachronistic Team Fortress 2 "Bonk!" when you arm it) and an obnoxiously overpowered and thoroughly remastered RPG from Duke Nukem 3D.

Almost all of the weapons have absurd, uncontrollable recoil and view punch. The RPG throws you back about five feet and knocks your camera pitch up 20 degrees. The blast damage from these weapons is scaled for World of Tanks, not the tiny, claustrophobic hallways of Doom. The idea of actually using these as everyday weapons in a videogame (without god mode) is laughable.

If it only stopped there, this mod would be a silly curiosity, good for a few minutes of eye rolling. But it goes harder. These are the most basic weapons; from there it goes completely through the roof.

You'd think a nuclear missile launcher (the Redeemer from UT99) would be somewhere near the apex of the absurdity spectrum, but that one's honestly pretty tame. It's "just" a nuke, and indeed, the Redeemer made the idea of using a nuke in a 5-man melee "normal" nearly 20 years ago. We are numb to this kind of magical realism; we need stiffer stuff to feel anything these days. The absurdity must increase, but it must also follow the newly-discovered techniques of humor we have unearthed in recent years.

The Redeemer creates a mushroom cloud inside E1M1:

This produces nothing more than a satisfied nod from our scarred minds. Turn to the quad shotgun:

The Redeemer commands a lofty position on the 8 key. You get to the quad by pressing the far-removed 3 key four times, so by the time you find it, you've been in the game for several minutes and you think you have a notion of where things are heading. I don't think anyone, upon seeing this gun appear, wouldn't stifle a laugh. As soon as you realize that it's the double-barreled shotgun, but twice, an involuntary chuckle just bursts out.

It's the same feeling that Back At It Again At Krispy Kreme produced when you first saw it, the he's not really gonna do this in a fucking chain restaurant, nobody would be that gauche feeling. But he does do it, and it happens so fast and with so little ceremony that a good part of the humor comes simply from the event refusing to slow down, to wink knowingly at the camera and give you a second to get ready, to elbow your boyfriend and say here comes the good part. It just happens.

If selecting the gun is the beginning of the vine, reloading it is the guy kicking the sign off the wall. It's two stacked copies of the original double-barrel art, just copied and pasted, and your hand stuffs in four shells, one pair at a time. You have to watch this in motion to understand how asinine it looks, and the first time you see it ingame you'll probably laugh in an embarrassing way.

I cannot tell you about the other 40 weapons. There's too many, and it's more about the specific feeling of it than the description. Suffice to say, almost all of them operate either by shooting gigantic rockets that produce massive explosions, or by firing obscene numbers of projectiles. One of them launches a bomb that explodes into 30 headless suicide bombers from Serious Sam.

I'm honestly very impressed at the creativity of this mod. It is a work that follows the Monster Factory mantra of "no middle sliders." There is a talent to comedic exaggeration, and many people do not have it.

The creator of NUTS.WAD does not appear to have it. Nuts is a legendary piece of shit, one of the dumbest things anyone has ever created in the category of Video Game Mod that is still known to people rather than having disappeared under the surface of the sea of crappy maps created by unknown teens on Walnut Creek and the archives that replaced it.

NUTS.WAD is not hard to explain. Here:

That's it. An enormous empty box with thousands of enemies.

You can imagine the design process: the guy had no ideas, opened the editor, drew a box, and just started plonking down enemies in a blank, studious manner. I initially assumed the author was a clueless kid, but I've since been informed that he created this map just to test uploading maps, and had actually already created much more serious work (that didn't get nearly as much appreciation.)

This WAD came out in 2001, and as i understand it, the original Doom basically won't run it. I'm not even sure if it'll load without crashing, but attempting to actually play it will founder your machine immediately. I think it was designed for Boom, one of the earliest source ports, which also couldn't handle it on any computer of the time.

It goes without saying that as soon as you fire your gun, everything begins attacking you.

I am told there is a speedrun-style trick for actually completing this level (yes, it has an exit trigger; you can 'win') but I don't know that anyone has ever made a dent in the horde without god mode and ammo cheats. Even with god mode, I would guess it would take at least half an hour to kill everything, and you'd be punching in IDKFA every few seconds. The BFG seems like the only reasonable approach even given infinite ammo; there's just so much to kill. It is not fun, IMO, especially because even with god mode on you will spend every single second that you are here completely blinded by literally tens of thousands of projectiles splashing against your face.

But maybe this is what Russian Overkill is intended for.

As far as I can tell, this is the Yamato. I think it's the most powerful weapon in the mod. I took it to MAP30 because I needed a large area to demonstrate it.

It took me 10 tries to get those screenshots, because it's unfortunately so powerful that it kept killing the Icon of Sin, even if I pointed it nowhere near the brain aperture. The blast was so immense and so lengthy that it wouldn't even clear before the level ended.

The impact of the Yamato on NUTS.WAD is complicated.

It begins, seemingly, with disappointment. Although you start the level with all the enemies facing away from you, unaware of your presence, the gun has a long ramp-up time before it fires, and the enemies can hear you when it begins the sequence, not just when it fires. So you have this weapon of incredible destruction, but before you can see it actually impact, 450 rockets hit you in the face.

It's a bummer, but it's not disappointing - how can you be disappointed when you didn't expect anything else? Of course it wouldn't be that easy, there's like 3000 Revenants out there. There was no way this was going to be clean.

If you don't shoot exactly straight forward, and if your framerate stays high enough, one of the first things you'll see as the initial blast occurs is a mass of pulverized Imp bodies chucked up into the air by the explosion. This instantly puts a massive hole in your suspension of disbelief. If any part of your brain thought it was solving a real problem here, this is the first devastating indication that nothing that occurs here makes sense on the mortal plane. These sprites were never intended to be up in the air like that.

Fallout 3 might have been able to do some more sensible (albeit campy and buggy) ragdolling; even Quake could have turned these poor demons into bloody gibs, at least. But this is the best Doom can do. Taxed beyond anything imaginable in 1993, pushed beyond any rational limit with numbers not only never intended, but impossible in the codebase that this amoral mutant was grown from, the content created and behavior coded for the second successful FPS of all time is absolutely not up to the task of rendering the horror of a (if you will) post-nuclear detonation directly in a population center. This scene is too grisly for Doom.

I played Fallout 3, before I realized I hated it, and I remember the mini nuke launcher. I've also watched videos of nukes in Fallout 4. How ironic that this Doom mod produces a far more satisfying and terrifying explosion. 

If it's anywhere close by, it surrounds and envelopes you, and all other sounds and images are eradicated for a few seconds. If you're at least a few feet away, you get to see it properly. It's almost pink, and somehow this fits - this thing isn't "nuclear," it's something more. It's a staggering sight.

In NUTS.WAD, it's particularly difficult to actually see it explode at a distance, because of Doom's "infinitely tall" enemies. NUTS puts enemies right at the foot of your starting location, so if you fire in any direction you'll hit an enemy immediately. In GZDoom we can disable this behavior.

This is what it looks like to kill 300 mid-level Doom monsters at once.

The first blast, no matter where you put it, seems to kill the first two ranks (Imps and Demons) completely and instantly. I don't understand the math at work here, since I know this weapon can kill any enemy immediately at close range, so I guess there's some inverse cube falloff going on with the damage that doesn't fall off quite rapidly enough to become nonlethal to an enemy of this rank no matter where they are in the map.

You can continue to fire down at the masses if you want, but at this point you'll simply be blinded and pushed around by the thousands of missiles. You're better off hopping down, because then monsters will be hitting each other in the process of trying to hit you, and this cuts down on the onslaught of projectiles considerably. It is at this point that you get to see what you've accomplished properly.

The death toll is incredible. You can tell they barely moved off their starting positions, the grid formation still visible in corpses that dropped right where they stood.

What does it mean to be "powerful" when power is just an integer in RAM? When death is meaningless beyond a simple damage > health check in an IF statement, are you really accomplishing anything through murder, through mass-murder? We know the answer is no, but games try so hard to prevent this realization. This game does not try hard, and yet, what you've done feels bigger, more meaningful than the easy kills of an "arcadey" FPS like Serious Sam.

You also know this is no Rainbow Six. None of these kills matter in themselves, and even in a normal map you would have wave after wave of enemy to fight after this, and yet, you know that doing this with a Vanilla Doom rocket launcher or BFG would be unthinkable. It would be agonizingly slow, and yet the scale of this devastation is hard to imagine. 

You can't picture opening up whatever editor the guy used to create this weapon and typing that many zeroes. No matter how poor a writer you may think you are, something would stop you from violating the rules of fiction that egregiously.

At this point you are, obviously, into the slog. There was no way around it; with this many enemies the next step is obviously a long, tedious period of unexcited shooting. If you were in the original game that would mean holding down fire on the plasma rifle or BFG, pausing only to type IDKFA. But this is Russian Overkill. The strategy is at once simpler and much more nuanced; you have to pick your targets.

After the first or second blast, this is what you're looking at. There are shots coming at you, but nothing like the blinding chaos at the beginning; the tenor of the whole situation has changed. It already feels like the later hours of a battle, when the shooting continues in earnest, but nothing like the continuous, unbroken fury and howl of the initial rush into combat.

At this moment, you could fire in any direction and hit something, but the chances of missing a group and hitting a wall are higher than you'd think. That will still cause some deaths, but not the immense sweeping carnage you want. 

You have god mode, so what are the terms of "success" here? If all you wanted was to kill everything you could just blindly spin and fire while typing IDKFA periodically - it'll get the job done. The goals here have to be efficiency (you don't have all day), maximum satisfaction (taking out the enemies in clusters) and minimal mess (not staring at annoying missile explosions the entire time you're doing this.)

The missiles flying at you are slow - you can just backpedal to avoid them. The ones hitting you from behind are less important. The monsters are also infighting at this point due to hitting each other trying to hit you, so there's not that much fire on you. If you back up at a dead run and spin around you can usually find a cluster of isolated enemies to shoot.

This is what you wanted. A clean sweep. Everything silenced at once, no missiles flying at your face. A clean, quiet, calm field of bodies you can now simply disregard. You fixed this problem.

You'll repeat this a few times, and then suddenly it becomes hard to find targets. You wander the field, seeing flying missiles but not knowing where they come from due to the enormous, breathtaking vastness of the arena, until you come across one of the few clumps of enemies remaining.

What do you do at this point?

Is it really worth it to fire one of these nightmare projectiles at only six Barons of Hell? (remember that two of these served as the final boss to the first episode of Doom, but since they're standing in a field of thousands of dead brethren I think we can ignore that irony)

This game has so many weapons. At this point you're really only concerned about not being irritated by silly flashes and noises - if you go looking for another weapon you'll definitely get hit by a couple fireballs while trying to find the perfect one, and unless you're intimately familiar with Russian Overkill (we probably both hope you aren't) there's a good chance you'll pick one that's so weird it actually sours the whole experience - throwing a single mine in between these Barons and then watching them fail to step on it would be really lame after all that.

So, of course, you use a gigaton nuke from some parallel anime dimension on six monsters you could have killed with Doom's stock rocket launcher in only a minute or two.

At this point, you've won.

You've killed them all. It was an experience. You could quit, now, probably having chuckled a few times, feeling like it was worth the experience. Doom is cheap, you probably already have it, gzdoom and Russian Overkill are free, so this all cost you maybe twenty minutes. But you could also proceed into the next room.


Obviously NUTS.WAD has a second room. You didn't know? You didn't guess?

It's all spider masterminds and cyberdemons. An important thing about the Spider Mastermind: it's "activation" noise, the one it makes when it spots you, apparently mutes all other sound in the game, presumably so it sounds really terrifying. So when a shitload of them notice you all at once, it would in fact be very terrifying, if the Cyberdemon rockets hadn't already started pounding into you.

After the events so far, you'd think you know how wacky "doom with really big numbers" is, but you're wrong. The Cyberdemons fire rockets faster than you can possibly imagine, and their reaction speed is absurd. By the time you have the first shot off, there are dozens of rockets hitting you. You mostly just see an explosion, constantly. You can stand in the middle of a group of Cyberdemons and fire the Yamato, and the onslaught doesn't stop for a moment. You can hear rockets hitting you over the sound of the Yamato detonation.

It is difficult to accept, but nothing that happens in room 1 prepares you for this. You've fought 3000 high-level monsters, and it was nothing like this. This is absolute, unending chaos from the very first millisecond and it does not stop until everything is dead.


There are so many rockets, at all times, everywhere.


You are watching Satan's own weapon of absolute destruction explode, sending thirty Cyberdemons flying away from the epicenter, and still you can hear an unending, continuous stream of rocket detonations. They are everywhere and nowhere, because you can't really see the explosions because there are so many and they're directly on top of your face, blending in with the Yamato, or they're against your back.

Even after killing 50% or 60% of the Cyberdemons, it doesn't end. The rockets just keep coming, uninterrupted.

The Spider Masterminds are here, but their main weapon is a chaingun. I always thought this was a weird choice, because the Spiderdemons' plasma guns are so much more impressive and impactful and, of course, blinding. The Masterminds are probably shooting you more than the Cyberdemons right now, but you can't see it because it produces no explosions, so this doesn't matter, and all these instances of the apparent "final boss" of original Doom fade into the background.

You are only concerned with the Cyberdemons and their incessant rockets, so when you tag a Spider by accident and discover that its death sound also mutes everything else momentarily, it's like a reminder that "Oh yeah, the Spider Mastermind was in the game too."

There is no strategy here because the Cyberdemons seem to move so much faster and more randomly than anything in room 1, you really just blast everywhere until you can cut down enough of them to hear yourself think. They don't end up in clusters like the Barons ultimately do, they walk all over and end up spread around, pressed against the walls, and continuing to bombard you with rockets from all directions until you pick each one off one at a time.

When everything finally falls silent, you will probably find, after wandering for a moment and getting hit with yet another rocket, that a couple Cyberdemons have gotten blown up by their fellows' rockets onto the raised platform you started on.

And while taking these out, you start getting hammered, again, with more god damn rockets.

You aren't done until you polish off every single one of them, walk the field from end to end and make sure not a single one of the bastards is still around. It's tedious and unsatisfying and unsettling. 

You left room 1 thinking "this gun that they just keyboard-mashed firing parameters into turns even NUTS.WAD into something a circus would reject; how would this even work in the normal game?" and here you are at the end of room 2 feeling like "if only it was fully automatic." You've had god mode the whole time, and yet, this was a challenge. It was impossible to imagine being hit by that many rockets with no pauses. Is this what real war is like? Nope, not that either.

I got more out of this than I got out of Shadow Warrior 2. The soundtrack is a MIDI of Led Zeppelin's Kashmir.

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