Saturday, 29 October 2016

The Past and times of Yore: Doom, TNT Evilution and the Skulltag Mod, a fresh way to experience a timeless classic

It might seem a bit strange that I’m reviewing old-school Doom in wake of the new Doom (formerly Doom 4) released this year which I have yet to play, though I thought it could be a little celebration of sorts as I never bothered playing Doom 3, so it would be my first ever delve into another Doom game since the beloved Doom II. But enough about the new Doom, this is the old Doom but it’s not Doom or Doom II, confused yet? Let me explain….

A lovely doom landscape, you don't see that too often.
Originally back in 1993 ID software created Doom, Doom 1, the original Doom, whatever you want to call it, and the world rejoiced etc etc. The game itself was split into three chapters Knee-Deep in the Dead, The Shores of Hell and Inferno where the Union Aerospace Corporation (UAC) who remind me a lot of the Aliens series’ Weyland-Yutani corporation, are conducting experiments on interdimensional travel accidentally open a portal to Hell and the protagonist (I will call him Doomguy) Fights across the zombie and demon infested UAC bases on the moons of Phobos and Deimos orbiting the planet Mars, then eventually travelling to Hell itself. Then in 1994 Doom II: Hell on Earth was released, this was the first Doom that I played though this was the Doom 95 version released a year later and as the game says, The Legions of Hell have invaded earth, so this time you are fighting on your home planet.

After that came The Ultimate Doom in 1995 which contained the original 3 chapters and a new one Thy Flesh Consumed which acted as both a sequel to Doom and a prequel to Doom II. And then we go onto the last or final official instalments of the original Doom series, Final Doom was released in 1996 and included the standalone Doom II IWADs (Doom Game files): TNT: Evilution and The Plutonia Experiment which were created semi-independently and were each regarded as a separate sequels to Doom II so had no chronological order from one over the other. 

TNT Evilution and The Plutonia Experiment were part of Final Doom
I have now played through every single one with TNT Evilution being the last. You may be wondering why I chose this one as the first one to review on my blog, well it’s for several reasons: The first being that this was the latest one I have played so it will be fresh in my mind, the second reason is that it’s almost a standalone story so it doesn’t really matter if you haven’t experienced the original two, thirdly, It’s the only one I had recorded screenshots and videos of :D and fourthly, I’m going to use this to introduce the Skulltag Mod which is what I used to play them all through, though I may not use again when I re-play all of the games through once more. This won’t be the longest review as we all know about Doom and how it works, I just wanted to explain the mod I have been using and show off the changes to the game when using it, and the only screenshots and videos I have are from TNT Evilution so I will use it as the game that is in review.

Wow this looks different
So before I begin I will first introduce the Skulltag Mod. The Skulltag mod was created by Matthew 'Agent Spork' McGee and is one of many “conversion” or perhaps “light conversion” source ports for the original Doom series games and was based on the ZDoom source port which included the new graphics and control/gameplay abilities. As the site says it “Brings Doom into the 21st century” and it does this by adding many new options and game features including graphics overhaul, with the ability to pick any modern resolution with much more refined textures and dynamic lighting. 

Detailed display options and openGL in DOOM? what trickery is this?
It introduced new weapons such as the Minigun which is a faster version of the Chaingun and the Railgun which we all know from Quake 2, I really enjoyed these new weapons and used them often, they reminded me of that forgotten “Q2 Xtreme” mod I used to use to play Quake 2, I really need to work out where that went. But anyway probably the most important changes are to the gameplay, the mod allows for free mouselook and includes several custom crosshairs and also include the ability to jump and duck. These kinds of things change the original game around completely as you know in the original Doom games you could not jump, crouch or look up or down relying on auto-aiming to hit enemies above or below you. Now with modern FPS controls it’s pretty nuts and playing the game this way borders on cheating, using the sprint ability then jumping allows you to leap great distances and because all of the original WAD’s were not built for these features you have no idea whether you are supposed to be able to get to certain places or not.

Well I could, make it up to that ledge to get to the yellow door but I know I'm not supposed to be able to.
Nevertheless I could not imagine going back to play the original way, the first time I experienced Doom using the mod I couldn’t believe how good it was, it looked amazing, the mod actually has many features for online play including Team DM, Duel, CTF and the namesake game mode ’Skulltag’ where players aim to capture each others skulls and take them to an altar. The first I played I tried out a Deathmatch mode with bots and wow it was fun, I haven’t tried since I’ve just been having fun with the usual singleplayer but man playing that with 5 bots and watching rockets fly past with new lighting effects was crazy. Currently my Doom folder contains all kinds of mods and it’s hard to discern what each of them do, so to explain I have included a description.

A short video of the Skulltag game mode with bots on the Ring of Fire map

With the exception of Doomseeker, all of these are Source Ports of the original Doom most often made by fans, they often contain slight-to-heavy tweaking of the game engine including new features inc graphics, gameplay, game modes, weapons and levels.

ZDoom – A source port which modernizes Doom with a range of features including new graphics and control/gameplay abilities
GZDoom – A port of ZDoom itself which uses the same features except adds OpenGL support for higher resolution graphics and particles
Skulltag – The mod I currently use, also uses features from ZDoom and GZDoom and adds online/multiplayer features.
ZDaemon – A mod purposely-built for playing multiplayer Doom over the Internet, based on ZDoom
Doomseeker - a server browser for client/server source ports, available for Windows, Linux and MacOS X. It supports Skulltag, Odamex, ZDaemon, Vavoom and Chocolate Doom through individual plugins.

The menu for the skulltag mod allows you to choose which game (or WAD file rather) that you would like to play.
There are many, many, other Source Ports available for Doom as this is just a few that I use, you may have also heard of Brutal Doom, I hadn’t paid much heed to it but after doing some research for my current review I came across some videos which featured Brutal Doom being played with OpenGL graphics and it looked goddamn amazing, of course there does seem to be a bit too much bloom with fire and explosions (Battlefield 1 seems to have this issue as well) and also man that bloom on the toxic barrels is too much, I realised just recently that the Skulltag mod has the option to run the game in the software graphics (Doom Engine) or hardware graphics (OpenGL) I didn’t really pay too much attention to this as I didn’t have much idea what it was for and playing Doom with 1920x1080 resolution was good enough for me. Brutal Doom has many new features including a few new weapons and revamped old weapons with new graphics and sound, new enemy abilities and death animations inc ‘fatalities’, revamped HUD and as the name adheres to, lots and lots of gore. The mod is supposed to be much harder than the original Doom but I’m still thinking of using it to play through the Doom series again as I could possibly lower the difficulty and gore to acceptable levels.

Brutal Doom - A Mod I plan to use in the future.

Speaking of level of difficulty I remember in my younger days I cheated a lot, in singleplayer of course, there will never be a time where I cheat in multiplayer. Yes I found cheats for almost every game I played and in my defense I said it made the game more enjoyable because it wasn’t as hard or frustrating, well obviously. Though little did I know that all you had to do was lower the difficulty (to say ‘easy’) then all will be fine, well mostly, I’m playing Star Wars: Tie Fighter at the moment and it’s getting damn hard even on easy, but that’s what I have been doing recently with my gaming and I have found it’s been ultimately more enjoyable than just being an unstoppable demigod. With older games such as Doom and Quake I went from playing with invincibility and unlimited ammo to just invincibility then finally only recently to no cheating albeit on easy mode and I’m quite satisfied with that, I used the second lowest skill level setting “Hey not too rough” which is the least amount of enemies but you take the normal amount of damage as opposed to “I’m too young to die” in which you take half damage. I only switched to this possibly 1/3rd of the way through TNT Eviliution so the majority of the series I played like a goddamn Saint Diviner of Justice coming to wreak explosive death upon the denizens of Hell with blah blah blah let’s get on with the review…..  

I warp to one of my favorite levels, Mount Pain and start in god mode then realize I'm in god mode then switch it off hah.

So now you know the story behind the original Doom series and the mods I used to play the game and the settings we can talk about the actual game itself.

TNT Evilution released on June 17, 1996, forms one half of Final Doom, a commercial product which consists of two 32-level IWADs (the other being The Plutonia Experiment), similar to Doom II. The "TNT" in the title stands for "The New Technology" and is also the name of the mapping team who created TNT: Evilution. The game was originally going to be free of charge but was packaged with The Plutonia Experiment in Final Doom as a publishing deal brokered by the infamous John Romero and thus being released by id Software. The story behind TNT Evilution is nothing too special, just an excuse to shoot the crap out of the denizens of hell (though who needs an excuse really) The ill fated UAC has again been experimenting with portal technology to try and annihilate the forces of hell, they seem to succeed but then a vast demonic spaceship from Hell appears and destroys the base zombifying everyone. Now this is the part I love, the Doomguy apparently escaped death or zombification by being “away on a walk at the time”, yes, a walk, and then vows to destroy all of the legions of hell defeating another Demon-Spitter yadda yadda yadda.

Yes it's another Demon-Spitter, not again!
TNT Evilution has a very techbase feel to it, similar to the first episode of the original Doom, whereas The Plutonia experiment has a more natural earth feel to it. TNT’s levels go from experimental labs, to military bases, to interesting looking levels at night and back to hell again. I must admit it did take me awhile to complete with 32 levels (including secrets levels) this and the Plutonia experiment took me quite a lot of breaks, mainly because I had not played the levels before and it took me awhile to work out what to do and where to go. The levels in this series I noticed differed in quite a few ways from the norm of Doom and Doom 2, there were many tricks and unconventional ways of completing the levels, for example the end room and switch wasn’t always through the same style of door and what you thought was the end of the level wasn’t always the case.

The shipping/respawning level which has quite a few new textures and objects and I don't do much here except get lost, I eventually worked out the key was inside a box under a desk, very unusal for Doom I can tell you that.

It was obvious that the designers were creating these levels as a challenge expansion not holding your hand like in the previous games. I saw quite a few objects and textures that were definitely not from the original Doom series especially modern technology and furniture, fences, gatehouses and other things that weren’t in the original, the levels also had more of a sporadic design and used unconventional architecture which sometimes include wide open spaces like in Level 27: Mount Pain. Playing the mod also made things very different being able to look all around obviously had some interesting effects on gameplay, I’ve already mentioned the ability to jump created “I can just jump there but I don’t think I’m supposed to” moments and there was also the fact that Doom was never actually 3D. So you can basically look straight up and down with the mouse and watch the monsters turn into a single vertical line, this made me laugh a few times but it’s expected and a reminder of what the Doom Engine actually was.

The Storage Facility level where I do a heap of looking and jumping with the new controls.

The new weapons made things much more interesting, the Minigun made wasting zombies and imps much quicker and even some demons didn’t take too long to kill, the new Grenade Launcher put a more tactical spin on rockets allowing them to bounce so you could hit targets around corners, the Railgun was probably my favourite addition as it was very powerful with one shot killing those pesky Lost Souls and with the crosshair you could shoot them from miles away. There was also this pretty cool looking rapid-fire version of the BFG but I preferred to use the old one, I guess this one with its faster firing would be more useful for clearing tons of monsters. Playing with these new weapons and gameplay changes put a great spin on the game and it was very refreshing and felt good to go through, like a breath of fresh air, hopefully more games can do this *cough* Mercenaries *cough* TNT Evilution wasn’t the best Doom experience I’ve had it was the most rewarding being the first time I have played Doom for an extended period without invincibility, and I actually enjoyed it ;).

I let loose a bouncy grenade.
 I will still go through all the previous games again though it’s questionable whether I do it with Skulltag or Brutal Doom, though Brutal Doom actually has its own Story mode which looks freakin insane in its own right and since it was made to be played with the Brutal doom mod then I think that would be the best way to experience Brutal doom first hand and if after that I can’t go back to the normal way then I’ll brutally blast though the originals too. Though there’s something to be said about the comfort of the original style, so you may not have seen the last of Skulltag yet.


The Skulltag 97d trailer

Just can’t get enough of Hell

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