Stellar Void WAD – Part 1

With the recent release of SIGIL by John Romero I became interested in trying out Doom mapping myself using the same restrictions – only original Ultimate Doom monsters, weapons, linedefs etc.

In the 1990’s I messed around with just about every engine/editor I could get my hands on, but other than a few Marathon maps never really put anything together for release until the Half-Life era. Over the years I have played a lot of Quake single player maps, there was a lot of overlap with the early Half-Life mod scene though Worldcraft websites, but realized at the start of this all that I haven’t actually followed the Doom mod scene much at all.

I started off grabbing Doom Builder 2 and sketching out a few levels I thought would be interesting, basing my ideas off what I experienced going through SIGIL. Later I would go back and play through Episode 4 of Ultimate Doom to see where he was building from, but I tried to preserve a little of my own ignorance about what constitutes a good custom Doom map just to see what I came up with on my own.

After a few months of slaving away in the editor I’ve put together 3 full levels with some little intermission spaces and a boss arena.

You can download the whole WAD here: StellarVoid.wad

Requires Ultimate Doom. You should be able to play just fine in any limit removing sourceport, but only ZDoom based engines will have proper level names and ending text. In other engines it will replace Episode 1. Originally I thought it would all work in vanilla but there are some sightlines that are too long and crash the game. I should have tested there BEFORE doing final polish. There is a blue switch that doesn’t change textures in E1M5 and I don’t know why. If you have the time I encourage you to play through the whole thing before reading further!

Here I will be going through my process for each level, from paper sketches until the final wad file linked above. This first post will cover the 3rd map in the WAD – Lunar Palace. I do not consider these maps shining examples of what can be done with the Doom engine, I am just getting started after all, but I wanted to document my process in case it was useful reference in the future. Hopefully you enjoy the wad and can find something useful or inspiring. One important takeaway is that even with a decade of professional level designer experience I ran into some serious roadblocks and had to reboot an map from the ground up. It also wasn’t a weekend project, I probably spent a few weeks of full time work on this wad spread over a few months. Anyway, here we go!

The first map I sketched out and started building was called Lunar Palace.

The upper right has the first layout, the central room of the level with the idea that there are 2 key locked switches ([R] and [B] on the map) that the player discovers pretty quickly. These keys would be found in the two wings of the Palace, one themed around a full moon and the other a crescent. I wanted to do a transformation from one moon phase to another in the space but quickly realized that was impossible with the stock scripting functions.

The “outside courtyard with ribs” was a later addition when I realized I would need to offset the crescent room from the main arena. I quickly set about getting the layout into the engine, this was going to be fast and easy!

Translating the sketch into Doom Builder

Already there were a few changes:

  • Red Key Bridge – This was changed to be grid aligned, I didn’t know floor textures in Doom were fixed to the grid when I started. This meant the last section of the wrap-around steps wasn’t a part of the player path.
  • Switch Room – I added a room in the middle of the “Full Moon” room with a switch to raise the Red Key Bridge. The fight needed a second phase and I wanted a more direct player action to cause the bridge to raise rather than crossing a trigger line.
  • Missing Platform – In the crescent moon room, which looks really lumpy I know, I originally intended for the player to ride a platform up and jump over to a path which lead directly into the center arena. When I got down to laying things out it was going to be very hard to connect the rooms that directly and the fight in the outdoor courtyard felt so hard it didn’t need the extra challenge. It was replaced with a simple lift.
Lunar Palace at the end of the first day mapping

I plowed forward, doing a texture pass to separate the different areas. You can see above that I started adding teleports for falls and sorting out the actual player flow. Note that the ending bridge is now cut into two pieces so each key switch raises a portion and monster closets are strewn all about. At this point I felt like I was almost done!

Refining monster and item placement

I started trying to play the level for real and realized my item placement needed a lot of work. Something I took from SIGIL was that ammo management can add a lot of tension on Ultra-Violence difficulty and I wanted to make sure I had some of that while at the same time avoiding fights with beefy enemies without proper firepower – Cacodemons and Barons can be a challenge or a slog depending if you have to slowly battle then with under-powered weapons.

There was a problem though – the Switch Room just wasn’t working. I had the door into it stay open so the player could see back into the main “Full Moon” room and notice the platform rise up, but a few things made the design not work.

  • Doom Switches are GIANT – A switch linedef can be any size, but the default switches are all big, which means when the player stands in front of one much of the camera is blocked. Even if you COULD see the bridge, it mostly didn’t work well.
  • Switch was hidden – The switch wasn’t facing the player when they entered the small room, you had to walk around to the other side of the pillar to see it. Not terrible, but also adding an element of hunting for the switch I didn’t want.
  • Solution Too Early – If a player went into the switch room before really noticing the Red Key, totally possible with all the combat in that area, they solved the bridge problem before realizing it was gating them.

A version of this can be found here: First Layout

First Playtest

To fix the switch room issue a New Switch Area was added, bringing the whole stairwell of the “Full Moon” room into the flow and setting up a situation where the player can see the bridge raise and another round of combat start via the teleporter in the center. I also started adding secrets – some were always intended like the Rocket Launcher, but others like the Armor secret at the start were patches to issues where the player could get somewhere unexpected.

Another big change here is the conversion of the teleport in the crescent moon courtyard into a set of stairs. Originally I had a teleporter there even in my first sketch because I imagined the bridge there to be very high, but since you can’t have a bridge the player can travel UNDER in Doom I had to build it much lower so the space wasn’t completely bisected. The teleporter never really made sense and the need for the player to jump over the blood-lava was a lot clearer with a clear step path to the upper platform. At this point I posted the map online to see if anyone would playtest for me. Luckily Andrew Yonder (@Mclogenog) was able to run through the map and recorded his first experience!

You can download this version here: Lunar_V1

I also received some feedback from @vectorpoem on some landmarking issues in the hallways. Taking all this feedback in I set about fixing the problems for the next version.

  • Hallway Torches – Both hallways got torches that clearly separated them visually so the player knows which exit they are taking from the arena.
  • New Secret – I had a little series of rooms off to the side of the map from my first experiments in Doom Builder. I decided to give the old Switch Room a purpose and keep some of those original vertices around by adding a secret there.
  • Imp? – At the last minute I tossed an imp that gets revealed with the Red Key Bridge. He doesn’t do much, but sometimes he triggers infighting with the Baron which is interesting. Probably should have deleted him but at this point I already had so much time into the level I was trying to just wrap things up.

In the final version I changed the start location to add a teleporter connecting to the Stellar Void level, which at this time was just a sketch in my notebook. Before tackling that level I would move on to a level I called Sun.wad or originally “Solar Sacrifice” – which will be covered in detail in the Part 2.

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