Stellar Void WAD – Part 4

If you have just stumbled across this post, I recommend starting with part 1.

With the original STELLAR.wad level a mess I retreated to a nice empty level, still looking for a nice, short BASE style level to kick of my little map collection. Since thinking about space ships along the lines of Doom hadn’t really worked out for me I decided to try something closer to something I was a lot more familiar with, at least when I was young – Marathon.

Arrival – Marathon 1 Starting Map

I hadn’t played Arrival in probably 10 years so starting off just from my memory I ended up with something that looked like this.

Tiny.wad starting point

You started at the bottom of the map, overlooking what was supposed to be a docking bay. I had forgotten the docking bay area in Marathon was off the hallway after the start room rather than right next to it, but regardless, this game me a starting point. The idea was for the player to the upper left blue square, get a key and return to the half-started maze to reach an exit the player could see from the big arena room. Super simple!

You’ll note that I don’t have any sketches for this one, I figured the map would be so simple it wasn’t really needed. If I had taken the time to plan this map out in more detail it might have gone somewhere. Instead I tried slamming the better parts of the first map into this one to save some time.

Tiny.wad with copied in maze from STELLAR.wad

This version of the map didn’t last long though because of a chat I had at work one day – basically I was bemoaning the failure of STELLAR.wad and how the idea of criss-crossing over a star shaped room at different levels seemed to have become more about the side areas and puzzles. It occurred to me that the center of the star could be the thing that moves, rather than having these complex paths outside of the main arena. The whole center just needed to be the size of a good platform.

That evening I set about trying to work out a star shape that was a good scale over to the side in Tiny.wad. In short order I got the exaggerated shape of the star in there and the maze section attached via teleporter.

Trying out the star shape again

You can find this version here: Tiny_StarStarted.wad

With the first lift->switch->raise center platform worked out I quickly started adding in bits to the level, many of them recycled from my other attempts, including taking the bottom bit from my Marathon experiment.

The star after stealing some more and updating the flow

Its pretty easy to see how the original start for the level was grafted onto the star shape. Note that the first lift (marked in yellow on both screenshots) got moved to be directly across from the player entrance to the center of the star. I was worried about the pillar blocking the view but decided the player would see it no matter what if they ran around the room rather than to their left where it could possibly be harder to find. Plus, this let me keep the lift floor texture on the grid. Most of the elements here are still present in the finished version but I had a few problems.

  • Not enough points! – In this build of the map the center pillar was supposed to open and reveal the level exit because I didn’t have enough points to work in a teleporter room. All the points were used up just getting it to the level of the computer room in the upper left. (note: That is another room stolen from the original Stellar that I added towards the end, although the trap there was added for this map)
  • Too many dead rooms at the start – To create the feeling of a ship in the same way Marathon did I felt like there needed to be several room with machines and cargo at the start, otherwise it was just a bunch of hallways full of enemies. The side rooms were good for feel but not for player flow.
  • Start points were too narrow – Just as I feared with the first map, the pointy bits of the star were too narrow for good gameplay. I had already expanded them in a few places but was wary of losing the star shape on the automap.

Over the next few days I set about finding solutions to these problems, leading to the final stand-alone version of the level.

Final version of Tiny.wad before merging into the collection

In this map the side areas at the start are blocked off and the player learns they need the blue key to reach the exit RIGHT AWAY. This creates clear goal through the language of Doom (exit door texture, blue markings etc) rather than the old goal of “Reach the teleporter” which works just fine when you have terminals or audio logs but not with the toolset in vanilla Ultimate Doom.

These rooms become available later, when you use the central teleporter to reach what used to be a throw-away computer space. The storage area got a whole twisted computer maze attached leading to the “sacrifice room”. See, by this point I had settled on the idea that the player character didn’t understand where these monsters came from and only discovers this sort of hidden ritual space with monsters buried in the ship at the end of the level. I REALLY didn’t want any Demons earlier in the level but the enemy palette of Ultimate Doom is just too limited. I used the Pinkie Demons since they seemed the least magical and kept the Imps/Cacos in the final area only.

You can get this version of the map here: Tiny_BeforeFinalPush.wad

Aside: One thing that really helped this level come together for me was adding in some secrets that I like a lot somewhat early. This could be a personal thing, but I feel like secrets are a major element in making a Doom level feel complete. It gives the player a reason to explore, to try things out and really get a sense for how the space works. My original Stellar.wad didn’t have any secrets in it when I put the level down and I think that really hurt how I thought about the space. In the whole player path there wasn’t really a single choice except for some meaningless dead-ends.

From here I would go on to piecing together the levels into a single wad file, only to discover that I REALLY didn’t like finishing Solar Sacrifice and getting dumped into E1M4. Against my better judgement I started working on some Transition Maps and a final boss arena – head on to Part 5.

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