Primordial Soup

While tidying up my hard drive, I found some old Doom II maps I made back in the wild and woolly days of the twentieth century.  Everyone starts somewhere, and for me, Doom II mapping was where I got interested in game development.

According to the timestamp on the map files, I made these maps somewhere around 1997-98.  Yes, while all the cool kids were playing GTA and Quake 2, I was going nuts over making Doom II maps.  I’d love to say I was making a profound artistic decision, but honestly, it was entirely because my computer just couldn’t handle new games.  I had an ancient 486DX computer, way out of league from the fancy new-fangled Pentium machines.

But, that didn’t bother me.  Just being able to make little worlds and then exploring them was absolutely thrilling.  I grew up playing games with stories and characters, specifically the Sierra adventure games and the LucasArts adventure games. So, my first instinct was to make maps with some sort of narrative.  Considering the game engine wasn’t designed for this (and combined with the fact I was still learning how to even use the tools), achieving this was remarkably difficult.


See that door at the end of the hall?  I was so intensely proud of that door. The door is slightly ajar; squeezed beneath it is a bloodied corpse.  Beside it is a wall switch, presumably to activate the door.

But here’s the gag that (I thought) made this door brilliant - the wall switch did nothing.  You press it, the door doesn’t move.  In order to open the door, you have to click on the door itself.  In my mind, I saw the player having to manually lift up the metal barricade with his hands, straining against the door’s whining servo motors.  It looked so amazing in my mind!

And then when you actually play it, it just looks like a bug.  The designer forgot to link the button to the door - how lazy!


I struggled with creating some semblance of a scripted sequence.  Basically, everyone in Doom II just wants to shoot you - there’s no real latitude given there.  You do, however, have control over the environment. As a result, most “scripted sequences” basically boiled down to “walk onto a pressure plate and a wall opens.”

In this case, a wall of crates slides down to reveal some baddies.  Why would a contractor construct a facility where the crates slide down a few feet?  I have no idea why.


Somewhere around this time, previews for Half-life were popping up.  And it blew my mind.  Levels based on realistic environments?  A strong focus on storytelling?  Allied characters who helped you out?  It was like Valve peeked into my brain and said “let’s make the perfect game for this guy.”

I made this map in anticipation of Half-life, modeling the facility as if it could be a liveable, useable place.  There’s a warehouse, an office, a break room, all of which I thought was very novel at the time.

The level also foretold the name of a future Valve game.  My divination powers used to be so strong.


This level is an unashamed recreation of the first level of Dark Forces.  What a spectacular game.  I’m not sure what voodoo magic LucasArts was dabbling in, but that amazing string of X-Wing, Tie Fighter, Dark Forces, and Jedi Knight made it all worth it.


And here, at long last I achieved something I had been trying to do for a long time: a scripted sequence with a character.  It’s a terrible sequence, but dag nabbit, it’s a sequence nonetheless.

The premise is that you and your commando sidekick are sent into a dangerous enemy hideout.  Your buddy steps into the teleporter and is zapped there.  You follow suit, and in a grotesque freak accident, teleport at the exact same spot where your buddy is.  The laws of physics demand no two objects can exist at the same spot. Your buddy bursts open, like a hefty bag of tomato soup dropped from a ten-story building.

It’s a terrible sequence.

Morbidly Curious

For the morbidly curious, all of the above levels can be downloaded from this link.  And if you think the above stuff is bad, you should see the stuff I lost in my hard drive crash. Yikes.

And on a closing note, I’ll mention an very impressive mod I recently played, Research and Development.  It’s a great set of levels that de-emphasizes combat to a wonderful extreme.  If you haven’t played it yet, then do so now.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

It’s interesting to see how mods have changed.  Simply, making mods now is so much more complex.  Making a mod for Doom II was basically “connect-the-dots” - put down four vertices, connect them with four walls, and bang! You got a room.  Since then, making a map has exponentially grown more elaborate.  Shaders, normal maps, specular maps, scripting, pathfinder mapping, visibility, cinematics - yes, people are more tech-savvy now, but the barrier of entry has likewise shot up at an alarming pace.

I feel to some extent that modern independent game development has co-opted mods.  I think the same people who would’ve been constructing Quake mods as a hobby are now indie game developers.  With the internet as a viable distribution outlet and so many tools freely/cheaply available, it seems there’s little reason to not just roll your own game - depending on your skillset, it’s sometimes even easier to make a stand-alone game.  I see that same crazy “let’s make something bonkers” spark in indie games that I once saw in the days of QPong, Lithium CTF, and Team Fortress.

People want to be creative, and love expressing that creativity. Hence, the success of things like LittleBigPlanet and Minecraft.  Making mods gave me my start, and I’m certainly curious to see how mods will look like and change years from now.