Design notes on Eviternity map32: “Anagnorisis”

Prior to the release of Eviternity, I had not released nor completed the construction of a Doom level in over 18 years. If you think about the evolution of the tools, player skills, and the zeitgeist of the game between 2000 and 2018, you’ll see that we’ve come a long way. When offered to contribute a level for Eviternity I used the opportunity as an attempt at catching up with all of that in one single go, which was probably more foolish than it was ambitious.

As I was watching a lot of Dragonfly’s streams where he was mapping, I was learning about a new generation of tools tools that were entirely alien to me: The curve tool, circle drawing, and stair builder. I also learned about all sorts of clever GZDoomBuilder commands and about Boom line specials, something I had never used beyond sky transfers before.

I felt like a comeback after this long requires something significant, so from the start I was determined to build something big and complex. Initially I built a set of enormous structures by abusing the shit out of these new tools.

One of the first structures I built, in the spring of 2018. This is when I first started using the scrolling wall effect on these textures to simulate a big machine, something that ended up a key design element of Anagnorisis.

This was a pretty bad idea, in part because it’s so obviously designed by the tools more than it is designed by me, but it made for some good warming up. In this next shot you can see the structure above—the rightmost smaller of the two plus shaped areas—and some embryonic parts of what became Anagnorisis above it, including a discarded western section. The bigger plus shaped path that wraps around the triangle shape and the circular thing in the middle are unlikely to ever be completed as the scale is just too ridiculous. From September 8th:

The earliest areas built specifically for this map and that survived to the final version, are the exit room, what became the orange building with the hexagonal rooms, the serpentine path with the shoot switches, and the long corridor for the yellow building.
Shot from the long “plus shaped” corridor.
This early shot of the hexagonal building is from August 31, the result of an exercise in circle and curve tools, stair builder, and copy/paste.

I’m a visual mapper, so when I think about building a level it’s the appearance that’s on my mind: The textures, the scale and proportions, the light and the contrasts, the shapes. Gameplay kinetics comes after all of that, in part because I frankly don’t play a whole lot of games, Doom or otherwise. The one-sidedness of this approach is quite terrible and I’m willingly admitting that this is a deep flaw in my skill set. If you want to be a good mapper, play the game a lot and design around gameplay, not sightseeing.

For a very long time I had had this vision of a lava river canyon with a big dam and concrete fortifications built into the cliff sides, and I figured I could take bits and pieces from the map doodles I’d made when testing textures and frankenstein them together, making it more coherent by using consistent texturing and lighting.

I also wanted to avoid too much symmetry, but falling into that trap is made very alluring by the modern tools. The area below, which ultimately became the red building, looks rather mirrored here but feel less symmetrical in game thanks to the use of details, openings and elevation, a result of me trying to consciously fight the gravitational pull of symmetry:

Shot from September 16.

Below is the last editor shot I have of the old western area before it got deleted. It was an older map doodle that didn’t feel right for the new areas I’d built. Note also that yellow area, top right, is still disconnected from the main map here, and the weird triangle thing at the bottom is still around:

September 30, just over 3 months from release. In the old days, you couldn’t build an area separate from the rest and then move it into place: You had to build it right where it was supposed to go, making this kind of design process impossible.

Around this time I started to have a more firm idea of what I wanted the level to feel like for the player:

  • A sense of place; I can appreciate abstract stuff or more utilitarian design, but I wanted this to be a memorable location that feels like somewhere you’ve actually been to (for this reason, an early map name candidate was “immersion”)
  • Non-linear with no obvious primary path, similar to what I achieved with the middle parts of map12 from Darkening E2
  • Encourage and reward exploration; An adventure map
  • Forgiving with regards to taking damage; Rather add more health than remove monsters
  • Elicit a steady stream of “aha!” and “where am I supposed to… ooooh I see”

It was around this time I started realizing I should color code buildings to help the user tell them apart. I like big levels but hate getting lost in them, and the desire to keep the texture theme rather strict and uniform could cause confusion. It took me a long time to decide where the keys should go though, so some of the colors were decided very late.

When I had deleted the old western part I replaced it with another old map doodle I had drawn without the rotation tool, as an exercise in reproducing geometry at odd angles by hand. I added the rounded lights here that had become a signature detail for the level, a style I first established in the yellow building’s corridor. The blue key room as it existed here—just a bunch of concentric circles—was later thrown out and replaced:

The eagle eyed will notice the yellow key area, center north, is mirrored here relative the final version. Modern tools with mirroring and rotating are a godsend.

I had moved from New York to Stockholm in the summer, and was away from my PC for two months as a result. But I kept having to travel for work and since my PC is not a laptop I couldn’t bring it for mapping on the road. So I set up remote desktop in order to be able to map from my macbook pro, which ultimately failed since the inputs got too wonky:

Remote desktop test from my macbook to my PC. Pink building is yet to be built (I threw out the little placeholder you can see here, bottom left), while blue and final areas are still disconnected from the rest of the map. November 16th, less than a month out from release.

The green building was another older map doodle, much more in the vein of old Darkening E2 architecture. Here’s an older version from circa 2016 when I was using it for texture testing:

The only part of this level that started as a paper sketch was the yellow key room. Like everyone else I was awestruck by the Arch-vile fight in Sunlust map29, and I have always been fascinated by the speedrunning trick of getting the AV in Doom 2 map27 to open the red key door. I had also made a deathmatch map in 1998 that relies on windows you can open and close to snipe your opponents, so my idea was to have a swarm of AV’s that you have to snipe through windows that they keep opening. Here’s my first sketch:

8×8 cell grid paper is great for map sketches, I bought a bunch on Amazon.

The original idea was a console in the middle of the “safe room” that has switches that close/open the doors, and hitting them fast enough would be your only cover. But it turns out there’s no way in Boom to make a switch operate a door that a monster has triggered, so the whack-a-mole approach sadly had to be killed. As a reminder, here’s what the area ultimately ended up looking like:

Overlapping the curved ceiling architecture with the thin circuitry lines was painful but I’m happy I made the effort, and proud of the look of this area. Watching people arrive here on numerous streams, I’m also happy most seem to understand the setup and its intended solution quite well.

As the deadline approached (and several internal deadlines passed) I started to feel a bit of a panic: There was almost no gameplay planned or things placed: I think the map had 2 monster in total up until maybe two weeks from release. I seemed to just create more ends to tie up, I had no idea of where the start or exit should be, and I was still short of the number of buildings I had originally wanted.

So on November 21st, 20 days from the release, I started making a new building in the southwest to tie together the blue and the orange areas:

This was all built on grid and later rotated to its final 45° angle, but the rounding errors this caused could probably have been avoided by building at an angle from the start, with little to no loss of time. As seen here I initially I tested having the indentations of the pillars darken in towards the lights, but I ended up inverting that.

And here’s a shot from a day later, November 22, with the pink building mostly complete, rotated, and put in place:

The new blue key area is also in place here, which was done in the days prior. This first iteration of the climb up to the exit tower was deleted.

The style of the pink area was mostly inspired by the idea for the pillar design, but stuff like this helped too:

Even though modern tools are the best Doom has ever seen, stuff gets fucked up sometimes, especially when dealing with very large levels and gratuitous copy, paste, mirror, and rotate actions. I had the nodes get fucked up a bunch of times, triggering random “deep water” effects everywhere in the map. I also got the weird bug below: accidental room over room, that I still don’t know how the hell I did (obviously only looked like this in GZDoomBuilder and not in game):

Towards the end I frantically connected stuff and slapped a start in there at some arbitrary place. The three armed pyramidal structure with the keyed switches before the final black rock ascent was another old map doodle geometry test that I just threw in, and by adding the three key switches I had sort of “solved” map progression by making them all mandatory (well, almost. Spoilers further down.) To this day I have no idea what the fastest route for maxing the level would be.

I did UV thing placement and some really shitty, breakage prone monster teleporters since I’m still all new to Boom and its conveyors. Kids, don’t save monster placement to the end! In the very last few days before December 10th, Dragonfly somehow found the time to look away from his other 24 maps in the project to do some absolutely heroic passes at setting skill levels and cleaning the automap, which is a monstrous feat for something that sits at 110000 sidedefs.

Bauul did the first play through test in the days before release and his video with commentary was incredibly valuable. Ultimately the level got released with lots of bugs, but it could be completed and I had somehow succeeded (ish) with most of my objectives: It’s a huge, imposing, non-linear adventure map with plenty of “oooh this leads to here” moments. The name of the map is a nod to this aspect of it.

This was one of, if not the last maps to get a music track assigned. I’ve been into the band Blut Aus Nord for quite some time and hearing one of their tracks used for the enormous Slaughterfest 2012 map30 by ribbiks helped inform the decision to use another track of theirs here: They clearly work well repeated for a long time, and the play time of my map is similar. The vocals in the original are not for everyone but I adore this track:

The change log for this level between the December 10, 2018 initial release and the February 10, 2019 final release is massive. Lots of it is bug fixing, but there’s also improved visuals, better signaling for user paths, item balancing across all skill levels, etc. I could have gone on forever really, and while I could never make this into a level everyone enjoys I’m ultimately very proud of what I achieved and how well it lives up to what I set out to do.

If you haven’t played the level yet, I suggest stop reading here to avoid spoilers, but here are some random notes on gameplay:

  • Please play with saves. Please.
  • While you can go north for the caves immediately, I really tried to signal that doing at least parts of the pink building is a good start. This gives you the plasma rifle almost for free and rocket launcher if you release the lost souls.
  • I love the Lost Soul swarm, all megawads should use this 45hp version of this monster. On the other hand, the reward for releasing them and the Cacodemons is not very clear and dipping into all the holding pens for ammo is tedious. Designing this in a panic so close to launch make it a little lackluster.
  • Rocketing Imps on cliffs is like the best thing ever. That they can also shoot you through the windows in the orange building was a bit of a happy accident but adds a lot of paranoia to that fight.
  • The red building was a mindfuck to build. Some of it might seem very weird, illogical and redundant depending on how you approach it, which is due to the fact it can be entered through at least 4 different paths and I try to make them all provide both challenge and reward:
    • From the serpentine path with the Cyberdemon
    • From the yellow key door on the eastern side
    • From the path past the blue key door to the green building (facing the main lava pit)
    • From the green building if you have the blue key first, lowering the bars to enter, lowering the bars inside, and then raising the two pillars to walk over
  • I like platforming in Doom, so sue me. At least I think all non-secret ones are possible without straferunning.
  • I’m quite happy with the green building and the raising of the bridge to reach the three switches; This too is a bit of a mindfuck flow wise since you can come and go in so many different ways, but for the attentive player there are clues for what everything does that should help you understand where to go next.

Here are some points of criticism I can agree with:

  • In the context of Eviternity it’s too big; Had it been a standalone level, that would be different.
  • To max it is probably very tedious, even if the monster teleporters are (mostly) well behaved now; it’s so interconnected that you’re forced to make a lot of redundant traversal no matter the route. This is a stupid move by me considering I love watching max runs. (Please record max runs of this level. Pleeeease.)
  • The fact that it can be completed with just one key is by accident; I was genuinely torn on whether to require all three keys for something so big, so the fact that there’s a way to cut two of them is something I can live with. But most people will miss this trick and thus have to endure the full length of it.
  • The two invulnerability secrets are hard to make use of without careful planning, and could have been placed to be more rewarding if found on blind playthrough.
  • The blue key room can be cheesed quite easily and while that is valid criticism I decided to leave it that way. There’s a big chunk of players that would not have the perseverance make it through if I made every fight truly hard.
  • Slipping into the yellow key area from the rocky back entrance makes the route out kinda weird. I should have spent more time solving for that, and making the main entrance, with its longer path to the key, more rewarding by moving most of the plasma ammo there.
  • There’s probably too much health overall, especially berserks, and you tend to get blue armor a little too soon with most routes, making subsequent green ones less appealing.
  • The three pillars you can raise to form a path between yellow and green buildings should maybe be lifts once they’re up, but forcing the player to go around is more likely to lead them to discover something else, so I ultimately decided against it. But this lengthy backtracking is potentially tedious and ultimately not terrific game design.
  • The fact you can just crush the AV’s in the orange building is something almost everyone misses on their first try, which is not ideal. With more time I could have thought of a nice mechanism to signal this ahead of time.
  • There’s no massive caco swarm descending over the valley, which is a big missed opportunity. Everyone loves caco swarms.
  • I’m not good at endings and it’s a little too easy to tackle your way in here and just end it. The idea was for the lost souls to clog it completely but my monster teleporter design skills are insufficient.

I’m not sure when or if I’ll make another Doom level, so if this ends up being my legacy I think I’m fine with that. And if you read this far, you might just have the patience it takes to play through it too!

I made this. That feels pretty cool to be able to say.

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