John Romero’s “Tech Gone Bad”

John Romero, one of the designers of the original Doom games released a new level yesterday.  This is the first level he is releasing in around 21 years (before this, he designed two of the levels in the original Doom expansion, The Ultimate Doom, in 1995).  This new level is his first non-commercial release, it replaces E1M8 of the original game, and I played through it yesterday.  Here are my comments about it.

John Romero's Tech Gone BadE1M8: “Phobos Anomaly”, the last level of Episode 1 “Knee-Deep in the Dead” of the original game was a significant one, since it featured the first “bosses” of Doom, two Barons of Hell (also called the “Bruiser Brothers”).  The original level was considerably short, and after you got through the first seven levels (or eight, if you played the secret E1M9 level), you fought the bosses and then exited the level.  [SPOILER: Once you killed the two barons, a teleporter is revealed and you pass through it to come to a dark room, where you are fired upon by many monsters and the level ends as a ‘cliffhanger’.]  That level was created by Sandy Petersen (who designed much of Episodes 2 and 3).

You could say, this level (according to the text file, it’s called “Tech Gone Bad“) is a reboot or reimagining of the ending map.  It is designed only using the original Doom Episode 1’s resources (so no graphics or items from later Episodes seen).  It syncs up well with the original levels’ look and feel (that’s not so surprising, considering that John Romero himself was the one who created most of the original Episode 1 maps).  However, for a level made in 2015/6, it obviously is more polished than the older levels.

The level flows really well, you start off in a tech base surrounded by radioactive ooze all around, and streaks of hot red lava indicate that hell is transforming the entire place slowly.  There are a couple of neighbouring buildings which you would need to gradually gain access to.  After the starting base area, there are primarily two major sections in the level – one after you get the yellow key card, and the one after you get the red key card.  It’s probably not so much of a spoiler, but the ending of the level has you facing two Barons of Hell, and multiple other monsters.  Once you kill the Barons, the exit teleporter is revealed and when you pass through it, the level ends in a similar way as the original E1M8.

I really enjoyed playing through the level and figuring out the route to the exit.  You would have to work things out but I liked that there was no unnecessary key or switch hunting required.  The difficulty level is quite high, probably comparable to that of Romero’s E4M6 from The Ultimate Doom.  This is thanks to many shotgunners and you having to wade through pools of radioactive nukage.  I played the level on Skill 1 and completed it, at Skill 4, there are close to 300 monsters on the map.

The visuals are very nice, the map looked really interesting had a good variation of heights.  You would go to rooftops, and down tunnels with ooze, and there are ambushes that would remind you of certain aspects from the original Episode 1 levels.  Lighting and colour were all really nice too.  The map looked good without being overly detailed.

John Romero's Tech Gone BadThis level was built with Pascal vd Heiden’s Doom Builder 2.  I am not sure why Romero decided to make a level for Doom all of a sudden, but it’s a really nice thing for all Doom fans.  He mentioned in the text file that it’s a warm up.  I wonder what for!

It has been a long time since I played and reviewed a Doom level.  If you’ve been following me on Instagram (@karthikabhiram), then you know that on 31-Dec-15, I bought myself a new laptop after 5 years, a Dell XPS 13.  This post is being written on that laptop, and I also played the level (with the ZDoom engine) on it.

If you want to download and play the level yourself, you can do so here (this is a Dropbox link that John Romero posted in his tweet, which I’ve embedded below).  You will need a copy of the either the Doom shareware WAD (doom1.wad) or the full Doom / Ultimate Doom WAD (for that you would need to purchase the game).

Extras

I had also released a Doom Episode 1 tribute map back in 2002, called The Other Side of Phobos.  At that time, it took me about a month to make, and I had a good time making it.  I think it’s a fun little map to play.  If you would like to play that, you can check it out here.  The rest of my Doom levels are available here (I mainly did maps for Doom II).

Since Romero’s level runs on E1M8, you will be listening to the track “Sign of Evil” by Robert Prince.  Over the years, Doom’s music has been remixed many times, but in my opinion, this moody atmospheric version called “Doomed” by Rimco (released 16 years ago) is one of the best versions of that track.  You can listen to it on YouTube below, or download the MP3 from here.

I posted about John Romero’s level on Instagram, and that happened to be the 2000th post on my account there.  I have embedded that as well, below.

John Romero has released a new Doom level! For those not familiar with it, Doom is a classic videogame released by id Software in 1993. John Romero was one of the designers behind the game and made many of the levels for it. The game allowed fans to make their own add-on levels for it, and after 21 years, Romero himself has released a new level for the original game. Why is this so important that I would write about it? You see, many years ago, myself and my brother used to make add-on Doom levels (and we have released quite a few of those, available on our respective websites). Here is a photo of me playing that level, at 3200 × 1800 resolution on my new laptop (with the ZDoom engine, yes, I installed ZDoom a few days ago). The level is quite large and difficult, sort of like Romero's work on E4M6 from "The Ultimate Doom". This level replaces E1M8. This photo was taken by Varun, I edited it in Lightroom. I didn't play through till the end of the level (died midway through it, mutated in the expansive area of radioactive nukage all around the level). Will play it once again and write more about it. BTW this is my 2000th post on Instagram.

A photo posted by Karthik Abhiram (@karthikabhiram) on

That’s about it for this post, the first post of 2016 on this blog!  I resolve to be more active this year (the whole of last year, I only made one post here).

John Carter 3D

John Carter is an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, from Disney Pictures and directed by Andrew Stanton.

I watched the movie in 3D on opening night here at Hyderabad.  Having never read the source material, I initially wasn’t too keen on watching the movie.  The trailers seemed interesting and I’d read that they’d spent $250 million on making this.  But I was worried that it would be a bunch of effects that still managed to be boring.

On the other hand, I’d got some good feedback about the movie from friends, and probably the strongest selling point for me, was that it was directed by Andrew Stanton, a Pixar animation director (Wall-E) making a transition to live action.  Another recent example of such a thing was Brad Bird (The Incredibles) who did Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and I absolutely loved that movie.  So, I went ahead and booked my ticket for the 11 PM show.

The movie opens with Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara – I’ll always remember him as Juni Cortez, one of the original Spy Kids) being called in by his uncle’s lawyer.  His uncle – John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) – has mysteriously died, and has left some personal effects and instructions for Edgar.  Among the items is Carter’s journal, which forms the narrative for the story.

Carter is a soldier with the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.  A mysterious medallion transports him to a place called Barsoom – the planet we know as Mars.  On Barsoom, due to lower gravity, Carter is sort of like a Superman (who can “leap tall buildings in a single bound”), and he is taken in by the Tharks (a four handed species indigenous to Barsoom).

There is a conflict between the societies of Helium and Zodanga, and the outcome would have implications for all of Barsoom.  The titular Princess of Mars (actually Princess of Helium), Dejah Thoris (Lily Collins) is at the center of this conflict – due to diplomatic reasons, her father has promised her hand in marriage to the slimy Zodanga prince Sab Than (300‘s Dominic West – who seems to always play this type of slimy character!).

Once circumstances bring John Carter and Dejah Thoris together, the reluctant Civil War solider realises that he has an important role to play in Barsoom’s fate.

As you can probably make out, there is a lot of meat here (characters, story elements), which necessitates quite a bit of exposition.  This made the first half a little sluggish for me but I guess the movie could not have done without that.  It was at least more interesting to me than the Economics / Politics stuff in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (which frankly, totally disinterested me whenever that was up on screen).

As John Carter went on, I quite enjoyed it, and it built up to a very satisfying ending.  The action scenes were nicely done.  There is a tendency for movies to throw in a lot of effects into the mix but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the audience will be thrilled.  This movie I think didn’t fall into that trap.

Imagination is certainly not in short supply here – while we tend to have a cold, jaded view of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs and the filmmakers have portrayed it as a rich human-like world.  The visuals in the movie were great.  The director of photography here is Dan Mindel, who also shot J J Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek.  In fact, though I watched it in 3D, I felt the extra dimension didn’t actually add anything, the visuals would have worked well enough in 2D.  The CGI is well done but at certain points of time, I felt the uncanny valley still was yet to be overcome.

Another J J Abrams / Star Trek ‘crewmember’ returning here is composer Michael Giacchino.  The music was nice but not memorable (in my opinion) like Giacchino’s other works.

All said and done, I enjoyed John Carter, and especially by the end I think the movie did capture a sense of wonder.  Only, as I mentioned in the beginning, I have no familiarity or affinity towards the source material, so this being my first exposure to this character, I liked the movie but wasn’t necessarily blown away by it.

Rating: 7/10

Additional Notes

  • When I think of Mars, the first movie that comes to mind is the awesome 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Total Recall, directed by the crazy Dutchman Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Basic Instinct).  So if there was ever a Total Recall / John Carter mashup, one line from that movie would probably be “Get your ass to Barsoom”!
  • Another thing that comes to mind when one mentions Mars is the classic game Doom.  I wonder what the people of Barsoom would refer to their moons as (was it mentioned in John Carter?  I may have missed it).  We know the moons as Phobos and Deimos, and I know this because of Doom (I even released a Doom level called “The Other Side of Phobos“).
  • As far as I can make out, the font used in the posters for John Carter is Akzidenz-Grotesk.  This was released in 1896, which is a few years after the events of this movie take place.
  • And finally, if you want to read the original Edgar Rice Burroughs novel A Princess of Mars, you can do so on Project Gutenberg.