Reviews and Submissions

Started by Forge, 08 December 2011, 16:29:29

Previous topic - Next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


ToiletDuck64, who's released Chillin' quite some time ago, has released another map, Infernal Foundry, about a month ago, which went kinda unnoticed. Since I've made quite a lengthy post with my opinion about it on duke4 forums, I decided I could edit it a bit and make a small review of it for this site:

Infernal Foundry is ToiletDuck64's 2nd single player level, and while Chillin' was a lot more experimental and unorthodox, both in gameplay and design ideas, this one is back to the roots - an essentially Doom style level, with very restricted use of sector geometries and texturing.

Along with the flat lighting, the lack of details and the mentioned restricted use of textures is a concious decision to stylize the map for this Doom look, and I personally really liked how the sky and the reddish bridges turned out. However, in terms of progression and the level flow, this must have been by far one of the most confusing and obscure maps I have played.

There was no indication whatsoever as to what any of the switches did or how many are there to push, which given the labrenthine layout of the map, hardly indicated any sense of progression at all. I got to the exit - only to walk into an ambush (notably a really cool one, which would definitely work better in a bit different circumstances). After being faced with more monsters that I could handle and noticing that the cage protecting the final room will be closed if I escape it, with no way of going back - I just reloaded a save game and wandered around the map for like 15-20 minutes, killing some remaining monsters and thinking what I should do with the yellow card in my inventory. Only after trying out seemingly all possible ways, I have decided to have another go for the ambush, escaped and noticed that some random doors, spread around the map, which were previously closed - are now unlocked (again, with no indication). It still took a lot of walking around the map to find them back, not being sure what is going on at all. The least the Author could have done would be adding some different texture on these doors to indicate they will be open later (or a viewscreen).

The map's visual style and layout didn't help at all with these kind of gameplay progression, as basically everything looks very similar, there are no focal points (even the central lava bridges look all like eachother), so backtracking was quite tedious. There is a total of 16 secrets, some pretty clever, but a lot seem to be just random wall-humping or ones that would trap the player in a pitch-black loops.

The map offers some nice combat encounters (notably the one with a bunch of commanders in a dark stairway, with lots of lesser monsters inbetween - it was pretty cool seeing a barrage of RPG rockets flying one after another and there was just enough room to dodge them, but nothing to take cover). However, most of the map still feels a bit flat in terms of a challenging combat, even the Battlelords at the end - this is the same problem as with Chillin', so too many stayputs, which can be tricked quite easily into just trying to walk into invisible wall. I struggled for ammo quite a bit at the beginning (also the shotgun seemed to be located quite far into the map, same with chaingun) - but then I came to a series of secrets which proved to be vital.

From positives, the "classic" look of the level is a nice change of tone towards current user map trends. The layout felt very 3D, with lots of interconnections (which unfortunately only led to more and more confusion) and the final ambush was a really neat idea, but with no indication on what's going on it was quite a miss. I think a proper beta-testing by someone else besides the Author would help a lot and make this level much better without too much extra work. It is still a solid entry, just might require some more time than it might seem, which will be spent in rather tedious exploring and confusion.

Rating: 77/100


Thank you very much, Aleks
A nice and clean review it is  :)

Edit: the link on the front page is broken. I'll fix it when I'm home from work tonight (CET)
Harmonically distorted....


I've also recently played DannyFromNewOrlean's new map, Promise - and decided to write a small review as well, as it was quite a neat level!

Promise is a new entry from DannyFromNewOrleans, who has published quite a few maps during the past 3 years. Despite being published in August, the map has a strong Christmas theme, which provides for a nice relief from the hot weather (at least according to the Author himself). The map also comes in 2 variants – day and night, although the only actual difference is changing the sky texture, even leaving the shading values the same. Regular or "day" version uses a nice orange sunset sky, while the night one uses a starry sky, albeit the one that is kind of stretched (making the same mistake I did nearly 2 decades ago in Alex City). It is interesting to see how the mood of the level changes between these 2 versions, in my case I played the sunset/daily one.

The map is quite large and will provide a lengthy quest to finishing. There is a somehow open gameplay, as you are required to bring 3 gifts for your girlfriend (who is apparently Lara Croft) from various locations around the town. These can be collected at any order (although it is important to notice that due to a bug, the red "gift" – or keycard – has to be input under the Christmas tree as the last one). The map is filled to the brim with monsters (about 230 on Come Get Some), but the combat doesn't get unfair at all – in fact, it presents us with some quite nice and clever encounters, especially with some Battlelords pinning you down in a couple of buildings.

The layout of the map is very clearly divided into 2 large street parts (and a 3rd, smaller part, closely connected to one of them), which are connected mostly through 2 routes that lead across different buildings. This works good in enclosing quite large gameplay area, but might also make it a bit difficult for navigating. We are required to visit bookstore, supermarket and gun store, although there is many more amenities which are more or less typical for a Duke map. The notable thing about the map is the fact that a lot of these other locations can be completely avoided, as some provide alternate routes or are just there for extra supplies or secrets.

Danny is known for a classic and clean design, which this map is a very fine example of. There's a lot of neat, contrast shadows (with a particular fondness of showcasing a light coming through semi-closed swinging doors), mostly these of larger scale while omitting some lesser details (which is what the original game also did). The map could maybe use some more wallshading for improved depth. The use of textures is quite careful – there's your usual city stuff with some more originality and variance, everything seems to be aligned very diligently. Using different textures for snow on the roads and pavements is a particularly clever move. Also all the Christmas decorations, spread around the level, are quite original – from Christmas trees and lightbulbs to a cool little snowman – and greatly increase the mood.

There is a total of 9 secrets in the map, some of which are quite well hidden or difficult to access at all, with one particularly unfair that basically requires checking how to access it in Mapster. Nevertheless, the openness of the map feels very inviting for exploring around and looking for these secrets. The level is generally a very fun and entertaining experience, without much to complain about.

Rating: 92/100


Excellent, sire.
The review is uploaded.
Thank you very much  :)
Harmonically distorted....


I've uploaded the fourth map in an episode I assume is titled; "Orbital" by Jaap Menist
The level is a space station styled adventure with tons of fights and cool areas to roam.
I'm hoping to have the rest of the episode up here at CGS next weekend.

Try it for yourself here:
Harmonically distorted....


Nice to see you're digging up all these little forgotten gems from 1996-1997, Puritan!
Anyway, seems this year is very fruitful for Duke community, even Mikko can't keep up anymore - here's a couple of recent maps: - Luna One, the 5th and final level from Michael Hunt's episode. This one is really good and quite original, taking place in a city on the moon! - Wet Dry World by ToiletDuck64, yet another map by this author in quite a short period of time. This is a reimagination/reinterpretation of an apparently famous/infamous (?) Super Mario 64 level, which looks/sounds cool from the screens and description, but I've yet to play it myself. - Boxes and Doors by Daniel Skladany, I have no idea who that is or how the map plays (the screens look very BobSP-ish though), but seems Mikko really liked it, so should be worth trying out!


Thanks, Aleks.
I'll look into 'em as soon as possible  ;)
Harmonically distorted....


I've been hosting a Rookie Mapping Contest on Duke4 forums lately, but unfortunately there's only been a single entry in it, created by SilverScrub. His map can be downloaded here:

Despite being his first map, I think it's pretty nice, also it's worth noting the restrictions for the contest limited using up to 500 sectors only.


Quote from: Aleks on  24 November 2021, 12:49:08
I've been hosting a Rookie Mapping Contest on Duke4 forums lately, but unfortunately there's only been a single entry in it, created by SilverScrub. His map can be downloaded here:

Despite being his first map, I think it's pretty nice, also it's worth noting the restrictions for the contest limited using up to 500 sectors only.

Thanks for the heads-up, Aleks.
Played it and I agree with you that this is a decent first map.
It's now bunged to our server.
Harmonically distorted....


Finished putting together my review of Shaky Grounds episode. It's about 3 pages long in Word, so hopefully not too long to be included, but then it's 5 maps after all...

"A film should start with an earthquake, and then the stress should continuously increase" – this quote by Alfred Hitchcock seems to have been taken quite literally by Merlijn while working on the "Shaky Grounds" episode.

The mod totals 5 large levels, 3 of which have been already released during the past 5 years and now only slightly adjusted for the episode, while the 2 last ones are brand new. Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend to play the whole thing at once, whether as an episode or map-by-map, to have the proper, full experience.

The premise is simple, like taken straight from some catastrophic Sci-Fi movie – yet quite original in a Duke map due to the scale it requires to pull out: there is a large series of earthquakes trembling down a town in the Netherlands and soon it unveils that the aliens are behind it. Before long, we indulge into a full-blown story of tragedy, personal revenge and Duke being once again the humanity's only hope. The story is surprisingly cohesive and full of reasonable plot twists, even having a shot at elaborating a bit on our protagonist's character – as well as that of his nemesis. It is told by some of the best visual storytelling entangled within the level design, with occasional help of viewscreen messages. Despite the bleak tone and seriousness of the story, Merlijn finds a way to also include some dark humor typical for a classic Duke game into it, along with some genuinely funny Easter eggs and references to other maps. These things never get in the first plan to distract from the main plot or gameplay, but are a welcome addition for the careful observers.

The first level, "Apocollapse", starts with an impressive earthquake scene, immediately throwing the player into the action with an elaborate escape sequence. When we finally emerge into town, there is a scenery of death and destruction – and the first thing to do is climbing a collapsed, inclined building to even get out of the hole we landed in! Later we are free to explore a large part of city (that even has a map shown on an informational screen), including a residential district, a precipice freshly created by an earthquake and a mall, which is the central and longest part of the map.

In the 2nd level, "Tales of Tragedy", we enter the Cool Center, which is a large concert venue/theater which links two districts of town. After fighting his way through it and passing through a very unorthodox office building, Duke will find himself in the town square full of restaurants and cafes as the story slowly unveils the details about our enemy and their motives. It's worth pointing out that "Happy Hipster" includes some of the coolest jokes in a Duke map, even subtly breaking the fourth wall. Towards the end, the level ventures into more Sci-Fi, alien structures, which are seamlessly and naturally connected to the devastated city.

The third level, "Epicenter", takes us into seemingly less destroyed part of the town, despite the level's name. However, this sense of serenity can be deceptive – after we clear the more usual locations around town, such as a record store, bar, drug store or cheese market, it's easy to lose one's alertness, hence increasing the effect of the sudden blow that's about to happen. The later part of the level is a wild ride that contains the scenes of destruction done on a truly epic scale, perhaps defying the physics and challenging the gravity, but certainly leaving a stellar impression. The level ends on a depressing note in one of the most atmospheric sceneries done in a Build game, which takes full advantage of its specific aesthetics, emphasized by strong contrast shadows.

After that, we enter the mysterious Kompleks, which serves as an alien HQ, in "Deeper Underground". Turns out the building is a concert venue with some of the best design seen in a Duke map. It also leads underground to where the source of all evil lies – after travelling through slime rivers and giant underground lakes, the level climaxes in an epic battle fought in enormous underground cavern, infested with all kinds of aliens and their ominous machinery.

The "Final Rumble" takes us down even deeper towards the center of the Earth – there is no trace of human habitat anymore, just monumental alien structures and barren rocks. The level pays tribute to the more classic style of level design, making a lot of use of verticality and moving sectors, while still maintaining a distinct visual style provided by careful use of textures and palettes.

Each level picks off at the moment the previous one finished, making for smooth and logical transitions. The style throughout is very consistent, both in terms of gameplay and design, almost as if it could be one, enormous map, if it only wasn't for the Build limits. However, each map also has something very distinguished and memorable, whether it's the tall buildings collapsing on your very own eyes in the first level, the sequence in a tipped over office building which we travel sideways in the second one, the dramatic destruction scenes in an unmatched scale in the third map, the enormous underground caverns and lakes in the penultimate level or perhaps the most original twist on using a boss in a Duke 3D map ever in the final. It is also the case where the whole episode is much more than just the sum of its parts, that is the separate maps. The immersion, both in the sense of location and the story, is much deeper when playing through the whole episode. In the end, it would also be very difficult for me to pick my favorite level or part of this episode, due to how many outstanding scenes there are.

The design is top-notch consistently throughout the whole episode. From the very beginning, we will see jaw-dropping visuals done at a very large scale, yet full of little details and concluding into realistic environments. Original and innovative use of textures and palettes has always been a strength in both van Oostrum brothers' maps, here probably reaching its peaks. The shadows are realistic and used for extra advantage of emphasizing on the levels visuals – especially the 4th level shines here, using a lot of layered shadows, strong contrasts and on top of that, small, detailed shadows that help to sell the locations even more. There's also some very clever use of sprites and textures for things rarely seen in Duke maps – examples of these are bakery in "Apocollapse", cheese market in "Epicenter", drums in "Deeper Underground" and other various musical instruments seen throughout the episode.

However, the aspect that truly stands out the most is the episode's conceptual grandness – the 2D layouts of each map are carefully planned to make the best use of space and resources, there is plenty of verticality and platforming that keeps the player engaged, the large scale sceneries look magnificent and the whole episode maintains a strong feeling of a true 3D environment. Despite the non-Euclidean and "2.5D" nature of Build engine, here the player has a solid sense of location, which helps both the navigation and immersion. Crossing through the tipped over building in "Tales of Tragedy" is perhaps the most pronounced example of that, but the multi-layered, full of sector-over-sector layout of the Kompleks is just as good in this aspect. One of the reasons for that might be the fact that many locations were based on real life buildings or places – the Kompleks, Doeniezo Mall, Cool Center and town square in "Epicenter" being the finest examples of that. Merlijn has not only managed to translate and interpret these locations into Build's specific language and form, but also enriched them with a twist of destruction and alien infestation.

The gameplay/combat is very entertaining throughout the episode – despite the trickery of the scenery, Merlijn has somehow got the dimwitted enemy AI to cooperate, which is especially praiseworthy in case of long-range, vertical encounters with commanders and other flying enemies. The ammo/enemy balance is mostly designed with pistol starting each level in mind, so playing through the whole episode, you should have more than enough guns not to worry about them. However, the battles will still prevent the player from just overusing the shotgun/chaingun combo – even your standard pistol will come in handy quite often. Each level has some larger fights that will provide a challenge to the players, using carefully chosen combinations of enemies to keep it interesting, while also having calmer or more usual parts serving as breathers. The pacing of such long maps is very significant, not to exhaust/bore the player, and Merlijn does that just right by constantly changing dynamics and allowing the player the satisfaction of clearing an area before throwing more monsters at them. Even the choice of monsters regarding story/progression is flawless, with e.g. pig cops stopping to appear as soon as we descend deeper under the city.

From the technical point of view, there's a lot of effects put to a large scale that need perfect synchronization to work properly, such as earthquakes, explosions and rising/dropping floors. Merlijn also isn't afraid to play with dynamic light effects, both in the form of flashing or cycling lights and the long forgotten craft of light switches, one of the gimmicks of the original game. However, the most innovative effect must be how the boss battle plays out, adding a lot of extra challenge and being very original at the same time.

All the levels (especially the first 4) are very open and inviting for extra exploration besides just moving towards the path to goal. There isn't much backtracking involved, yet there's a lot of room for free roaming or looking for alternate paths (especially the 2nd map shines here). There is plenty of secret places scattered around, most of which aren't just small compartments, but actual rooms or even parts of buildings, often with some Easter eggs to be found inside. There are also 2 unmarked "super secrets" to be found throughout the episode for extra fame and glory. Moreover, the shrinker, which can be one of the most powerful weapons, can be only found in the secret places, making it somehow unique throughout the episode.

Last aspect worth mentioning is the new music in "Shaky Grounds", which was composed by Merlijn himself. From the ominous remix of "Sneaky Snake" in the first map, through upbeat, yet stirring into your brain with dissonance track in "Tales of Tragedy", majestic and bleak piano-driven song in "Epicenter" and progressive, rhythmic track in "Deeper Underground" that seems to sync with your descent, all the way to the vigorous industrial metal song in the finale, the soundtrack fits well with each level. But it's not just a very good video game music, but simply neat songs in general that will keep playing in your head long after you have finished playing.

Conclusion: I am positive this is just the best thing I have played for Duke during my 20+ year adventure with this game. Merlijn just managed to make a consistent, extremely entertaining episode, with immersive story, strong atmosphere, masterful design and epic scale, balancing out the pace and tone and topping it off with complimenting music. Nitpicking on anything here to denounce even a point from the perfect score wouldn't give this pack justice.

Rating: 100/100


Wow, that was impressive.
A very good and in-depth review it is.
Lots of work are put into this.

Thank you very much, Aleks!

We've been discussing the score before release and I stand behind Aleks in his decission to make Merlijn be the first mapper ever to achieve a score of 100.
I will take the opportunity to say: congratulations, Merlijn. Well deserved  :)
Harmonically distorted....


Woah :o Didn't expect to get 100, that's awesome. I'm really thankful for that. :D 
And thanks for Aleks for your detailled and well written review! I especially like how you go into the episode as a whole and not just the individual maps.


Hey Puritan,

I've just released my new, short episode The Conundrum:

It has 6 short levels and is based entirely on solving puzzles :P


The TC "TTC Doom Nukem" (v1.1) you uploaded this month has a final version. (There's a fourth episode with 11 levels.)


Quote from: anvil on  24 April 2022, 11:27:40
The TC "TTC Doom Nukem" (v1.1) you uploaded this month has a final version. (There's a fourth episode with 11 levels.)

Yup, you're absolutely right  :)
It's on my to-do list for an upload in the near future.
Harmonically distorted....