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[Doom] SWAMP.WAD - E2M1 UV Maxdemo

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Published on Aug 5, 2012

Pwad: Swamp.wad
Author: Richard "Levelord" Gray
Date: 28th June 1994
Map: e2m1
Category: UV Maxdemo
Executable: Doom.exe
Time: 6:56

Well, looks like we've got another for our "1994 pwad designers who go on to become gaming professionals" folder. Swamp.wad was one of four levels released in July in a pack called "GrayDOOM", which makes sense when you realise the author's name is Richard Gray. And if that name isn't familiar to you, you may recognise his handle - Levelord. After that pack came out, Richard was contracted by Apogee to work on levels for their upcoming shooter Blood. This was in September 1994, making him possibly the first person to make the transition from hobbyist pwad designer to paid professional. And after a few months of that he ended up being hired to work on Duke3D as it was nearing completion. Much like Sandy Peterson did at id, he ended up doing the majority of the levels in the registered version, before moving on to found his own company (with Tom Mustaine, another Doom pwad veteran). Since then he's had a prolific career as a level designer, though with some fairly unusual credits to his name. For instance, on Mobygames he's listed as having contributed to the Serious Sam games (and they do seem like his style), but go to the detailed listing and you'll just see his name next to "Moral Support", along with Old Man Murray of all people.

The Mobygames page also has a detailed bio, clearly written in his voice, which gives you a sense of the guy's second talent, that of self-promotion. Back in the late nineties - the heyday of the first person shooter - he was everywhere: giving interviews to every gaming website in existence, writing magazine features on level designing and game development, showing up at deathmatch tournaments, spamming .plan updates, releasing exclusive custom levels for Quake and SiN even while working on other games, anything you want to name. This accrued him a measure of fame which persists even today: if you go to the wikipedia page on "Level design", it lists just two people as notable level designers - John Romero, and Richard "Levelord" Gray. Sorry Shigeru Miyamoto, you should have gone into first person shooters.

Even back in 1994 there was a "take notice of this guy" quality about his work - while most people packaged their levels with a barebones DEU template, Richard wrote a 27kb manual. He also also included bitmaps of the levels, with the various areas labelled in a way that turns the level into a story. The pack is modestly described thus: "The Graytest DOOM missions EVER! Try them, there are NONE LIKE THEM ANYWHERE! Even the WIZARDS OF id themselves will be amazed!" The ambition of the guy is palpable. He came up with his own company, "GrayMatter Software Solutions", for the sole purpose of being credited in the textfile. Said textfile also claims, and I believe it, that the original plan was to do a whole episode and sell it commercially, but it was released early after "Jay Wilbur expressed his, ah, concern".

I know all the above sounds a huge slam on the guy, but it's not, because here's the thing: All that ambition, and drive, and energy - it's palpable in the levels themselves. I've been doing this 1994 project for over a year, I've played more than a hundred levels in that time, and Swamp is like none of them. It follows nobody. Richard is one of the very few Doom designers who doesn't copy. Everything you see in this level sprang directly from his imagination. Like the swamp that opens the level, which plays unlike any other Doom level I've played. He uses the dead and withered trees as atmosphere, and as obstacles. Sometimes they block your view and an imp fireball will come out of nowhere. Sometimes they'll frustrate your path forward and you need to find another way around. It's quite a tense experience to have a crowd of imp stalking through the swamp, and you know there's a out but it's hard to see, and one wrong move and you'll find yourself clawed to death. It's a difficult and fantastically challenging opening. Then at the midway point the level changes theme, opening out into a huge cityscape. This also doesn't feel like a standard Doom level, though interestingly it does feel like a very early prototype of a Duke3D level - just needs billboards and destroyable walls. Unfortunately, despite a nice trap with crushing ceilings, the difficulty disappears at this point - there's far too many cells and rockets. And Richard forgot a wall, you can see the HOM at 6:15.

This was a tough level to do a run on. Learning it takes time, some monsters wander, some won't. The blockages frustrate smooth running. But it was just what I wasn't expecting at this point, something refreshingly original.

Download from /idgames here: http://www.doomworld.com/idgames/inde...
Video captured using prboom-plus 2.5.1.2.test.

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