Creating maps in DOOM is art. There is no question about it and it is very much comparable to any other art form like movies, paintings or music. Like with any art, it is highly subjective. Nevertheless you have amateurs and critics, who unlike amateurs should know many instances of given art and their opinion should be well informed and by an extend objective. In other words when amateurs like or dislikes a map, a critic should be able to provide the “why”.
Like with any art, there are many instances created every year. Doom forums are filled with new wads and people providing feedback. From my observation this feedback is of varied quality and relevance. This post should hopefully lead to an improvement in that area and bring something new to the table when it comes to awarding titles to the best of maps.
It is a very bold statement. How do you bring a new perspective to a community that has been around for over 25 years? When it comes to DOOM maps, there is one thing that has yet to be clearly defined: map types.
What is a map type and why is it so important for progress? Map type is some word you use to describe a map so that other people may form an opinion on what they are getting into. It is generalising a group of maps together. When it comes to movies, critics take care of that in media. They notice something a few movies have in common and give it a name. We do have something like that in DOOM, but it is very vague. Best example of this is a “Slaughter map”. We all know what it is, but there is no exact definition and there has been quite a few discussion on this over the years.
Why is it so important to define map types? It is really quite simple: To filter out personal preference, to allow more constructive criticism, to keep map makers single minded with something to come back to, when they stray away. When it comes to movies again: You start watching a movie, you really quickly know what “movie type” you are watching. Does it bear elements of a horror movie? Well then it is one. Does it look like it might be a comedy? Yes, 9 out of 10 cases it is. It is the same with wads. You very quickly find out, what kind of gameplay you are looking at, whether it is good or bad.
I am going to explain this on one example. When speedrunner boots up a wad and finds out that it is “arena-based” (holds player in one place without the option to rush), then the main thing this person is playing DOOM for is missing (incidental combat and fluid progression). This person is more likely to not like the map and jump to conclusion, that it is bad. While someone with preference towards arena-based encounters is going to like it and his feedback is going to be positive.
Now it is up to anyone (and it is no small feat in my opinion) to step back from the artwork and say: “Ok, I am looking at this type of map. Does it do the job it set out to do well or not?” And then the person is better equipped to make some great observations and provide constructive feedback.
Map types can be a good thing when deciding on “best of maps”. How can you possibly compare slaughter and non-slaughter map? How can you say some “jokewad” does a worse job then serious wad. Can you compare 32 map megawad with single map release? That is why movies have so many different awards and festivals. So many categories. All we have to do is define some map types more clearly and suddenly some criteria begin to appear and the title is chosen within some boundaries and it is a lot less subjective (even though never entirely objective).
- Number of maps
If you take 32 map megawad, then you should look at it as a whole and differently than on a single map wad. The problem here is, how many categories do you fit everything in? Taking movies as an example, if you were to shoot 40 minute short film, it is effectively lost to festivals, because it is neither feature film nor a short film to 30 minutes. Would categories here be something like this?
• Single map
• 2-19 maps
- Map Length
How would you measure length or scale of a map? Would you take average time to complete said map or would you use map units? With time there is a problem of different approaches, whether you are speedrunning or not. Map units are treacherous too, because some maps are more detailed than others. Also you can’t very well measure playable area of some maps, because of unused vast open spaces just for monsters to float in a distance.
Is the map linear or open? There is a problem with this distinction in the fact that it only affects the first playthrough. Once you know where to go, it becomes linear as well. Of course you could choose whether to go to section A or B first, but some optimal way is always in there and you are going to find it.
Is the combat arena based or incidental. This in my opinion is one of key things influencing a lot of the gameplay. There are really good examples of arenas and incidental combat done well and gameplay is vastly different in both cases.
What does count as gimmick? In my opinion gimmicks can range from some visual idea for a map (moving train), some specific thing influencing gameplay (like berserk only, barrels everywhere) to some joke. But as with everything, gimmicks can be done well or not so much. For me it is the question, whether the gimmick is only there for an effect, or whether it makes a real unique experience when it comes to the way the map is played.
That is why I think there should be some subcategory of jokewads, which many people already recognize.
The next two criteria are more of a prerequisite to a good map, than some category in itself.
- *State of the map
Self explanatory. When the map is polished, then it is considered finished. When you run into a missing textures, missalligned ones or any other bugs, then you rightfully cast off this map as unfinished or amateurish.
- *Visual style, atmosphere and music
This is all great. Good visual style and music does contribute to overall feeling, but doesn’t have anything to do with gameplay. That is why I think it should be a separate thing when providing feedback and in most cases it already is.