Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An Imp and a Revenant walk into a bar...

Arachnotron Bartender: "Howdy! What'll you boys be drinkin' this evenin'?"

Imp: (Looks around the bar.) "What's that Archvile over there having? That looks good."

Arachnotron Bartender: "That's a Hades Cocktail. I doubt that you boys can afford one of those. They cost twenty-five human souls for just one shot. That's why only the big boys can afford the hard stuff."

Revenant: "To Hell with that!" (Snickers at his own pun.) "Give us two of those. Just put them on my TAB."

Okay, I really have no clue why Michael Contorno named his series of maps the way that he did, nor do I know why his last name is spelled "Cortorno" on seven of the maps. Perhaps the TAB series is named after the diet soda from the 1980's and perhaps he was having trouble spelling his own name because he was hopped up on too much of said soda. I truly don't have a clue.

Regardless of their untold origins, the TAB collection in its entirety consists of 51 maps designed for Doom II. Many of them have received a lot of harsh criticism from the Doom community but, as regular readers of this blog might already know, I rarely think like the majority and I tend to judge things created for my favorite game with little concern for what others might have said about them.

The most frequent complaint I've read concerning Contorno's works is that they contain misaligned textures. For those of you not familiar with the Doom community, suffice it to say that these folks keep their sphincters tightly clenched over misaligned textures. Personally, I'm able to look beyond such things if a map seems well-designed and was challenging and fun to play. The only times misaligned textures really bother me is if an entire map seems to have them and it's just confusing to look at and it makes me keep trying to open every section of wall looking for secret doorways.

This first screenshot is an example of a misaligned texture from one of Contorno's maps. Sure, it's obviously misaligned and could have been easily fixed with one of today's editing tools (these maps were released in 1997), but for me it doesn't detract anything from the gameplay of the map itself. This second screenshot is another prime example of improper, lazy texture alignment. But wait just a darn minute... isn't that the first map of the Raven Series by Theresa Chasar and Tim Willits? You know... Tim Willits, the guy id Software later hired to work on their retail releases. Huh... if it's good enough for an id employee, why ain't it good enough for us amateurs?

Contorno also had a tendency to neglect to peg (or un-peg) textures on moving things like lifts and doors. (For those of you not conversant in Doom editing jargon, that just means that if something moves up and down the texture moves with it, actually making it look like it's moving.) But enough about that; I just wanted this to be near the beginning of the post because, as I said, today's Doomers seem to keep their little panties in a knot over such things but I can overlook them as long as it's not confusing visually.

With prolific mappers (i.e. anyone who has created more than a dozen maps) another flaw that can often be seen is redundancy or lack of originality. I don't really see that in Contorno's maps. Since there are over 50 of them you might expect at least a few of them to look very similar, but I've played them all and never felt like I was playing the same map twice; they have never felt tedious or boring to me. Thus I really don't mind playing through them again to do this review... though this time around I'm playing on Ultra-Violence and using my upgrade mod.

A good example of a unique map design found in the TAB series is TAB27, a map that's designed to resemble some sort of off-world mining facility. About half-way through the map the player must venture outside the facility where the radioactive, airless atmosphere can become quite hazardous. As a would-be mapper myself, I know Contorno achieved this effect with a simple sector tag that one would apply to one of the common liquid floors in the game, but he did so without using the liquid floor textures and thus uses a simple effect to make us feel like we just stepped outside some base station on an inhospitable alien world.

Overall, Contorno's TAB series has a traditional Doom II feeling to it with an average to moderately difficult challenge level. If you're looking for something new but don't wan't insane "OMG! There's 100 Arch-viles!" maps then these fit the bill perfectly. If you play through the first 30 maps consecutively as I do (I use a MAPINFO lump and play all 51 as a megaWAD), the first few levels can seem a bit tough until you've accumulated some weapons and ammo, but none of the maps are impossible and once you've made some progress you should start having more fun if you weren't already.

The first 30 TAB maps were all originally released individually to the Archives, though at some point someone has merged them into a megaWAD and uploaded it HERE. The remaining maps can be found in TAB: The Movie, TAB: The Sequel, TAB III, TAB IV and two additional single releases, A Little Shooting Practice and STEPS. These last two maps (the only ones out of the entire bunch that had individual names) are a bit more difficult, being somewhat arena-style maps with crazy hordes of monsters. When playing through the entire series I save these two for last and think of them as boss levels.

In short, these maps are all good enough that they are a permanent part of my Doom collection (and I'm not one who is easily impressed) and I have no doubt that I'll be coming back someday to play them again. I recommend them to anyone looking to expand their collection of good playable Doom II map sets, and likewise I recommend that when browsing the DoomWorld/id Games Archives you don't believe everything that's in the anonymous comments and instead try maps for yourself and form your own opinion.

As always, I hope my little reviews here will enlighten players to something enjoyable that they otherwise might have missed. Until next time, keep shooting!

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