Sunday, March 12, 2017


So far, I've played two of Rex Claussen's 2000 Doom II "TCs". The first, A Hex On You, mined the resources of Hexen II. The following release, Phoenix Rising, pulled from the world of Quake II - among other things. This time, he's set his sights on the world of Half-Life with Paranoia. It has a few superficial commonalities with PHOENIX; it has five maps, for one, also spanning MAP02 to MAP06. However, where Phoenix Rising only took the textures from Quake II, Paranoia makes a thorough bid for Total Conversion by also using weapon and enemy sprites pulled from the game's models and sort-of-kind-of-finding matches in Doom II's monsters. The result is... interesting.

The protagonist of this adventure isn't Gordon Freeman. Hell, he isn't even the protagonist, unless you think the protagonist is just the guy holding the gun. Paranoia is a horror story and you're the monster, a scientist suffering from a psychotic break who orchestrated the murder of his boss using research technology if the gibbering narrative is to be believed. It seems like Rex is attempting to establish a character suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. You chafe at your inevitable incarceration and then plan a daring escape to exact your revenge on the facility, letting loose the experiments and anticipating an epilogue of drinking and womanizing, a coda that seems tailor-made for fellow FPS heartthrob Duke Nukem.

Paranoia's level design aims at realism as befits a mapset using Half-Life's resources. You'll battle through military barracks, an office complex, a hub of various and sundry labs, the bowels of the research installation, and finally the experimental holding pens where the player character laid his sinister snare. I would say that Rex does a much better job at making these spaces look interesting, except for maybe those rows of nearly identical offices in MAP03. They may not always be the most action-packed experiences - Doom's monster design and AI hardly lends itself to thrilling combat when dealing with a ton of tiny rooms - but I was surprised by the natural progression of the last three levels, especially the variety of architectural set pieces shown in "Research Labs".

Speaking of monsters, Paranoia does zilch to the actual monster behavior. Instead, the resource pack matches up Half-Life's actors with the closest Doom / Doom II equivalent. Sometimes, it works surprisingly well. I imagine that the majority of reactions will be tinged with bemusement, though, especially if you're at all familiar with the original Half-Life. The zombiman, shotgun guy, and SS Nazi have all been translated to marines, with the commando becoming the beefy alien that shot those homing flies. I think there's a sound mix-up since the Nazi / soldier alert noise sounds more like a screaming pod person and the commando / alien having human sounds, but I guess you could rationalize it by blaming it on HalfGuy's delusions or an actual, factual replacement invasion.

None of the soldiers are all that interesting to fight. Zombies are slow, relatively inaccurate shooters, and pretty flimsy except for the Nazi replacements which feel like an inverse jackpot whenever you find one. Paranoia is way more interesting when the monsters get involved, even if things feel weird based on their "altered" behavior. The headcrab zombies, for one, replace the imps and summarily can fling fireballs. Houndeyes slot in for demons, lacking their shockwave blast. Headcrabs, as I remember the least durable monster, become lost souls. This kind of works but is also pretty DoomCute when they end up flying and bouncing around. The meditating alien replaces the cacodemon, which works pretty well. Less so the bullsquid; I recall them being pretty strong, but not Baron of Hell durable.

The gargantua rounds out the available monsters in a pretty good translation as the Cyberdemon, giving the action a decidedly Doom feel since the only Doom II appearances are from zombie-related creatures. This may be for the best, as Doom's original cast did a pretty good job of supporting the science fiction / horror setting that Half-Life attempted to reinvent. However, I feel that Paranoia is at its best when you're facing the aliens. The marines are far too hamstrung to serve as anything but slightly frustrating cannon fodder, especially when the consequence of one of them sneaking up on you is slim to nil considering how bountiful health is. Even starting out with the pistol isn't much of a handicap vs. the legions of walking bullet and shotgun dispensers.

The weapon replacement sprites are pretty much what you'd expect. The Glock supplants the lowly pistol. The assault shotgun replaces the regular shotgun, with the double-barreled shotgun serving as an "alternate mode" that you must nevertheless pick up. The MP-5 takes over for the chaingun, and while you still don't have the explosive grenade launcher alt-fire, it's still your best friend when it comes to dealing with all the zombie-equivalents. Rocket launcher to RPG seems like a natural fit, though considering how beefy some of Doom's monsters can be when faced with the rocket launcher - thinking of the Baron vs. bullsquid here - it can seem ineffectual. The Gauss Gun and Gluon gun, while appearing rarely, slot into the plasma gun / BFG roles quite well. The worst fit of any is the crowbar, which replaces... the chainsaw. Welp;

Where Paranoia differentiates itself from, say, Rex's Phoenix Rising is in using ZDoom features in a more appreciable way to better mimic the mechanics of Half-Life. One thing that isn't explained that well is why you suffer damage in the sunlight outdoors. Having spent a handful of summer vacations in Arizona, I fail to see it being a climate issue. The security cameras aren't all that interesting to me, but I like stuff like the variety of forcefields and computer consoles. The biggest things in my mind are the Health kiosks, which administer 50 HP of medical aid in 10 HP doses, growing dimmer with each use. You'll also see a bit of swimmable water in MAP05 ("Utilities") and quite a bit of scripting, from just showing you your jumbled inner musings to a climactic finale with several alien siege tanks and the base attempting to crumble around you.

In using the assets of Half-Life, Rex invites comparisons to the source. Does Paranoia bring the magic of Half-Life to Doom? Does it infuse the world of Half-Life with Doom's trademark action? Unfortunately - inevitably, perhaps - Claussen's experiment fails to elevate either class of components to a new level. It outlines why the designers of Doom, perhaps cautious of the engine's limitations, avoided digging too deeply into realistic layouts. Half-Life succeeds because of its conscious differences from the then-action oriented First Person Shooter scene; to quote Gabe Newell,
Half-Life in many ways was a reactionary response to the trivialization of the experience of the first person genre. Many of us had fallen in love with videogames because of the phenomenological possibilities of the field, and felt like the industry was reducing the experiences to least common denominators rather than exploring those possibilities. Our hope was that building worlds and characters would be more compelling than building shooting galleries. (Interview: Gabe Newell)

Paranoia walks these conscious design decisions back to their origin. Consider, though, that Rex appears to be conscious of the limitations of his chosen format. When attempting to ascribe some sort of motivation for the player character, he settles on insanity. After all, nothing so closely resembles Doom's zombie enemies as Half-Life's marines, and what rational reason would a scientist who previously worked so closely with them have to murder them en masse? There's some restraint, though; the scientists and security guards only appear in posters when it would have been easy at least for the latter to replace the regular zombiman. You're conveniently left with Half-Life's original antagonists as targets for your murderous rampage.

In the year 2000, I'm pretty sure that something like Paranoia was the best that Rex could hope to do, but I know that ten years of source port development separate it from its sequel, Paranoid. It might be a long time before I get there, but I'm interested in seeing how much further Rex managed to blur the lines between two then venerable First Person Shooters... not to mention Paranoiac, which isn't out at the time of this writing but might be by the time it's posted. Paranoia does some cool things with scripting and is fairly novel as a Half-Life-flavored Doom II TC; its level design, especially from MAP04 and on, battles the realistic tendencies pretty well even with occasionally lackluster encounters. I think you ought to know by now whether or not you're interested in this Doom re-skin. Me, I enjoyed myself. Looking forward to the next one, Rex.

by Rex Claussen

Detention BlockMAP02
The facility's prison is adjoined to the military barracks. It's DoomCute to the core with tons of beds, computers, and a bathroom that if I'm not mistaken is copied from Military Research Complex. You're only up against plain ol' zombies, though one of the varieties will throw you off because it's actually the slightly tougher SS Nazi. None of the fights stand out; they're just zombies, after all. The more memorable areas include a warehouse, the armory (requiring the kind of secret blue key), and that northeastern curved corridor which helps to bust up the Doom realism.

MAP03Administration Center
Well, I'll say this much: Rex certainly captures the feeling of an administrative office building. Unfortunately, where you get the feeling that a lot of strange things can happen while going through the offices of Half Life, there isn't much to surprise in what is effectively vanilla Doom. As dangerous as we know Doom's zombies are, the difference between their AI and Half Life's is staggering. Office building shootouts are not their strong suit. The way the creature replacements are worked in is pretty good, though, especially the bit in the computer core where the head crabs come out of the vent ducts. The teleport fight with the houndeyes was another cool surprise.

Research LabsMAP04
So this is a pretty cool level based on a relatively banal octagonal hallway / compound with branching areas on all sides but the western with stuff like a medical facility, cryogenic storage, some kind of reactor, and other various labs. Like MAP03, it has what feel like two distinct phases: one where you clear out the soldiers, and one where you start freeing all the alien specimens, now including replacements for the cacodemon, chaingunner, and Baron of Hell... plus a big showdown with a Cyberdemon-behemoth thing. If you're going to try and mine Doom realism, I think this is a pretty good target to shoot for.

Rex jams a bunch of disparate areas together but it works pretty well. "Utilities" is part crate storage, nukage tunnels and water treatment, the water itself, and another security fence. The entire journey is just one big loop to get into the security shack you can't enter at the level's beginning, a tried and true level design gimmick that works out pretty well for you since with Gordon's luck he'd probably fall out of an air duct into waste processing and turn into shredded beefcake. The monsters have the run of most of the base, so the action's a bit heavier than usual, especially with all the bullsquid / Barons. The plasma gun isn't essential or secret but it's pretty easy to miss. Doing so will turn the second half of the level something a lot closer to the survival horror of the source material.

This level is something more of an action gauntlet that starts out with an eerily familiar slice of the prison area from Military Research Complex before turning pretty cool starting with the holding cell that got the mad scientist in trouble in the first place and moving on to the concrete-encased forcefield chambers to the northwest, allowing for a hectic and sudden ambush, and finishing with a two-stage behemoth showdown that is a little awkward considering the confines but should be cake for anyone familiar with BFG bumping... who admittedly might not be the target audience for a Half Life-flavored Doom WAD. It's nice to see scripting come to the forefront when it's been otherwise absent.


1 comment:

  1. Wow, it looks awesome, I must give it a chance.