by Rex Claussen
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Temple of the Ancients (TEMPLE2.WAD)
In some ways, Temple of the Ancients is the sort of project Rex has been leaning toward since he began his authorial career. While testing his levels in ZDoom, they weren't really specific to it until he started to embrace jumping with Military Research Complex. Phoenix Rising saw him play with the idea of if not the actual mechanics of a Hub arrangement and Paranoia involved the incorporation of scripted events to push the gameplay slightly beyond the tried and true limits of Doom. TEMPLE2 then takes both of these elements and welds them together for a dashing adventure, released in 2000. While Temple of the Ancients is another five-level mapset, it sits in map slots 10-14 instead of the MAP02-MAP06 block that Phoenix Rising and Paranoia had. This is the one time I can't really guess at why it's structured as such since Claussen has used the MAPINFO lump to set skies and music.
The plot is kind of reminiscent of Stargate, with archaeologists finding an "alien artifact" while digging in the Black Hills (in South Dakota, and from personal experience a very nice place to visit) for... dinosaur fossils. No, Rex! Paleontologists dig for dinosaur fossils! Archaeologists look for anthropological remains! I suppose the fact that it's at least 65 million years old is why the turf-trespassing archaeologists felt comfortable calling the ruins alien. Anyway the governments of the world got involved and as they learned things about the structure they discovered gateways that sent people somewhere. Sometimes they didn't return and sometimes they came back as primal murder machines.
Eventually they figured out a way to... reinforce the genetic structure of the travelers to prevent the mutations caused by the gateways, only to find that the three gates led to a corresponding location thousands of miles away in the Ural Mountains of Russia. Of course, the fancy-pants archaeologists finally got their comeuppance for dabbling in dino digs when all sites connected to the alien ruins and teleporters suffered an invasion from ELFs (Extra-terrestrial Life Forms). The international task force contained the threat to the Command Center and terminated the links, forgetting of course that the other three sites were also at earthly geographical locations, but they become another team of casualties. That's where the specialist comes in. And, uh, you're not actually the specialist, you're just a trainee playing through a holo-recording that simulates the mission. Ooooookay.
Each one of the releases from Rex's 2000 (and 2001) phase was themed around resources from other, arguably more modern First Person Shooters. After Hexen II, Quake II, and Half-Life, Claussen decided to for something new and something old that he hadn't messed around with. As a result, TEMPLE2 features a lot of textures from Quake III Arena (plus some from Quake II and the original) as well as derivative sprites from Quake II's weapons. The Quake III stuff is new to me, and while I'm not entirely sure they gel when intermixed with the Doom II textures, I can't deny that they add a certain... flourish to the mapset's appearance. One of the neat tricks involves layering midtextures to create the appearance of curved surfaces, like grates and arches, though it won't hold up to careful scrutiny.
Temple of the Ancients is a decent example of a hub setup. Like fellow 2000 hub Hell Factory, the levels are pretty short. Thankfully there isn't a lot of gophering between maps, the main exception being traveling to the outer grounds of the temple itself (MAP14) only to pick up a key - or two - and return to the hub, MAP10, plus a short trip back to "Power Plant" (MAP11) so that you can turn on the jump pads. I don't mind that the levels don't feel inextricably intertwined; when Doom plays so fast, they have to be pretty beefy for the separation to not feel arbitrary. The jump pads thing feels like a missed opportunity, but it's clear that the scope of this release is pretty small. There are only two instances of jump pads in the game, one to break into the inner recesses of MAP14 and a series of three used in slaying the boss. I was hoping for something a little more Metroid-vania-ish but, like I said before, the scale of this project would have to be a lot larger for this to work.
Your weapon progression is pretty much tied to the keys you've picked up. The opening level has an armory with goodies in it, and each display triggers a mild ambush when unlocked. You can be fully kitted out (minus the BFG) before moving on to the intermediate maps - "Krakatoa" and "Valhalla" - which may tempt you to blow all that plasma gun ammo on Rex's usual complement of thick beasties. I'd save it for the bosses, though. They're nothing unusual, but the PG will make the Spiderdemon fight so much simpler and save you some time on the awkward Cyberdemon roundabout.
The off-center Quake II stuff isn't horrible, but the weapons lack punch and character. There are a couple of exceptions. Making Quake's uber Thunderbolt the reskinned chainsaw feels dirty considering how much stroke the original had, but I can see that there wasn't really anything in the Quake II kit to really fulfill a chainsaw function. The other thing is the "kickback" from the regular shotgun, which you'll use for much of the first two levels, takes up like 70% of the middle of the screen. It's really fuckin' annoying especially when fighting monsters like Hell knights in enclosed quarters since seeing the monster start to attack is so integral to knowing when to dodge. Thank goodness you can grab a semi-secret chaingun early on in MAP02 and the rest after a short stopover in the Temple proper.
The other detail - more bemusing than anything - is Claussen's penchant for picking out parts of his previous PWAD presents. "Command Center", "Power Plant", and "Krakatoa" are relatively original to my eyes, but "Valhalla" borrows the shooter gimmick from Phoenix Rising's MAP05, the secret graveyard from A Hex On You's MAP02, backlit cross window wall from MAP03 of the same, and the ubiquitous spiral staircase with a secret chamber that I've seen in every major Rex release since it first appeared in Military Research Complex (discounting Arena). I'm glad that Rex decided to borrow the more intriguing aspects of his previous level design, but it's becoming a bit much, completing the HEX_ON_U grand slam by cramming the southern tip of "The Ramparts" into the southeast corner of MAP14. I hope "Valhalla" is his way of interring this recurring resurrection... but having peeked ahead, I see that the spiral stairway's iron hold even extends into The Darkest Hour.
When it's on, though, it's pretty cool. The computer logs in "Command Center" are a nice little feature and I like the opening segment of power plant and the way it sort of moves toward raising the water level so you can swim - actually swim - across the channel to where the imps have been teasing you. "Krakatoa" has a decent complement of gimmick fights and while "Valhalla" is overwhelmingly banal in its cannibalization and symmetry, it's got a nice atmosphere and a few fun encounters. "Temple" suffers from a bit of the same but the stuff that isn't tied up in the level's elbow is cool enough. Temple uses a few instances of stealth monsters, especially in "Valhalla", but one of the real nasties - a stealth skeleton - is stuck in a secret.
If you haven't been methodically playing through Rex's back catalogue, then I doubt the biggest criticisms will leap out at you. In some ways, I prefer it to its comrade in arms, Hell Factory, because of it feeling more like a hub with spokes and less like a dense network of smaller levels, interconnected and made confusing by being diced up to form separate hub levels. Word on the street is that Rex is updating Temple of the Ancients, adding five more maps and straightening out some of the tricks into actual 3D geometry, among other things. Until then, you can investigate the legends of this hidden temple.
TEMPLE OF THE ANCIENTS
by Rex Claussen
by Rex Claussen
SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!
WHAT THE HELL'S WITH THIS PLACE!