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DOS Dungeon: Duke Nukem 3D

There's no denying that DOOM was a groundbreaking title, especially for its time - with its realistic environments and the sheer scope of its modular design, it was a game that set out to have virtually infinite replay value and succeeded.  However, two years later, I dare say that one game would come along to surpass it in almost every way imaginable.

Duke Nukem 3D is the third game in the Duke Nukem series by 3D Realms (formerly known as Apogee).  However, it represents a departure in tone as well as gameplay style, as the first two were sidescrolling platformers.  Duke 3D opted to become a first person shooter instead, improving upon DOOM's realistic environments and weaponry and also bringing forth a grittier, over-the-top action movie style set in a somewhat dystopian future.  Even Duke himself got an overall, now sporting shades and spouting plenty of profanity and action film one-liners to complement the new turn (including, most infamously, a couple of iconic lines from Evil Dead).

Being set on Earth rather than in space (and hell) also lends itself to some rather clever level designs. Rather than just a lot of metallic corridors and toxic waste pits, you now get to venture through some Earth-based environments like a prison, a Chinese restaurant, a bank, a subway tunnel (complete with moving trains) and even a theme park, all rendered with surprising realism for a 1996 game.  Of course the game still utilizes secrets hidden via walls and hidden switches and door locks with color-coded keycards, so it doesn't stray too far from the Doom formula.  But still, it was a rather refreshing twist for the genre to see a game where you'd actually have to dig through cabinets and search various distinct and realistic rooms to locate everything.

The Build engine also brought some new factors to the level design which went well beyond DOOM's.  First was the fact that levels could actually dynamically shift mid-stage - when certain switches were triggered or explosives were used in certain areas, you could actually blow holes in walls to reveal new areas, buildings could collapse and terrain could radically shift.  This is probably most evident in the Grand Canyon stage, where Duke would walk up to a sign labeled "San Andreas Fault" and watch the whole canyon before him collapse in a massive explosion, allowing you to proceed further into the level.

The engine also allowed the game to have room-over-room design (cleverly disguised via player-teleporting eggs as it didn't actually support such things) and even underwater segments.  Very often in the game, you'll actually have to dive underwater and traverse tunnels full of monsters in order to proceed through the stage.  They actually went above-and-beyond in implementing this feature too, enabling not only full 3D movement for Duke in these segments, but amplifying all of the sound effects whilst underwater and requiring Scuba gear to stay under for extended periods of time without having your health rapidly drain.  Now that's a keen eye for detail.

The weapons in the game were another innovation that helped set it apart from its predecessors.  There was the usual complement of the pistol, shotgun and machine gun, which were reworked for a bit more realism this time around - the pistol actually utilizes clips and has to reload every twelve shots, and its high fire rate makes it a fairly useful weapon against weaker enemies.  The shotgun is a pump-action model that requires an on-screen pump animation after each shot (giving it a slow fire rate but considerable punch) and the machine gun is a triple-barreled monster that mows through weaker enemies with ease, but also quickly burns through its ammo pool.  The rocket launcher is your typical high-damage weapon, being able to blow up most weaker enemies in a single shot but also proving dangerous to the player at close range (and able to blow open certain walls to reveal new areas, as mentioned).

The rest of Duke's arsenal, however, is quite unique, especially for the time.  There were pipe-bombs, which could be thrown out with one press of the fire button and activated with a second press, making them sort of akin to an early version of Goldeneye's remote mines (and a fun way to set traps for stubborn enemies).  Laser tripbombs also made an appearance both as stage hazards and as a secondary enemy trap.  These could be attached to almost any surface, and once the laser beam they emitted was crossed, they would detonate, damaging anything nearby.  The Freezethrower (pictured above) allowed enemies to be frozen and then shattered with a single kick or gunshot - not terribly useful, but fun.  Then there was my personal favorite, the Shrinker, which causes enemies to shrink to a miniscule size and become nearly harmless.  Walking up to a shrunken enemy will cause Duke to stomp on it, killing them instantly.

The expansion also added one new weapon, a variant on the Shrinker called the Expander.  This does quite the opposite of its cousin - instead of causing an enemy to shrink, it causes them to literally expand to double their normal size and then explode messily, damaging anything else that happens to be nearby.  Again, it's not all that useful owing to its low damage output and ammo capacity, but it is amusing.

The usual complement of DOOM-esque powerups are also here - ammo packs, Atomic Health (which allows your health level to exceed its normal maximum) and various pickups that allow you to survive hazardous environments (boots and scuba gear).  However, unlike DOOM, some of these can actually be picked up and carried around, utlizing them if and when you need them.  For instance, the First Aid kit can restore your health at any time at the press of the "M" key, while the Night Vision goggles can be used to light up dark areas.  Steroids multiply a player's movement speed and melee damage (but their effect cannot be stopped early) and the Jetpack actually allows free-range movement throughout the entire stage (to the limit of its fuel supply).  Another pretty clever innovation in Duke's favor.

The enemies are just as varied in design and tactics as your weapons are, of course.  You've got your basic grunts in the lizard soldiers and pig cops (with uniforms that say "LARD"... har har), as well as variants on these armed with teleporters and flying cars that move quickly throughout the stage, respectively.  The expansion also adds a second variant on the Pig Cop that drives an armored vehicle decked out with machine guns.  They're very hardy and tough to take down, but they can be instantly destroyed if you manage to sneak up on one and activate the self-destruct switch on its back.

Other enemies include octobrains (flying three-eyed monsters that fire psionic shockwaves), Assault Commanders (lizardmen with machine guns),  Sentry Drones (annoying little robots that fly up to you and explode, doing heavy damage) and most annoyingly of all, Protozoid Slimers.  These little things hatch out of eggs, then slowly ooze toward Duke - if they manage to get up close to him, they'll climb up onto you and bite your face, not only blocking your view but steadily draining your health as long as they remain detached.  Firing any weapon will detach and destroy them, but if you're out of ammo you're kind of screwed...

Each of the four episodes also concludes with a unique boss battle, and these guys are no joke.  The first one up is the Battlelord, a terrifying gigantic lizard trooper sporting a minigun that also fires a constant barrage of explosive mortars in your direction.  It's also the fastest monster in the game, so outrunning it isn't an option.  Basically, your only chance is to keep moving, fire on it with everything at your disposal and hope it goes down before you do...

Of course, being a violent game with a lot of questionable content, Duke Nukem 3D was also privy to a lot of controversy.  The game features plenty of profanity and over-the-top gore well beyond DOOM's, with explosions actually causing dead enemies to throw gibs and blood across the level.  Enemies can also be crushed into pulp in closing doors, leaving behind entrails that stretch whenever that door opens or closes.  There's also a rather notorious scene where Duke follows through on a threat made to the second episode's boss to "rip his head off and shit down his neck".

Perhaps even more prevalent were claims of sexist content.  These weren't entirely unsubstantiated, however, as many levels prominently feature strippers and women captured by aliens and "cocooned" in a manner reminiscent of aliens.  Interacting with them causes Duke to slip them a $100 bill (resulting in a bit of pixelated boobage) or beg Duke to kill them, respectively.  However, despite claims to the contrary, the player is never rewarded for killing women (and is in fact actively punished by virtue of the game spawning in more enemies for the player to fight).

Other controversies turned out to be little more than rumors.  For instance, one particular easter egg that caused a bit of an uproar was the appearance of a dead marine resembling the protagonist of DOOM;  Duke even remarks "That's one DOOMed space marine!" upon finding him.  For a time, it was rumored that ID Software tried to file a copyright infringement suit over this appearance, but this was later proven to be untrue (and unlikely to happen in the first place, given that the two companies partnered on some earlier releases like Commander Keen).  Another unsubstantiated rumor involved the NFL filing suit against 3D Realms, claiming that the game showed footage of actual football plays on in-game monitors without permission.  Once again, though, nothing ever came of that.

That silliness aside, Duke Nukem 3D was an amazing title for its time, providing not only technology well in advance of DOOM's, but a heavy dose of loud, gory, campy fun that's still a ton of fun to play today.  Like DOOM, it also sports a large modding community thanks to its built-in tools and a fairly recent release of its source code, which has enabled a lot of clever modifications and tons of fan-made levels to be created, lending it tons of replayability.  DOOM may have layed the groundwork for virtually every shooter to come, but when it comes to old school arcadey shooting action, I dare say Duke 3D is the king of the genre.  It's just a pity that 3D Realms never managed to make another game that was anywhere near as good as this one...

Recommended mods

Note: to play these, you will need the original DOS version of the game (available at GOG.com) and the eDuke32 source port).

Duke Nukem Forever 2013 - If you've been gaming for any length of time, you probably know all about Duke Nukem Forever, Duke 3D's sequel that spent a staggering 13 years in development only to finally be released by Gearbox as a lame, buggy game full of tedious busywork, lame puzzles and awful humor.  Needless to say, it was a massive letdown for the handful of people that kept the faith all that time, much less anyone else looking for a quality experience.  However, this fan mod attempts to recreate Duke Nukem Forever as it 'should have been', recreating numerous scenes and elements from early trailers and gameplay footage in the Duke Nukem 3D engine.  While it's still a bit short, it's definitely a much more satisfying experience overall, and it even has some pretty clever elements that weren't though to be possible given the engine's limitations like a rideable motorcycle.

War of Attrition - Something of an "RPG mod" that adds in a ton of new features to Duke Nukem 3D's gameplay.  Weapons can be leveled up to give them greater damage as well as other abilities like damage over time or the ability to stun enemies.  New weapons like the shock cannon and flamethrower are added. Powerups have new abilities (the Holoduke actually attacks enemies now and the night vision goggles cause you to become invisible, for example), and there are even a couple of new ones like the damage amplifier and a screen-clearing nuke.  Over 200 fan-made maps are included for high score missions and the game's campaign mode.  There are even new enemies and much tougher variants on existing ones, ensuring that despite your massive increase in power, enemies can still very much keep pace with you.  All things that in various ways make this mod a very fun and frantic experience.  Honestly, this may just be the best mod I've played for any game, period.  I can't recommend it enough.

Spoony Plays Halloween Special: Shadowgate (2014 remake), Part 1

Shadowgate is a remake of a classic adventure game from the old days of home computers, originally released in 1987 for the Apple Macintosh under what later came to be known as the "Macventure" line.  However, many gamers, myself included, remember it for the Nintendo Entertainment System port released in 1989, which featured some surprisingly grisly death scenes (especially in spite of Nintendo's censorship policies) and one of the best soundtracks the platform ever produced.

This also falls somewhat under my "Cold Gaming" video series, as this is my first playthrough of the game. I'm going to be playing blind for the most part and only using a walkthrough when I get really stumped; after all, much of the fun of these types of games is deciphering clues and figuring out the solutions to puzzles on your own.

In addition to the other games in the Macventure line (Deja Vu: A Nightmare Comes True, Deja Vu II: Lost in Las Vegas and Uninvited), Shadowgate also produced two sequels - a Turbografx-CD exclusive called "Beyond Shadowgate" and a Nintendo 64 game called "Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers."  A fourth game was also planned for release on the Nintendo 64 titled "Shadowgate Rising", but development was cancelled due to the impending release of the Gamecube.


Super Short Reviews, Page 6

Metal Gear Rising - Thank you, Kojima,  this is just the direction I wanted to see the Metal Gear IP take - a lousy action game with bad controls, terribly designed boss battles and a script writer so enamored with his own pretentious bullshit that he'd make a nineteen-year-old Philosophy major blush.  Save your money; you'll get the exact same experience by Googling "washed up game developer masturbates into the camera for eleven hours straight" instead.

Anarchy Reigns - Remember Mad World, that Wii beat-em-up with the kinda cool graphics that got boring after five minutes because you're just fighting the same brain-dead enemies and doing the same four execution moves over and over again to get enough points to finish the level?  Well, take that, remove the amusing commentary (replaced with a truly wretched metal/rap soundtrack) and make it 500 times longer, then add in a completely broken multiplayer mode where every fight just comes down to seeing who can land a cheap 100% damage combo first.  Presto, you now have this piece of bargain bin shit.

Persona 4 Arena - Classic RPG meets Arc System Works' special brand of asinine, mash-friendly gameplay and shitty five-frames-a-second character animation paired with CGI 3D backgrounds that make the whole thing look completely incongruous and awful.  The story's honestly pretty good, but it's not worth playing through a dozen different times just to see some slight changes in the dialog since you're viewing the exact same events from every single different character's perspective...

Shadowgate (Remake) - Dare I say that this is one of the best games of 2014?  Yeah, a game in a genre that nobody's given half a shit about since the 80s is honestly more fun than 90% of the titles I've tried out this year.  Not only is some actual thought required to figure out all the puzzles in the game, but it doesn't spoon-feed you the solution every step of the way and you can't just rely on knowledge of the original game to blaze through in half an hour - nearly all of the puzzles have been reworked so that the old solutions no longer work (and attempting them usually results in a rather humorous death).  Hell, if that's still not enough, play on Hard mode - some of those puzzles will drive you nuts.

Shovel Knight - Excellent.  Shovel Knight is a treat for any fan of classic platformers, playing like something of a cross between Ducktales and Ninja Gaiden.  That means fast-paced boss battles, plenty of hidden secrets to find, and some tricky yet rewarding platforming and obstacle course sections.  It really does capture the inspired feel of some of those classic 8-bit platformers while being distinct enough to have its own feel and charm.  Also, unlike most of these 8-bit "tribute" games, it doesn't utilize its style as a means to jackhammer in dozens of painful references and plagiarism masquerading as "humor".

Super Smash Bros. 4 - Judging from the demo, it's a fun arena fighter with lots of clever traps and weapons to swing around, as well as giving each character a distinct feel and gameplay style.  That's all well and good, but I have one nagging question: Why did Dark Pit need to be a separate character?  Bowser Jr. has alternate skins turning him into the Koopa Kids, Wii Fit and Villager both have male and female skin variants, but we're still stuck with lameass clone characters like Ganondorf, Dr. Mario and Dark Pit eating up a space on the roster?  What's next, Phazon Samus, SA-X Samus and Mother Brain Clone Samus all being separate characters too?  Also... why do we need so many goddamn Fire Emblem characters?  How much different could they possibly be?  "I have a sword and one attack animation in my native game, that lends itself to requiring four separate playable characters!" ...No it doesn't.

Guacamelee - Yeah, it's another Metroidvania game, a genre that's right up there with  "Minecraft knockoff" and "shameless Slenderman clone" on the list of overdone indie title genres.  But this one's at least well made, possessing a pretty clever sense of humor, some stylish graphics and  creative platforming elements that recall games like Super Meat Boy.  The combat is also oddly fun, allowing you to perform all sorts of over-the-top wrestling moves to destroy your opponents - if nothing else, it's the only Metroidvania game I can think of where you can do a flying knee to knock one enemy into another and send them all toppling over like bowling pins, or just do some pretty wicked piledrivers and suplexes to rack up the damage on individual ones.


Spoony Plays Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny, Part 1

We've definitely got a lot more on our plates this time.  Lord British is gone, the three Shadowlords are running amok and corrupting people (most notably Lord Blackthorn), Britannia's virtues have been twisted into an oppressive set of laws, our allies are all in hiding for fear of imprisonment or execution, and it's implied the shrines have been destroyed as well.  Not to mention that the game is considerably more stingy with funds this time and enemies are more vicious than ever.  Well, when in doubt, gather some information, right?

As you can see, this game is a lot more procedural than the previous Ultimas; you'll have to put a lot of work in to make progress in addition to the usual detective work to uncover clues and leads. However, you can save yourself at least a little bit of work if you made sure to write down all the Mantras from the previous game (otherwise you'll have to re-learn them here, and people may not be willing to give them up unless you have exceptionally good Karma to earn their trust).

The virtues also aren't as big of a concern this time, though you should still try to maintain positive Karma to get people to trust you (which also affects shop prices) and lessen the experience penalty when someone dies.  It's also worth your while to do the Shrine quests - not only do they boost your stats, but doing all eight will earn you a very important password for the end of the game.

Oh, and here's a handy way to spare yourself from hours of gold grinding:

In the basement of Castle Britannia you can unlock this door (via a Skull Key or a fifth-circle In Ex Por spell) and find three chests inside.

Each one contains a big stack of armor, weapons, items, food and gold, sometimes including Magic Axes.  They also regenerate each time you exit and re-enter the basement, so you can use this to your advantage to collect a mountain of goodies very quickly.

However, the game does consider this stealing, so you'll take a Karma hit for each chest you open.  Of course, you can always earn your Karma back later (by donating money at shrines, among other methods), but it's not wise to go around with low Karma for long periods.  Not only does it generally make your life more difficult as mentioned above, but you can hit an impasse when you need a Mantra or Word of Power and the person who has it doesn't trust you enough to give it out.


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DOS Dungeon: DOOM

DOOM is a game which needs no introduction.  Not only was it one of the pioneering games of the first person shooter genre (which, if you haven't been paying attention to games for the last twenty years or so, is kinda, sorta wildly popular), but it was unparalleled in its time for its impeccable design; for 1994, DOOM sported amazingly high-quality 3D visuals and level designs that were a cut above everything else in realism.  Yet despite this, it retained a fast-paced, arcade-esque feel to its gameplay that makes it an absolute joy to play even today.  In short, it's a true classic.

DOOM's premise is simple: It's the future, you're a space marine on Mars' moon Phobos, and demons have begun to escape from hell and go on a rampage, murdering everyone on the base.  As the only survivor of the attack, you're left to battle your way through their hordes and singlehandedly repel the invasion.

Not the deepest of stories, I will readily admit.  But the impeccable design of the game's environments makes it work; the levels actually look like a futuristic military base, with computer consoles, bulkhead doors, stairways and metallic floors and walls inlaid with switches and lights.  There were even windows and courtyards, giving you a view of the moon's surface and mountains in the distance.  It was quite a sight to behold for the 90s.

Of course, once you venture into hell, it takes on a much darker tone, with environments now composed of harsh brick buildings, decaying plants, a deep red sky and mountains and some gristly stage artifacts like skulls on poles and deceased soldiers hanging from meat hooks (some still twitching).  Not to mention the requisite devilish imagery one would expect from such a place - decorations of pentagrams and goat-horned and hooved men abound.  Pretty dark stuff for 1994.

Despite its realistic aesthetic, though, Doom is still a video game though and through.  You'll be hunting for keycards and flipping switches to unlock doors, as well as finding hidden secrets littered throughout every stage.  Some of these are fairly obvious (mismatched wall textures, switches which open distant doors on a short time limit), while others you'd be hard pressed to find without a guide (such as one in the first stage which only opens as you approach the exit switch to the level).  Each episode even has an entire hidden stage or two for the especially observant secret hunter, which lent itself to cameos from Wolfenstein soldiers and even Commander Keen in the sequel.

Your enemies are also just as devilish as you'd expect.  In addition to a small army of your fellow marines raised as undead murder machines, you've got fire-throwing imps, demons (both visible and cloaked varieties), flying burning skulls that bite you and of course, the game's most iconic monster, the Cacodemon.  A spherical creature with horns, one eye and a huge mouth full of sharp teeth that belches lightning at you.

They do go down surprisingly easily to a chainsaw, though

The occasional boss crops up as well, and these guys can take an absurd amount of punishment before they go down...

Meet the Barons of Hell.  The manual describes them as "tough as a dump truck and nearly as big", and that's a pretty apt description as they can sustain multiple hits from a rocket launcher and keep coming right at you, either hurling deadly green plasma or tearing you apart with their claws.  They even start showing up in later stages as normal enemies, though thankfully they're relatively sparse compared to other enemy types.

Oh yeah, and there are two even bigger, nastier bosses waiting for you at the end of later episodes.  Have fun with that!

Of course, you're also given a pretty solid variety of weapons to combat hell's hordes.  You star with little more than your fists and a basic pistol (which, as every DOOM fan knows, is complete rubbish and only exists so you have a fighting chance to get something better).  However, you'll soon come across a shotgun, then move up to a chaingun and rocket launcher for bigger enemies.  Episodes 2 and beyond also introduce the plasma rifle, which fires a constant stream of green plasma, and of course the game's most iconic weapon, the BFG 9000.  An enormous beast of a weapon that fires green bursts which decimate everything onscreen and deal massive damage to even boss characters.  It's usually well hidden though, so you'd better be up for some secret hunting!

Ah yes, there's also a melee weapon in the from of a chainsaw.  Good, brutal fun.  And somewhat out of place on a Martian moon with no plant life, but I won't hold that against it.

Once again hailing back to its video game roots, there are also a number of temporary powerups the player can utilize.  From environmental suits and light amps to provide protection against toxic waste and darker areas to more fun ones like the "partial invisibility" (which makes enemies have a harder time targeting you) and the invulnerability sphere.  Or my favorite, the Berserk pack, which not only restores you to full health but multiplies the power of your punches tenfold, allowing you to splatter smaller enemies with one punch.  Very fun.

That stuff's all well and good, but DOOM wouldn't be the fondly remembered classic it is today were it not for one big thing: Replayability.  From square one, DOOM was intended to be a highly modifiable game, even having level-building tools packed in with the game itself.  From this thousands upon thousands of fan-made levels have been made and passed around the internet since its early days, and numerous fan tools only pushed this further by allowing things like weapon behavior and enemy AI to be modified, effectively allowing them to turn DOOM into almost another game entirely.

The real tipping point, however, came ten years after DOOM's release, when the game's source code was made public.  This allowed for source ports, total conversions, mods and even reconstructions of other games, all pushing the engine well beyond what was thought to be possible.  Everything from putting the player in a small environment and having waves of enemies attack Smash TV style to turning doom into a Roguelike or even a recreation of SNES games like Donkey Kong Country.  All things which, in no small part, lend themselves to turning DOOM into a game with virtually infinite replay value.

A few choice mods

Chex Quest - A DOOM total conversion famously packaged in boxes of Chex in the mid 90s, turning it into a non-violent adventure where you play as a cereal-esque spaceman teleporting aliens back to their home planet.  Yes, it's silly, but it's a lot of fun, and it's worth checking out just for the cheesy CGI opening.  It's also a free download nowadays and even includes a third episode that was never commercially released, so that's a plus too.

Reelism - Effectively Smash TV in the DOOM engine, setting you in a small level and giving you random weapons, enemies and special effects to contend with as you try to rack up a high score.  Very addictive.

Brutal Doom - Ramps up the violence to what can only be described as absurd levels, with enemies regularly losing limbs and heads, gore splatters on walls and even ceilings, revamping the weapons for more splatter and even adding in some new animations for berserker kills.  Hell, you can even tear the weapons off of defeated enemies and use them against others.  Fun and hilarious, and even a little disturbing at times.

The Sky May Be - By the author's own admission, this is basically a mad science experiment intended to create something never before seen in the DOOM engine.  For better or worse it succeeds in that endeavor, sporting some truly bizarre level design, surreal enemy behavior and a lot of off-the-wall humor.  Even almost two decades after its release, there's still no clear consensus on whether it's a work of genius or the worst DOOM level ever created...

In short, DOOM is an indisputable masterpiece of PC gaming.  While it may have been surpassed in technology, its gameplay remains the gold standard for the genre, mixing equal parts puzzle solving, fast-paced combat and strategy.  Not to mention a huge, thriving modding community that exists to this day providing an endless amount of new content and conversions to continually keep things fresh for old and new players alike.  A definite A+ in my book.

As an added bonus, here's an actual Microsoft presentation from 1995, featuring Bill Gates chromakeyed into the game: