UPDATE April 7, 2019: Due to a delay in physical production of some of SIGIL’s pieces, fan boxes will ship in the first week of May. The free megawad will be made available one week after fan boxes begin shipping so paying customers can play SIGIL first.
THERE WAS A reason Romero made a new map for Doom rather than returning to another of the games he’d co-designed, such as Quake. “Doom’s engine is really easy to use. It’s really easy to build for, and it’s fast to build for. I was more interested in spending all my time being in a creative space instead of dealing with the hassles of full 3D, which eats up a lot of time.”
Stories of Quake’s arduous development are legendary. According to Romero, he can whip up a single room for Doom in no time: four lines, four seconds—done. Quake’s process is more complex, in part because of the instability of its engine until John Carmack got a handle on programming a true-3D game. Even then, building a skeletal room in Quake required more effort than dropping four lines. Quake’s ace design team of Romero, Tim Willits, Sandy Petersen, and American McGee had had to create brushes, building blocks such as doors, switches, lifts, and other elements that defined a level’s geometry, then placed them according to a very rigid series of steps.
Romero recalled working on an early version of Quake’s E2M6 map. He’d finished half the level when Carmack rolled out a new version of the tech. The update had, among other changes, altered the scale of hallways. “Because of the amount of brushes, the density of geometry, this partial level I’d made at the old scale, I didn’t have time to rebuild it, and I had no time to try and fix it: spread it out, pull it apart. It took so long to do that in 3D. The rest of the level feels all right, but the rest feels tighter, and is a little older.”
As Romero wove together E1M8b, he found himself remembering how he did things way back when—squaring off rooms, deciding when and where to place trigger events such as doors opening to unleash a horde of monsters—and carrying out those functions as effortlessly as if December 10, 1993, had been just yesterday.
“It was easy. Instantaneous. No problem,” he said. “The E1M8b you played was exactly what I made [as a first draft]. I didn’t do any tests or temp levels, anything before that. I just started making it. It was cool.”
Doom fans around the world tended to agree. “E1M8B is a wonderful map that is all the more astounding for being Romero’s first foray back into the FPS mapping world since Quake 1,” wrote one user on Doom World. “If this is just a warm-up, I look forward to seeing what he can do with all cylinders firing.”
Three-and-a-half months later, Romero hopped back in his time machine. E1M8b had been a hit, and he was still putting together designs for Blackroom. As another warm-up exercise, he set his sights on recreating E1M4.
Although Romero received credit for building most of Knee-Deep in the Dead, bits and pieces of E1M4 had been made by Tom Hall before his departure from id Software. Romero had taken those bits, created lots of new architecture to go with them, and finished the level. “This was a chance for me to make a level that would replace that. I wanted to do something new in E1M4,” he said of E1M4b.
The original E1M4’s most distinctive characteristic is a maze near the end. The lighting is dim and spooky. The ceiling is so low players can almost believe they’ll have to crawl rather than run through it, the walls claustrophobically tight. Side passages unravel from the main path, all of which lead to supplies such as health and ammo, as well as encounters with Imps and the bulldog-like Pinky Demons. Other than the maze, Romero said, E1M4 had been just another futuristic lab. Not a bad level by any stretch, but unremarkable aside from its final minutes.
For his re-imagining, Romero wanted to fool players into believing his map was small, only to reveal more as they progress. Every switch they pull, every button they press, and in certain areas, every step they take, peels back layers like an onion. Elevators activate, stairs raise to help players reach previously inaccessible terrain, and walls lower to reveal new paths.
“When you’re playing deathmatch, it’s cool because everybody eventually pulls as many walls down as possible so they can see through areas and shoot rockets out there, do all kinds of stuff that you could not do at the beginning of the level,” Romero added.
Following another two weeks of off-and-on work, Romero uploaded E1M4b to Doom World. Once again, the gaming press obliged with write-ups, YouTubers uploaded their playthroughs, and Doom World members posted their impressions.
Romero was over the moons, both Phobos and Deimos. Academically, he’d learned nothing new in regard to designing maps. Neither of his new levels was meant to be innovative. They were refinements, distillations of months of coding and decades of daydreaming about Doom maps.
Personally, however, he’d learned an invaluable lesson. He still had it.
“It made those memories come to the forefront, out of the filing cabinet in my head,” Romero described of creating E1M8b and E1M4b. “I don’t forget how to program in 6502 assembly language. I’ll never forget that. I did it every single day for 10 years. It’s part of me, just like making Doom levels is part of me.”
The physical copies of Sigil are almost ready; the Buckethead soundtrack is up on bandcamp
Ain’t gonna lie, that’s a cool song
Yeah Buckethead rules. Check him out more if you haven’t already.
He made an album with Les Claypool.
And he’s just cool in general.
I ignored him early on in his career because I didn’t like his ultra technical style. Then I heard some things that made me warm up to him. Then he was in GnR and I loved his work. So now I say, yeah, he rules. Also, he knows how to handle nunchucks and I always liked that
there has to be a better way to get a vaguely CRTesque experience than this, but this doesn’t look half bad.