My first Doom 2 level, Fork And Knife In The Road, was based on the simple idea of two layers of forking paths (creating six encounter areas) that could be played in any order before the final section. Perhaps unwisely, for my next project I wanted to do something much bigger with a strong central ‘gimmick,’ in this case to build an entire level as a spiral that forces the player to loop back to the center and proceed outward multiple times, with the level somehow changing with every loop.
I sketched out an initial idea on paper and then blocked out rooms in GZDoomBuilder (abbreviated henceforth to “GZDB”) and started… building.
After many hours of work, I managed to create a spiral of rooms with a kind of ‘sewer’ much lower, between the ‘layers’ of spiral, which could be used to loop back to the starting room multiple times. The starting room changes every time you go back to it, with new enemies spawning, walls coming down, and textures changing in a way that creates a sense of unease; “Something is wrong here!”
Eventually, though, the rigid “spiral of rectangles” structure started to feel tiresome, and building it to loop back over and over again made the whole thing creatively too restrictive (and technically more difficult with each iteration).
I had another idea that way too ambitious in hindsight: To end the spiral on a long path that would trigger the entire center area – every wall, every floor – to drop down to the same height, transforming the entire level into an enormous combat arena for a final battle with one (or more) cyberdemons and a horde of other demons.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough experience with Doom’s “linedef” actions (which are the traditional way to do moving floors and ceilings in Doom) to actually plan ahead in a way that made that feasible, so once I tried to actually do it the level turned into a mess and I had to undo all those changes and scrap the idea.
So I was left with:
- A pretty cool box of boxes configured in a spiral
- A reasonable amount of gameplay
Between starting this level and making the decision to FINALLY finish it (years later!) I played the incredible megawad Valiant and was impressed with how many of the early levels re-use small spaces for multiple encounters as the players loops back and forth to find and use keys. Drawing inspiration from that megawad, along with my fondness for Doom 2’s city levels that give the player free reign to explore an open area and discover areas with distinct encounters, I decided to use what I had already built as a central “building” inside a much larger level with a few different areas that sometimes required the player to loop through the same area more than once to “complete” it.
Here’s the final level:
Some Design Notes
A few quick notes on the design follows. For the most detailed analysis, check out the developer commentary playthrough video at the top of this page.
“The Skillsaw Area” was inspired by a trick I’ve seen in megawads like Ancient Aliens and Valiant, where there’s a higher area (the grey area above) that drops down into a lower area (the darker part pictured) as a way to very quickly and surprisingly introduce a very large and dangerous encounter. There are just a few enemies in the grey area, and then there’s a switch that drops it down to reveal absolute chaos in the area below. A player who panics would run into a lot of trouble here, but a player who stays calm would notice that there’s a radiation suit and plenty of ammo and health spread around the area, along with a discreetly-placed switch that opens to a secret area (the path on the right) that leads to a megasphere.
This big square room was both an exercise in reusing an area and an exercise in building with verticality more than I usually do. The player has to make two full loops around the room in order to get the yellow skull key, and when they make the second loop the room at the bottom of the screenshot opens up to reveal more enemies.
This massive area is supposed to tell an environmental story of people building structures on top of this very large and very cursed area. The repeating structures with two circles in them are made to look like some kind of “pumps” with a ring of suffering humans around them, moving up and down while the human writhe in pain. It’s a bit abstract, but that’s Doom for you!