Thursday, December 15, 2016

Shadow of the Wool Ball (SHADOWO*.WAD)


Making a full-fledged Doom clone with all new resources... Well, that's hard. Making a Wolf3D clone, though, that's a different story. I'm still not going to pretend that it's easy, but Wolf's much simpler level design sets the bar much lower and not having to make full rotations for monster sprites (since they only have to be focused on you) can only be a boon for working sprite artists. 2016's Shadow of the Wool Ball is a passion project from MSPaintR0cks featuring retro Wolfenstein action rendered in a clean, cartoony art style. A ZDoom release, it's three episodes of six levels for a grand total of eighteen that's meant to run with the Doom II IWAD, but can run just fine in the original Doom excepting a surprise guest appearance from the end text from Doom's Inferno.


The setting is anthropomorphic, to say the least. You're a hedgehog who can go fast, but a legally distinct fast, and your idyllic hedgehog planet is invaded by a fleet of fascist felines that start kidnapping your hedgie-wedgie pals... including your girlfriend! You get caught up in the sweep, too, but pull a B. J. Blaskowitz and kill your guard in the bunker where you're being held. Your roly-poly reverie takes you out through the bunker and then through space on the same ship that the cats used to attack you, taking the fight to their home planet: the ecliptic, eponymous Wool Ball. It's a simple, compelling narrative, provided you don't think too hard about stuff like why every place you visit is conveniently rigged with explosives set to detonate with the press of a big button marked "SHUTDOWN".


Because Shadow of the Wool Ball is fundamentally a somewhat embellished Wolfenstein 3D in its execution (regardless of what its guts are), it will not make any converts of people who have long grown weary of action on a flat plane. However, MSPaint has done a lot to introduce gameplay hooks that keep the action flowing and the pace at which they're introduced coupled with the three six-level episodes hits a sweet spot that ought to keep less enthusiastic players engaged to the explosive, Michael Bay-spirited finale. If you're not grabbed by the first few levels, you can probably set this one down.


One of the biggest differences between SotWB and the original Wolf3D is speed. Hedgie moves just like Doomguy, and you'll need the speed because every level but the last has a two-step ending sequence. The door marked "EXIT" doesn't open until you press the "SHUTDOWN" button, which initiates a ten-second self-destruct countdown. That's your cue to run like Hell or be blown to smithereens. While this "flat" game has no resulting platforming aspects, there are a lot of gimmicks that rely on the player's precise movement in timing-based scenarios that have almost all of the elements of platforming, just occurring on the X axis rather than the Y. These typically involve moments like the very viscous vacuum of Hedge space or ventilation fans blowing you toward dangers like spike traps but also include bits like snapping crusher doors that must be precisely navigated.


You'll also find that many of the objects in the levels are destructible, usually plant pots and tables but also including fragile doors and nearly every secret wall. Some of the objects yield tasty treats that replenish your health, but I wouldn't eat the burgers if I were you. After all, those kit kats were capturing hedgehogs for a reason. Secrets contain a variety of goodies but the most notable inclusions are prisoners and, sometimes, the golden shotgun. Freeing prisoners rewards you with ammo for the golden shotgun, which is about three times as strong as the normal shotgun and a very nice bonus for continuous players especially since you can carry your loadouts between episodes. Load up on those shells and give those bullet sponge bosses what-for!


Speaking of weapons, you get the Wolfenstein four plus the aforementioned golden shotgun, alternate to the regular shotgun. Your basic cat fodder will die pretty quickly to the pistol with a dramatic leap in health between them and toughs like the berserker cats, officers, and spiderwalkers. The chaingun is your faster alternative to the pistol, useful for stunlocking but pretty inaccurate when firing continuously. The shotgun will almost certainly be your workhorse for handling tough monsters, especially the bosses, given that toughs like the officer can take roughly six shots to bring down. The fist is only really useful for breaking furniture and walls (and viewscreens!) since it's incredibly dangerous to be close to any of these monsters.


The cats themselves have a color scheme that's deliberately evocative of the Nazi totalitarian state; it's not exactly reflected in most of the kitties, since they're mostly dressed in maroon, but their flags and the garb of the officers / wizards is pretty obvious. Of the two hitscanner grunts, the scrawny dude goes down in a single shot while the dual-wielding sunglasses-wearing soldiers are a bit tougher and sound kind of like Duke Nukem. Berserkers fill a niche kind of like the demon but feel way more dangerous, even if the shotgun tends to knock them back a good bit. The saucer-riders charge you like lost souls that can sort of curve their paths. Officers are slow-moving hulks that fire pretty powerful cannonballs.


Two of the kitties can float; the weaker type fires (or throws up?) green fireballs (hairballs?) while the powerful wizard fires three in a row and can resurrect the littered bodies of his fellownious felines. He's still pretty flimsy, unlike the spider kitty, who moves quite quickly and stops to fire a near-constant stream of plasma. He's a pretty unwelcome surprise... and descended from the bosses of the first episode, who are a lot faster and tougher. Each boss comes with a pretty cool intro sequence but has varying degrees of annoyance involved. The boss of E2 is the best, I think, because you can figure out a movement pattern that works with his attack pattern whereas the dual arachnocats feel too random and the final boss is just too punishing to do anything but waltz with a pillar between you.


Thankfully, you can turn the environmental hazards to your advantage, whether they're the classic exploding barrels, luring them into the steel jaws of click-clack doors, or racing across a room so that you can flip the switch to lower the forcefield that sucks the slower-moving cats into the cold vacuum of space. About the only thing you can't get them to do is attack each other, though I think that they're still vulnerable to their own hitscans. As for the more exotic traps, like the watcher of E2M4 who unleashes a torrent of guards or the "reverse-gravity" trap of E3M3, well, those are more for your benefit anyway.


All gameplay aside... Shadow of the Wool Ball has a really cool look. I love the cartoony vibe and there's a lot of character in the enemies and their animations. It's about as decorative as it can get away with while adhering to the Wolfenstein format, but fairly consistent thematically, notwithstanding stuff like wood paneling inside a space ship. I'm surprised that the pulsing, living landscape of the Wool Ball wasn't showcased as much as E3M1 would have suggested; perhaps MSPaint thought that he'd drawn out that particular yarn as much as he needed to. It was one of the most evocative environments for me, with an atmosphere of horror that I had not expected given Wool's otherwise goofy tone.


I haven't played Wolf3D in a long time, and I had never played a mod that adhered to its general style of play, but I'm glad that I got a chance to play this one. While I hope that any future adventures from the briar patch include more vertical depth, keeping them and their episodes short and sweet do wonders for the flat front. Even if you're not that into it, you might want to stick it out for some delicious Easter eggs flavored with Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, and Prince of Persia. Thanks, MSPaint! See you next adventure!





SHADOW OF
THE WOOL BALL

by "MSPaintR0cks"

EPISODE ONE
BUNKER BRAWL

Bunker CatnipE1M1
A short intro-style level to initiate you into the core gameplay conceits. Already it's hammered in that it's basically a Wolf3D clone, but the destructible objects yielding munchies are a nice change-up and all of the normal enemies are the easily-slain variety. It also shows you how to divine secrets, though they're pretty straightforward since you're looking for cracked walls. Secret-hunting also introduces a few other mechanics, namely the golden shell rescues as well as your stronger hitscan enemies plus the shotgun. And, lastly, the exit mechanism, which would suck with Wolf3D's speed but feels pretty neat with Doom's.

E1M2Bunker Cat Litter
A slightly larger area to explore and introducing the charming Dr. Proton-esque diatribes delivered via camera... with an unexpected (but appreciated) Easter egg. The villain actually introduces the level's major trap, so if it wipes you out, you deserve it. The Golden Shotgun also makes its debut, a weapon useful mainly to continuous players. Having the shotgun ambush lock the player in is a nice way to further differentiate this from its gameplay origins.

Air Vent AheadE1M3
The main feature of this level is a moving floor circuit, the result of powerful ventilation fans. Depending on how you navigate the map, you may have to travel it several times. The berserker ambush with the walls flinging to the other side of the room is a great moment and a fantastic intro for the newest monster. I suppose that the air vent thing in the southeastern area is the sort of thing that approximates platforming when the plane of action is flat.

E1M4Flying Saucer Halls
Things get harder with the introduction of a few more enemies. The namesake, of course, are the fast-flying cats in cups which deserve about as much respect as you can muster, plus the cannon-toting officers. The Wolf3D starts to show as big, open rooms are the only thing really appropriate for the rushing dishes. On the other hand, the spike traps - especially when paired with those devilish fans - make for another interesting moment of quasi-platforming (timing). The big air duct conga line is a potentially interesting encounter, though it's probably a lot easier to just hug your way to the prisoners and then turkey shoot it with all the golden shells.

Disco AreaE1M6
A silly area with a definite visual gimmick, the blue walls flashing between red and green. MSPaint tries to add a gameplay edge with one big open area vertically sectioned off by railings, but it just makes the melee monsters so much easier to kill. It will completely kit you out in golden shells, though, what with all the prisoners holed up in here.

E1M5The Whisker Bros
Boss fight! The build-up is worth it. Bimmy and Jimmy aren't particularly nuanced, functioning basically like large, fast-moving arachnotrons, but a pair of those is all you need since you never know quite where they'll show up once you break their line of sight. It's also easy to forget about all the destructible objects and get hung up when you're trying to get away from that plasma spray. A nice topper.



EPISODE TWO
CATS IN SPACE

Forcefield FiascoE2M1
A pretty straightforward map with a couple of neat gimmicks to introduce. One are the forcefields that keep you from getting pulled out into space, sort of an inverse of those fan units. The other are breakable glass windows that monsters can see you through. The level's pretty straightforward, running almost straight from south to north with the only real threat being in the observation room when the cats try to blow you out into the vast expanse.

E2M2The Fur-nal Frontier
A more typical layout (and grounded textures - wood in space???) swarming with higher-HP monsters like officers and showing off the sinister super-mages, which can resurrect the otherwise flimsy floating cats. There are some exploding mines, too, but they don't really contribute to making the gameplay any more dynamic. It's more interesting that you have to skirt some of the bigger nasties (on Hard) and come back to them later. I like the purely optional locked area, filled with gameplay goodies.

Windy WarehouseE2M3
A gimmick map with a hint of Veni, Vidi, Vici. Stepping out into the corridor starts you on an obstacle course as you navigate your path through barb-wire ringed crates; when you forcefully strike the shutdown button, you've got to do everything in reverse but under the 10-second time limit. Pretty fun, if very short.

E2M6Smells of Doom
Well, yes, it DOES vaguely smell of Doom. The adorable prancing kitty in Doomguy armor is actually a monster, though he's harmless apart from getting in your way if you're trying to avoid killing him. The rest is unremarkable but for some glass walls that give it a sort of office-complex look and another air vent / barbed wire obstacle course leading to the finale. Dat sproingy Doomcat, tho...

Watch Out For the WatcherE2M4
Now this is a neat gimmick. You can either pick a fight to get the secret or just sneak past the highly telegraphed watcher pattern, grab the key and ammo, and then leave to finish the rest of the map. The alarm ambush is not to be trifled with, but there are some stores - including a golden shotgun - that become available when you trigger it to ease some of the meatier portions. MSPaint continues to mess around with moving floors and, in this particular instance, some kind of crushing door to add yet another movement and timing component.

E2M5The Cat-ptain
After duking it out with the officers, you get the big boss. Harkon is pretty dangerous but you should be able to take him down with a few choice behaviors. Don't go crazy trying to dodge his rockets since it's pretty easy to slow side-step his shots and give you plenty of room. Also, don't get too close, since he charges you with ramming speed. Once he's dead, it's just a couple of leftovers before this mission is over.


EPISODE THREE
BALLS OF WOOL

Fur of the DarkE3M1
Difficulty on Hard makes for quite the steep wall; pistol start for challenge mode only! "Dark" is loaded with spider kitties and some other tough monsters, like the officers in the opening area. Just getting your foot in the door is tricky and you may have to resort to exploiting a crushing door in order to even break even. Even then, some of the areas like the spider kitty railing extravaganza are just brutal. The pulsing walls and blood make for a pretty neat look, though.

E3M2Paw-nic Room
Ah, much nicer. The combat is a bit tighter but the guns and secrets are far more forgiving making for a solid experience. The whole barrel thing is a cool opening hook that will either destroy you or be quickly turned to your advantage and the guard station sort of room feels fairly organic amid the Wolf3D stuff. Just a nice, relatively meaty level.

Nostalgia ParkE3M6
What animatronics? Oh, right. I'd been waiting for something like this to happen, especially with "Smells Like Doom", but having it in the context of a private gallery with clumsy, animatronic Nazis and - gasp - swordsmen from Prince of Persia was more than I had hoped for. It's fun to explore and the action is pretty light, in keeping with that post-E3M1 pleasant vibe.

E3M3Purranoia
The monsters should be pretty familiar by now, but MSPaint has three different wings, each with its own gameplay gimmick. One of these is an "anti-gravity" trap that just reorients it so that all your foes - the weakest cats - are walking on the ceiling. It's neat - visually. The optional leg is a chain of rooms that seems to go on forever with a couple of minor ambushes. The only reason to run it really is a golden shotgun pickup in a fairly obvious secret. The meat of the map lies to the west with timed crushers and false doors (but not at the same time, thankfully) and the level's tougher monsters.

Iron MeowdownE3M4
Taking many of the previous level gimmicks and folding them together for one big show before the finale. There are a few surprises; bumping into one of the E1 bosses just about tripped me up, for instance, and the wind tunnel segments get a bit more complex, but there should be no reason for this map to stonewall you from the exit.

E3M5The Paws of Evil
A short leadup to the big bad...'s guardian. The hulking supercat is a total pain in the ass to fight with his chainguns, essentially requiring you to dance around one of those load-bearing segments with the shotgun and make sure you can hit him and then immediately duck behind the wall. If you're caught, expect to lose a lot of health, and there isn't a whole lot to go around. When he's dead, you're free to confront the big bad, which ends about as well as could be expected. Enjoy your Michael Bay-directed victory!


This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's 2016 Cacowards

The Top TenBest MultiplayerRunners Up
Tech Gone BadAeonDMWarphouse
Ancient Aliens32in24-16THT: Threnody
Nihility: Infinite TeethBest Gameplay ModBloodstain
MutinyDoom 4 DoomStrange Aeons
Absolutely KilledMordeth AwardEchelon
Elf Gets PissedDoom the Way id Did:Shadow of the Wool Ball
ComatoseThe Lost Episodes
MiasmaMockaward
Alpha Accident: Terra NovaLudicrium
Japanese Community ProjectMapper of the Year
Blades of Agony E1Lainos

10 comments:

  1. Was a very charming romp that kept me glued to the screen from start to finish. Really looking forward to whatever the author decides to do next.

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  2. I think I played this straight through in a single afternoon, it was so much fun. I laughed out loud at the final encounter. And the music for E1M6 was amazing.

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    1. a lot of things sold me on Wool Ball, but the moment that clinched it for me was smashing the first intercom screen, something I had no idea would happen. that and the unintelligible DoomCat

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  3. This, and the Adventures of Square.

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    1. i have slightly bigger hopes for the TAoS of Jimmy

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  4. Very very cool! Caffeine being your primary source of strength was a cute touch. That detail reminded me of DTVDOOM. Only unlike DTVDOOM this was decidedly less on the cleaning out ms-paint French offices and more on the conquering an ms-paint army of feline fascists side of things.

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    1. huh! sounds like an interesting bit of doom obscura

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  5. E3M4 is named "Iron Meowden" not "Meowdown"

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  6. While technically on the DooM engine, I like this game better than most official Wolf3D clones. Maybe would have sold alright in 1993 (if it had been theoretically developed with the actual Wolf3D engine). Definitely this author prefers the more primitive engines but it works for his games (technically TCs) regardless.

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