.: DooMster Unveiled: Inside the BossBrain

Spotlight on Nigel "Enjay" Rowand: May 9, 2012

The DooMster from Bonnie Scotland needs no introduction, but I'll do it anyway. Way back in the 20th Century, Enjay peered into a mess of moving pixels on his CRT (cathode Ray Tube, for the uninitiated out there) monitor and, while dodging the occasional fireball and rocket, came up with the notion that he'd like to give game development a shot. And thus was an unerring course set for a collision with destiny. Or at least an obsession that he has yet to shake off. Eighteen years and several awards later, he continues to grow and evolve. Aside from creating numerous maps and adventures, he has delved into virtually every aspect of DooM modification, including new enemies, graphics, scripting, and modelling. He has even created a private on-line gaming adventure named "Aspects', which he selfishly refuses to share with the rest of us peons. Despite it all, he shows no signs of slowing down. But enough of my rambling. Let's hear from him in his own words:

DN: I believe you were one of the early ones to cut your eye teeth on shareware Doom. What were your first impressions?

Enjay: I actually have a very clear memory of my first time playing Doom and the subsequent months. There had been quite a buzz about Doom being developed by "you know, those guys who made Wolfenstein" and as the time for release came closer, adverts started appearing and word of mouth was mentioning all sorts of Doom features that weren't in Wolfenstein but sounded so cool and so needed in a "true 3D" game. I remember mentions of different light levels, floors at different heights and so on. So, by the time I got to play Doom, I was quite "stoked" for it. The way you got your game demos and shareware was usually on a magazine cover disk. My friend got it before me. He 'phoned me up one evening and all he said was "I've got it" and I was round there almost before he had a chance to put the 'phone down. And, yes, it was everything they promised and more. There are a few things that I remember from that first night: the hypnotic sway of the weapon on the screen (remember, Wolf's weapons don't sway); opening the first door and seeing the zombies in that tech area; that "really tough thing" on the platform throwing fireballs at me; the pools of damaging nukage and the moaning/breathing idling sound that the zombies make which seemed to be *everywhere*. And the bruiser brothers. I remember the sheer "shock and awe" of those impossible to kill huge monsters - and there were two of them. "How am I supposed to kill them." LOL

Then, of course, there was the multiplayer aspect of it. We would go to my office on a Saturday and co-op or deathmatch for hours. Again, I don't think it is possible for newer gamers to realise the impact of playing a multiplayer FPS when it was the first time anyone had seen anything like it. The fact that the marine running around on the screen was not just part of the program but your friend sitting at the next computer was totally mind blowing.

Good times.

DN: What made you take up a piece of paper (figuratively) and create that first map?

Enjay: It was something that I had always wanted to do. In fact, I'd say that modding the games I play has almost always been part of my gaming. I think it's the desire to create my own world and, especially when Doom was new, it almost felt like there was some kind of mystical magic going on to be able to point at something on screen in a game and say "I made that". The first game that I really obsessed about was "Eye of the Beholder" - a sort of FPS dungeon crawl RPG - and I always wanted to mod it. I had in my mind the bigger background for the characters in my party and the places they were going to. There were no real modding tools to speak of for it but I hacked around with it and was able to make minor changes to character sheets and so on using a hex editor. A little later there was Wolfenstein but modding tools started to appear for it. I never got my hands on a level editor for it back then but I was able to change the graphics and I completely retextured my game with walls that I screen grabbed from Eye of the Beholder.

So, by the time it came to Doom, the idea of modding a game wasn't new to me, but I had never really had the tools to make an extensive mod. However, it really wasn't that long before tools such as DEU, DMAUD and DMGRAPH started to appear for Doom and, after a little bit of learning, it had become possible for me to change far more of the game world than ever before. Like most people back then, I just started out by changing some of the items in the existing levels and making classy mods like putting a spiderdemon in the open area of E1M1. Every time I tried to move a vertex, however, the map got messed up. Then I learned about BSP and so on and so on...

DN: Who were your early influences?

Enjay: I don't know the answer to that really. I think the obvious answer is probably the guys at id. My friend, the one who got Doom first, had made a bit more progress with editing Doom that I had at that stage and he showed me how the editor that he was using at the time (DMReal) worked and that finally got me laying down my own sectors. So I guess he was an influence.

Because back then there wasn't an online community in the way that there is now, I guess I just made my maps without any easily identifiable influences. However, that's not to say that I don't have people who I can identify as influences. So who to pick? I've made no secret that I admire the work of certain individuals and some of their projects remain very memorable to me. (Your very own Paranoia was a big influence on me and picking it apart was how I learned enough about ACS to feel confident enough to venture forth with my own scripting, the same could be said for Fatal's similarly themed TQTrust, Fredrik's Vrack taught me loads about architecture, Tormentor for scripting, visuals and ideas, Lexus Alyus' Realm of the Green Soul was another map that has influenced how I think about my own modding, my own Marine Assault was inspired by Espi's Ruma, LilWhiteMouse has given me a number of ideas simply because she is such an original "outside the box" thinker when it comes to doing stuff with the game, Justin Fischer of Aliens TC fame - how could any TC maker not be influenced by him, Pablo Dicter - he really showed me how to get mood into a level with his Shores of Hell themed maps, Esselfortium, more recently, has been a cursed influence on me (:P) because he pointed out that a map can be improved by matching the edges of the bricks in a texture to where the architecture actually starts and stops. Damned fiddly.

Ack, there I go listing people when I said I wouldn't. There are two people who I would really want to mention. The first would be Kurt Kesler. I think that he was the first person to really grab the new features in Boom by the horns and make some impressive maps with those features neatly and seamlessly incorporated into the gameplay. His KBase series and the later KZDoom maps for ZDoom really helped show what could be done (especially #7). The other person is Ty Halderman. His influence was less from the modding point of view and more as a community member. When Boom was still being actively developed we exchanged a few emails and his approach impressed me. For years, he's been there in the background keeping an eye on the idgames database or doing stuff with Team TNT and he just gets on with it. Oh, and NiGHTMARE, he's the third of the two people that I want to mention. Much like Ty, Nick has been around for a long time and just gets on with it. He has been involved in many major projects, probably produced more custom textures than any one else, hosted ideas like the original Beastiary [sic] sprite page and just been a constant presence. He's someone who's opinion I value because he always seems to have a well a measured point of view. Possibly more than the other mappers that I mentioned his style has influenced me. He has a nice clean style that is functional and creates credible environments in the game world. Also, I have to take it as a tremendous compliment that someone as accomplished as Nick cites my own NJDoom as one of the influences that got him into modding the game.

DN: You seem to have an imagination that's as vast as the sky. What motivates you to seek out new ways to express yourself through DooM?

Enjay: An imagination as vast as the sky? You do realise that you have asked me this during my longest period of mapper's block right? ;) I used to do a lot of mapping and modding for no one other than myself. Often, it's the mapping and modding that I enjoy as much as, if not more than, the playing (and I enjoy the playing a lot). So, I would regularly come up with projects for myself like "I want to make a Wolfenstein themed TC" or a Star Wars TC or whatever. Then I would set about doing it, gathering resources, creating levels, "borrowing" levels by other mappers that fit the idea and then retexturing them etc. During that time though, I'd had fun and been able to come up with something that I hoped was fun for others.

My Burghead mod had its plot lifted directly from a live action role playing event that I ran with some friends. The story, location, nature of the enemies, some of the weapons and equipment and even the timings of it were very much influenced by what happened on the ground at that event - but enhanced to allow things not possible in real life that are quite possible in a game (e.g. the number of enemies and a huge underground base). It was really nice and quite strange to have something from real life (kind of) that, in my opinion, leant itself so well to making a Doom mod. It was both a challenge and an enjoyable experience to realise it in the form of some game levels.

I think that most of my ideas are imported from something that I have experienced, either directly or via a movie or TV show or another game. Sometimes that will be just a snippet of something that forms part of a bigger whole but at other times it has been the whole idea. It's pretty obvious that my Heretic Thiefy level, for example, was very influenced by the original Thief games. I've never done a reasonably straight World War Two mod (as opposed to Wolfenstein stuff) and I've always quite fancied that (although my Overlord and Burghead mods did cover a lot of that kind of ground) and something Doctor Who related has been nagging away at the back of my mind for years too but never really come to much more than "I quite fancy doing that". Quite often though, things feed themselves in a quite cyclic way. With me enjoying movies, books comics, role playing and video games (dear lord, you can't get much more stereotypically nerdy can you - at least I'm not a scientist, owait, I am) they often share common themes and ideas and situations can be transferable from one to the other and that can then lead on to another idea and so on.

DN: You've been recognized for many of the projects you've released. What do awards mean to you?

Enjay: I think they may mean that I'm a hypocrite. I have always had a certain distaste for the various media awards, TV awards, Oscars etc. I find the whole back-slapping, self congratulatory nature of them quite awful. But that's why I might be a hypocrite - because I like the fact that I've received some awards and recognition for my work. I'm very thankful to those who chose to award me and it's really nice when people say things like "I enjoyed your map" or simply "thank you". Don't get me wrong, I don't make a map aiming for it to get a cacoward. I map primarily because I enjoy doing it. If it wasn't fun, I wouldn't do it. An award at the end of it has never been a consideration or motivating factor. Doing the modding is reward enough for me to do it. If people like what I have made, then that's a bonus; I had fun and they're having fun too. By the time a project is in the bag, most of my reasons for making it have been satisfied. I've made loads of stuff for the fun of it that has never gotten beyond my own hard drive. However, it is nice when people say they like my stuff and having a couple of golden cacodemons sitting on my virtual shelf is very nice. I just don't expect the cacowards to be an internationally televised ceremony held at an expensive venue and broadcast to the world so that people can argue over coffee whether a Caco was deserved or not. ;)

DN: You engage in real-time role-playing with friends, and it involves medieval weapons and gear, camping outdoors, and a great deal of swashbuckling (with a generous serving of mead thrown in for good measure, no doubt). How has this informed your game development for DooM?

Enjay: As I mentioned before, a lot of my hobbies have situations and themes that they can, potentially at least, share. Something else that they have in common is the fact that one person (or group) is designing something that they hope those who will play/watch/read will enjoy. The role playing, particularly the live action role playing, that I do involves people in very immediate and competitive situations or may require them to solve puzzles or problems or just do some task - much like a game level might.

I am very lucky in that I plan and run my events with a friend and we are both very thorough in our preparations for our events. Some events can take months to plan and they go through various stages between the initial idea and the final playing of the event. The planning stage can be quite brutal as we sit in a room for hours ripping each others ideas apart with no holds barred. My friend and I are constantly on the look out for ideas that we can use and almost any movie or TV show we see gets quite a deep analysis of what worked, what didn't, what was satisfying, what seemed fair, where the clues were that the characters needed to progress etc etc. This ongoing process helps us put together something that we hope will be fun, challenging, feel fair and, at the end of it all, allow the player to say "yeah, I did that" with some satisfaction. Of course, all this does mean that we get an event shaped very much by our own preferences of how we like to play and tailored to our own sense of what is fair and rewarding but that's OK. There are other people to create and play events that are not so much to our tastes.

So I hope some of that rubs off or at least helps inform what I do when I make a game level. It's why I quite like story driven stuff - not necessarily interfering with the gameplay itself but giving enough of a nod to a story so that the player has some context for their achievement in completing the level/mod.

DN: You have a full-time job and a family. Between these and your social commitments, how do you fit in the time for so much DooM?

Enjay: Family? What family? Oh, you mean those people I see wandering around the house when I'm not staring at my monitor? Am I related to them? ;) Actually, yes, there has been a conflict of interests at times. Doom modding does take up a lot of time and I remember back in the early days when I was trying to get my first level sets finished I would always be saying things to myself, and my wife, like "I've only got a couple of levels to do then it will be finished". Of course, once those levels were done, there was something else that I found to do and 18 years on I'm still not finished. I've got a lot of hobbies (not just the ones that I've mentioned here) and many of them take up a lot of time. Something has to give and, for me, that something has been probably been TV now that I think about it.

I've actually shared a bit of Doom time with my son and he released his first level a couple of years or more ago. He's still heavily into gaming and still likes to mess around with modding too but he spends more time with Fallout 3 at the moment. However, we have an idea for a simple mini-mod that we might collaborate on in the summer if we both have enough spare time.

Unfortunately, however, due to a variety of (mostly minor) health problems and a ridiculously high workload in my real-life job in recent months, perhaps even for a year or two, the thing that has had to increasingly give has been my Dooming. Recently, most of the time I have been limited to short periods of editing, or posting nonsense on a forum or whatever. I haven't had a decent block of time where I can sit down with my editor and make something substantial for a long time. Basically, I get a bit obsessive when I am trying to put something together and if I am unable to allocate enough time to it, it annoys me. So, it's actually mainly for these reasons, rather than the mappers block that I mentioned earlier, that I have been relatively unproductive recently Doom-wise.

DN: If you'll pardon my saying so (and I mean this in the best possible way), with DooM you strike me as being like a kid in a candy shop. What makes you rub your hands in glee when sitting in front of a computer and firing up a DooM-related utility?

Enjay: Pretty much everything about it. Kid in a sweetie shop is about right because every aspect of Doom editing is fun for me - sometimes annoying and frustrating, but ultimately fun. I love the ease and simplicity of a game whose structures I know inside out. This gives me the confidence to push ahead and try something that I haven't tried before because I know how to go about getting things done and how to undo problems if I create them. I have tried messing with other games - some much more modern, but I just enjoy modding for Doom much more. I love playing the maps and mods that other people have made and, almost as much, I love opening them up in an editor to see how they did various things. I enjoy it when someone sends me something to troubleshoot for them and I like it even more if I am able to solve the problem. I enjoy trying new utils to see how well they do what they are meant to do even if the task that they are doing isn't new. I enjoy the fact that Doom is still, effectively, under development via the source ports because that is always bringing new techniques and considerations to the table. So there is, even now, always something new to try but it's always in small manageable chunks because I'm not learning a whole new system of working. I'm just learning a new bit to add to the game I already know so well.

DN: You've had a recent injury, which has impacted your ability to play, but it clearly has not dampened your enthusiasm for DooM. How much longer do you see yourself involved in the game?

Enjay: Honestly, as long as Doom can still be played on the computers that I have available and I'm still able to do it, I don't really see a reason for me to stop. If you'd asked me that 10 years ago I might have thought differently but now I can't really think why I would stop. I've already passed through most of the common reasons why people no longer do a hobby they did when they were younger and come out the other side. Marriage, kids, career (two of them), illness and so on have all been coped with at the same time as continuing with this hobby. Alongside that, the technology in Doom has been surpassed many times over too so if I was going to switch to something more modern, rather than just quit game modding, I could have done so many times over too. I've dabbled with other games and I made an Unreal Tournament map set that I was quite pleased with (and then subsequently lost) but switching away from Doom has never really been something that I have given serious consideration to.

DN: Lately, you've been dabbling in a great deal of modeling for GZDooM. Can we expect to see some projects that use these resources?

Enjay: Perhaps. I don't know. I'm currently quite enthusiastic about 3D modelling simply because it has always been something that I have wanted to learn. I've tried many times in the past and downloaded various modelling programs (mostly ones that were far too complicated for what I wanted to do) but I always found the switch to moving vertices around in three dimensions difficult to make sense of. It was really GZDoom supporting models that got me looking at it more seriously. The fact that the game I knew so well had this "new" feature gave me a reason to try stuff because, aside from the step of making the actual model, I could get something in game and working very quickly. What's more, low poly game models are far simpler to mess with than some of the very complicated things that I had looked at in the past. So, I started pulling models out of games and messing them in various ways just to see how things were done - much like I had originally done for Doom levels. Then with some excellent help and advice from Nash, I managed to start doing things that were a bit a bit more complicated and, although I still have a long way to go, I'm now pretty comfortable with making simple models and, if there isn't anything suitable from an existing source, I'm sort of OK with having a stab at that too. However, I'm really happy that I now know much more about a subject that was previously a closed book to me (and thanks to help from Leileilol even Blender isn't a total mystery any more, just 99% of a mystery).

DN: At this point feel free to go hog-wild and add anything you'd like your two adoring fans to know about.

Enjay: Well, I suppose the last thing I mentioned is just an example of how Doom has allowed me to access or learn other skills: Graphics editing - I'm no Eriance but I'm comfortable at trying sprite modifications, texture creation and other graphics tasks required for game modding. I can't code, really, but familiarity with ACS allows me to talk about ints and floats and whatever with much more confidence. I've always wanted to delve into the dark art of compiling programs and thanks to ZDoom's source (in particular) being available and some excellent help from various community members (special mention to Martin Howe who downloaded all the programs I needed and sent them to me by mail because my Internet connection was too poor to do it myself) I can do that too.

But really, given a free reign, what I really think deserves a mention is the Doom community. Sure, we are good at having our little dramas and falling outs but the Doom community is actually a really stable, mature and good community to be a part of. We've got people who selflessly code the engines that we use to play the game. Being more heavily involved with ZDoom/GZDoom than other ports, special thanks has to go to Randy Heit and Graf Zahl for the work they put in (and they have done so for years) incorporating features that people request, squishing bugs and doing what they do including Randy running a site and forum as a hub for the whole ZDoom community. I also spend quite a bit of time exchanging emails with Graham Jackson, the author of Risen3D. I used to spend a lot of time discussing things with Jack vermeulen and much of what he added to DeePsea was very kindly provided because I had requested it. Then there is the likes of Gez who has written pages and pages of the Doom wiki and currently does much of the keeping GZDoom in step with ZDoom. There's Eruanna hosting DRD and for the longest time there have been quality people such as Linguica, Cyb, Fraggle, Carnevil, Ricrob, Russell Pearson, Maes, Deathz0r, Rick Clark, Kristus, Tormentor, Quasar, Wildweasel, BoldEnglishman and a whole host of regular forum goers who just keep doing what they do. Even the original creators of the game haven't drifted too far from the community and every now and again John Romero or Carmack have something to contribute - aside from their obvious original and significant input. Anyway, I'm deliberately stopping now before I have mentioned everyone who deserves a mention because it's a long list, I've already mentioned a few people elsewhere and I'd be bound to miss someone off anyway. Like I said, I know that we sometimes beat ourselves up about all the drama and angst, but we've actually got a good core of really decent community members (both past and present) who have contributed to the Doom community, some very selflessly over and above the call of duty and, if you compare it to almost any other gaming community, we are a bunch of calm, well measured, mature, open and functional human beings with an excellent community. And at the centre of it all is this fantastic game we call Doom.

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