.: DooMster Unveiled: Inside the BossBrain

Spotlight on Xaser: June 21, 2012

Optimized design for both liquid cooling and air cooling system! MicroATX, ATX, Extend-ATX supported! Independent thermal management for CPU, VGA & HDD! Evolutionary adjustable PSU supporting bridge! VG4000BNS - This time, don't let Xaser VI slip away.

Oh, wait. I thought I was doing a product review for a computer chassis. Ah, well. That's what happens when I forget to take my medication every day. At any rate, lest I risk stealing his thunder, let me take this opportunity to introduce a pillar of the DooM community and a funny-as-hell guy - Xaser!

DN: You appear to have gotten your start in DooM somewhat late in the game (sic). What drew you in, and what keeps you going (more on Immoral Conduct later)?
Xaser: I'm a bit of a newcomer to the community for sure, having only joined somewhere in 2003 (much to the dismay of the ZDoom forumgoers who had to put up with me back then :P ). I did get my start a bit earlier than that, though. It was Christmas of 1997 when a young Xaser was first exposed to Doom's shareware episode. From then, the disease spread: I was afflicted with Ultimate Doom a year or two later, then obliviously wandered into a lurking copy of Doom 2 on a burned CD my dad had quarantined somewhere. Didn't take long for me to become addicted at that point.. ;)

So, I played the hell out of those games. I'm really not sure what exactly drew me in, but long before I discovered PWADS (which was sometime in 2001 I think), I still found it a joyous occasion to blast through the original maps, cheat my way around things, and discover goofy glitches like E3M5's hidden lower-every-sector-in-the-map linedef. Hell, I even remember that before I had Doom 2, I kept re-reading Doom 2's secret descriptions in Leukart's Official Doom FAQ over and over just to form a mental picture in my head of what the maps looked like. First runthrough of that game was bloody friggin' magic, as a result. ;)

As for community involvement, I knew that I wanted to mod Doom as soon as I discovered my first PWAD (which was, I believe, All Hell is Breaking Loose (allhell.wad) -- end1.wad followed soon after, for the record :P ). The idea of being able to craft my own world in such a devilish realm was captivating (especially considering I had been daydreaming about doing just that for a long while), and soon enough I got hooked on that as well. I actually started modding a couple of years before I registered my first forum account, and at some point I just had to hop online to share what I'd done (crappy as it was). That's about it.

So... lots of words. The short answer, I suppose, is that I don't really know. For some reason, I just really loved (and still love) the game. Nowadays I can look back and sorta justify my reasons for such, and having a really cool community with lots of interesting goofballs definitely helps keep the flame alive today, but at the time it was nothing but raw, unbridled, child-like wonder. Cheesy as it sounds. :P

DN: You started off with a weapons mod using WinTex, moved on to mapping with DoomCad, experimented with DeHacked, XWE, and DeepSea, eventually migrating to DooM Builder and DECORATE with SlumpEd. What's next? Models for GZDooM?
Xaser: Haha, if only. I doubt I'll ever get into modeling -- that takes a higher level of artistic skill (and a lot of patience) that I don't really have. When it comes to art, I've always seen myself as more of a "pixel hacker" than an actual artist (think the difference between a kid with a hex editor and an actual programmer), and I see modeling on the other side of that artistic barrier I'm not sure I'll cross. I'll leave that one to the Eriance's and the NMN's. ;)

It's interesting looking back on the history of things as you detailed it. I think the very first thing I ever did with Doom was screw around with DeHackEd, so weapon modding sorta flowed naturally after that (especially after discovering Immoral Conduct a year or so later). It's definitely odd thinking about the process, though -- it was a bit trickier to produce quality work "back then," even in the early 00's, mostly because the editing tools weren't quite as good. We all tend to take Doom Builder and SLADE for granted these days, so thinking back on the old "tools of the trade" is kinda amusing. Hell, even ZDoom features at the time made it difficult (or even impossible) to do what can be done today. I have fond "rememberies" of the days before DECORATE when I used a modified version of zdoom.pk3's DEHSUPP lump to hack in new weapons despite a very angry Graf Zahl warning us not to. :P

Anyhow, if I were to "move forward" from here, it'll be modding for another engine (in particular, Carnevil's "Wrack" looks very promising). Or maybe even indie platformer design, since a certain couple of someones and I have been planning something for quite a few years. I doubt I'll ever switch away from the Doom engine entirely, of course -- not until I get tired of game modding altogether. At the rate I'm going, that'll happen no sooner than the day I die. :P

DN: Cory Whittle's Immoral Conduct appears to have had an indelible impact on you. In what way do you credit his influence?
Xaser: Consciously or not, I certainly wouldn't have taken the route I did without Whittle's masterpiece paving the way. The idea of changing Doom's entire arsenal was bloody amazing at the time. It was sort of a multiplier for replayability. My philosophy (if you could call it that) at the time was that if you play through a map once, you've done all there is to do, but if you have a weapon mod, you can run it with every map ever and keep playing until your heart gives out. That sort of feeling is more or less why I started shifting toward making weapon mods despite my earliest "works" being attempted total conversions (as many newbies are wont to do). 'Course, that meant that my earliest "mods" were nothing more than crappy DEHACKED copies of Immoral Conduct stuff. Had to start somewhere, I guess. :P

I also recall Espi's gunspc.wad being an early influence as well, along with the zillion or so mini-mods that Whittle did under his Don Tello alias. Not long after that, Wildweasel's stuff (and his good ol' Doom Armory) kept fueling things and providing a bit of "healthy rivalry" in terms of mod development. So many guns, so little time. ;)

But yeah, if it wasn't for ICD, there'd have been no early Xasermods, and there'd have been no Zen Dynamics. Any "success" I may or may not have had with such silliness is, in a way, Whittle's fault (critics take note! :P ).

DN: A lot of your early work was in the area of weapons mods, but your newer stuff involves a lot more mapping. Why the change?
Xaser: When it comes to modding, I've always subscribed to the "do what you like" philosophy. I made weapon mods because I liked doing so, plain and simple. When it came to mapping, I was a bit of a late bloomer. For the longest time, I thought of it as a chore (hence why Zen Dynamics's maps were mostly based on Malcolm Sailor scraps), but at some point (around 32in24-6, I believe), mapping sorta 'clicked'. Not long after, Joshy's Plutonia Revisited project proved to be the real kickstarter, since it's the first time I can recall contributing a map I was actually happy with to a community project. And I managed to do it twice. Sure, there was Sector for ZPack before it, but that one was a bit more frustrating than fun to crank out. :P

DoomCAD was mentioned earlier -- yeah, I definitely remember trying to hack out maps with what amounted to a chisel and stone tablet (compared to, say, Doom Builder 2's calligraphy set -- can't imagine what it'd have been like to be stuck with DEU :P ), so maybe that had something to do with my love for gameplay modding developing much quicker than that of mapping. One can only speculate. :P

DN: You were a project lead and mapper on the wildly popular DooM The Way id Did (DTWiD). Do you have any suggestions for those of us who want to create maps/episodes for The Utimate DooM and want to stay faithful to the original look and feel?
Xaser: I'm honestly not sure if I'm the best one to ask, actually. DTWID was by and large a team effort -- none of us would've gotten anywhere if it wasn't for a few guys (Esselfortium, ellmo, Marnetmar, st.alfonzo, and Megalyth) coming together and doing their magic, it never would've happened. The part I played is no bigger than anyone else's, but as long as I'm here, I may as well take a stab at answering the question...

One of my favorite qualities of id maps and oldschool maps in general is they often present themselves as a "virtual world" to explore, rather than a linear series of tasks. Our Hero is placed in a hostile environment and it's up to the player to choose one's own destiny and tackle the hordes of hellspawn how he/she desires. It's this quality, as opposed to the more modern approach of oodles of choreographed fights, that sorta defines it for me from a gameplay perspective. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule and a whole lot more to note on the topic, but by and large my favorites from the id era (and in DTWID as well) are the ones that offer you plenty of space for roaming around and fulfilling that inner explorer.

Visually, the best thing that you can do is to focus on building nice-looking architecture (i.e. "large-scale detail") and use texturing to suggest detail rather than spend all your time making a zillion lines for borders, alcoves, and clutter-y detail. You can do more with eight well placed lines than you can do with eighty mindless-detail ones.

If all else fails, "Keep it simple" is a good rule of thumb. If it feels like you're spending too much time working on one particular thing, you probably are. Pause it and come back to it later -- the result may surprise you. ;)

DN: The text file for DTWiD states "Mapping Advice: John Romero". Care to share?
Xaser: Marnetmar was able to get ahold of The Man himself, and he actually dropped by Doomworld to drop some ideas n' suggestions in the DTWID dev thread.

DN: You're spearheading the development of HACX 2.0. Would you give us a sneak preview of what to expect?
Xaser: It's gonna be big. Think the quasi-realistic environments from Duke 3D and the virtual reality of Tron crossed with the fast-paced gameplay of 90's shooters and the scale of Eternal Doom (minus the crazy switch hunts). It'll make Hacx 1.2 look like Corridor 7 in comparison.

If you're itching for a taste, check out the alpha. A bit of a plug, I guess, but you asked. :P

DN: You appear to be a master cross-over artist, slipping effortlessly from vanilla DooM mapping to ZDooM mapping, from single-player to death-match, from weapons mods to experimental mods. What's your secret?
Xaser: I'm not sure if I have one. I just happen to like working on all sorts of things, so I do. It can be a curse at times, though -- I'll often switch from one project to the next in rapid succession when I feel like working on some other aspect of modding work. This past week alone, I've mapped for Hacx, tweaked up things for Psychic, finished up some character "art" for another mod, tinkered with ZDCMP2, and wrapped up a map for NEIS just in time for the beta. And that's not even counting the zillion and one ideas that tend to flood in when I'm least expecting them... if I started every project I ever had planned at one point, It'd take me decades to finish them all. :P

It's worth mentioning, of course, that any skill I might have in any of these areas is only because I've spent a long time tinkering with things in that vein over the years. Cliche again, but you can really only get good at playing ball by actually playing ball. The ultimate Xasergoal, though, is to have fun, else there'd be little point in actually doing it.

DN: You are a prolific modder, having released numerous projects over nearly a decade. For how long do you see yourself going?
Xaser: A decade more if I have my way with things. Doom is a passion of mine that's just not going to go away any time soon. :)

DN: You have always displayed a sense of humor, both in your communiques (e.g., forums, text files) and in your releases. I mean this in the best possible way, but you don't take yourself very seriously, do you?
Xaser: I am a candy cane.

DN: At this point feel free to go hog-wild and add anything you'd like your two adoring fans to know about.
Xaser: Am I allowed to use this space for shout-outs? Seriously, though, it wouldn't be right for me to close this gracious series of inquiries without extending a Texas-sized "thank you & you're awesome" to Kate, MasterOfDeath/IPF/Soccerghoul/SirBelfin (pick a name would you :P ), BouncyTEM, and Essel for always being 'round and keeping me in line... or out of it, as it would seem. ;)

Thanks again for the chance to spill my guts. I suppose I should close out with something inspirational and uplifting for the masses. I wrote down a short speech to close this interview with, but then I ran out of toilet paper, so I'll just have to go with "Peace, Love, and Cran." Even though I'm not exactly sure what that means.

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