.: DooMster Unveiled: Inside the BossBrain

Spotlight on kmxexii: September 27, 2012

In a departure from the trend in DooMster Unveiled, this edition features not a mapper or modder. Instead, the spotlight turns towards a member of the community who provides a service that's, in my opinion, just as important as creating DooM mods. I refer, of source, to the creator of Doomed: Doom WAD Reviews. The site opened its doors in April 2011, and has evolved into its current format, which provides in-depth opinions on relevant aspects of a mod. Not only are these reviews informative, they're very enjoyable to read. I'll go out on a limb and say they're actually entertaining. Who is this weaver of magic words, you ask? None other than kmxexii, whose name's origin is explained below. Proceed, intrepid reader....

DN: You landed onto the DooM scene relatively late (mid-2010). Prior to that were you a lurker or registered under another name on the forums?
kmxexii: I had the 1.666 version of Doom back when it was originally released and played Doom II ad nauseum in both DOS and Doom95, but never had any inkling of an online community beyond the .TXT files found in the Doom I / II Collection shovelware disc. Somewhere along the line I messed around with the Absolution TC as it was at that time the only way to experience Doom 64 short of buying an N64. Still, I didn't have any interest in the PWADs being developed, I think because they weren't the Doom "canon", as dumb as that sounds now, years later.

Sometime in 2010, I got re-interested in playing Doom and purchased my own copies of the official stuff off Steam (thank you Super id Pack), moving on to the community stuff. Shortly afterward I made an account in case I had any questions, which I did when I wanted to track down a complete list of info for Al Dewey's Heroes compilation. I've only ever had this account on the forums.

DN: You appear to have started cutting your teeth on popular megawads, and starting with just a pistol, just around 2 years ago. What drew you into the challenge?
kmxexii: When I became more savvy with the Doom community, I learned about concepts like pistol starts, which made me rethink the way I interpreted a single level. Doom has some of the elements of a puzzle game, down to its deterministic pseudo-RNG system, which allows for stuff like the impeccable demo scene. A demo is like a puzzle solution, with the puzzle being the combined elements of the map itself - monsters, item placement, layout, etc.. While it's not feasible for users to exactly recreate the solutions / demos, I still recognize that aspect of the "puzzle" that is a Doom level.

Pistol starts feed into that. Once I recognized that authors balanced levels for pistol start, that's how I wanted to play the maps from, because it added another layer to the puzzle of making your way through the work. Things like item placement and monster composition become so much more important when the author is the authority over what weapons and ammo are available to you. I don't begrudge people that play with carryovers; they are aiming for a different experience than I am. And, while I used to be a "hardcore" player (no saves), I'm not exactly an advocate. I'll admit that the trial by fire of hardcore mode was a great watershed for honing my skill.

DN: Right from the beginning you've shown a keen sensibility for the aesthetics and gameplay of a map. Was this something you developed over time, or do you think it just came naturally to you?
kmxexii: I think everyone can tell what pleases them (or doesn't) about a PWAD's construction. Communicating that in a digestible format is something else. My earliest "reviews", of TNT's Evilution, were barely a sentence long and didn't really say much beyond a single thought or experience, like clipped journal entries. Things built up as I worked my way through Plutonia and up to Heroes, the first review I actually have posted on the site. Most of those earliest published reviews have been slightly worked-over to provide a little more substance. The stuff from TNT to Heroes was simply replayed, as experience had given me a better idea of what I wanted to say about the works I play.

DN: What made you figuratively pick up pen and paper and put your thoughts down?
kmxexii: I got the idea in my head that writing about a level I had just played would help me to better understand what I had just played. It sounds stupid, but it's a mode of thought different from the purely visceral aspect of getting in knee deep with the demons and rattling off a succession of SSG blasts. It's taking a step back and looking at the level and then the level set holistically, though I frequently go a bit farther, with something of a historical perspective.

DN: You have an easy writing style. In your alter-ego universe are you a professional writer/blogger (or do you have such aspirations)?
kmxexii: I went to school to be a writer, but it's not what I ended up doing. I'd still like to write, but what I thought about writing when I started college and what I thought about it now that I've been out for four-plus years is so different that I can hardly look at that unfinished fantasy novel with anything but complete and total embarassment. I have a better idea of what I'd like to do, should I actually take the time and do it. Until then, I'll be publishing non-fiction on this blog.

DN: You have rarely, if ever, put down any of the wads you've reviewed. What is it that allows you to look at a game in an objective and balanced manner?
kmxexii: I don't want to slam something in graphic detail. I doubt it tells the reader much beyond how much vitriol I can excrete and if the reader is the author I don't think it helps him or her better understand where I think they failed (or make them any more apt to listen). I just want to emphasize what I liked and what I didn't like. In that regard I don't think it's very objective at all, but when it's cloaked under the veil of historical information in the introduction and peppered with inarguable facts (graphical style, monster composition, etc.) it's easy to forget when I'm showering with praise or admitting that I really do hate something that the author did.

DN: In one of your forum posts you wrote: "I think I'm just more vulnerable to "adventure" / "landscape" maps than some people. They don't play very much like the Doom we're familiar with but I just love exploring them." Do you think this puts you at odds with the typical DooMer's preference for run & gun gameplay?
kmxexii: Not really. I have a broad palate. Playing exploration-heavy levels and puzzle levels like Eternal Doom is to me like enjoying a distinct style of music, different from sets like Hell Revealed (which I also enjoy) or classic maps and their modern derivatives (or highly "experimental" '94 style levels). If someone wants to say how boring games like Hexen or Strife are, I'm not going to convince them that they should be enjoying these works. They're just not oriented to like them, not that I think these works are beyond criticism. It's also certainly possible to make something that's supposed to be atmospheric and adventurous and fail in an objective fashion.

DN: You are like a game-playing juggernaut, chewing up maps and spitting out reviews. Do you even get time to eat and sleep?
kmxexii: I eat, I sleep, I party when I can. Sometimes it's a challenge to keep up with my unofficial schedule, but I'm currently sitting atop a huge pile of buffer reviews. I sometimes wonder if I should just publish a review when it's done but I like the more formal pacing of the site and it gives me time to go screw off if I want to and play more current games.

DN: For how long more do you anticipate your current level of enthusiasm to play and review DooM mods?
kmxexii: I dunno. I don't anticipate stopping. The worst you'll see is me toning the pace of stuff down, maybe to weekly reviews at the worst. There are just so many WADs out there, with more coming every month, that the spectre of everything that has been and will ever be feels intimidating at times. But, like I said, you'll see a calculated slowdown of review pacing before you see the site die. I've started my half-hearted bid for completionism; I'm not about to stop now. Also, drive-by comments from authors past and present are a great boost to my desire to play and offer my opinions.

DN: Have you had any interest in firing up a map editor and creating the next DooM masterpiece?
kmxexii: I've considered learning the language of map making but the end result would be Doomed going on review hiatus until I was done with whatever project I started. It would probably turn into periodic updates on whatever I was working on, which may actually gather interest from an entirely different crowd. Still, I am happy to be learning from the works of others.

DN: What's the significance of your handle (kmxexii)? I'll wager it has some connection to Magma's "KMX EXII Opus 3" from the 1970s.
kmxexii: That's correct. KMX E XII is an improvisational piece performed by French band Magma, though the version that stuck with me was from a concert as Utopic Sporadic Orchestra (De Futura from that same live album is a mastadon). It was initially mysterious to me, trying to think of what the notation actually meant. At one point I was imagining it as being the twelfth planet of the star KMX, or something. The intrigue has lost some of its lustre as I've learned more but the name continues to stick with me, along with the band itself.

DN: At this point feel free to go hog-wild and add anything you'd like your two adoring fans to know about.
kmxexii: To adapt a quote from one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, "The worst thing that can ever happen to a WAD is for no one to play it". I hope authors thank me for playing their works and hopefully whether I've panned a WAD or praised it, I've gotten someone else interested in experiencing it.

Along those lines, if you don't manage to finish your super cool one man megaWAD, go ahead and release what you have finished. No sense in letting something languish in Eternity on a hard drive when others could be enjoying it and / or learning from what you've done. Plus, it's good to get that stuff out there. People who (albeit regretfully) chastise projects for not having the full 32 maps are buying in to the mystique of the megaWAD, perpetuated by the hard limits of the Doom engine. I wonder how much of this we'd see if you could change where the finale / intermissions occured in vanilla Doom?

I would like to see the next "Harmony" released some day (though I know this is Hell on Artists). Super cool WADs for Doom / Doom II are great, but I love playing a new game; it's like learning a different language / dialect. For that reason I'm kind of bummed that Demon Eclipse was cancelled, but it's nice to see that it won't just vanish.

Thanks to everyone who reads my blog, whether they comment on it or not. Thanks to all the authors of the WADs I've played and will play. I frequently glaze over the contributions of musicians and artists who nonetheless shape the experiences I have in the Doom engine; thank you all. And thanks, ReX, for thinking that I had something worthwhile to say.

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