Castle of Doom

This is a mod I relesed three years ago on the func_msgboard.I think it wasn't realized that much so I decided to rerelease.
This is a medieval-, fantasy styled modification. For me it was a playground for rotating entitys, jump pads and cutscenes.
It has three maps including a castle, the inside with a kind of labyrinth and mini games like a donkey kong mini-level and the end fight in a medieval romanik-, gothic-styled church.

This mod was done for the quakespasm engine and needs -bsp2 and the add -heapsize640000 in command-line!
See the gsh_castleod.txt for further instructions.

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Release date
Oct 25, 2020
First uploaded
Last update
2.75 star(s) 4 ratings

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I can only parrot what zaratzara said as my experience has been basically described to a tee so I'll try to keep it brief - this has been some of the most clearly passionate and joyful Quake that I've played that is unfortunately dragged down by some poor design/signposting and progression. The progression is not even too difficult when you think about it, but the map makes you doubt yourself when it really shouldn't, it should congratulate you for trying to work it out as well as reward you with fun and good looking set pieces. It mostly achieves this, and when it does, it does it splendidly, but when it doesn't, it makes you want to r_showbboxes or noclip. The fights are nothing to write home about, it's "90s collectathon have a shooting gallery to break up the monotony of traversal", it's serviceable. The progression of map 1 felt very 90s 3d platfomer and honestly enjoyable, 4/5 bar some polish, but map 2 just feels like it goes on and on despite sharing DNA with map1. I know the feeling of going on a grand adventure (doesn't matter if it's a glorified key hunt if you're having fun along the way!), but I think it might be poking at the player's patience and expectations too much. There's some Escher-esque staircases and whatnot in map2, and it feels like most of map 2 is also just very purposefully cryptic. I'd love to be able to just gush about the spinning entities and quite charming art direction in some parts but it's hard to forget the inbetween. I will go out on a limb and say that I did not like the Shub fight, did not quite understand what was being asked of me, but I loved the first half with the church.

That being said, would love to see more releases like this, Quake needs more playful and soulful maps!
It's incredibly difficult to give this mod the fair and thorough appraisal it deserves because there is simply so much stuff going on, and that stuff — good & bad — gets increasingly hard to properly interpret, yet alone describe. Occasionally, the whimsical joy of the enterprise wins out in ways that deserve celebration; but the rough-around-the-edges eccentric charm is never far from incomprehensible artistic misjudgments, lazy oversights and infuriating design decisions — and as the these stack up it becomes increasingly hard to tell the difference.

I've tried to condense this review to the things that are worthy and able to be conveyed with text. I went into more subtle and meandering detail about the impressions that are more difficult describe out of context in this critical commentary playthrough video I uploaded to YouTube:

Two set-pieces stand out as the high points of the episode and fulfil the stated intention of "a playground for rotating entitys": the clockwork lava cavern in the first level, and the consummate classic platformer pastiche in the second. Both of these had me grinning ear-to-ear: the first is a charmingly eccentric theme exercise; the second is in my opinion a historic achievement in Quake mapping, an experience which one would expect to be buggy or awkward but works almost flawlessly despite its unorthodox ambition.

In general the mod shines brightest when it emulates & echoes classic platforming games: even the disastrous silver key room from map 2 has its moments of simple joy when you're collecting items and avoiding traps; there are also a couple of set-piece combat wave arenas with jump pads that by no means brilliant evince a confident sense of fun, and in these moments the design flaws mostly fade into the background. In these moments, you feel immersed in the authors intention.

It's also worth noting that despite some rough patches and frustrating details, the first level has a tangible arch of progression: there are discrete areas which make sense in their connection to one another; a holistic sense of place and purpose stretch from beginning to end, and I was able to navigate the map between intrigue and intent, progressively unlocking further adventure with a coherent mental model of the environment and my function within it.

This sense of intuitive progression and logical relation goes to hell in the second level, which has some of the worst progression mechanics design I've ever encountered. The players mental model is so semantically overburdened and pointlessly confused that I find it impossible to describe the problems in plain text — hence the video (in my first playthrough, I had to give up in the first section of the second level; in my second playthrough, I could only finish it with cheats; on my third, I finally managed it — but I maintain it's intrinsically broken!).

The biggest problem with Castle of Doom is a total (seemingly wilful!) lack of authorial discipline and consistency with fundamental low-level progression mechanisms. The way this blows up so atrociously in map 2 is foreshadowed in map 1 in the way almost every single door looks and behaves differently: some are fake, some are temporarily locked (and yet look the same); some are single use, some only open in one direction; some notify you of their unlock conditions, others don't; some open upwards, some sideways, some rotate; the trigger volumes required to activate or give message feedback are different in almost every instance; "gold key" is sometimes capitalised, sometimes hyphenated; sometimes unlocking a door takes away the key, sometimes it doesn't; sometimes you'll unlock a door without knowing previous actions were required to unlock, other times you'll be told you need a key when you already have it. In map 1 this amounts to a lack of polish — a frustratingly distracting cognitive load for what ought to be a very simply understood generic mechanism: but in map 2 that cumulative strain is taken to a maddening degree that utterly poisons the overall experience. I realise I'm ranting here, but here's the kicker: maps 1 & 2 are titled "This door is locked" and "Find the Gold-key." — it's hard to not to feel we're being deliberately trolled! —but when what is arguably map 2s culminating set-piece arena conditionally displays an utterly incomprehensible game-blocking cutscene triggered by a volume that simultaneously announces "You need the Gold-key" — in a section that you can only get to long after having acquired and used the one gold key… The mind boggles.

That last bug put an end to my third playthrough. I did manage to complete the map on my second playthrough, and I enjoyed the rest of the episode well enough: I thought the final showdown was very cute, a humorously inventive combination of Quakes famously disappointing bosses in a surprisingly fun set-piece battle (infighting Shub-Nigurath!! :0).

As I said, I go into more detail on why and how what works does and what doesn't doesn't in my video, but I'll leave these notes here for some general guidelines to avoid the worst foibles:

* Fundamental low-level progression mechanics ought to be consistent to avoid player cognitive overload: a player repeatedly confused by discrepancies in the most basic things will have less capacity to appreciate the overall experience and drastically less ability to think creatively about puzzles, because the metaphysics of the in-game world will become consistently puzzling. A good exercise for this episode would be to decide on a limited number of different kinds of door which are necessary for the intended progression, to identify which door is of which type, and to copy-paste the entities for each.
* Some progression unlocks may rely on completing sequences of inferred interactions ("there are N more to go"): each successive step in such a sequence should be unambiguously identifiable as the same type as previous (don't mix and match different kinds of trigger in the same sequence); you should never have multiple concurrent sequences; the completion of such sequences ought to describe their results unambiguously.
* Ensure that enemies triggered to spawn in the immediate vicinity of the player can see the player.
* Don't use fulbright pixels without a license ;P
* Big works of art with lots of unusual content require perseverance from players: if players do make the effort to engage earnestly with the work but become confused or frustrated, they may struggle to articulate feedback. Try to solicit playtesters before releasing — that contract of engagement is more likely to catch and communicate problems which will lead to better engagement with a wider public on release!

To end on a positive note, I'll reiterate that the lava cavern & the Donkey Kong mini-game are delightful; the stuff done with rotating entities in general is great fun; there's a lovely platformer design vibe spread throughout this episode (even the most professional Quake community maps are comparatively joyless in their jumping, mini-item collection, and jump-pad set-pieces compared to this); the cut-scene effect of finishing by interpolating back in to player field of view was an exceptionally nice touch.
Thank you for that clear and fair review.
This was a one man show project that took over one year. I realy enjoyed your video and that you enjoyned many of the staff I put into this. It was good to have feedback after this long time. Sorry that you don't like the trees. :) First of all I meant it as a refference, as many other things you've noticed, to Mafia 1 and the old modelling method for trees. Secondly it helped to safe memory. 3D trees with leaves are hell to compile and can cause a lot of errors. But if I ever do trees again you will get them 3D. Promised.:) The thing with the textures espacially the doors textures shocked me a little bit because they are well in the source and seemed to be dissplaced in the compiling for that I have no reason.
Over all the message was clear. Thank you.