#DOOM

Nods to Mods: NO END IN SIGHT - Interview with Emil Brundage, Chris Lutz and Xaser

  • Mar 31, 2020
  • |
  • By: Manny Pérez

In case you missed it, another demonic dose of Add-On action is available for DOOM (1993) & DOOM II: No End in Sight!

In addition to covering this high-octane megawad in our latest edition of Nods to Mods, we took some time to interview No End in Sight’s creators: Emil Brundage, Chris Lutz and Xaser! Check it out below:

DE NEiS Still in-body

SLAYERS CLUB: How long have you guys been making DOOM mods/levels?

CHRIS LUTZ: I’ve been making levels since 1995.

EMIL BRUNDAGE: My first release was ‘The Beginning of the End Part 1,’ which I made in high school. I can still remember how obsessed I was with DOOM mapping back then. I'd spend all my time after school mapping and my days in class feverishly drawing out maps on graph paper during math class. ‘The Beginning of the End Part 1’ was released in 1997 and was a replacement for the first two episodes of Ultimate DOOM.

XASER: About six metric forevers. Serious answer: since 2001-ish, I think? I started off making weapon and gameplay mods for ZDoom and didn’t really get into mapping until about a decade later. My first semi-decent maps were submitted to Plutonia Revisited Community Project, which hails from 2011. I’ve technically been at it less than the other two guys, but I’ve been going non-stop for almost two decades now. There’s definitely a “Doom is Eternal” pun here somewhere.

SC: What were your first experiences with DOOM?

EMIL: I'd never seen anything like DOOM when it came out. I was at home playing Super Mario Brothers, jumping on Goombas and the like on my Nintendo; then came DOOM. DOOM, for a Dungeons & Dragons/Metallica/Evil Dead-loving adolescent was life changing. It also truly terrified me whenever I took the keyboard. I couldn't play in the dark.

CHRIS: I purchased the shareware version of DOOM from Staples in early 1994.

XASER: Christmas 1997, my dad gifted me one of those CD software grab-bags that were common back in the late 90’s, and it included shareware DOOM on it – cue immediate and permanent obsession. I later found out he caught a lot of flak from my mom about that… but hey! Here we are now. :P

DE NEiS DB2 in-body

SC: What got you guys into DOOM modding in the first place?

EMIL: I've always loved building computer games even more than playing them. Prior to DOOM mapping I'd spent a lot of time making Forgotten Realms: Unlimited Adventures (released in 1993) modules. At the time I remember thinking, how amazing would it be if I could make DOOM maps? I never actually thought it would be. I remember the day I heard DOOM editors existed, probably in 1995, and my excitement. I got my hands on one and it was all mapping all the time after.

XASER: I can’t remember a time I wasn’t modding games. I remember playing around with the editor for an old DOS Boulder Dash clone named Boulderoid – I must’ve made hundreds of levels for that – before eventually discovering Doom and figuring out how to hack it apart. There’s just something super-satisfying about being able to visualize something in your head and make it real, and DOOM hits a sweet spot where you can make something beautiful and fun and truly custom (i.e. no “kitbashiness”) without spending a lifetime making hi-fi art assets… even though I’ll probably spend a lifetime on it anyway. :P

SC: How did the three of you come together to make this megawad?

EMIL: Chris and I go back to my high school days. I'm not sure how we connected initially but if I had to guess, I'd say I reached out to him to compliment his work. Soon after connecting he let me contribute a level to his master project, ‘Caverns of Darkness.’ That project was released in 2002, though I had completed my map in 1997, right before shipping off to college. It was my last work before I stopped mapping for a decade.

Xaser and I connected upon my reentry into the DOOM modding scene in 2008. I stumbled upon his ‘DOOM: The Lost Episode’ and I loved it. It's a complex, challenging, punishing DOOM episode that twisted my mind into a state of insanity. With help from the ZDoom port, it does just enough bending of the DOOM engine while still feeling true to the original game; pure DOOM grittiness but double the insanity.

Chris, Xaser and I came together through the project ‘DOOM The Way id Did’ (DTWID), which began in 2010. DTWID was a community project discussed on Doomworld.com and centered around the idea of creating maps for DOOM in the style of the original game. It was hugely popular within the community at the time and is still talked about frequently today. I had fallen in love with the ZDoom engine then and was working on monstrous maps powered by the source port. The project I was working on then was starting to collapse under its own weight, however, and the thought of making a quick, classic map was an appealing side distraction. It didn't remain a side distraction for long. Xaser and Chris were both involved in DTWID as well.

Eventually I made three or four maps for the project and it was clear that not all would make it in the final cut of DTWID. I decided to create a full Episode 1 replacement spawned from my work on DTWID. One episode grew into three, which grew into four, and I somehow managed to rope in contributions from Xaser and Chris along the way.

CHRIS: Mostly, Emil just bugged me until I said “yes.” More seriously, it turns out I was playing around with some concepts that folded nicely into his vision for NEIS, so it worked out very well.

XASER: Dang, it’s surreal thinking about how this all started… Chris is an absolutely legendary mapper, and Emil’s debut release “The Beginning of the End Part 1” is literally my favorite wad of all time, so getting an e-mail out of the blue from its author saying “hey, I like your stuff” and then later having it turn into a collaboration with two legends is like… uh, what? Is this really happening? Am I gonna wake up soon?

Regarding the other half of the origin story, DTWID was a rather weird project – the original pitch was something like “what if there was a 10th map in each original Doom episode, made by the original id team?”, and it collected a huge amount of submissions from the community (100+, no joke)… but there wasn’t much being done in the way of leading the project.

By the time a few of us sat down and really figured out what we wanted DTWID to be, we were left with a ton of very good maps that just didn’t feel “id-like” enough to fit, so Emil and I took our toys and built our own clubhouse… though in a fit of irony, one of my maps (E2M1, ‘Receiving Station’) and another of Chris’s (E3M9, ‘Lake of Fire’) ended up in both projects. Strange times.

As for NEIS itself, we started out with a goal of 3 episodes and then once we nearly filled out the roster, Emil just goes “whoops! I just made E4M1, I guess we’re doing a fourth episode,” and so it was.

SC: How does a trio of mappers split responsibility?

EMIL: Figuring out who was doing what for NEIS was very ad-hoc. I'd already completed most of Episode 1 before Xaser came on board. Chris jumped on halfway through Episode 2, with parts of Episode 3 done as well. Once we'd all signed up it was simply a matter of claiming an empty map slot and going to work. Xaser took the reins on all the aspects that weren't map-making such as the title screen artwork, map names and menu modding.

CHRIS: To be honest, I feel very much a “guest mapper” – this is very much a product of the other two and I am happy to ride their collective wave. As I mentioned, I was already tinkering with some concepts that ended up dovetailing nicely with the flow of the project, so my responsibility was really to submit the levels I had created and let the other two figure out where best to use them.

XASER: For the most part, one of us would just start a map for an empty slot in an episode and the rest of us would go “Hell yeah, keep it up!” – the pieces just fell into place, really.

DE NEiS SLADE in-body

SC: What tools did you use to build No End In Sight?

EMIL: It must have been Doom Builder 2 for my mapping. SLADE was used to combine maps into a single WAD and consolidate resources such as wall textures and title screens.

XASER: Doom Builder 2, SLADE and my trusty copy of Paint Shop Pro 7 from 2001. Have I mentioned I’m ancient?

SC: What was your main inspiration for this full episode replacement?

EMIL: DTWID, DOOM (1993) & DOOM II, and maybe most importantly, each other. Every time I played a new map from Chris or Xaser I felt a mixture of joy and despair. I felt joy from the amazing experience I'd just had, and I felt despair from wondering how I could ever keep up with their fantastically creative contributions. These feelings fed fuel to the fire of this passion project. I know that my maps for NEIS wouldn't be anywhere near as good without them.

CHRIS: Personally, I was really challenged by the idea creating levels that “could be lost IWAD levels.” As a level designer that has been around a while – e.g. I still own DOOM (1993) and DOOM II on 3.5-inch floppies – the IWADs are inescapable (if subconscious) reference points and undoubtedly the levels I have played most often.

That said, my preferred design style differs greatly from those of Romero, Peterson, et. al., so while I enjoy playing the original levels, I haven’t previously attempted to recreate them. Thus, it was a unique challenge to create levels that contain novel geometry but don’t feel too removed from the original IWADs.

XASER: Beyond the IWAD inspiration, Emil and I had this crazy feedback loop going on where one of us would finish a map and the other would play it and get super-excited to start up the next one… so on and so forth. There wasn’t much outside influence once we got the ball rolling so in a way, NEIS begat NEIS.

EP-1-Intro

SC: What’s your approach to level design? How does that work when collaborating?

EMIL: My level design had always been rooted in ideas that first appeared in the original game. I like my levels dirty, rusted, decayed and dark, with Hell forcing its way in in an attempt to overcome reality. I focused on non-linear maps which drew strong inspiration for the original three episode's themes. Episode 4 of NEIS is a bit of its own thing, with inspiration drawn from DOOM II, the original Episode 4 and our past works (e4m6, ‘Sanctuary of Filth,’ for example, took aesthetics from my massive, overbearing ZDoom map which was derailed by NEIS and never finished). I also tried to mimic the original game's approach to secrets, with some secrets being easy to find and others being nightmares to unravel. I focused as well on maximizing mechanics of the DOOM engine, including those that usually go untouched by most mappers (perhaps for good reason). A couple of my favorite examples of this are the use of the donut special on e1m2 and the ways I found I could put barrel-jammed floors to use.

CHRIS: My level design focuses primarily on visuals – I have to like the way it looks, even if that occasionally shortchanges the gameplay. (This is stupid, of course – people “play” levels as opposed to “watch” levels – and the reviews of my released maps often reflect similar sentiments, but I build levels the way I want to because it’s the way I want to and feel no need to apologize). As such, most of my levels begin with a visual concept, be it a particular setpiece – i.e. the giant crane in level 3 of ‘Phobos: Anomaly Reborn’ – or a more nebulous atmospheric description and I build the level around that.

XASER: Heck if I know. I just draw lines on a screen until it looks like a thing and chuck some monsters in it. Maybe the one consistent thing for me is that I usually start with an overarching concept, often a map title (e.g. ‘Derelict Vessel’), and I build something around that, but it’s usually more of a vague feeling rather than an intentional series of design choices. Sometimes I try and break that mold a bit – i.e. set some hard rules or sketch something on paper first – but there was very little of that for NEIS. It was the ultimate seat-of-your-pants mapping spree.

Final-Trim2

SC: E4M4 (Warton Precinct) is such an incredible map…managing ammo, managing warping demons, keeping your bearings traversal-wise—it strikes a pretty perfect balance of combat and thinking analytically. Can you speak to some of your specific inspiration for this map?

EMIL: Unsurprisingly, e4m4 was inspired directly from Xaser's map before it, e4m3 (‘Square Zero’), as well as DOOM II's city maps, and maybe even more lava diving à la ‘Inferno.’ I'd learned a lot about ammo balancing from all of Xaser's maps that had been made at that point in NEIS. The layout, tight ammo and teleporting monsters was meant to keep the player moving and discourage camping. I wanted the player to always feel exposed and vulnerable.

I also hope the thin walkways contributed to the map's tension. For DOOM mapping (though not necessarily for DOOM II) I believe in tight spaces. You'll find it's rare I provide much more room to move than 128 pixels. I thought I liked my maps tight, but after playing SIGIL it's clear Romero thinks even this is still way too much space to navigate!

XASER: I just want to add that E4M4 nearly broke the brain of our QA guru (Boris Klimeš, a.k.a. dew), ‘cause there’s a lot of lava and very, very few radsuits. The urban legend goes is that every time Boris would ask Emil to add more suits, he would remove one instead. Boris’s pet nickname for the project is “No Radsuits in Sight”. :P

SC: The sinking buildings at the end of E4M8 were a fantastic surprise. How did you guys come up with that idea?

EMIL: E4m8 is the only map in NEIS where two mappers collaborated. Xaser made the section with the collapsing buildings and I made the rest. We discussed it at the time, so let's consult the official record from an email exchange from November 2011:

Emil: So you mentioned colab again, and I just thought... how about e4m8??... Here's what I have in mind. You'll see in the newest version the exit area, and the bridge that lifts up after the core is destroyed. I'd like this exit to teleport the player somewhere. What I had in mind was some sort of empty hell city. The player would be in the middle of the street with buildings on either side, which also happen to be surrounded by lava. As the player walks down the street the buildings progressively sink into the lava. Then the player reaches the final exit. Game over. This serves a couple of purposes. 1) The denouement of the WAD. 2) provides time for monsters not yet teleported into the main area to be crushed. I plan on the final battle to consist of a steady stream of monsters teleporting in on a timer. This means that depending on how well the player does, there may still be plenty of monsters trapped in their boxes upon exit. A trigger will crush 'em upon reaching the first exit, helping the player get his/her 100% kills.

XASER: Damn, I’m glad we kept those e-mails… I totally forgot that we had planned something here. Might be the only thing in the project that wasn’t done on a whim. :P

EP-3-Trim

SC: What were the biggest challenges or hurdles you had in making No End in Sight?

EMIL: I honestly can't think of a single one. It truly was a labor of love and a joy from start to finish.

XASER: Finishing it, maybe? It was a joy to make but we may have over-extended ourselves with the fourth episode… or at least I did. If I ever look at E4M7 in an editor again, my ghost will vacate my body.

SC: How long did it take you to complete No End in Sight?

EMIL: I announced starting work on my first map, ‘Forgotten Caverns’ (an ode to Caverns of Darkness perhaps?), in the DTWID Doomworld thread on December 14th, 2010. NEIS was released on November 29, 2016, so nearly six years. Why 2016 when the final map was half complete in 2011? Don't ask.

XASER: That half-complete map? E4M7. I’m gonna go die now.

SC: Who are your favorite modders or team of modders in the DOOM community?

CHRIS: As someone who finds great pleasure in both detailed sector work and attempting to do the impossible within the DOOM engine – “you CANNOT create a moving train!” – I am greatly inspired by the work of Iikka Keränen and the level set “Eternal DOOM III” (again, I’m old). More modern influences include Skillsaw & Co’s “Ancient Aliens” for top-notch texturing and cohesive visual storytelling, as well as Mechadon for consistently exceptional lighting effects.

EMIL: Chris and Xaser are by far my favorite mappers in the DOOM community. This was the dream team for me.

XASER: Uh… is it it weird that Emil is my favorite mapper? Like it’s a running joke on Doomworld that any time someone makes a “what’s your favorite thing” thread, Xaser is gonna swoop in and say “end1.wad” (Emil’s ‘The Beginning of the End Part 1’ – seriously, go play it). Beyond that, some folks who consistently blow me away are Esselfortium and lupinx-Kassman for aesthetics and visual design, Rottking and Tarnsman for nail-biting gameplay, and Zan-zan-zawa-veia for fantastically devious and unusual crafts (check out Sheer Poison and doggy.wad for a mind-melting good time).

SC: Wanna give any other shoutouts?

XASER: This is hard, since I know I’m gonna leave some folks out, but… Kate Fox, Bouncy, The Alex of Many Names (this makes sense in context, I swear), Essel, Jimmy, MTrop, dew, Cage, Mom & Wayne, Dad, everyone in the Doomtwid crew, and all of y’all who know me well enough to know my (alleged) real name. Y’all keep me sane… ish. ;)

SC: Does DOOM’s future have an end in sight?

CHRIS: Nope.

XASER: Hell naw.

EMIL: Not if I have anything to say about it.