Nods to Mods Interview: Arrival

  • Apr 12, 2022
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  • By: Joshua Boyle

Welcome back to another DOOM edition of Nods to Mods, where we sit down with community creators to get a closer look at their process! We’re so excited to be featuring another amazing Add-on from returning veteran, Pavera.

Previously, Pavera joined us as a collaborator on BTSX E1, and Syringe, but this time we’re happy to feature them as lead creator on Arrival, a free 11-level episode replacement Add-on for the re-release of DOOM & DOOM II available now. Read on to hear how this Add-on came to be, including details from its many collaborators. It’s a Nods to Mods extravaganza!

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SLAYERS CLUB: It can sometimes take a village to raise an Add-on. Arrival is no exception, with you working with some other well-known community creators we know and love! Arrival received tons of praise at release, including winning two Cacowards in 2021 from long-running community site doomworld.com: one for the intense gameplay experience as well as a separate award for the awesome MIDI tracks by long-time collaborator, AD_79. Walk us through that collaboration.

PAV: I had known from the beginning that I wanted there to be original music for Arrival, but I had no idea where to begin. I started making maps and expressed on our communal Discord server that I was really hoping to rope somebody into composing some tracks for me. I honestly didn't expect anyone to answer, but AD sent me a DM and expressed interest!

At the time, I had two complete maps and a third in the works. I had already sorta decided that I didn't want a typical heavy metal soundtrack for this set. I had heard of AD's talent, but I'd never worked with him so closely before. I essentially asked him to just go crazy, do his thing and the only rule was, "no distorted guitar".

The first track he sent me was "Dream Dweller", his brooding MAP06 dirge, and it blew my expectations away. It was exactly the sort of vibe I was looking for - something melodic, yet somber and bass driven. AD seemed really excited to be stepping outside his comfort zone and I begged him to do more. He ended up signing onto the whole thing!

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Anyways, over the next two years, we worked very closely. I would send him WIP maps and he would play them and get inspired to make a new track. The music and the maps were developed very much in tandem. Every time he sent me music, it was like opening a gift on Christmas.

It was also AD that suggested I take a look at Mek's "box o' skies". At the time, I was still using stock DOOM II sky boxes. While I had originally wanted to go for entirely stock resources, he urged me to dip one or two toes into community-made content and I think it really tied the whole thing together.

Anyways, I genuinely don't think Arrival would be nearly as special without its soundtrack.

AD_79: If I'm remembering this correctly, Pavera had been talking about an episode he had been working on around early-to-mid 2019. My confidence in composing had been slowly increasing around that time and I believed a Pavera mapset deserved a bespoke soundtrack, so I messaged him about creating some music for the project. Over the following two years, we bounced ideas off of each other and frequently got very inspired by each other's work, which I believe resulted in a really strong, cohesive set.

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SC: You also collaborated with someone who’s no stranger to Nods to Mods – Jimmy Paddock! However, this collab didn’t feature any of his prolific catalog of music OR levels. We’re dying to know more about his contribution to Arrival.

PAV: At this point, I find it hard to imagine any DOOM project that doesn't involve at least one contribution from Jimmy. His work is like water, it makes up 71% of the community. I see Jimmy's contributions as two-fold: He created the title screen, but he also encouraged and inspired me along the way.

I was scrambling at the end of the project to wrap up the little details. The title pic was the final asset created because I had been putting it off the whole time; I am just hopeless with graphic design. I knew what I wanted, however, and I asked Jimmy politely over DM to help me out. Minutes later, he produces the perfect image, beautifully capturing the vibe of the project.

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JIMMY PADDOCK: Pavera got in contact with me shortly before he was ready to release Arrival, asking for assistance with the graphical side of things. I wrestled together a title picture for the main menu, based on the "green sun" texture he pulled from Mechadon's "Box 'o' Skies". I've done quite a bit of graphical editing in the past for my own mods and was happy to throw something together for my buddy Pavera. Somehow I picked the perfect font for the "ARRIVAL" lettering on the first try too!

SC: Something that stands out right away in every screenshot are the incredible sky boxes throughout Arrival, provided by Mechadon from the lovely “Box o’ Skies” set. How did this collab come to be?

PAV: As mentioned above, it was AD that suggested I check out this pack. It was like opening a treasure chest, just an absolute pot of gold. I proceeded to pick out a different sky for each map, trying to simulate two full days that occur over the first six maps of the set.

MECHADON: Box o' Skies is actually just a sky texture resource that I made available to the public a few years ago. Anyone working on a DOOM (or otherwise) project could use those sky textures. And I guess Pavera liked them enough to use them in Arrival, which is awesome!

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As for how Box o' Skies came to be, I would say it started many years ago while I was attempting to create sky textures for a personal project of mine. I got it in my head early on that I wanted to create all of the new resources on my own (save for a few assets, like music). Sky textures were one of the first things I attempted to make...and I was really horrible at it.

But the project was a slow-burn, so I spent a few years practicing sky texture creation and ended up remaking my initial set four or five times. I'd always learn something new after remaking the skies. After lots of trial-and-error and practice, I ended up making textures that I thought looked pretty good. And in that process, I found that I kind of enjoyed making sky textures. It got to the point where I would actively save any interesting stock sky photos I found, usually thinking "wow, that might look good in a DOOM map!"

So over time, I collected more stock photos and made them into sky textures. Sometimes they would be for specific projects and other times I made them for fun. Eventually I ended up with a fairly large collection of them, many of which were never seen by the public. I figured hey, why not bundle them up and release them as a resource for the DOOM community? Folks always seemed to enjoy the textures and they're really important in helping build atmosphere in a map. So that's exactly what I did, and that's how Box o' Skies came to be. Honestly I'm shocked at how many projects have used them, its been really cool to see.

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SC: We hear there’s a secret level included in Arrival that just might feature an easter egg texture… So many secrets! But what’s no secret is you had some help on this memorable art made by Mossbios. Where did this idea come from?

PAV: This actually happened entirely by accident, haha. Moss is a friend from outside the DOOM community. Long story short, I posted a weird picture of myself in discord (basically, imagine an Animorph of my face) ... they responded by posting a hilarious modification of it, then dared me to put it in my DOOM map. I decided to hide it in the "bonus" level and it was too perfect to remove. It's canon now!

MOSSBIOS: Pavermorphs.

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SC: What was your main inspiration for Arrival?

PAV: My primary inspiration for Arrival was simply, create an episode of high-quality DOOM II maps with a loosely connected theme, using only stock resources. I've been creating DOOM maps for over a decade but until last year I had never released a full project of my own. I'm very comfortable with DOOM's stock resource set and I partially wanted to prove that they still had a lot of untapped potential. Of course, I ended up veering slightly away from that goal with the addition of Mechadon's skies, but I feel I was able to deliver most of the way.

The overarching theme of Arrival is meant to be a bit cryptic and up to interpretation. I wanted to explore the idea that the "Doomguy" is an introspective character. After spending an eternity entering dimension after dimension (WAD after WAD), what is his ultimate purpose? Where does he find his peace? Is he fated to spend another eternity in violence or will he arrive at his final resting place?

AD: My musical style is heavily inspired by the discographies of James Paddock (Jimmy) and Sarah Mancuso (Esselfortium). The song structures are also frequently influenced by my love of progressive death metal, which might explain the lengths of some of these pieces. Of course, the maps served as the primary guiding force to determine what a particular track should sound like or where it should go. As a quick example, MAP05 is a large, menacing yet explosive sprawl of a map, which to me was begging for a MIDI that was equal parts unbalanced and propulsive. I think it works a lot better than what we'd originally placed there, that being the current intermission screen music.

SC: What tools did you use to create this episode replacement?

PAV: Doom Builder X for levels, SLADE for WAD compilation and creating texture composites, and a bit of Paint 3D to do some subtle sky manipulations to make them fit the map a little better - and Matt Tropiano's DOOMTools for compiling the IWAD.

AD: All of the music was written in a free program called Sekaiju. If you want to compose MIDIs, I can't think of better software for the job.

JIMMY: I used Paint.NET to put the title and menu graphics together. Lovely little program. Lightweight and with no learning curve.

MOSS: Photoshop, legal version.

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SC: Also, for folks who might not be familiar with the term “limit-removing”, what does that mean, and how does it apply to Arrival?

PAV: Honestly, there are many answers to this question, but I will give the simple one. "Limit-removing" essentially just means that the vanilla DOOM rendering limits have been removed, but I am still using stock DOOM II map actions. So, I am not able to script the maps out or use any of the fancier actions that come with more advanced source ports BUT I can make my maps as big as I want, within reason.

AD: Vanilla DOOM has a limit on how large a MIDI can be. If it's too large, it simply will not play. I don't think anyone knows what the exact limit is, but modern source ports are able to play MIDIs regardless of filesize. That being said, I don't think any of Arrival's music would have been an issue in vanilla DOOM.

SC: How did AD-79’s music play a part in this episode replacement’s creation? Which came first? Chicken.midi or Egg.wad??!

PAV: Early on in the project, it was Egg.wad. Actually, two of the maps were originally created and released individually in 2017! They were updated, given music and new skies and placed into Arrival. I then started working on the rest of the maps in late 2019 before AD came on.

At first, he submitted a couple of tracks that he wrote separately, and I just placed them in the maps where they fit best. As we went on though, AD started developing some recurring motifs for the soundtrack and the last few maps and tracks were actually developed in tandem. There were a couple maps where I was able to decide on the final direction with inspiration from the music he sent me, which was inspired by the unfinished map I sent him.

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SC: Who are your favorite modders or team of modders in the DOOM community, and what’s your favorite creation they’ve made?

AD: There's too many people making too many good things (“everyone involved with BTSX”, if I were forced to sum it up in four words), but I'll single out a few favorites. Skillsaw, whose work on Valiant and Ancient Aliens has made a permanent impact on my mapping style. Tarnsman, the other major influence on my style and the creator of TPH, one of the most vicious yet brilliant sets out there. On the music side of things, I mentioned Jimmy and Esselfortium earlier on, but I'd also like to highlight Stewboy's soundtracks for Ancient Aliens and Heartland. All of their work has helped elevate DOOM to new heights and I wouldn't have been able to get into composing without them.

JIMMY: My long time DOOM colleague Dragonfly has always been one of my favorite people to collaborate with. Our work together in Eviternity remains, I think, what I'm proudest of.

I have to once more shout-out Xaser, whose seminal work in the community continues to inspire me and many others. Shoutouts to his awesome mod "Psychic" from years back that has been entertaining me a lot while playing Arrival! His work on his most recent mod "Vesper" is also pretty incredible.

Esselfortium's tireless work with all things DOOM and music has to be mentioned. She remains a close friend and fantastic collaborator. Her work in the BTSX soundtrack, as well as her recent videogame soundtracks, continues to astonish me.

Mechadon undoubtedly deserves praise. As well as being a master sky-texture artist whose work you can see in Arrival, working with him on Supplice over these last few years has been awesome fun. Can't wait to show you what we've been cooking up.

MECHADON: Ah, that's always a hard question to answer! Regrettably I haven't been able to keep up with the current DOOM going-ons much these days, so I'm sure I've missed out on a few great things. But there are a few that have influenced me over the years and I always go back through their catalogues when I need inspiration - Esselfortium, Jimmy, Skillsaw, Tango, Vader, Espi, Dragonfly, Ukiro, Afterglow, Agent Spork and Xaser are the big ones.

BTSX, The Adventures of Square, Deathless, Suspended in Dusk, Crucified Dreams, Eviternity, Ancient Aliens, Heartland...those are some of the big projects that I'd say are my favorites by those folks. There are definitely more creators out there that I admire and I wish I had time to dig into their creations more.

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PAV: I am going to just list off mappers that are influential to me, along with what I think is their greatest work. This is off the top of my head, so I am inevitably going to forget people, so I am very sorry ahead of time to my forgotten inspirations :D

  • rf' - Mapgame
  • Skillsaw - Heartland and Lunatic
  • Esselfortium - Everything (if I have to choose, MAP20: Leap of Faith from d2twid)
  • Tarnsman - TPH, D2ISO (equally masterful sets)
  • Jimmy - Deathless, MUSIC MAN
  • AD_79 - Arrival OST, also great mapper
  • RottKing - ELF GETS PISSED
  • John Romero - E1M7: Computer Station (favorite map of all time)
  • Sandy Petersen - MAP24: The Chasm
  • Breezeep - Stimulants
  • Espi - Suspended in Dusk and Back to Basics (literally baked into my mapping DNA)
  • Xaser - Xaser
  • anotak - lilith.pk3
  • NaturalTvventy - No End in Sight

SC: give any other shoutouts? No time like the present…

AD: Shoutouts to Jimmy, Dragonfly, Breezeep and all my other friends in the DOOM community. You're all lovely people and I don't think I'd want to continue creating if you all weren't around. Additional shoutouts to the Squonker Crew for making cool little mapsets at an absurdly quick rate. We need more of that sort of thing! Finally, shoutouts to Pavera for letting me write the soundtrack for such a good project. Let's work together again in the future.

JIMMY: Shout-out to Pavera of course! A great mapping buddy and super cool guy. Keep up the DOOMing!

Props should definitely go to AD_79, Dragonfly, Tristan Clark, Psyrus82, Velvetic, and Dunn_and_dunn for recently being close compatriots with me in the realms of music-making.

Shout-out to Bridgeburner and MajorArlene for their streams that have been equal parts entertaining and useful to me over the last few years for when I needed playtesting done on my projects.

Shout-out to MtPain27 for his awesome "Dean of DOOM" series on YouTube. His videos reviewing classic and contemporary DOOM megawads inspired me to do the same! Arrival, as it happens, wound up being one of the first ones I covered on my own YouTube channel.

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MECHADON: Would it be ok to shout-out the team working on Supplice? I guess a little shameless promotion is okay. :P Cage, Jimmy, Essel, Bouncy, Pillowblaster, CSonicGo and Xaser...hey guys, thanks for all of your hard work!

PAV: Definitely shouts to the usual suspects (already promoted by Mechadon and Jimmy), but I wanted also to shout-out some up-and-comers who have been releasing some cool looking stuff lately: Egg Boy, Juza, Skronkidonk, DCG Retrowave, bobby, ZeMystic, and the others who were involved with the projects Vigor, Mayan Reynolds, and Moonlit District. They're all newer authors in the community that are absolutely hitting the spot with the kind of "limit-removing" content that I love. Keep that up!!

Shouts to my wife Rachael, who literally is my muse and keeps my inspired creative energy alive.

Shouts (again) to MTrop for supplying the endlessly useful DoomTools

Shouts to Xaser for assisting me slightly with the aforementioned tools and some dehacked stuff.

Shouts to dew for giving Arrival a once over and pointing out some things to fix!

Shouts to my friend Addy, who is a cool up-and-coming Quake level designer. Keep an eye out for them!

Also, shout-out to my good friends outside the DOOM community: Mossbios, Genevaleigh (& all my fellow bezos babes), Memoosh, kprice, Sensei, Hosway, impossible, DCBueller, Huxley, Sega, ZBWMusic, .... too man to list! All of ‘em inspire me greatly to be better always.

MOSS: Shout out to ZBWMusic.