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Trapped In The Past

UDOB-Start - Released for Copper Quake on June 20th, 2019

One of Quake's experiments that's often ignored by retrospectives was moving the difficulty and episode selection out of the menu and into an introductory level named simply 'Start'. Quake mods and episodes have observed this convention ever since, and I followed suit with Underdark Overbright, the demonstration episode and pot-sweetener for my Quake singleplayer gameplay patch Copper. I wanted UDOB's start map to dovetail with the character of the mod, revisiting something old and familiar with more depth and new twists, and the best way to do this was remixing an old level as well. Rather than the old Start map, I chose E1M1, rebuilt with the better quality achievable with modern level tools and engine ports, but presented as collapsed and overgrown after 20 years without a visitor.

When you know players are showing up with a wealth of knowledge of a pre-existing level, you can riff on that knowledge for your own ends. Players enjoy when you do this, too: every time they interrogate the space based on what they remember about it and the level answers "you're right, I remembered that too," it feels more rewarding than unearthing any weapon or powerup. I stuffed this level full of little callbacks to E1M1, but used them as breadcrumbs to lead the player into discoveries.

Hiding the Nightmare skill select is a start map tradition that stretches back to the original. The first room of E1M1 has a little secret cubby known to anyone who's played it which made the perfect place for Nightmare. Every player I've observed playing this level immediately checks that spot for a Nightmare button without fail. (Not all of them are up for actually pressing it, though.) This sets an important expectation I'll build on further: memories of the secret areas in the original E1M1 will lead to new discoveries here.

I divert the player from all the original forward paths, but not before providing hints that there's still something there. The original exit from the first room won't open fully, but a tantalizing Quad Damage can be seen through the gap. They instead exit through a familiar back passage that connected the start to the exit room in E1M1 through a watery cave, reusing another secret area. Following the tunnel out of the secret cave gives the player a view of E1M1's entire open-air courtyard, just out of reach.

The level's original exit is now the gateway to continue on to UDOB level 1, and the corridor leading back toward earlier parts of the level is now flanked by four entrances for the original episodes (Copper can and should be used to replay the stock maps, too). This corridor ends in a sealed door (as did the original), but one that suggests it can be opened somehow. Players can leave the level already, but I've given them reasons to stay and look deeper.

If they think to check for the yellow armor secret they remember being beneath the exit room, they'll find it, but that room was originally accessed from an area that's on the other side of that sealed door ... but that means I can get out there ...

Curious things happen when you play E1M1 in reverse. The relatively easy gates and Romero-esque demonstrations of Quake's buttons and movers are, unmodified, impossible progression blocks from the other direction, but the map's secret areas, which do double duty in multiplayer by providing circular connectivity, happen to provide shortcuts around them. I lean on this, steering the player into each new impossibility and "hiding" the bypass in the first place they always think to look based on their memory of E1M1.

This is the key to the design of the rest of the map, and why a good memory for the original's secrets is the player's key to unwinding this one. Each secret from E1M1 (except one) makes a reappearance here nearly unaltered, providing the player a continuous path around the loop from the other direction until they come back to the start, where they first saw the mysterious tempting Quad.

The reward for the player's explorations is carnage. Grabbing the Quad spawns dozens of zombies strung out along the length of the now fully unlocked level. With a Quad, the player's weenie starting shotgun is enough to gib them, but the player only has the 30 second powerup timer to race backwards (forwards?) through the map and destroy them all before the Quad is spent.

If the player "collects" them all, they get to start their episode of choice with a grenade launcher granted well before its time, which has been revealed to them in, of course, the one remaining E1M1 secret they've yet to see reused.

Play It

Both Copper Quake and Underdark Overbright can be acquired from Copper's Download page.