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[RELEASE] Shaky Grounds Episode  "Shake it baby!"

User is online   Dr.Panico 

#31

Did anybody find the two super secrets?

I've only managed to find one...
Spoiler

...but I'm struggling to find the other one. Any clues?
1

User is offline   Merlijn 

#32

Generic clue about the 2nd super secret:
Spoiler


And a more specific one:
Spoiler


Also NGL, I half expected the 100/100 rating from Aleks to ruffle some feathers. :P
I vividly remember the 99 rating for red4 and how that caused a heated discussion back in the day. I guess the community either matured or became too small to bicker about that kind of thing, or both. ;)
4

User is offline   Merlijn 

#33

Here's an early Christmas present from me. ;) The entire soundtrack is now on Youtube:



You can also find them grouped as a playlist on my channel.

I also made a complete list of easter eggs and trivia for those who are interested. As a bonus, it also contains the backstory of Froyd Eenakee. B)
Massive spoilers obviously, so only read after you've played the episode:

Attached File(s)



This post has been edited by Merlijn: 23 December 2021 - 08:32 AM

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User is offline   Ninety-Six 

#34

I'm amazed at how many of those easter eggs and references I actually got, including some of the foreshadowing bits.

Spoiler

1

User is online   ck3D 

#35

I wish I were bumping this thread to post my detailed thoughts on my experience with the whole final episode, unfortunately it just hasn't happened yet, I know we're talking about something special here and I think part of me subconsciously holds back on going through it until I have the proper amount of everyday focus just so that I can fully experience the delight. I couldn't help from spoiling a few bits of the new maps to myself via YouTube videos though, since that's a convenient form of surface level appreciation and as expected loved what I saw, but really want to reserve my words for when I've directly experienced everything. It really is on my mind and I'm looking forward to getting to exchange more soon.

But I still wanted to bump this thread because to me this is probably the most important user episode released for Duke 3D and I find it especially interesting in how to me it basically transcends the whole medium. It's art because it uses Duke 3D and the very fundamentals of its universe and codes (and art assets) but then flips the engine on its head to also provide its own unique microcosm you so obviously went extremely meticulous and ingenious ways to craft. The later segment in the third map with the city split in half after the roids rush is so strong it feels like a statement to the status quo and a challenge to the scope of possibilities due to the awe-inspiring design but also the outside-the-box thinking (already present with the 90 degree building in the second map, but this pushes that). It's so cinematic and captivating I've actually gone back to just watching the sequence on YouTube a few times before (which is funny to try and rationalize, not going to lie). Which makes me ponder, I know generally speaking you are a creative but have you ever considered, or toyed with filmmaking before? I think you would make for an exceptional one with your mindset, it's almost tempting to say Build is too limited a medium for what you're doing (also why your dedication to it throughout the years is amazing). Your approach in both design and sequencing makes me want to draw parallels with filmmaker Michel Gondry's practical effects.

P.S.. the enemy name anagram actually haunted the back of my mind throughout all these years, couldn't believe I had never figured out till you spelled it out for me in that .txt. I even remember using anagram-generating websites to try and solve it a couple of times, to no avail each time since the answer was three separate words. Such a satisfying resolve!

This post has been edited by ck3D: 22 April 2022 - 06:04 PM

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User is offline   Merlijn 

#36

Thanks for your kind words and the thread bump! No rush, play the episode when you feel like you have enough time for it. :)

View Postck3D, on 22 April 2022 - 06:01 PM, said:

It's so cinematic and captivating I've actually gone back to just watching the sequence on YouTube a few times before (which is funny to try and rationalize, not going to lie). Which makes me ponder, I know generally speaking you are a creative but have you ever considered, or toyed with filmmaking before? I think you would make for an exceptional one with your mindset, it's almost tempting to say Build is too limited a medium for what you're doing (also why your dedication to it throughout the years is amazing). Your approach in both design and sequencing makes me want to draw parallels with filmmaker Michel Gondry's practical effects.


It's true I do approach scenes like that from a cinematic perspective, but IMO the original game used this approach as well. There are several moments, especially in LA Meltdown and Lunar Apocalypse, that feel very cinematic to me (you can read some of my thoughts in the Mod of the month thread, Ninety Six goes into even more detail). So in my mind I'm just taking something that was there already and put my own spin to it. :)

As for filmmaking, I have been editing the video's for my band but it's such a completely different discipline. Mapping and music are similar in a way, in the sense that you start with a completely blank canvas and create something from nothing. And from there it can basically go anywhere. A big part of creating a video or a film comes down to editing: trying to create a flowing narrative out of existing footage. For instance I did all the editing for this video for my band:


Looking back I can see the flaws, as it's a creative outlet I'm pretty new to. IMO the video finds it's groove from 2:30 onward. Of course it's done on practically zero budget so don't expect anything in terms of production value. ;)

Quote

P.S.. the enemy name anagram actually haunted the back of my mind throughout all these years, couldn't believe I had never figured out till you spelled it out for me in that .txt. I even remember using anagram-generating websites to try and solve it a couple of times, to no avail each time since the answer was three separate words. Such a satisfying resolve!


haha, and here I was thinking it was way too obvious and most people would quickly crack the code
Spoiler


This post has been edited by Merlijn: 25 April 2022 - 11:39 AM

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User is online   ck3D 

#37

I'm going to play this in full soon finally, but in the meantime I just ran into this brand new stream of Shaky Grounds by Twitch user kosh1967 which you might want to watch (I'm abstaining for now, myself, so that my direct experience retains more elements of surprise): https://www.twitch.t...deos/1779571136

Apparently that user has been streaming a couple of Duke 3D user episodes in general lately, pretty cool.

This post has been edited by ck3D: 30 March 2023 - 03:41 PM

1

User is offline   Merlijn 

#38

That's really cool, thanks for the share! The beginning made me wonder how he knew so quickly what to do, but then he said he already played a bit before starting the stream. Makes sense :D

As I mentioned in the Blast Radius thread, I am thinking of making an extended version of the episode.
It would add at least 1 secret map and a possible alternative ending based on the choice of the player (those who played the episode will probably know what I'm referring to).

I already had ideas for a secret level but back then I decided to scrap them, I feared it would mess too much with the pacing of the episode.
But since it has been out for over a year now, I figure it would be a cool addition for a 2.0 version. Any thoughts?
1

User is online   ck3D 

#39

Oh man I can have plenty of thoughts. I'll DM you a list of ideas once I'm done with my playthrough and it's cemented which ones really are valid or not and also inspired new ones. But if you were to ask me right now what a sequel/extension to Shaky Grounds would be, then very naively and without actually reflecting about it I feel like what should matter is the expansion (whatever form it takes eventually) should carry over, respect and maybe magnify the basic tonal theme of the original series, the destruction and terrain shifting one is a strong one because Build naturally lends itself to such sceneries so well. Maybe the pattern of those established technicalities is all you should respect and then you can basically dress it up and into anything depending on your current inspiration and aspiration for a given level. Probably shouldn't shy away from new enemy variants either to really complement and at the same time specialize the level design (not mandatory, but would be a special plus). But most importantly I think a sequel should involve the Cycloid Emperor's grandson now and then you potentially could keep the series going until Duke crawls his way up, down and through the entire lineage and family tree.

This post has been edited by ck3D: 01 April 2023 - 06:02 AM

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User is online   Aleks 

#40

Hmmm, as you know I really loved Shaky Grounds and of course would love to see another Merlijn map, but then I'm not sure if adding more to it would be the best idea - the episode as is really felt like a complete and cohesive whole, with how the atmosphere and story builds up from level to level until the epic ending, even the levels pick up where the previous one left of, so directly adding more to it might distort this perfection... On the other hand, why not have Duke now travel to alien planet to shake it up a bit, armed with nuclear warheads that would be detonated beneath the surface to destroy their homeworld as a vengeance?
1

User is offline   Merlijn 

#41

^
that's why I'm not sure if I should do it. But both additional levels would be purely optional so the core episode would stay the same. The general idea for the secret map is:

Spoiler


The alternate ending would show
Spoiler


We can talk more via DM, I appreciate the input from you both! :)
4

User is online   ck3D 

#42

I finally started my full, continuous playthrough of Shaky Grounds as an episode. I'll post my global thoughts eventually, but since now that I'm inside the maps I seem to enjoy taking my time I'll also be marking pauses and post my direct, instant reactions upon playing/replaying each and every single one of them in 2023. That's also material I'm building up to most likely post on ModDB in some shape or form later, would love to see more activity on the Duke project pages there in general as that's where the eyes of the average player rest these days, and so I think there's some sort of cultural gap to bridge.

And so for now, here's my review of Apocollapse. Had some great fun, also experienced some lag but then realized I was playing with the classic texturing on but also Polymost which my hardware is allergic to (I always knew the issue wasn't on the map anyway since it always was smooth otherwise, but explains the technical quality of the screenshots). Like I said on Discord, I think doubling up the yellow key pad (so that there's one on each side of the panel the current lone one is placed on) would clear up some potential confusion, since that building can be entered two ways, current set-up makes for a 50-50 chance one might miss it for a while. I'm also pulling ratings out of nowhere and being critical from a 2023 standpoint, but also trying to recontextualize the levels' respective strengths at the time of their release and acknowledge them accordingly.

I also took photos, and wanted to share my stats with the last screenshot but somehow that one just turned out like it did, will try taking another one later as I still have a save from before I left the level. But it took me approximately 45 minutes (I spent a while wandering about looking for the yellow key pad, although searching the whole mall was in fact pretty fun) and I must have been pretty shit at secrets since I usually am good at spotting hidden doors, but not at finding their triggers.

Apocollapse

After all these years since its original release as a user map, Apocollapse remains a phenomenal level, also due to its now legendary homemade soundtrack by the author but first and foremost for its intrinsic qualities: it's a very strongly atmospheric piece, with its copious chunks of torn urban terrain that punctuate every corner of each frame Duke's sight will get to catch, and yet one that doesn't forget how to function as a Duke Nukem 3D level, with a strong emphasis on fast gunplay (especially on the Come Get Some difficulty setting) and cinematic action, as though to match the intensity with rhythm. In itself a game changer of its own at the time, in the context of its release Apocollapse was especially remarkable for pairing up Merlijn Van Oostrum's creative sensibilities with not just a greater understanding of Duke 3D space and movement than his previous works: the classic Red series of user maps had showcased to the world, but also newfound maturity in inspiration and optimization of most every map sector drawn with the most fitting possible Build engine effects, resulting in the marriage of two trends: visually ambitious and resourceful user mapping, and constant interactive in-game evolution of the playable settings which at the time was a rare sight, and quite possibly never as well encapsulated.

The opening sequence blew many minds many years ago and most likely timelessly will continue doing so and pushing Duke into his new world of hurt as soon as the get-go, already announcing the shape of all things left to come in the span of half a minute by calling the cards of quick feet and constant alternation of reactive, then creative thinking. And then at the same time, Duke's progression through Apocollapse will for the most part be linear at the core, sometimes leading the player by the hand through a succession of sensorial stimulii under the disguise of colorful, handicrafted scenery flashes and LSD-inspired air ducts, and also knowing when to let go and leave room for the player to get familiar with the space (and its ever-changing topography) as they explore around in search of progress that would feel more like their own.

Describing each, every and really any particular peril, challenge and cinematic sequence that await Duke in Apocollapse would be nothing but a spoiler and so instead those should remain mysterious as an invitation (which is something Apocollapse actually functions very nicely as, in the grander scope of Shaky Grounds as an episode). More interesting focus would be on a breakdown of the general feel of the experience, gameplay-wise as a Duke Nukem 3D level but also in itself. The cityscapes in Apocollapse probably are some of the grandest urban settings the game had seen at this point in time and to this day remain highest tier, not just in terms of scope but also of inspiration as detail was spent everywhere to make every prop look unique, if not organic (at times in all senses of the term) by incorporating as many of them into the progression as possible, and successfully dodging the tempting trap of boxy design so many city maps typically fall into with the average Build user mapping aligned to a fixed 2D grid. As the author's Red series had foreshadowed, the use of (usually high contrast) lighting and shading is top notch, supporting atmosphere as much as graphical composition and meeting Merlijn's other trademark of highly intelligently placed and timed sounds in the middle of one strong, coherent vibrant picture. As alluded to just earlier, that is one the player is sometimes led to follow and some other times led to more actively scan, if not search.

Gunplay is excellent with a challenging number of well-picked and -placed enemies on Come Get Some, smart use of respawns, an always welcome emphasis on the Freezethrower and terrain that is fantastic to use as an arena just as much as it is on the retina. However, maybe that aspect isn't exactly as flawless yet as it would later be polished with the later maps; in a twist of irony, maybe Apocollapse is where it can be seen the author was trying to Build on still slightly Shaky Grounds. The first half of the city seems to openly invite platforming onto and around the rooftops; and the player most likely will find themselves doing so in order to fend off the opposition, running about and having to improvise their next reach every other second while trying to evade enemy fire, or strategizing around the streets. Once the action dies down however, those higher ledges and roofs remain just as, if not even more tempting to parkour atop of in hopes for more reward they really offer, limiting the interest of the level's otherwise very well-thought out verticality in that sense. It gets even worse around the canyon where while the path the player is meant to take couldn't be more on-the-nose if Sandy Petersen had drawn an arrow, and despite some obvious attention already there, many jumps and leaps of faith be it across or around various cliffs and walls persist at seeming possible, perhaps even concealing potential secrets, except more often than not trusting the appearances will precipate Duke to his premature death upon his collision into an invisible wall, all the way down the increasingly taunting lava pit.

Crossing the collapsed canyon (both ways) is downright epic and memorable and so are the fights that surround it; the idea in itself is solid and the visual execution is fantastic, but it's a bit of a shame (albeit only logical) the practical aspect still feels a bit underdeveloped in comparison to what the later Shaky Grounds map will present. Going across just to flip a universal order defyingly-placed switch feels a bit artificial, maybe just due to how straightforward the set-up is (but the consequent enemy spawn, pairing and battle make for a legendary moment). Once Duke has unlocked the mall, things start kicking again but between the moment he crosses the canyon again and then, maybe some convolution can be sensed and convey the feeling that the map might have one too many keycards (a feeling that isn't helped by how the yellow key pad can be easy to miss). Because of the progression, while the later Shaky Grounds levels stand firmer as their own thing, this part of Apocollapse makes it seem more like a Roch map Merlijn would have punched some of his own vibe in (and he's got a strong hook), maybe after taking some notes from the grittiness and scaling of other, classic user levels such as Extermination by Juha 'Turpuli' Laaksonen or Demolition by Devastator. More experimentation can be felt in the number of loose ends, sometimes relying on Doom-like teleporter tricks to get the player around or back on track, but the execution never falters, instead blending into the other etheral qualities of Apocollapse really well and so refusing to feel as cheap as it could.

The supermarket and mall in general are the map's peak in terms of macro level design, with some of the best sense of, and practical use for space, verticality also involving on-the-spot terrain-shifting Build effect applications, enemy placement and layout cleverness; and yet it also won't clash against any of the other, more claustrophobic moments, or the wide open outdoor sceneries. In general, the design is littered with more-or-less-popular culture references, Duke 3D user community jokes, and typical Merlijn creative quirks, such as a detailed in-level city map or one basement which looked right out of Red 4 (its starting room, to be accurate). The final battle also is highly climactic, taking place around some visually pleasing architecture in addition to being just plain simple, but intensely-paced, fun; and then finally getting to infilitrate the longtime conveited, but for now still mysterious Cool Center feels just as rewarding as it captivates Duke by shrouding him into the obscurity of whatever comes next.

96/100

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This post has been edited by ck3D: 18 April 2023 - 04:45 PM

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User is offline   Merlijn 

#43

Thanks for the torough review! I think your observations are spot on.

In a way I was still at a crossroad with this map, it still had the idea of 'cinematic gameplay' from the red series - meaning that with some sequences I would only allow 1 route for the player to achieve the maximum cinematic effect. In the case of crossing the chasm, I agree that only allowing 1 route takes a bit away from it. Or perhaps the borders of unreachable areas should have been defined better. Originally the mall also had just 1 entrance (the one at the front that would lead directly to the shop n bag with the yellow keycard), again in the name of a more cinematic experience with the protector drones dropping in from the glass ceiling. I ultimately decided that having 2 entrances would be a lot more fun for the player and add more replay value. I think I made the right call there, but as a result you didn't immediately spot the yellow slot and probably found the card itself first.

This is also the map that had the least amount of planning and the most free flowing mapping. This comes with its own pro's and cons - it's filled to the brim with ideas but also its structure is less refined compared to the other maps in the series. I do remember having a great amount of fun, as the map kept grewing in size and more ideas started to present itself. For example: the trip across the chasm was a pretty late decision. Originally everything on the other end of the chasm was purely there for background scenery, but at one point I thought "hey wouldn't it be cool if the player could cross the chasm at some point?". This should also explain why the progression is pretty basic, you only go there to press a button. But it does trigger one of my favorite fights in the map so overall I'm satisfied with this inclusion.

Same with the jump over the chasm into the swimming pool, that was a pretty spontanious idea and too good to not include. As you noted in your Koodbool topic, it just fits the over the top action persona of Duke Nukem. As an aside: I don't know if you saw the latest John Wick movies, but he survives similar falls in those movies and no-one bets an eye. :D Also the last one has an amazing extended action sequence set in Paris, you may want to check it out if you haven't already.

One more funny thing about the soundtrack: it was literally recorded a few days before the map was released and I was actually unsure of including it! My original idea was a more epic, orchestral version of Sneaky Snake, similar to big disaster movies. But everyone ended up praising this version, and it turned out to be a perfect fit for the map.

Also funny how the "too big to fail" joke in one of your screenshots is suddenly relevant again. :P

This post has been edited by Merlijn: 19 April 2023 - 02:54 AM

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User is online   ck3D 

#44

It's crazy to me the music was a last-second insecure move but at the same time I can totally imagine the type of process and doubt now that you've said that. It's really cool you were brave enough not just to include it but also embrace it as an recurring thematic for each map in the series (and that Maarten also is doing similar), really gives another dimension to the project and elevates it past the scope of being 'just a map set' for an old video game (regardless of how masterfully made).

Like I just said on Discord (again, but I like words that stay) having the mall be such a loop from and then back into the streets was definitely the right way of going at it, adds a lot to that part of the level, the traversal and even purpose of which I think otherwise would feel incomplete. And I actually didn't even realize the second entrance for a minute either, I did go in the 'correct' way for the switch but I reckon got distracted by the action and scenery (which in themselves aren't at fault, they're great and shouldn't be touched). The central lobby successfully grabbed me by the nose and led me around it, then into the opposite hallway I thought was my original one a few times before I dared going outside again and realizing what was going on with the layout (that's mostly on me, it was late and I was a bit tired), and I actually really liked that.

Everything you're saying about the evolution of the direction just coming together and the difficulty of managing coherence on the scale of a project that's years in the making and so long enough for the author to evolve from their very own linearity really resonates, I definitely feel that looking back on the first three levels I made for Blast Radius (respectively NYC, Paris and Tokyo), the general idea for a central, unifying theme already and always was there but players can tell (and I love that) how the style of those is a bit different and maybe more traditional in comparison to the rest, but in Blast Radius it really works because those maps are levels 3, 7 and 9 in the final set and so used to punctuate the flow in a way where that actually serves the episode with the variety of a different flavor of spice instead of conflicting as one different block the evolution from which was too obviously gradual. But that whole process of one's vision and skills always expanding is normal, natural (one literally has to start anything somewhere) and that you managed to grow, refine and top what's already a phenomenal piece of work of yours again and again over time only commends the quality of whatever you produced next and of what you're capable of now.

Random fun fact but IIRC the legendary world 1-1 actually was the very last level Nintendo drew for Super Mario Bros. on the NES; we're talking the early to mid 1980's and project perspective in game dev already was a considerable focus (for the best), it's interesting how to this day that principle will clean up workflow (all the while requiring enough practice and experience to acquire) and in general just a funny thing to think about.

Oh and re: the invisible walls, it kind of looked like (to me) the issue could be alleviated if not downright solved by just raising the heights of the most tantalizing cliffs on the opposite side of the fault so that the temptation to try and go for potential secrets or skips just isn't there anymore. The blocked walls in themselves weren't problematic, just the level design language there at a rather raw but easily manipulable level. From my experience, the main culprits were around that extreme corner of the map just between Gambini's gas station and the hospital, calling leap of faith attempts from the one collapsed road there.

This post has been edited by ck3D: 19 April 2023 - 04:49 AM

1

User is online   ck3D 

#45

Made it through Tales of Tragedy, took more screenshots, opening up with one of my Apocollapse stats since yesterday they blanked out. It's so funny how little I remembered about that level, every location is very memorable (I basically still knew the level by heart) but a lot of them I remembered being from Epicenter for some reason, shows you how well the overlap works and those separate levels can mentally blend in one another as one continuous fever dream. Top notch stuff, had some great fun again and I think I prefer it to Apocollapse by a surprisingly considerable margin, but I'm also very, very glad Apocollapse exists as it is, and as an opener is the perfect introduction to Tales of Tragedy so both maps in this order complement themselves really well. And the rooftop fight with all the buildings blowing up and vomitting airborne enemies still is one of my favorite moments ever in a Duke map. (Oh, and 'ham-let'.)

Tales of Trackside Tragedy

The direct continuation of Apocollapse, Tales of Tragedy not only picks up on Merlijn's original direction that he had established with the prequel but also refines it in a variety of ways to the point where it's obvious how despite only one year having passed since the first map's release, the author's vision for Shaky Grounds has had the time to mature and this is essentially what Tales of Tragedy announces, as though to rectify a formerly loose aim. If some of Apocollapse felt a bit like an experiment which mostly resulted in interesting and/or spectacular findings, but sometimes at the cost of the occasional gameplay hiccups around the seams, Tales of Tragedy perspires confidence and now mercilessly imposes the episode's rule set.

Some fundamental moments from the first map make a comeback so literal they almost feel ported over: the giant fault to cross is back, the firefights are tough and resources as precious as they are scarce, environments involve some open urban landscapes with a lot of detailed sector work which successfully structures them into arenas, and also Build design porn with torn terrain towering all around, and plenty of timed dynamic effects. Everything just feels a lot slicker however, with tangibly cleaner control from Merlijn as he himself had figured out a more precise perspective.

In comparison to Tales of Tragedy, Apocollapse nearly feels like a demo in that it presented possibilities, and now the author has started learning how to manipulate those. While Apocollapse was action-packed and unwrapped most of itself all at once, basically making for one massive reveal the player would spend their entire traversal taking in, Tales of Tragedy wisely distillates and chooses its moments. The linearity of the progression, which at times felt forced in Apocollapse, is now used as a way to literally drive the player through an unpredictable sequencing of various settings and sceneries (with the gameplay pacing, layout style and atmosphere adapting to match), and those only shine in return with a brighter sense of personality and purpose as the player progressively reveals, explores and conquers each and every one of them. Leaving a level 'segment' always is made very clear by design or the use of gameplay markers, allowing one to mentally prepare themselves for each next one; except around the corner can never be foretold exactly what's coming which might as well be a rooftop, alien hive, concert hall or even an entire city block at the end which until then most likely looked just decorative from distance. And the originality of the path Duke will need to walk there, through the horizontal remains of a collapsed building across the pit is no less than legendary - and yet an idea Merlijn would, years later, somehow manage to push even further with the folded city in Tales of Tragedy's follow-up: Epicenter.

At this point it should go without saying that the author's attention to detail be it audiovisual or, more abstractly, atmospheric is notoriously fantastic and of course Tales of Tragedy is no exception in Merlijn's repertoire. The homemade track here, again, is just as welcome as it perfectly matches the rest of the experience, which only makes sense.

Tales of Tragedy takes the fruits from the seeds Apocollapse had planted and very wisely runs. The presentation isn't as in-your-face as it was in Apocollapse with all the unsorted concepts scattered about in plain sight, and relies on obfuscation a bit more which only benefits the sense of progression, and makes this second installment function better as a video game level. All the insanity from the prequel is still there and in fact, looks better than ever, but it also operates better and that alone makes it a step-up.

98/100

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This post has been edited by ck3D: 19 April 2023 - 01:30 PM

2

User is online   ck3D 

#46

I contacted Puritan since soon after I posted the second review I realized both Apocollapse and Tales of Tragedy had been up on CGS without a review and score all this time, and so I gave him the permission to run them.

Apocollapse: http://www.scent-88....shaky/shaky.php

Tales of Tragedy: http://www.scent-88....aky2/shaky2.php

And then Epicenter already has my old review from around release time, and the full episode's by Aleks.

I'm looking forward to replaying Epicenter soon and wonder if my opinion will have budged, but I'm not sure it will have, out of all the maps it's the level I've replayed the most (and even gotten a few friends to directly try playing with me, we also did that with Clear the Coast) and so I feel like I'll be familiar (and possibly redundant in my feedback), let's see how wrong that assumption turns out to be!

This post has been edited by ck3D: 21 April 2023 - 05:32 AM

2

User is offline   Merlijn 

#47

Thanks again for your reviews, good stuff! Interesting that you see the 2nd map as a large improvement, most people seem to rate it below the 1st and 3rd map. It is a more refined and structured level for sure, but perhaps lacking the initial 'wow' factor of the other maps. This one is probably the closest this episode gets to a 'classic styled' level, with the city mostly being restricted to one area and a bigger focus on the indoor locations (most of that being the Cool Center). With the Cool center, I wanted to do someting similar to the theatre in Hollywood Holocaust: a location that would be fully fleshed out, including optional rooms that are just there to be explored and giving the observant player extra rewards. There's even an alternative route to the upper floor, I wonder if you found it? This bypasses the yellow keycard elevator, keeping the yellow keycard will give the player the option to bypass a part of the map towards the end via another hidden passage.

This was really the first time I gave the player the freedom to take shortcuts and I have to admit it was a bit scary for me. As it would mean I was creating entire sections that people may not even see. It's not quite taken to the level of Blast Radius or the original game, but in hindsight I'm really glad it's in there.

As you already know, Epicenter is where the tone becomes more serious and story-based again. So it's nice to have this somewhat lighter, more carefree map in between before everything really goes to hell.

Only thing I'm less satisfied about with this map is the alien hive section. I didn't quite find the right look for it yet, as you will see this element is a lot more refined in the final maps. I did go back and changed some of the textures to make it more in line with SG4 & 5, you'll probably see what I mean once you reach those maps. :)
2

User is online   ck3D 

#48

You're right on the money re: the wow factor I think, it's just I typically don't care about that type of prowess because it's ephemeral (the same thing can only blow minds once but once the flash has worn off it's different qualities that start mattering), it's great when there is enough originality in the piece to bring something new to the table and make people rethink their own approaches but that is a separate quality I think and doesn't mean going all out (especially if it's at the expense of other things). Apocollapse sort of feels like a proof of concept in a sense with all the possible freshness introduced at once from the get-go, that is cool in its own right but in turn the progression feels a bit less natural; implementing the gameplay in the exact same map design myself and these days, I think I would have found a way to completely scrap a keycard, as though the 'convoluted' path contradicted the apparent openness of the city. But I also understand the context in which those levels were crafted and released as single user maps and so it needed some skin on its bones, especially as the 'teaser' for something grander; in that sense now, it's a great representative of Shaky Grounds as a whole. Just like I agree Tragedy is fantastic for the episode's pacing too. And like we were saying earlier, you also were still figuring out where exactly you'd be headed.

Tales of Tragedy is less in-your-face but honestly just as impressive on performative terms and generally a much wiser level, it's orchestrated when Apocollapse feels closer to a cacophony (of course not necessarily an unpleasant one at all); it's cinematic and sequenced like an actual adventure with a kaleidoscope of new locations and interesting findings or scripted events and twists, when Apocollapse was more akin to one big action scene. The pacing is captivating (you never know what to expect next), the impressive sights and explosions now all serve a purpose (they already did in Apocollapse, but here was a particular highlight), as a level from a gameplay and immersion standpoint I think it's (already, which is impressive since it's just the second map in the series) a lot more mature all the while relying on the same strengths. For instance, even the 'trick' of having the player think a scenery is unreachable only to later drop them there you intended in Apocollapse functions a lot better here as uncovering all the locations via the weird passageways makes contextual sense, helps 'lose' the player for a bit as to where exactly in the level they are for just the right amount of time and as a result, true mystery can continuously be sensed. And so each of those 'surprise' moments hits even harder because of the preparation and presentation, there's actual build-up and then also twists and turns of events. Feels more 'real time' which is also something I loved at the time about Red 4.

People probably just had unreasonable expectations for a sequel and I'd imagine expected even more extreme action and Build porn, but instead you delivered pure quality design which typically doesn't age (or like fine wine when it does). I remember Mikko also justifying how he wasn't as impressed because 'the novelty had worn off', but what's novelty at the end of the day?

I didn't find the alternative keycard path I don't think, but I did explore around the Cool Center for a while (it's possible I never realized I was bypassing anything when doing so and then looped back to the normal route) and appreciated the layout a lot with this complex and yet simple to navigate network of rooms. And I actually liked the very last hive at the end, the only reason why I didn't post any screenshots is somehow they all sucked (wrong timing with the lights etc.) but I thought it had interesting design and indeed foreshadows what I've seen of the end game before quite well, I liked it and didn't find a problem with it. Probably feels underdeveloped to you because you soon kept topping it.

Another detail I didn't mention: the destroyed urban landscapes already looked great in Apocollapse, but they just look fantastic here in the sequel. Something about their architecture and construction styles, also disposition (orientation and placement), or their involvement in the sequencing - top notch and it's obvious to me that on that field too you had already found a firmer footing. For the record, I think my favorite building in Apocollapse actually was the hospital. In Tragedy, that would be the one with the red light effects the Commanders blast out of during the rooftoop fight; that one I especially love how great it already looks as a landmark in its pristine state, and then it gets even better as it becomes active.

This post has been edited by ck3D: 21 April 2023 - 03:02 PM

1

User is online   Aleks 

#49

Just chipping in, but I have to say I also find Tales of Tragedy to be a better level than Apocollapse, which of course is also great. I remember writing my review of the whole episode for CGS and trying to figure out which would be my favourite of the 5 levels, I was torn between levels 2, 3 and 4 really, because they're all just amazing. Levels 1 and 5 as well, but then somehow it's the middle 3 ones that just feel like the peak. The tipped-over building which you have to traverse is just marvelous, probably my favourite location in the whole Shaky Grounds and the most memorable one as well - the idea feels so obvious in the "why nobody has ever done that in a Duke map before?" sense, but then the whole execution is brilliant. I also like how it's pretty much in the middle of the level - it's usually either at the beginning and at the end where people want to play their strongest cards, so placing it like this is kind of a bold statement in itself.
1

User is offline   Ax 34noff 

#50

The best Duke wad mod i played so far!
1

User is offline   Merlijn 

#51

Thanks, glad you enjoyed it!
0

User is online   ck3D 

#52

Took me a while to find the time to keep going with my full playthrough, but I'm on it again. I just traversed Epicenter again, honestly despite all these years already a lot of its value still completely stands and so I'd basically be repeating my review for CGS (which currently is down) word for word if I went into detail in a long post. It's also the map in the episode I still was familiar with, and had played before the most and so way easier to take for granted than the rest of the levels to me (which ridiculously enough didn't prevent me from getting stumped at the crack before the blue key for a good ten minutes, but to be fair I was playing in daylight). Some firefights surprised me as they felt slightly different from what I remembered, for instance I recalled the last plaza having a couple of mean tanks but maybe those always were just Commanders. I also appreciated some of the enemy pairing, especially in the second half of the map with one specific Commander and tank combo past the red key collapse. In the first half the combat and respawns were enjoyable with a lot of well-placed monsters based on function but for the first time in this level it struck me as kind of weird (but also wild) how much variety at once that meant at the start. Quite a few times I was simultaneously fighting Troopers, Enforcers, Commanders, Octabrains, Pigcops and Newbeasts (give or take one) at once which depending on perspective either hurts the possible theming a little bit, or to the contrary adds to the feel of one big scale invasion.

It's a spectacular map but interestingly now, just like I had prefered Tales of Tragedy to Apocollapse, I think I also prefer it to Epicenter purely from a gameplay and pacing perspective. Epicenter is explosive and has the sights, but Tales of Tragedy feels better articulated and planned, which results in a continuous feel of adventurous progression and discovery Epicenter only reaches to flip and blow up in your face (it's designed to, and does it well). In that sense it feels like a perfect mash-up of the qualities of its two prequels, thereby making every map in the set complementary in importance and tying up the ensemble.

I only took a few screenshots I'll post later; gotta go Deeper Underground first!

edit - Deeper Underground - what a ride in that this is one of those rare maps where you end in a location so different and distant from your starting settings, you barely remember where exactly it was that you begun, as a result that makes one really feel all the distance Duke has covered and also feeds the general variety that comprises a first area that is reminiscent of the Cool Center which was the opener in Tales of Tragedy that it stylistically echoes both in theming and execution; then a second third that feels like a gigantic alien maze with an increasing importance of hubs throughout that serve as a warm-up to the final segment that is the culmination of how well the level uses verticality in spite of consisting in a lot of corridors and enclosed spaces by suddenly unlocking all of it at once. The monster selection and combat throughout is pretty great with some cleverly sequenced events, fantastic visuals and smart use of the terrain. Only moment that upset me was going up one of the slopes and repeatedly dying due to crashing into drones I could hardly see due to them being placed a bit too close to the (also sloped) ceiling, they wouldn't follow me down and instead just wait for me to come up from a blind spot, that was strange but one of those Duke 3D AI moments no one can predict. I liked how some of the hubs essentially served as an intro or a warm-up to the next, for instance the yellow circular room with the drone indirectly teaches you the Cycloid clone fight which I'm not sure was 100% deliberate or a spontaneous product during a particularly circle strafing-oriented phase of Merlijn's but works either way. Another particularity of the map is the abundance of hallways to connect all the hubs which already were present in the previous installments, but omnipresent now and increasingly abstract. I'm almost tempted to call them synapses because going through those transitions sort of feels like exploring the author's thoughts as they buffer in the expectation of a satisfying enough idea or concept for the next hub, but continue writing themselves down whilst doing so. The above/underwater part with the 'candles' was one of my prefered highlights.

(I'm giving up on rating the maps because rating is overrated)

This post has been edited by ck3D: 09 July 2023 - 03:25 PM

3

User is online   ck3D 

#53

Double post since I can't edit ^

Final Rumble probably was the best boss map Merlijn could have come up for Shaky Grounds and it's a pure blast from start to finish. Forget searching for your next path amidst a complex layout all the while contemplating poetic detail: this ultimate rush instead seems strictly fueled by Merlijn's DooM inspiration and relies on fast movement, a (wise) lot of tough monsters, large and simple but grand spaces with impeccable use of contrast and colored lighting to not just visually mark the various distinct areas in terms of visuals and mood, but also serve how a place will play. I literally have nothing to criticize about this level, it's pretty perfect as what it is and for what it's supposed to be, and closes Duke's adventure in a manner that is just as satisfying as it is creative and fun to reach.

I can't help but feel like the episode is composed like a song, levels 1 and 3 echo one another as open, explosive, spectacular maps like verses while 2 and 4 repeat the chorus of arguably more linear, sequenced, moody and at time more abstract and arguably darker maps, and then it bridges over to the end. Custom soundtrack that is excellent (and now iconic) from start to finish then really starts feeling like a different dimension of the same product, and both the music and maps meet as one singular vision that is simultaneously distilled within two different, overlapping types of medium.

Here's an Imgur album of some of my favorite moments and sceneries (and stats) of the last three maps, couldn't directly upload on here since apparently my quota is full: https://imgur.com/a/2jm21B4 there is one of the side of a door that is there just to possibly trigger Merlijn's OCD.

Thanks again for all the work spent on this, it truly is a Build masterpiece.

Posted Image

This post has been edited by ck3D: 09 July 2023 - 05:08 PM

2

User is online   ck3D 

#54

Copy of my review on ModDB just in case it gets lost as the platform was just giving me weird stuff:

"I just tried posting a lengthy review only to then get notified that 'the explain yourself field can not contain more than 5000 characters in length' - ironically, that is pretty representative of how the scope of base Duke Nukem 3D can just about withstand the abundance of genuine creativity in this amazing episode by Merlijn. More than just entertainment, Shaky Grounds is a full on audiovisual experience for one to absorb, comprising unique level design that is the signature of 20+ years as one of the most pioneering authors of the Duke 3D community and a matching homemade soundtrack that extends the mood as deeply as into your ears which only makes sense when the same author also happens to be a musician. And mood it does have, constantly alternating between accessible, interactive, spectacular explosive sequences and combat and gloomier, darker undertones, a duality that is constant throughout as if dictated by an omnipresent, ticking, sentient internal metronome. One that would so finely orchestrate everything, Shaky Grounds might as well qualify as a Build engine opera.

Do not sleep on the rest of Merlijn's works. Be sure to check out the classic user map series, Red (1-5) by him, which changed Build mapping forever (and predicted DooM 3) not just as a curiosity but as another experience that still holds up; as well as the Imperium episode (especially if you like Dan Gaskill's DukePlus)."

This post has been edited by ck3D: 10 July 2023 - 03:48 AM

2

User is offline   Merlijn 

#55

Thanks for your comments and the screenshots, I'm especially glad that Deeper Underground and Final Rumble pretty much work as intented: this part is supposed to take you on a journey, from a recognizable place (the Kompleks) into the bowels of the earth into increasingly hostile and abstract environments. With things that are deliberately not explained (such as the 'eyes' on the bottom of the acid lake). As Aleks noted in his review, by the time you reach Final Rumble there are no signs of human civilization left. You're deep underneath the surface and all that you see is creepy alien machinery and barren caves glowing red in the lava. In a way it echoes 'The abbys', with a similar progression from acid pools to lava caves to the insides of an alien ship.

I think Epicenter will remain my personal favorite - the main square is based on a location that's just a few minutes away from my home so that makes it more 'personal' in a way. Plus the 2nd half is such a roller coaster.

About the music: all those tracks were written and recorded after the map was finished, so they are really based on the map and its progression. I think Deeper Underground is the best piece of music in that regard. The way the song is structured is actually really similar to the map: it opens with a rocking main theme (for the kompleks), then the melody starts descending (the descent into the alien hive), then at the end there's the big climatic breakdown which represents the massive final room.

For Final Rumble I just thought 'you know what, I'm basing this map on Doom and it's a boss map, let's just go completely metal for this one' :D

EDIT: since you mentioned finishing the red episode in the MotM topic, I wonder if finishing SG changed your thoughts on that? Final Rumble pretty much is what Red7 was going to be if I would have finished it back in the day.

This post has been edited by Merlijn: 10 July 2023 - 11:26 AM

2

User is online   ck3D 

#56

View PostMerlijn, on 10 July 2023 - 11:21 AM, said:

Red7


I found none of the super secrets (I believe) so I had a hunch you could be good at hiding things, but had no idea about a whole extra Red map! I'm joking but maybe you do in fact mean 7 and 6 was never meant to be the curtains comprising the boss fight like I thought I remembered. I can recall your descriptions of what a Red 6 would have been but assumed things would have technically ended there.

I'm not sure if finishing SG ever could change my thoughts since IIRC in that thread I was arguing that the Red series very well could be enjoyed as what it is and so besides for the natural curiosity, that it never got an 'official closure' didn't really matter. I remember you mentioning the (existing and possible) conceptual tie-ins with Red, as well as the temptation of making a new secret map for SG, maybe that would be a way to get two hits with just one stone if you made a secret level that also would work (not necessarily count) as a possible Red 6. I wouldn't be against seeing you push the aesthetics some of Final Rumble had, but underdeveloped due to the map's purposeful scale on the one of a full blown level, and since I remember you wanted Mars-inspired settings I think areas such as the space city with the red maskwalls could double up in terms of aesthetics.

I also thought about the fake shuttle exit possibility; for now at least I actually kind of like how it's a dead-end which all things considered on a practical level might as well not exist, but here it does and it's such an intriguing choice in relation to (my naive perception of) most current trends in gaming I'm tempted to say I kind of wish it would stay like that, but that's just me and if you yourself see a possibility of repurposing that section, you're probably better off not listening to me and going for it.

That very room has one of my favorite set pieces in the episode, it's the wall with the boss faces that lights up but at the same time that wall also keeps feeling a bit off to me because there are both a Battlelord and a Cycloid adorning it but so far in the story, only the one-eyed freak has been given characterization and so as a player I can't help but wonder who the heck the other homie is. For that reason, if you ever make an alternative ending, perhaps the main boss there should be a Battlelord and that could be where the Red tie-in comes in if only the current boss didn't just specify the Lonely Mountain Complex leader was its father and so probably also a Cycloid. Hmm.

I just imagined Duke running into a time machine in Deeper Underground that would be really, really hard to find and if he does then he's dumped into the 5 Red maps in succession, then the sixth that would also work as an alternative closure to SG. Not a big fan of time travel shenanigans in stories in general but Duke canonically never was a stranger to the practice and such a hidden bonus would potentially be really cool at least to some. Absurdist plot humor could help sell the gesture. Maybe it could be something cooler than a time machine too, say an old PC with Duke 3D and the Red maps running on it as a super secret last human artifact buried somewhere it shouldn't be, and Duke gets sucked into playing them (when it's clearly not the time). Could even be presented as explicit bait to distract him from his current goal at the last minute and send him into a pocket dimension.

Ideas are a bit all over the place, but you asked! Sweet being reminded about the order in which you wrote things as well. I agree I also thought Deeper Underground had one of the best tracks that seemed to totally fit the mood, of course every level does but at least I noticed the variations and high and lows sometimes matching the moment exceptionally well quite a bit. So it's pretty neat to hear the concept behind it, which makes complete sense.

This post has been edited by ck3D: 10 July 2023 - 01:35 PM

1

User is offline   Merlijn 

#57

Quote

I found none of the super secrets (I believe) so I had a hunch you could be good at hiding things, but had no idea about a whole extra Red map! I'm joking but maybe you do in fact mean 7 and 6 was never meant to be the curtains comprising the boss fight like I thought I remembered. I can recall your descriptions of what a Red 6 would have been but assumed things would have technically ended there.


You would have known if you would have found them :) Red 6 was supposed to be full map and red 7 just the boss fight (so not too different from Deeper Underground > Final Rumble). As explained in the other topic, the unfinished parts for red 6 ended up in Clear the Coast. And the ideas for the boss fight I had back then helped to create Final Rumble (the idea to give the boss a shield in the first stage has been in my head since then). So in the end I'm really happy with how things turned out to be. ^_^ Going back to Red at this point would feel redundant.

Quote

I also thought about the fake shuttle exit possibility; for now at least I actually kind of like how it's a dead-end which all things considered on a practical level might as well not exist, but here it does and it's such an intriguing choice in relation to (my naive perception of) most current trends in gaming I'm tempted to say I kind of wish it would stay like that, but that's just me and if you yourself see a possibility of repurposing that section, you're probably better off not listening to me and going for it.


After giving it more thought I will not change this part. It would be too out of character for both Froyd and Duke: Froyd clearly wants Duke dead and wouldn't allow him to escape at this point. Duke was supposed to die during the 2nd quake and the 'escape pod' is one final attempt to get rid of him without having to fight him. In reality Froyd isn't interested in a fair fight at all, he rather hides behind a forcefield and throws more minions into the battle. Duke at this point would also not give up, not after surviving 2 quakes and a whole army of aliens. So really it's just there as a gag, a rather pitiful last ditch attempt by the aliens to get rid of Duke before he reaches Froyd's lair.

Quote

That very room has one of my favorite set pieces in the episode, it's the wall with the boss faces that lights up but at the same time that wall also keeps feeling a bit off to me because there are both a Battlelord and a Cycloid adorning it but so far in the story, only the one-eyed freak has been given characterization and so as a player I can't help but wonder who the heck the other homie is. For that reason, if you ever make an alternative ending, perhaps the main boss there should be a Battlelord and that could be where the Red tie-in comes in if only the current boss didn't just specify the Lonely Mountain Complex leader was its father and so probably also a Cycloid. Hmm.


I think you got 2 locations confused, that room has 2 cycloid faces that light up. An earlier hallway has battlelord faces, I didn't have a deeper idea behind that besides 'it looks cool and ominous' but of course you're free to fill in blanks with your own interpretation!

Quote

I also thought Deeper Underground had one of the best tracks that seemed to totally fit the mood, of course every level does but at least I noticed the variations and high and lows sometimes matching the moment exceptionally well quite a bit. So it's pretty neat to hear the concept behind it, which makes complete sense.


I always hope for moments where the music perfectly aligns with the map, since it's just 1 track playing in a loop you never know where it happens but that's kinda the beauty of it.
1

User is online   ck3D 

#58

Oh I'm probably mixing up locations there then. I just remember running into the mural with the Battlelord face and wondering to myself, who's this guy; and I had thought the same thing the couple of times I had taken a look at the map in video form beforehand. If ever looking for a possible loose end for an extension, or hint at something new you would introduce, that option is there for the taking at least!

It's cool to hear you feel accomplished about the Red series too. I also don't think it needs any modification as it is and, if anything, SG is the best possible prolongation for it. Do you still plan on possibly adding a secret map sometime, or is just your idea about how to go about it that you're dropping? TBH SG too is pretty perfect as it is, I wouldn't mind seeing you explore new stuff with either a new series or just single user maps for a while, unless you feel like retiring which of course Mapster easily would let you, word on the street is it's famous for that.
0

User is offline   Merlijn 

#59

View Postck3D, on 13 July 2023 - 01:54 PM, said:

Oh I'm probably mixing up locations there then. I just remember running into the mural with the Battlelord face and wondering to myself, who's this guy; and I had thought the same thing the couple of times I had taken a look at the map in video form beforehand. If ever looking for a possible loose end for an extension, or hint at something new you would introduce, that option is there for the taking at least!

It's cool to hear you feel accomplished about the Red series too. I also don't think it needs any modification as it is and, if anything, SG is the best possible prolongation for it. Do you still plan on possibly adding a secret map sometime, or is just your idea about how to go about it that you're dropping? TBH SG too is pretty perfect as it is, I wouldn't mind seeing you explore new stuff with either a new series or just single user maps for a while, unless you feel like retiring which of course Mapster easily would let you, word on the street is it's famous for that.


I've been on the fence about a secret map even before the original release. The main reason I left it out was because I was afraid it would mess with the pacing of the episode too much. I think that point still stands, and both Aleks and you have pointed it out. Right now I am pretty much retired (haven't used mapster since the SG release actually!) but you know how these things go. I also said I was retired after the Imperium episode :D

If I return to mapster, I do agree it should be a brand new project. I do have some loose ideas in the back of my mind so who knows what the future will bring..
1

#60

Giving this a go again atm.
Passed the first 2 levels.
I know I have played level 1 and 3 but I don't think I ever played level 2, at least it was a full surprise so that was nice.
The sideways hallways in level2 were super trippy and wild... Ive seen upside down stuff from you but never sideways that was really interesting!
Your use of details is always brilliant I tend to have fun reading and looking at things along the way. (y)
The final fight in level 2 was pretty fun!
All of the battles were fun tbh haven't got stuck yet but I did die a few times in the first level.

Took some sceenshots of things I found interesting or funny along the way.

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