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Sunday 31st January 1999:

Lastgame: "The Last Game"
(Size: 1.3 meg. No alternative downloads.)
Speedrun demo: Map 2 in 0:15

This, as you might surmise from the title, was J.F.Gustafsson's final Quake1 level, before moving onto Quake2. In fact, there is a very stylishly done link between Quake1 and 2 at the start and finish of the map, and indeed this map does share some features that were prominent in his legendary Age of Panic and 1964 - namely highly original and consistently fascinating architecture, marred by gameplay that is sometimes good, but sometimes very frustrating and unbalanced. Anyway, this is described as "a small episode for Quake build as one level."...or is it 3 small levels added together....or one large level divided into 3??? Hmmm, well anyhow, it's equivalent to a rather large level, and is divided into various small sections, each with their distinct tasks, and a lot of backtracking between levels (happily with more monsters). The first thing you will see in the maps proper is Mister Gustafsson's unique style, professional build quality and attention to detail. The second thing you will see is the varied but always interesting architecture, backed with an intriguing atmosphere. The third thing you will notice is your gibs flying through the air from the first infuriating death trap...but more on that later. Right from the outset this unit screams quality at you - just look at the roof of the skill choosing level.

Throughout the maps, there is plenty of good and distinctive architecture, which while it never quite achieves true gorgeousness like the Ikspq2-4 maps for example, is still packed with interesting designs. The rough theme is a series of techno-medieval structures, set in a labyrinth of natural caverns - this is done very tastefully, the caverns are really nice, and there is a variety of structures and style, and a lot of stuff that you won't have seen in Quake before, like the underground docking bay, or the perculiar structure above. The varied styles work well in this map, due to it's division into different sections, while some features like crates and the omnipresent caverns provide thematic links. Overall, the looks and architecture are really an "experience" more than anything else, almost all areas have something new and interesting to offer, and there is a feeling of exploration gained from that. There is sadly little exploration in the maps themselves, no real secrets to speak of - the interesting structures have plenty of underused potential for secrets.

Onto gameplay, and for the first map at least, this is the unit's main failing.... In the unit overall, there are no less than 4 death traps that you need to face and avoid as part of the unit, and 5 other death traps that will kill the unwary explorer. I have to make this quite clear: All of these traps are detrimental to the quality of the unit and the fun you could get from playing it. There is only one trap that could have any value, and that would have to be made a lot slower and easier to avoid before it even approached being worthwhile. All these traps do is provide frustration and annoyance by forcing you to restart, or keeping your finger constantly on F6, thus much reducing the sense of immersion inherent in the unit's style - after all, the novel style becomes much less novel when you have seen it a few times while trying to avoid a trap. The other main flaw in the gameplay is the style of gameplay in the first part of the first proper level - there are too many occasions where it is very hard to survive (or at least escape with a reasonable amount of health) encountering the situations for the first time, yet quite easy once you are prepared. I enjoy the sense of exploration and reactioning to new situations that you get from playing a level for the first time - and some of the encounters in the first level seem specifically designed to spoil that, in part due to inadequate health and armour for the introduction to a unit.

Happily, after the initally unpleasant gameplay, which lasts until you open the teleporter to the silver key, things improve a lot - there are still some challenging situations, but now you have the weapons, armour, and health to deal with it, and it becomes a lot more fun. The unit sticks to a limited selection of monsters: base and a few other monsters, and the most common you will face are Enforcers, generally used very well. You don't face an overwhelming number of enemy, but often the situations make for exciting fights. However, as the unit starts too hard, it also finishes predicatabley too easy - tougher monsters to be sure, but over balanced by the easier combat situations, and superior weaponry. I definitely recommend this, as the style is superb, but be prepared for frustrating gameplay and traps (hell, some weirdos might even enjoy that...) - as 1964 proved, the very best designs can be so easily spoiled by unpleasant gameplay...

Out1: "Out of Time"
(Size: 700k. Alternative downloads: Out1 / Out1)
Speedrun demo: 1:15

Hmmm, this is another day when the levels are pretty much equal in quality... Lastgame beats this for style and design no problem, but this is more fun and has only one trap, which counts for a lot - YOU decide which is best =). This is another unusual level, and very much a level of two halves: a pure base section, and a pure medieval section... Well, as pure as they can be with Mister Gustafsson's unique touches. There is a very good reason for the distinct thematic split in this level, in the form of a fairly decent (albeit unrelated to Quake - it could have easily been related though) story, involving you travelling back in time to stop an army's genesis. Thus in the base section you must open an impressive wormhole to the medieval section, in which you kill everything an exit. As it should be, both sections stick to their themes correctly, and come across very well.

The base section is smaller, but for me more impressive, particularly due to the spectacular outdoor arena, with it's great use of metal supports and white lights - see the edge of the screeny above for a mere hint. The medieval section on the other hand, while very nicely designed, with cool outdoor bits and an underwater cavern that rivals the one in E1M4, has a certain "cute" feel about it that seems a bit out of place. Quake's engine and monsters don't do cute very well, and the cottages/towers, as well as the garden walls and other details just seem too twee for this sort of level. If these structures had been made more meaty and malevolent, it would have been more appropriate. So the medieval section is certainly nice and spacious, good outdoor bits, but not aggressive enough in it's style. Overall both sections have plenty of details and unsual touches, and there is enough to catch the eye. There is a reasonable amount of exploration: the open areas provide opportunity to wander, though you will end up completing tasks in a set order. There are a few secrets, varying in style and difficulty, though I thought the underwater section was asking for a secret or two.

Gameplay is a lot nicer than in Lastgame, though the start is still challenging for a start to a level (could have done with some armour near the start). However, there is more room to manouvre, and a lot more places to hide, making it easy to survive. The gameplay is pretty solid throughout, the start of the medieval section gives a brief respite, but generally there are plenty of monsters to deal with, all in reasonable situations. The appropriate monsters are used well, though some medieval monsters could have been used a bit more effectively (the base ones are!). The ending is quite good, a different situation which sees you taking cover behind a "hill", with enough monsters on the other side - you could imagine this in Real Life™. The only real gameplay flaw (though the level could be balanced a bit better), is the trap before the end. Just a bit annoying, nail shooters or appearing Fiends or indeed anything would be better - all it does is provide potential irritation - it is marked, but not well enough. Aside from this it's rather fun, and again the style is very interesting. (Did a decent Easy speedrun in 1:15, also on Demos page.)

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