Boris "dew" Klimeš is a speedy Doom player. So speedy, his quickness originated in the halcyon days of 386 processors and the turbo buttons on PCs that depressed with a solid ka-thunk.
He’s not a modder, but his familiarity with id’s premiere FPS franchise lends him a knowledge of what works and what doesn’t as a playtester for some of Doom’s most popular mods including Back to Saturn X and Plutonia: Revisited. “Dew” put his knowledge to work as one of several testers on Sigil. In this interview, dew talks how Romero handled feedback, specific instances where dew offered his expertise, and what keeps him coming back to hell for more.
Craddock: When did you discover Doom?
Boris "dew" Klimeš: Way back in 1994. I first played the shareware episode as a kid on a 386DX-40 that could barely handle the game on low detail with window size halved. I spent a lot of time on Doom with my friends on local network throughout the 90's, however I wasn't really aware of the entire Doom community and the endless custom content until mid-00's when I discovered the multiplayer ports.
Craddock: Besides testing levels for Sigil, what has been your involvement in the Doom community?
dew: Quite a deep one, I'll try to run it down quickly. I entered the community via the competitive deathmatch scene and after a few years of fragging my peers and building a bit of reputation I got recruited into organizing various tournaments and Compet [author’s note: the web’s oldest repository of Doom speedruns] events. A decade later I'm still involved in that, but I must admit I'm less sharp as a player than I used to be and focus more on the organizational side.
I also picked up speedrunning and racked up some records over the years, my favourite runs always were the ones with ridiculously hard exploits and sequence breaks. That hobby is even more exhausting than deathmatch, so I'm not active anymore, but I still serve as one of the moderators of the speedrun section on Doomworld.
With the deep lore I picked up through DM and speedrunning I eventually started voicing opinions on what people are doing wrong in their maps and over time I became the go-to playtester for several mappers like Paul "skillsaw" DeBruyne (Valiant, Ancient Aliens), Joshy Sealy (Speed of Doom, Resurgence), Xaser Acheron (dead.air) or Sarah "esselfortium" Mancuso (I lead testing/editing on the Back to Saturn X team).
Last but not least I also found my way into the Cacowards committee where I'm primarily responsible for the multiplayer selections and the speedrunning news, but for example this year I was picked to write the lifetime "Espi award" for a mapping titan Erik Alm.
Craddock: Have you made any maps for Doom, Doom 2, or other games? If so, which ones, and how would you describe your process to level design?
dew: I am not a mapper. I could map, but I don't consider myself a very artistic person and an empty canvas doesn't speak to me. However I love looking over other people's creations and getting sudden flashes of inspiration on how to improve bits that didn't work, or could play out better. Finding broken doors and misaligned textures is the chore, analyzing gameplay and flow of the fights is the fun. You can't polish every turd, but I've worked with some fantastically talented people and often time their maps are just a few questionable decisions from excellence. A baron of hell in a hallway is just a boring door with health, but if that baron pins you down in close combat and rocket launcher is your only weapon, it gets wild. On some level I find it amusing when these crazy wizards who effortlessly sculpt complex techbases and hellscapes don't see such obvious solutions to monster placement, but I guess everyone's skillset is slightly different and the role distribution is one aspect that makes the Doom community such a well-oiled machine.
Craddock: How did you become a tester for John Romero’s Sigil maps?
dew: John originally approached Linguica, who helped him with Tech Gone Bad, but he wasn't available at that time and recommended me as the guy who playtests by trade.
Craddock: Was that the first time you’d interacted with Mr. Romero?
Craddock: As a Doom fan, what was it like to be working alongside one of the game’s developers?
dew: Oh, there's definitely pride involved. It tickles the ego to be recognized for something you consider your strong side and John has been very welcoming and open to suggestions, so I'm enjoying the ride as much as I can.
Craddock: What were your impressions of Mr. Romero’s map releases in 2016, E1M8b and E1M4b? What did you want to see him do similarly in Sigil, and what did you want him to do differently?
dew: They were a pleasant surprise. John hadn't mapped for Doom for over 20 years and the community had evolved a lot in the meantime, so he was facing quite a challenge. He is the revered original designer, but could he really recapture the magic and create something that could withstand the brutal competition in current day mapping?
E1M8b in particular is a rock-solid map that proved the naysayers wrong, because the map is both pretty and tough. That Cacoward was deserved. E1M4b was solid, but my reservation was that it departed from E1's style considerably, so it didn't work as the advertised fill-in for the sole non-Romero techbase. He would have to rework the entire first episode with it, which he should totally do if you ask me.
As for Sigil, I wasn't hyping myself and I avoided the Twitch streams in which John showcased a few maps, because I wanted to be surprised. Well, that didn't work out exactly as planned. What I wanted to see was more of e1m8b, but perhaps crossed with the cruel gameplay and marble hell fortress look of his E4 maps, and that was a much better prediction.
Craddock: Did you play Sigil’s maps in order, or did he send them to you piecemeal?
dew: The latter, and more or less in reverse order.
Craddock: What was the first Sigil map you played, and what struck you about it in terms of its design, atmosphere, pacing, etc.?
dew: The first map he sent was M7 and I ended up complaining about a game mechanic I found too cryptic, but it turns out it's present across the entire episode and it's properly "explained" in M1, oops. The map itself is exactly what it should've been - a long journey through a marble fortress in the middle of lava-drenched hellish landscape. Vintage. What did surprise me was how mean some of the traps and environmental hazards were. John is surely aware that the community doesn't consider the original maps difficult at all these days, so he spiced things up to the point where I had to ask him to tone the nastiest parts down a notch. If I had to liken my experience to an existing community project, I'd say Romero could instantly become a partner in the No End in Sight megawad known for its strict vanilla visual style, unforgiving gameplay and cruel death traps.
Craddock: What sort of feedback have you provided to Mr. Romero? Is he looking for input on design, or more technical info such as compatibility issues and glitches, or a bit of both?
dew: All of it. I describe how I felt about a map so it's not just a dry list of bugs and in the matters of taste I try to explain in detail why a change to design or thing placement would be beneficial. John kills the bugs, implements the improvements he likes and ignores the ones he doesn't. In that regard he's actually quite similar to many community mappers.
Craddock: What is a specific example of feedback you’ve offered to Mr. Romero?
dew: Switching to a different nodebuilder to avoid slimetrail generation. Hiding those e1m8b-style floor cracks on the automap so it's not too busy.
On one map there's this winding cavern full of lost souls and it really drains your ammo reserve, so we added a chainsaw, because it's very effective and relatively safe against the skulls. But on the UV-skill we added a berserk pack instead - it's technically more powerful, but much more awkward and dangerous against them. That's a cute one, I think.
Craddock: What has it been like working with him as a tester? Has he been open to your feedback?
dew: It's probably obvious from the previous answer that he's been very receptive and forthcoming.
Craddock: Which Sigil map is your favorite, and why?
dew: E5M3, because it sings to my inner speedrunner. It's so tempting to dart past as many monsters as possible with daring moves, cause infights and then clean up the rest with the rocket launcher you grab later.
Craddock: Of all the Sigil maps you’ve tested, which has undergone the most revisions?
dew: E5M4. It features a deadly crusher maze that I hoped could get tweaked a bit, but after several revisions I realized we were trapped by a Doom engine limitation that doesn't let you change the damage proprieties of crusher sectors once they get "initialized", even if you stop and restart them with a different action. Oops.
Craddock: What about Doom, particularly the original game, do you believe gives it such staying power?
dew: It's a perfect storm of several factors. The game is simple enough to let nearly anyone create cool stuff for it, Quake is a magnitude harder to map for. Then it's the fact that id actually open sourced the game as soon as they did. Carmack wanted people to do things to Doom and they did. And then of course it's the community itself, which seems pretty much immortal at this point. The original game is a stepping stone towards all that and it will stay immortal along with it.