UDOB-End - Released for Copper Quake on June 20th, 2019
Copper Quake primarily revisited the balance and tuning of single player game mechanics, and avoided updating content. I made an exception for Quake's seemingly unrevised first draft of a final level. Quake's campaign sees the player scouring the dimensions for runes of power they'll need to defeat the ultimate evil, Shub-Niggurath (and should you ever find yourself using this unfortunate name in polite conversation, may I recommend you pronounce it "ne-GOOR-oth"), but this campaign's climax barely made good on this promise.
There are big signs that Quake's last level was rushed. The first is the level's story: the awesome power of the four runes is only to open the exit to the boss level once collected. The second is the level's core mechanic: it introduces a brand new telefragging mechanic via a floating ball that isn't taught to the player at all, except by the negative reinforcement of falling in lava and dying until they grasp what's happening. The third is simply that as a climax it's a bit of a flop. None of the game's cool new powerups feature prominently, and none of the dynamism, inventiveness, or cheeky malice of the game's best levels, or even its average levels, is on display.
These are all actionable items, and I found them worth fixing in Mothers Be Good To Your Spawns. Plus, I had the opportunity to use what players knew of the original end map to riff on it, just as I did with the remix of E1M1 for the start map.
- Gate the entry to the level proper on knowing how the teleball works
- Involve the runes in some way, even if superficially; since we're not programming new mechanics (they can't combine to fire a death beam or anything) it has to be based in the level design
- Touch on as much of the rest of Quake as we can squeeze in, without making the design feel overcrowded
The original level had a sort of introductory annex, where the player drops into a pool of water, swims around a corner, opens some bars, and emerges facing a teleporter surrounded by ammo and goodies. They jump through and find themselves facing the strange teleball, which floats away down a passage unexplained. Adapting this space to introduce the level's core mechanical conceits is the perfect way to solve some of our problems and make a remix-style reference to the original while doing it.
Mothers drops the player into water in the same way, and presents the same swim and the same bars, to signal to a player that knows the original version that this level knows about it too. (It replaces the Rotfish with much more deadly Spawns, to signal that punches will no longer be pulled). The divergences begin with what they find upon surfacing: a strange bloody altar beneath a unique, towering (and spiky) arch. There is no teleporter to be seen.
Altars are unlocked by spending the corresponding rune in the same manner as gold and silver keys are spent to unlock doors elsewhere in the game. This also allows me to transmute the story component of the rune's power into something I can implement in the level editor, triggered by pressing the locked button. This first altar changes to reveal the familiar four-leaf-clover-of-lava slipgate players were expecting, and this time, the teleball emerges from it directly. There's no path out of this room except to visually track the teleball, then jump into the teleporter to reach a high ledge with it. This moves the try-and-fail cycle out of the boss fight into a space the player can experiment harmlessly.
When facing off with the hell-mother that the game's flavor text tells them birthed every monster they've fought, players are going to expect an endless supply of those monsters. To make that boss fight something more fun than waiting next to another teleporter like it's a bus stop, I turned the Shub monster itself (otherwise a harmless and immobile decoration) into a steady but endless monster spawner, borrowed from the climax of Doom 2. It's never really too much to handle, but it adds a psychological pressure akin to being on a timer, making players split their attention between making progress in solving the boss puzzle and bailing water out of their sinking boat.
Altars for the other three runes are tucked away in the greatly expanded main chamber. Each one, when unlocked with its matching rune, provides a respawning powerup - invisibility, invulnerability, and good old quad damage. The player now has limitless resources against limitless odds, as long as they can stay alive from moment to moment, regularly returning to an altar to freshen up if they find themselves unpowered (if they can make it across the mosh pit, that is).
I complicate this by covering the central floor in a thin layer of lava, which puts the player at a movement disadvantage when taking the direct route (monsters don't mind it but it kills humans pretty quick), but biosuits stashed in dark corners here and there provide temporary protection and thus temporary mobility, creating a special role for this final, underutilized powerup.
All this will make waiting at the teleporter feel less like waiting for a bus and more like a desperate last stand atop a hill we must hold until dawn ... but the level is over pretty quickly for the violent, Quad-fueled circus I've engineered. Here there's room for a twist, where riffing on prior expectations pays off, and it's this level's memorable "oh-shit" moment: when the player chooses the fateful instant to telefrag the boss, rather than the game ending like they expect, they find themselves inside the boss.
Exploring this gross new meat-world, players encounter three odd things: a door with a giant eye over it that slams shut as soon as the player steps into view; a strangely slanted pool of lava, or more accurately, a wall of lava; and a solid wall of meat behind some manner of sparkly protection. These oddities are carefully chosen to mirror three powers the player has access to: invisibility (for hiding from sight), invulnerability (for swimming through lava unharmed), and quad damage (for DPSing through anything).
Should the player return to this room with one of those three powerups active, they can waltz right past the watchful eye if Invisible, dive into the lava and survive to emerge on the other side if Invulnerable, or blast their way through the wall with the superior firepower of the Quad. Now we have a true purpose for all four runes: three to provide the powerups to pass these tests, and the fourth to provide a teleball that gets us in the door.
When players notice the correlation, they have a final mission: grab one of each powerup, get through the growing mosh pit to a teleporter, and use the powerup's very real, implemented-in-game-mechanics power to pass one of Shub's three internal gates to see what's in the chamber beyond. Inside each of these chambers is a pulsing ... heart? nerve cluster? Who knows, but it's a glowing spot on a boss, and nobody doesn't know what to do with those.
Destroying one triggers the distinctive roar and level-wide pulse of darkness players may remember from the original Shub level. Surviving the increasing chaos three times and successfully clearing all three chambers is the true success condition, and instantly activates the original player-bursting-from-within cutscene, only this time it feels like a genuine accomplishment and a fitting end to Quake.