Level Design Masterpieces 2: Barrels O’ Fun
The Doom series was created by ID Software and it is widely considered one of the first games in the FPS genre. ID Software created the first Doom game in 1993 and Doom 2 was released in 1994. Doom 1 and 2 were extremely popular and for years most FPS games followed the game play model of Doom. In Doom the player is a marine on a military base on Mars, the base gets attacked by demons and the player must journey to hell to stop the demons. The player explores levels finding keys to open new areas and fighting monsters. Combat is fast paced and brutal, the player can carry all 8 weapons at once and no weapons need to be reloaded. The enemies either launch projectiles at the player or rush at the player to melee them. Doom is also characterized by having lots of secrets hidden in the levels.
Barrels O’ Fun is the 23rd mission in Doom 2, this is later in the game and the player will have mastered a lot of Doom’s mechanics. While most levels in the game are about hunting down keys and fighting huge swarms of the undead this level requires the player to rethink their play style. The level is littered with explosive barrels that can easily kill the player or enemies, and many areas have so many barrels that when one explodes it sets off a chain reaction and the entire room ends up exploding.
At the start of the level the player is in a long room filled with barrels but suspiciously free of daemons. Once the player starts moving a wall opens to reveal a Mancubus and a shotgun. When the Mancubus fires at the player it will start a chain reaction of explosions from the barrels which will kill both him and the player.
The player must run across the room and reach a teleporter to be brought to the next area however, the barrels are set up in such a way that the players movement is impeded. As you can see in the gif below the player is guided to the end of the room by a burning barrel that does not explode.
Once the player reaches the teleporter and enters the next area their situation doesn’t improve much. The player finds themselves behind two hell knights and looking down a long hallway. Just like the first room the player must run to the other end before the attacking enemies start a chain reaction of explosions. As the player runs down the corridor they discover that there are several chaingun zombies. When the player reaches the end of the corridor there is another teleporter. This room is easier then the first room since the player has a more direct route, and smart players will backtrack to pick up the dropped chainguns as well as the level map once all the monsters are dead from the explosions.
The next area changes things up a little bit, the player is teleported to a narrow corridor that still has explosive barrels but they are not set up in a way that if one explodes it won’t start a chain reaction. At the end of the corridor is a button guarded by a Pain elemental, a flying enemy that spits out lost souls (another enemy). If the player does not deal with the Pain elemental they can easy be overrun by lost souls. The area this encounter takes place in is really what makes it so interesting. The long narrow hallway makes it harder for the player to move and dodge, this makes the lost souls fast movement and charging attacks harder to avoid, and the barrels scattered in the area ensure the player can’t spray and pray. The last interesting thing about this area is the wall on the right side of the corridor rises to reveal that your above the starting room.
Once the player hits the button at the end of the corridor they must backtrack to the starting area and ride a platform up to a corridor that is similar to the one with the Pain elemental. This hallway is designed like a cross-section of a staircase and has as line of explosive barrels at the “top”. The player only has to kill a few Demons and Imps while working their way to the end of the corridor, this acts as a respite from the combat (or at least the Doom equivalent of a respite). When the player reaches the end of the corridor they enter a much more open area with a few alcoves full of enemies. The player is on a platform surrounded by lava so they can’t directly reach the enemies however, there is a rocket launcher on the center of the platform.
Once the player deals with the enemies in the alcoves and picks up the rocket launcher they have a choice, there are two teleporters in the lava below the player. I am going to explain the right side teleporter path first ( but they can be done in either order). When the player exits the teleporter they end up in a circular room with two hallways that lead into each other forming a U shape. While walking around the hallways the player will see an alcove with a few imps and a bunch of rocket launcher ammo. There is also a secret hidden in the wall as you can see from the gif below.
When the player enters one of the tunnels it triggers the release of a few Spider Masterminds (one of the most deadly enemy types) and opens a room with a yellow key and a teleporter. This teleporter sends the player to the same place as the teleporter on the left does in the previous area. After fighting a Revenant the player will discover a BFG 9000 and a few Demons, once the enemies have been dealt with the player will enter another teleporter and be brought to an inside area.
This final area will be reminiscent of the beginning of the level, the player is in a room full of explosive barrels. There is a chain gun zombie behind the player and once it starts shooting all the barrels in the room will start exploding. The player must run to the other end and get through the door before the explosions finish them off. Once the players are in the next room there is a teleporter that loops back to the big open area of the map. The other door in the room requires a yellow key. Once that door is open there are only a few barrels that the player has to blow up that are blocking the exit for the stage.
Barrels O’ Fun is one of the most memorable levels in Doom 2 and it was created by Richard Gray aka Levelord. Grey worked on many very popular 90’s shooters such as Duke Nukem 3D, Sin, Blood, and Quake. The reason this level works so well is that Grey understands the pillars of Dooms gameplay and uses this map to make the player rethink the way they have been playing the game thus far. The pillars of gameplay for Doom are: fast movement and massive firepower, this level takes both of these pillars and turns them upside down. The player still needs to be constantly moving like in other Doom levels but the abundance of explosive barrels forces the player to take a little more care in their movements. This level also forces the player to be more careful when shooting which on paper my seem like sacrilege to hardcore Doom fans but I feel its one of the reasons this level is so fun. One last interesting aspect of this level that really shows why Grey is such a great designer is how its created to challenge speed runners as well as regular players. There was (and still is) a large community of speed runners playing older shooters like this, there was even a par time for each level set by ID. As mentioned above there is a point where the player has to jump off an edge and they end up back in the starting room. There is no guarantee that the Mancubus will shoot and set off all the barrels the first time the player is in the room (If the player is trying to do a speed run and they immediately start sprinting away from the Mancubus as soon as the level starts there is a good chance it won’t notice them). This creates a hard decision for the speed runner do they set the barrels off? (this will cost valuable time) or do they ignore it and just dodge the Mancubus and barrels a second time? (quicker but much more dangerous). This kind of thinking really shows that Grey understood the Doom community and wanted to challenge every part of it.
I hope you enjoyed my look into Barrels O’ Fun, thanks for taking the time to read this. If you think I missed anything or want to agree or disagree let me know what you think in the comment section.