Doom monster

Espi Award for Lifetime Achievement


Marisa "Randi" Heit

In this age of internet exposure, how exactly does one go about putting out a near-two-decade labor of love, and yet still remain firmly in the background? That's the question that I keep coming back to as I write this dedication. I've been following the ZDoom project since the year 2000 (the ultra-popular source port was barely two years old at that point), and while I could relate tales of years gone by, I'd have almost nothing to say about its creator. That makes this dedication fairly difficult to write - how would you write about someone that you know almost nothing about? But maybe that's what makes Randi so intriguing. ZDoom - what could be argued to be Randi's most important work, or dare I say, one of the most important works in all of Doom - is such a gigantic thing that avoiding it is basically impossible. It's spawned hundreds of enhanced maps, gameplay mods, and total conversions, a few standalone games, and a wide array of child ports with diverse purposes and user bases. Such a legacy invites close scrutiny, especially on the modern internet. But the fact still remains, as much as we know about ZDoom, we know so very little about the person that made it all possible; in fact, not even her DoomWiki biography contains much more than a single sentence, as of this writing. I suppose this is why I, one of Randi's trusted forum administrators, was approached to write this: because I'd have the most chance of really having anything to say about her. Even I don't feel like I know enough about Randi as a person - even having interacted directly as part of her forum administration team - that I can really do her justice here. But I'll certainly have to try, because it's important to me, and seemingly to the rest of the Cacowards maintainers this year, that she be given a proper time in the spotlight.

Compared to a lot of the Doom community's major figures and contributors, Randi comes off as a complete recluse. Even in the semi-private forums, like the obligatory "secret moderator area," Randi was all business (save for the rare one-off moments of goofiness). When things needed doing, they got done. Of her nearly 8,000 posts on her own message board, a mere 80-some of them didn't have anything to do with ZDoom. Even when ZDoom's original message forum started, in what is lovingly referred to as "the Notgod days" by community veterans, Randi only rarely posted anything personal. Even the people who tried digging for information came up empty-handed - a lot of the userbase got concerned when her posting slowed to once every month or so. (During one such absence, many years ago, the only explanation given was that World of Warcraft had been released.) But even though she was not posting on the forums, ZDoom continued being developed, little by little. There was never any danger of it having been abandoned.

Why, then, was ZDoom such a big deal? As if it being such a long-running project wasn't already something to be proud of, how did it become the de facto favorite among the legions of other Doom source ports available? I'd argue it's the sheer amount of options and capabilities. ZDoom hasn't always had the biggest feature list in the community, but its advances tended to come at the right time, and many of them were tied strongly to enhancing the quality of life for its players. Even as long ago as 1999's ZDoom 1.22, the port already ran in most varieties of Windows including NT, supported high resolutions and mouse look (already putting it several steps above Doom95), native support for DeHackEd patches (and their Boom-extended brethren), mixed-platform multiplayer, and a Quake 2-esque console. And that's to say nothing of its staggering amount of editing features, many of which were used liberally by authors like Kurt Kesler and Rex Claussen. I emphasize, this was back in 1999. The Doom source code had only been available for two years. And the train would only keep on rolling. Hardly a year later, we had access to Build-like sloped floors and ceilings. The next year, there was near-full support for Heretic and Hexen, and eventually even support for being able to pull monster and weapon behavior from one game into a completely different one (at the time, most notably used by Udderdude in the Hordes of Chaos map series). By 2003, ZDoom was one of the first major Doom ports to uncap the framerate past Doom's 35 FPS limit, making the game experience so much smoother.

From my perspective, though, what really made the ZDoom project so enticing was the Decorate language. Originally intended for, well, decorations, it had expanded its scope to also involve monsters. At the time this was going on, I was still using EDGE, the most powerful port for scripting of its time. I was still running my own little splinter of a forum, the Doom Armory, where a small handful of us were tinkering away at little weapon patches. EDGE was great for us, but most players didn't bother with it, because it either didn't run fast enough, or had little glitches and imperfections that they were unwilling to tolerate. EDGE was the weapon modders' port, ZDoom was the players' port. All the while, a few ZDoomers would occasionally ask why ZDoom didn't run mods for EDGE. The general answer was that Randi was hard at work on an entirely new scripting language - never fully described, generally only hinted at - that, by all indications, would have blown all other attempts at scripting out of the water. Back then, it was called DoomScript.

When ZDoom's Decorate weapon support launched (initially by way of an unofficial community build by DRD Team member Grubber, and vehement denial that this was DoomScript), a few of us at the Armory tinkered with it. There were things EDGE could still do that ZDoom wasn't quite able to, but in retrospect, maybe it was just that we didn't know what we were doing yet. I sure didn't, at the time. Somehow, though, this wound up popularizing the concept of a gameplay mod. And, sure, such things had existed for years and years before (dating all the way back to stuff like the DeHackEd patches from 1995 onward, things like SUPRWEP8.DEH and GunX), but they were always niche products, painful to set up, inconvenient to load, often vastly overpowered and unbalanced. At that point, though? Being able to adjust the fine behavior of a given weapon or attack opened brand new frontiers. From my perspective, this was the revolution. One could change their entire game experience by loading just one file. Mix it with a megawad, and you have thousands of combinations of map and mod. As if Doom wasn't already an unending fount of new content on an almost daily basis, the sheer ease with which one could create a ZDoom mod sparked the creative fires of hundreds of authors. This, all being owed to what is a single version of a single port.

But why am I waxing on about a feature that, arguably, wasn't made by the person to whom this award is being given? Because, even for the features that Randi didn't personally build, Randi can be credited for welcoming contributions in a wide variety of fields. Things like the OpenGL renderer, the new Universal Doom Map Format, EDGE-style 3D floors, and tons of other things were added to ZDoom by way of submissions by other authors. As with anything else that is done for free, Randi was by no means obligated to accept contributions from the outside. But that welcoming attitude allowed for many advances to the port's capabilities, enabling possibilities that, even five years ago, community members would have to say "can't be done." There was once a time when even the thought of altering weapon behavior (beyond what DeHackEd could do) was one of those things that "can't be done." But eventually it would, and the effort put into that would be merged into ZDoom proper.

With this amount of external support, many an author would probably have just up and vanished at that point, declaring that their work had been done, and that the port was in good hands from then on. And where Randi would still occasionally drop clear off the map once in a while (to continuing jokes of her having rediscovered World of Warcraft), there were still a few trusted "keepers of the keys," like Graf Zahl and Blzut3, running things in Randi's absence. In January, though, Randi gave ZDoom a proper send-off, formally passing the torch and entrusting both port and community to those who had been so supportive over the last near-20 years.

Project burnout is a real thing, that I've encountered many a time, and even those things I've been most dedicated to, only lasted a year or two before I'd declared them "finished," wanting nothing more to do with them. Randi, against nearly every conceivable odds, kept ZDoom itself going until its final "official" build in 2016 - the port had almost become 18 years old. And while development builds kept coming for almost a whole year afterwards, it was clear at that point that the future lay in ZDoom's children, GZDoom and Zandronum to be specific (and all the others, of course). I'd dare say Randi's retirement is very much well-earned, by now. I've often wondered just how Randi pulled it off. She never took donations, never ran ads on the website, and as far as I've figured, never did it for anything more than thanks. With ZDoom's succession already taken care of, I don't expect Randi will need to come back. She's always been quiet, in the background, and yet influential in spite of that. Her work has left one hell of a legacy, and I'd argue that this legacy has opened far, far more doors in the way Doom itself is played, let alone perceived or modified, than almost any other major Doom contribution.

As one of the recipients and keepers of ZDoom's legacy, I personally would like to extend my thanks to Randi. I have no idea how I'd have stuck to this community for a 24-year-old computer game if not for the things you've done.

-wildweasel

2017 Cacowards


Espi Award for Lifetime Achievement

Top Ten - Page 1

  • lilith.pk3
  • Shadows of the Nightmare Realm
  • No End in Sight

Top Ten - Page 2

  • Dead.air
  • Brigandine
  • Counterattack

Top Ten - Page 3

  • Legacy of Heroes
  • Saturnine Chapel
  • Stardate 20X7
  • Void and Rainbow

Multiplayer Awards

  • Pyrrhic
  • Progressive Duel 2

Gameplay Mod Awards

  • Doom Delta
  • Final Doomer
  • High Noon Drifter

Other Awards

  • Codeaward
  • Mordeth Award
  • Mockaward
  • Mapper of the Year

 


THE SKY MAY BE


In September, we lost one of the all-time great Doom players with the passing of DemonSphere. Although not a significant personality on Doomworld itself, DemonSphere was highly renowned throughout the greater competitive Doom community.

DemonSphere won countless duel, FFA, and CTF competitions. At the time of his passing, he was one of the greatest duel players in the Americas and arguably the top all-around player in the world. His favorite maps were Moo2D and Judas23. In 2013, he competed in the 20th Anniversary Doom Challenge at Quakecon where he placed third. It was after this event that he vowed to never lose on Judas23 again and subsequently developed into one of the best to ever play the game.

DemonSphere was also one of the inaugural captains of the World Doom League, a competitive CTF league that succeeded the IDL. He was one of the only players to captain a team during every season that he participated, and he did it with great success. His skill, charisma, and high Doom IQ helped lead his teams to two consecutive championship title berths during his final two seasons. He held a 17-15-3 (.529) record in the regular season and, even after missing a season since his passing, he remains near the top of all statistical averages for defensive players. He was also a regular guest on WDL Radio, a live weekly recap show which features analysis, opinions, and predictions over a group webcam.

Outside of online multiplayer, DemonSphere also displayed his incredible talents with the occasional speedrun. According to the Doomed Speed Demo Archives, DemonSphere currently holds the Doom 1 Episode 2 Nightmare Speed world record at 4:47. Outside of Doom, DemonSphere enjoyed playing the Quake series, Counter-Strike: GO, and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.

Besides his endless list of Doom accomplishments, DemonSphere was best known to those around him for being a genuinely great and funny person. His willingness to befriend and teach new players, combined with his humbleness and friendly disposition, helped define him as a pillar of our community. Beyond the confines of the internet, some of us had an opportunity to spend face time with on DemonSphere several occasions. He was a really fun guy and always added to the party.

One would be hard pressed to find any bad words written or spoken about DemonSphere. It's amazing to consider all that he accomplished by the age of 23. Taken from us far too soon, he is sorely missed every day.

Gone, but never forgotten.

UD on top.

- Ralphis

Aaron "DemonSphere" Emge
March 30, 1994 - Sept. 24, 2017