3rd of May 2022
Last Reaction & Water Bases & Chimera by George W. Bernard
Featured on the main page of Dukeworld back in the spring of 1999, Last Reaction & Water Bases seemed like serious
business. From late 1997 to early 1999 I must've gone through a thousand usermaps, the overwhelming majority of which
were horrendous. Even most Total Conversions seemed uninteresting; what I wanted from a project was more
stuff like Duke3D, not stuff that seemed like from an altogether different game. Last Reaction & Water Bases semeed
to be offering exactly what I was looking for; a huge expansion of the base game.
So I took the plunge, unplugged the phone and spent about an hour downloading the 8MB zip file on a 28,8 kbit/s modem. The rest is history. I've reviewed Last Reaction & Water Bases on two past occasions; back in 1999 right after having played it for the first time, then again in 2012. As this is probably the single most influential mod of my Duke3D journey, it's due for a second re-review on MSDN's 23rd anniversary. I'm also re-reviewing the third episode, Chimera, released as a separate Total Conversion back in 2001.
Tecnical note: Download links are at the bottom. If you're going to use the original zip files and play in EDuke32, you need to open LR&WB.bat in a text editor and change duke3d.exe to eduke32.exe (and obviously EDuke32 needs to be installed in the same directory), remove the "&" signs from the con & grp file names in the bat, then remove those signs from the two files in the directory as well.
The first episode (consisting of 10 regular maps and one secret map) is not so highly regarded, but I've always had such fondness for it. Yes, the first few maps are a bit rough, but Last Reaction is where the TC feels most like an adventure. Duke travels through secret installations, cities on the Moon and then finally fights the Emperor at a stadium.
The first level, Last Reaction, is a bit of a miserable experience. There's plenty of tedium in this one, whether it's taking a deep dive down a neverending underwater tunnel or running through a winding dark cave. Curiously, this could also be the hardest map in the entire TC; unless you're fortunate enough to come across secrets, you'll run out of bullets fast (and with a dozen monsters on your tail, the incentive to look for secrets just isn't there). The end of the map has a frustrating teleport "puzzle" that you need to trial & error your way through. Now, this probably was the first map designed for the TC, but it's probably not the best idea to serve the worst map as the introduction. Too bad, as a few simple fixes could've made it a lot more tolerable. At least it's not a long map, being over in about 13 minutes.
The second map, Mortal Transition, is a weird experimental facility where you trek along a waterway and a lava maze, neither of which is as bad as they sound (the automap is particularly essential in the lava maze), but from a design standpoint it's still a weird thing to put in the game (and the "experimental" part is what provides the excuse). The last room features some eye-catching cycler effects and strong lighting; there'll be plenty more of these as the episode progresses. There's plenty of ammo & weapons to be found here with minimal exploration, so keep your eyes open; you'll be in trouble quickly if you don't. Mortal Transition is an improvement over the opener, but it's still not a very strong map objectively. Still, the author's strong grasp of texturing and lighting is obvious here already.
The Jungle Zone is a nice break from the confined spaces of the previous maps. There's a tangible sense of scale in the map, and the jungle itself still looks and feels natural and lush; the younger me also appreciated all the statues of alien foes spread around the area. But it's here that visibility issues that'll surface time and again first appear, and the author seems to have wanted to make it worse by putting semi-transparent enemies in the map. Ammo availability could become a problem, but there's a huge cache out in the open near the end. If you've got fuel left in the jetpack, it can save you a lot of legwork here, but be careful not to mess up the map's progression by taking too many shortcuts. There's also a ridiculously long dive down a gigantic underwater pit; it's not "quite" as bad as the four-minute elevator ride in Oblivion, but I really fail to see what the author was thinking here. All in all, this is one of the easiest maps in the game in terms of combat due to abundant health, and at 15 minutes long the map is of pretty standard size.
Khaki Space opens the episode's three-map space segment. This is probably the most infamous map in the TC. Now, the map isn't bad by any means, it's just huge and its gameplay isn't all that inspiring, consisting of hunting buttons (some of which are semi-hidden, but none too unfairly so) and plenty of backtracking. Puzzles are fair for the most part, but broken cameras can throw you off. The map took me 35 minutes and toward the end I started to run low on supplies; and when the ending screen told me I had found 0 secrets, I just had to go back a bit and look for some additional goodies. There are several dark areas in the map, but you're given NVGs, so try to get some mileage out of them. Ultimately not a very inspiring map, but it does have that sense of scale that the classic Beta One had. Design is mostly generic but with a few good looking areas (such as the greenhouse).
Lunar factory is where things start to reach epic proportions. The map's scope is considerable, encompassing a factory, a network of Lunar caverns and a city block (which is not quite as refined as in the next one); you can easily sink 30 minutes into the map. Lighting works wonders here, casting dramatic shadows across the Lunar surface. Navigation is relatively simple for such a massive map. Having fuel left in the Jetpack can help a lot and your ammo situation depends largely on whether you bother to stray off the path, as a secret or two can yield plenty of supplies (I found 4 out of 14 secrets and did just fine). There were a few nasty miniboss encounters in close quarters though, so beware. The map also makes good use of stuff like spinning sectors and cycler effects.
A seminal map with its city-on-the-Moon theme, New LA inspired not just one but two of my maps over the years (and the theme has been revisited in other mods as well, most notably the AMC TC). The map seems massive in size, but at 17 minutes long it's considerably smaller than Lunar Factory and quite easy to navigate; it's also not excessive with monsters, and there are zero minibosses. Your ammo situation starts to improve considerably from this map onward. But it's the design that leaves the greatest impression. While the map is not high on intricate details, it's those massive streets with tall buildings casting great shadows under the gaze of the "Master" that really set an awe-inspiring and fascinating atmosphere for the whole thing.
Duke returns to Earth in Old LA on Ice, finding himself imprisoned upon his return. The map has a miserable start. There are some tough battles right off the bat, kinda like E1L3 on steroids. Then you come across a multi-button puzzles. Solutions for these tend to be hidden, but here I just couldn't find it and ended up shooting the buttons at random until something clicked. After this you hit the courtyard of the prison where you find yourself getting shot at by some hard-to-hit turrets. Then a random explosion finished me off... It gets better once you reach the main street area. Again, the author has come up with a novel concept; an abandoned (and hence dark, even too much so) section of LA with buildings half submerged in water with a layer of ice on top (well, I suppose it's like a frozen Flood Zone). Underwater exploration here is of such scope that you need to get your hands on a scuba gear before venturing further into the water. The weaponless start hurts your prospects for a while, but there are plenty of supplies scattered around the map, especially underwater. In addition to the multi-button puzzle, another offense is a button you need to shoot through a small opening beneath a door; it unfortunately takes some knowledge (or sheer trial and error) of the quirks of the Build engine to position yourself so that you can make the shot. The map is quite lengthy at nearly 25 minutes.
Launch Base is the first pure base map in the game, and at 17 minutes it's of reasonable size (compared to some of the other maps in the episode, that is). The map's most notable feature is its excellent use of E4L1 textures, and the map makes good use of its multi-floor layout as well. Gameplay is enjoyable for the most part with nothing too offensive, but the map is occasionally very dark, especially in the bottom section: Maybe it's to make the machinery there seem more pronounced, but it's definitely a bad call from a gameplay perspective. The map starts outside where a thunderstorm is raging, but the sound effect is too overbearing to the degree that it can easily block the background music even indoors. (Keep your eyes open for an exit to the secret level in this map. Hidden Base is a direct continuation of Launch Base, being even darker but boasting a few nice larger areas with some vents and tight paths in between.)
For those familiar with the TC, Aliens' Detraining is iconic for its huge, spinning alien spaceship in the middle of a huge parking lot outside a stadium. Visibility has been a recurring issue throughout the episode, but it's at its worst in this map; it seems this section of the city has no electricity left. (You can adjust the visibility level via a menu these days, but it's clear this was never intended, as the shroud also conceals some of the lack of detailing.) It certainly makes the spaceship seem more pronounced, but it still feels rather ridiculous how you can't see the surrounding buildings unless you get up close. Anyway, at 10 minutes this is the shortest map in the episode. The author is slowly getting a hang of gameplay balance, as there's plenty of ammo (a few rather obvious secrets help too) and not that many monsters around.
Great Stadium is more or less what the last map of Shrapnel City probably would have been had it been designed as a full-size map rather than just a boss battle arena. At 13 minutes long, this is another shortish map. There's a Duke Burger, a bowling alley and even a movie theater, all designed in the style of the original city maps. Darkness continues to be a problem that just won't go away, however; the map is just much too dark for no good reason. Ending is a repeat of the original, only with a few waves of lesser enemies before the boss man himself shows up. A new "animation" wraps up the ending; it's very modest, but back in the day getting even this much was quite rare.
The episode introduces one semi-new enemy, a mini sentry drone that was used in LameDuke. It's a good addition to the game, being weak but deadly with its rapid-firing machinegun. But you'll quickly notice the game's autoaim doesn't really work against them, so you have to deal with them the hard way. I can't tell if this is intended; maybe the author thought they'd be much too easy to kill if autoaim worked against them normally? In addition to the drone, several stock enemies have been altered for variety. There's a Trooper with a Freezethrower, a very sparingly used Enforcer with a microwave expander and an extremely deadly Octabrain that shoots a massive blast of Octabrain projectiles; you can't tell these apart from regular ones until it's too late, which makes any encounter with an Octabrain kinda tense. There are also new miniboss variants of the Overlord and Emperor that are used regularly across the three episodes.
In conclusion, Last Reaction is a mixed bag. The first few maps don't make much of an impression, and it's much harder to overlook their shortcomings today than it was back in 1999. However, the episode never really ceases to feel epic in its scope. The maps are huge and full of variety. The author's knack for texturing and lighting (including cycler effects) are noticeable from the get-go. You'll also notice that many things, particularly doors, seem oversized, but never in a way that'd feel unintentional. Maybe my early experience with Last Reaction made me particularly allergic toward cramped maps in the years since. The little things are there as well, including functional light switches and fire hydrants that leave holes behind when destroyed. Ammo availability remains a running problem for the first half of the episode. It's hard to tell how intentional this was, but a lot will depend on how many secret places you come across, as finding even a single stash can make a big difference. Quite obviously this is wrong from a design perspective; finding secrets shouldn't feel as necessary as it does here. In any case, while Last Reaction is an uneven experience, it'll leave you with a lifetime worth of memories.
If Last Reaction was all over the place with its map themes, Water Bases is far more consistent. Around half of the maps are various underwater bases that seem to borrow a lot from Lunar Apocalypse. The quality is such that many consider this like an official expansion to the game.
Alien Trap, a 5-minute romp through an alien spaceship, is probably the shortest map in the game. There's nothing remarkable here, but the insides of the alien ship establish a pattern for the rest of the episode with its excellent use of new E2-type textures that blend in seamlessly with stock material. Toward the end there are some cool visuals of an impending alien invasion of Earth. Unfortunately our hero gets captured before he gets to do anything about it.
After being captured Duke finds himself Somewhere Else. The narrative gets a bit confusing here, but the best I can guess is that this "somewhere else" is NOT on Earth anymore. The map itself borrows heavily from Dark Side with its four-way tram system and E2L8 music. The use of textures (which are surprisingly colorful) and lighting are exemplary, as they will be for the rest of the episode, and it is here that the Total Conversion starts to give vibes of something resembling an official expansion. It may be generic, but the desolate and gloomy atmosphere with the occasional view of the ocean floor set a tone for the rest of the episode.
Green Harbor isn't unlike the previous map with its strong Episode 2 and Dark Side vibes. Oh maybe there's more "green" texturing around and some eye-catching door frames, but otherwise it's hard to tell the maps apart. There are some minibosses lurking in the map's long hallways, but at least I couldn't do much about them, apparently having missed the Devastator & the RPG at some point (which will continue to be a problem for the next few maps).
The mood grows a bit more oppressive in Crystal Mine. It's persistently dark with an abandoned mining tunnel and lots of burning lava. A tricky section midway through the map forces you to dive straight into the burning stuff. (Keep your eyes open for buttons high up here; the section is buggy, and entering the structure in the middle of the room can glitch you into a space you're not supposed to be in.) There's a huge underwater segment where you actually need to be aware of the location of supplies such as spare Scuba Gears and health. Queen minibosses are a frequent sight, but I still had nothing to fight them with (and the fact that there were plenty of rockets flying around suggested I had simply missed the RPG/Devastator earlier). Curiously, this is the first proper underwater segment in the episode; in fact, underwater segments are largely absent in Water Bases.
The Gate to Atlantis is another map that's on the lookout for a distinct identity, being memorable mostly for its colorful exit room. The section you'll spend most of your time in features a rotating computer and some nice colored lighting (which admittedly works best in dark surroundings). Gameplay is a bit more engaging, although not necessarily for all the good reasons. There's a very tough miniboss fight near the end against two Battlelords; with just 30 Devastator rockets and a tiny desk behind which I could hide, this battle took me several attempts.
The promising end to the last map ends in disappointment, as Atlantis Underground turns out to be another generic hi-tech map featuring a four-way hub. This is one of the weakest maps in the episode. While it's not remarkably different from the rest and is for sure still well designed, it just fails to stand out (there's a crew quarters section, which is one of the few signs of someone actually living in these water bases). The combat department offers a few interesting battles though, notably one against a swarm of Protector Drones unleashed from their gestation chambers (pipebombs are vital here) and a very tough underwater battle involving a mini-Queen, plenty of drones and a few altered sentries with a considerable blast radius. Oh, and I still have no RPG.
The "water bases" segment of the episode is fittingly wrapped up by Ace of Clover, the strongest map in the episode so far. While it's essentially just as generic as the preceding maps, you find yourself surrounded by windows with atmospheric views of the ocean that seems to stretch out into infinity, and the map's blue colors combined with the energetic E2L7 music make for an enjoyable experience. There are patrolling submarines outside that fire rockets at you à la E2L1, and I even finally found an RPG. The biggest problem is that there's a six-switch puzzle near the end, but I got lucky with it pretty quickly. The ending features a machine known as the "Vortex System"; operating it sets off a series of significant (and confusing) events.
You're finally back on Earth, but where's the fanfare? And is this even Earth? The very name of the map, Alienation, along with the fact that the base you find yourself in belongs to Earth Attack Forces, seem to imply you're still on the alien planet, only this time on its surface. And whatabout the aliens themselves? It seems only "dumb" aliens (Protector Drones and Slimers) and machines inhabit the planet's surface. Did something happen that drove all the intelligent aliens under the sea? It's not merely the facts and speculations just mentioned, but the map makes very effective use of lighting and grey colors to set up a truly gloomy and desolate atmosphere. While you're finally breathing fresh air under a blue sky, there's still something definitely wrong with the place.
Alienation ended with Duke boarding a rocket that supposedly takes him to a Tower in Space overlooking the alien homeworld (the beautiful and epic sky texture was unfortunately buggy when I played; all I got was plenty of stars). "Intelligent" aliens seem to be lacking here as well, continuing with the theme established in the previous map. The map is short but makes good use of underwater areas and the tower's multi-floor layout. Texturing, including some rarely used space textures that are prominent in the starting area, sets the map apart from the rest of the episode as well (not in terms of quality but thematically). There's a cool effect in the last room (again involving the "Vortex System") that's unfortunately less impressive with a bugged sky texture.
Duke is finally Back to LA with only one goal; Changing the Future. The only problem is his trip through space took him through TIME as well. The Earth seems to have been obliterated by the aliens; or maybe something even they couldn't control? The map's emphasis on building atmosphere may not seem like a big deal today, but back in 1999 it was basically unheard of; and I'm glad to say the map still leaves a strong impression as the player presses forward, wondering what could have gone so terribly wrong. Thunder rages outside while indoors everything is silent. But beware; a new type of "Aquabrain" enemy that seemed insanely creative back in 1999 is introduced here. These creatures quietly emerge from pools of water, forcing you to be mindful of seemingly harmless puddles. The following boss map is short with Goin' Down the Fast Way from Rise of the Triad setting a perfectly urgent tone for your last mission. The boss battle against a new type of sentry drone is tough but fair (just don't waste bullets), and beating the episode is rewarded with a hilarious animation. (Notice how "normal" aliens reappear after you activate the time machine...)
The episode adds a few more new enemies into the mix, most notably an altered underwater sentry drone that takes a billion hits to kill and causes an extremely powerful explosion upon being destroyed. Then there's Jellyfish, the prototype Octabrain from LameDuke that's easy to kill and unlikely to ever hit you. There's also a radioactive mouse or something (a further hint that the underwater part of the episode takes place on an alien planet) that's mostly an annoyance, as Duke kills them instantly upon contact, leaving behind a toxic puddle. And then there's of course the cool Aquabrain that appears in the last maps.
Overall the second episode is what most people appreciate the TC for. With its thematically consistent looks and new textures largely derived from stock material, Water Bases really does feel like an official expansion. Moreover, while the "story" gets a bit confusing, the events in the second half of the episode still manage to fascinate me after all these years. The first half is much too generic though, but luckily the maps are short-ish (10-15 minutes long) and the water base theme doesn't get to overstay its welcome.
A note on the use of music. The original Water Bases episode featured music mostly from Lunar Apocalypse, the original game's second episode; the only "new" track was the always recognizable and extremely fitting Goin' Down the Fast way from Rise of the Triad. However, when Chimera was released, Last Reaction & Water Bases were bundled with it. The track listing for Water Bases in this release implies the author wanted to use tracks from Ecco 2: The Tides of Time (along with the first Ecco game probably the most atmospheric game of the 16-bit era), but they were not included, and thus no music played in the Water Bases episode in the Chimera release. The Addon Compilation version of Last Reaction & Water Bases puts the Ecco 2 tracks "back" in the episode, although for some reason Goin' Down the Fast Way is also mistakenly replaced despite not having been marked for replacement in the Chimera release.
I had such high expectations for Chimera. The creative spree George W. Bernard was on in 1999 remains unmatched; not only was he mapping but making plenty of new art and music as well. The episode was meant to have a gigantic new animation file, and most of the weapon art was redesigned to imitate the style on the Duke3D cover art. The author published screenshots of the maps he was working once a week (was it Saturday?) in the second half of 1999. It seems the first seven levels were created pretty fast, which is impressive considering the size of some of the latter maps. Things then slowed down considerably and eventually in February 2001 the Total Conversion was released in an unfinished state; even the Nukebutton in the final map was non-functional. Oh well, at least this was still infinitely better than not releasing it at all. (I'm republishing all the in-progress screenshots here. The Stargate was meant to take you to a secret level. Years later I obtained two unfinished maps from the man himself which I then combined into Hidden Zone.)
A note on the version: The Chimera in the Addon Compilation fixes the missing chaingun sound and the Nukebutton in the final map, so I'd recommend playing that version, as both of these bugs are a rather big deal in the original version.
A short map by LR&WB standards, Twilight for the Drones is a hi-tech facility featuring an assembly line for the manufacturing of sentry drones. Unfortunately this cool theme is barely utilized, and the map ends up being pretty generic. Still, the gameplay is satisfying and the usual good design with strong texturing & lighting is there. You'll quickly get your hands on new weapons and meet the new yellow beast enemy; their laser blasts are quite powerful, so be mindful of cover when engaging these.
Frozen is nothing but a confusing and seemingly neverending network of icy caves. You can barely see anything because of the black shroud, and the new night-vision goggles only make things worse. This means you're constantly checking the automap for hints of where to go. At least the snowy textures and the bright blue water (the author has a knack for making smoothly animated liquid textures) look nice, and Madonna's Frozen is a great choice for background music here. There's a tiny area with some snow falling from the sky, which twenty years ago seemed nothing short of impressive. Monster selection is good and makes sense, relying mostly on Freezethrower Troopers and Aquabrains. Still, Frozen is mostly a miserable experience. There's also a jump I just couldn't make for some reason, so I had to dnclip my way past this part. Who knows, maybe tiny changes in EDuke32 code have rendered this jump impossible?
Green Crystals is another dark basement map. It's very generic with not much to see; even the "green crystal" gimmick is a single room with a machine that powers up a shrinker. Yes, it'd have been a more impressive sight back in the day, but today it's just meh. (The puzzle itself isn't bad, but I was expecting more use of the theme.) I also didn't much care for putting a hard-to-see crack in the map when it's something you need to find in order to continue. There are some long corridors with tough battles against the new yellow alien and a miniboss Overlord. The cramped surroundings made these engagements more tedious than fun.
Mountain Labs: Oh look, another almost pitch-black map. Still, this is probably the best one so far, and at least all the darkness enhances the impression all the red lights scattered across the map make. The map relies mostly on just one wall texture and a modest amount of detailing, so one could speculate the shroud is there to help the map look better than it really does. This is also one of the tightest maps in the TC. You'd think it makes for tedious combat, especially considering how many respawning Pig Cops there are, but the tight spaces don't seem to do the enemy any favors either. I wouldnt have minded venturing outside on a few occasions, but I guess that would have "ruined" the experience of playing in the dark... The new music track is pretty cool though, and overall the map is pretty fun to play.
After four maps in more or less total darkness, Natural Carnage is nothing short of a stunning change of scenery. No expenses have been spared; not only is it filled to the brim with fantastic new outdoor textures, it's got one hellofan epic music track as well. The map makes very pleasant use of colors with green vegetation and brown rock textures set against a dramatic red dusk sky. And while you don't get to do any diving in Natural Carnage, various liquids (water, lava, even swamp) feature prominently in the map's visual galore. There's lots of jumping but NONE of it is annoying, and the map makes good use of its vertical axis in general. There are also some new environmental sounds that boost the map's rejuvenating atmosphere.
Mother Base is arguably the high point of the author's Duke3D career. This gigantic alien base relies almost exclusively on new texturing. The organic alien textures establish a look for the map that sets it apart from your typical alien-infested Duke3D maps, but they have that "expansion" quality that makes the selection sit well with Duke3D's visual style. The accompanying music with its constant and oppressive beating heightens the impression that you're on very hostile territory. Combat is of epic scale as well, featuring every unit in the alien army (including plenty of minibosses, which admittedly got a bit tiring near the end) in every possible situation. Lighting is also finally well utilized; it's dark when it needs to be, but bright otherwise. The soundscape is great too with a bunch of new clips to give the impression of a pulsating and breathing alien base. At roughly 30 minutes long Mother Base is also the biggest map in Chimera, measuring close to the biggest maps in Last Reaction. Aside from a winding Slimer-infested hive section that you have to backtrack to much too often, the map is generously spacious as well (and this includes a few rooms where I thought the player should've been given more cover).
It all comes to a sudden end in Big City Nights, the only city map in Chimera. This seems to be a rough neighborhood with garbage lying around everywhere. Unfortunately the pitch-black shroud is back, but at least it's not THAT offensive at street level (the sewers, especially the last bit, are another matter). There are several tough fights along the way (especially the epic shootout at the disco), but at least minibosses are largely absent for once. Too bad the map feels so cluttered, but the effect of the shroud is such that it compresses the effective engagement distance even when you're outdoors. The persistence of the shroud is such a shame here, as the map has plenty of good visuals, including a gas station, a construction site and a church with some impressive lighting; but you can see all of this only from up close. The relaxing soundtrack is a good fit after the unrelenting Mother Base. Note: If you're playing the original Chimera release, the Nukebutton at the end of the map cannot be activated.
And that's the end of Chimera. The full version was planned to have 10+1 maps. The released version included 7 of these. The "weird" map you can see in one of the shots here was to be the secret level (accessible via a Stargate in Big City Nights). Almost all of Hidden Zone would then have followed after the secret map (or the normal exit in Big City Nights). The very first section (which is originally from a separate .map file) of Hidden Zone might have been the starting area of the penultimate map, to be followed by a boss map where you'd have fought a boss variant of the new yellow "chimera" alien.
As for the non-map stuff, the new yellow enemy can be kinda annoying, but I actually prefer these over Protector Drones. Their art doesn't fit in perfectly with all the rest, which is notable because everything else about these two TCs is so consistent. Of course, they were meant to be a "chimera" type of enemy, so it's probably intentional. More prominent sound effects also could've helped, as now they barely make a sound, but gameplay-wise I found the enemy a plus. The new weapon art is good too, but some, such as the new Shrinker/Expander, take up too much screen space. Aside from the Madonna track, the soundtrack has been composed by the author himself and Cyborg (whom some may remember from the late '90s). George's own tracks are pretty good, but it's Cyborg's work in Natural Carnage and Mother Base where the new soundtrack truly stands out. His tunes for Chimera are among the best of the MIDI era.
My final word is that I've developed increasingly mixed feelings toward Chimera over the years. To be sure, every map apart from Frozen is well designed with good use of new textures and lighting (although the maps don't make use of stuff like cycler effects to the degree that Last Reaction & Water Bases does), but the small and relatively tight spaces of the first four maps strikes as a bit odd considering how Last Reaction in particular had such grand scale. The black shroud is a persistent problem. While not uncommon in maps of the era, it seems weird that the author went this way when his skills were otherwise at their peak. I still would definitely recommend Chimera, as it's got plenty of good stuff from custom-made art and music to an uneven but still memorable selection of maps.