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HS LLS Review

So I've had a look at the "Halloween Special Late Late Show" (HS LLS) map/mod and decided to share my rambling opinions of limited qualification here with you. Corrections & discussions welcome!

HS LLS is a map/mod/siegelet for DSLOA by Ghastley & Charietto from 2007. Concept is to be a map based on Halloween B-movies. Since it does a lot of general alterations to the game, it's proposed to be run separate from other mods, ideally as a siegelet (installed in subfolder with exe link).
Since the theme is Halloween B-movies, the map contains modern content rather than medieval / fantasy / magic stuff. There's a lot of blood & gore, and also several instances of gratuitous nudity, which fits with the theming perfectly fine. It makes references to existing horror movies and other pop culture. Why it's named after the Late Late Show however is a mystery to me.

I'll do the review as a series of comments below.

- HS LLS is not on NexusMods anymore because they changed their TOS
- The download is a zip which is encrypted with the password "I AGREE WITH THE EULA" (which you find after carefully reading the readme that you need to happen to find in third places)
- The dsres is tank-protected
Let's talk about control freaks, shall we! I don't know how the DS playing & modding scene looked like in 2007, I've not been around for that long. It seems like doing these sort of things was not uncommon, I heard a certain Xaa was also very protective of his creations. But did it ever serve a tangible purpose? Like, were they thinking at some point they might earn money with DS mods? Looking back, I think the main reason to do it was because they could, and to keep control over their creations, forcing other modders to ask pretty please to be allowed to use certain elements.
Alright, you notice, my political socialization by the Pirate Party is kicking in, I'll stop. Looking forward, I think the DS scene faces the options of protectionism and dying out quickly, or sharing freely and living a while longer.

The mentioned readme gives a rough overview of the modifications, including a system that detects & punishes using cheat codes like +drdeath. More control freakery, if you ask me. It must be very satisfying to say "Yahahaha, you can't use cheats on my map!" - I can confirm it's very satisfying to say "Yahahaha, I built a little extra mod that lets me use cheat codes regardless!"

The second thing I want to talk about is polishing. The readme is littered with typos. It also tells you to "save often" because of issues with messaging between objects, leading to effects not happening / quests not progressing. I had a bad feeling about this - and sure enough, the lack of polishing continues ingame.

But enough of unwarranted criticism. Some more interesting points from the readme:
- Nature Magic is changed to Useful Skills
- The map uses progressive items (items that change stats with player level, re-equip them when you leveled up)

So long story short, despite the bad initial impression I decided to give this thing a whirl! More in the next post...

Being a lowkey modder, and initially interested because of a really cool pumpkin helmet I want to reuse (by courtesy) in an own upcoming little Halloween mod, naturally I took a first look in Siege Editor.
Opening SE I got "Duplicate template detected" errors. It seems template names are being re-used for new stuff, but without overriding the original files, so that SE finds these template names twice. Why not simply use new template names? (Or overwrite the templates in a clean way. Didn't it annoy them every time they opened SE?)
Opening various regions, I got a few more errors:
- Armor aspect file missing/invalid: 'm_a_hlmt_norman' ('Art\Meshes\Armor\Helmets\m_a_hlmt_norman.ASP')
- BoneTranslator Errors in regions with the Blob
- Malibu: Coding error: attempted to clone a Go from an empty template!
Yeah, I don't know. I couldn't work like that but I guess that's a matter of taste.
Here's an overview of the regions:

Chapter 0: Dojo & Boobies Twister regions that are not part of one of the "chapters"
- chapter00_dojo: Gym with naked women; standalone/unconnected region
- chapter00_shop_out: Outside Boobies Twister Shop - Desert, entrance to shop/club, entrance to crypt. Club entrance requires key: pumpkin helmet
- chapter00_crypt: Bloodsuckers (cool enemies)
- chapter00_shop_in: Entrance girl with pumpkin head, lower level is an LoA-like disco.

Chapter 1: Massachusetts, the single-player campaign:
- chapter01_intro: SP Start, Damnfool Krug bridge
- chapter01_granny_house
- chapter01_granny_cellar
- chapter01_swamp: from KoE with chapel. Recalc all Node Lighting works wonders
- chapter01_swamp_loony: Cellar with slaughtermen
- chapter01_manor_out: The manor is half a palace (Keep Tanbrick nodeset). Here in the very end is also Mr. Pumpkin Head who drops the pumpkin helmet.
- chapter01_manor_cave: Short cave middle-piece between the manor proper and the exit at the cliffs. Blob.
Exit is behind/below the manor in the cliffs, then there's Mr. Pumpkin Head and the way up & out of the nightmare. You made it! Further chapters are accessible via multi-player. (Map has no teleporter.)

Chapter 2: New Mexico, another horror story:
- chapter02_starting_area: all other regions branch off from here. Abandoned mine town.
- chapter02_rep: Going down very far
- chapter02_mine_main: Dwarven Mines
- chapter02_mine_hillmen: The Hills have Eyes!
- chapter02_mine_ghost: Mine with ghosts

Chapter 3: Vermont, the third "movie":
- chapter03_starting_area: Back in the forest (this time not quite as dark as in chapter 1); werewolves. Based initially on df_bandits from KoE, but much bigger. Forest is a labyrinth. A "Chatanoogah Joe" runs a shop here
- chapter03_campground: More like holiday village. With lakeshore
- chapter03_deep_forest: more forest. House of the Chainsaw Loony

Bonus Level Malibu:
- chapter03b_malibu: Beach infested by Blobs, Damsels in Distress on the Nudist Beach

Time to boot it up! First thing I did was try out a few of the multi-player starting locations.
You notice already in the main menu that the mouse cursor is different. Also ingame a lot of the menu items look differently, more modern. It fits with the modern / pop-culture setting, but the original GUI wouldn't have disturbed either, so it feels more like a thing that was added to show off. Maybe better for a separate mod, so it can be used on other maps if the players like it?

Of course I had to go for the dojo shower scene immediately, for inspecting the shower water effect, of course. When you enter there's a scripted scene with a psychotic killer.
The showers must have been quite some work, there are several new animations for showering and holding hands in front of private parts, a new female model with better breasts, a female model wearing a towel etc. There are towels and bathing suit items that require a "Female" skill level 1, which my male MP char couldn't wear.

Starting in Malibu you can't enter the doors, and no indication for the player where to get a key, I didn't bother. From the road you see the beach girls in various positions of lying & sunning, nice work, might find use for it sometime. There's also a "Pammie Ambersun" that runs very slowly so you can get an eyeful of boobs juggling. The trashiness level is perfect, I love it.

In the after-MP screen there's an additional "gained XP" column. Very nice, expecially for modders / playtesters. There should be a separate little mod for that.

Finally time for the single-player campaign!

Immediately recognized the "Damnfool Krug" bridge. That's not to criticize - I like copypasting existing regions just as much.
Mood and lighting are great. The scene feels beautifully scary.
The intro story is given as tutorial tips. In a hollow stump next to you you find a twig and stones, your first melee & ranged weapons.

Storyline points towards the Granny's House. On the way you get attacked by zombie wolves & zombie bears. The generators produce new objects continuously. (Should look up how it's implemented. Different skrit or just a high number?) Coming from "normal DS" it feels annoying that you can't "clear" an area, and since you don't get that much stronger by leveling up and need to run back to kill the wolves one by one, you're basically stuck in a loop until you decide to just run past them. As I said it's a bit unusual from a "normal DS" perspective, but makes sense from a horror movie theme perspective.
The granny is a zombie in the basement. It drops the key to the toolshed next to the house. There's nothing useful in there, but it serves as a good introduction to the map's main mechanic: finding keys to open stuff.
There's a lighting border at the region stitch, and the door arch on the way down into the basement blocks the camera, that should be fixed.

From the Granny's House the way continues into what I dubbed the Swamp of Lighting Borders. I don't even know how it ended up like that, but a simple "Recalculate all Node Lighting" in SE would have worked wonders.
In the middle of the swamp there's a chapel with a locked shrine that you can open when you found the corresponding treasure map in the manor. Inside is some gold.
What you SHOULD find in the swamp is the house of the Swamp Loonies. In there, apart from the aforementioned loonies, you also find the key to the cellar of the manor, crucial for continuing! But how are you supposed to find it? It's not visible from the main way and there's no sign pointing in that direction. All you arguably get is a reference to weird new neighbors in the Mad Scientist's diary. Are you supposed to search the entire map just hoping to stumble across something? I can hear the modders: "Yahahaha, there's a key hidden somewhere! Maybe you should look around a bit more... somewhere in the swamp?" Well, to be honest, 15 years ago I probably was the same kind of jerk who would have enjoyed this a lot.

Finally, arriving at the manor, you find clues of what happened - mutated rats, and a zombie that drops the diary of a Mad Scientist whose experiments had escaped his control.
There are two treasure hunts - one is the treasure map for the chapel shrine, one is the code for a safe up in the manor's tower. I like such scenic sidetracks, it shows how the modders took care of world-building. I also like the cultists in the forest.
Speaking of treasure hunts: there are a lot of things to be opened (like bookshelves etc), most of them are empty, in some you find crucial stuff. And anything can be crucial - as we later see, a certain stone door can only be opened if you have a pickaxe in the inventory. Good luck figuring that out. This is really much more of a puzzle map rather than action RPG. And while some things are obvious, others are virtually unsolvable without looking into SE yourself, feeling stupid afterwards - or asking the modders pretty please give them a hint, of course. I don't want to criticize this too much - I also miss the good ole days where games were allowed to be hard, instead of demanding a perfectly polished user guidance so that even the dumbest can do it.

Let's talk about cool items - the throwing stones should find wider use, and the throwing plates from Granny's House are hilarious. In the manor there's a cool-looking two-hand sword, annoyingly things fall down if you try to equip it with a shield, but I wouldn't know how to solve it any better either. There's also a Glock! But animations were missing in my pre-existing MP character.

Let's talk about polishing - there's some node overlay flickering that occurs when terrain nodes are stuck into each other, at the manor's tower. In the entire manor, the second doors are not linked properly - meaning only one side of the door can be clicked (but both doors open). And coming back to the Swamp Loonies - you were supposed to fade out the entire upper region, not just one node! It's difficult to navigate the camera in there.

Continuing down into the manor cellar, there's a ghost that's basically immune against anything, except plain fists. Good luck figuring that out. Just yet another example of the "clueless-puzzle-ness" of the map. How to fight the Blob? Didn't care to find out, just ran past it.
At the cliffs, there's the final endboss Mr. Pumpkin Head. Awesome design. Then you walk up the mountain and the tutorial tip tells you that you made it.

Afterthoughts: What were the "spare parts" for? The "empty high pressure sprayer"? The "sodium bicarbonate"? Lots of items to be found that apparently don't serve any particular purpose... but then why the effort of implementing them? Browsing through the resources it seems there's some kind of crafting system... Maybe to be used in one of the later chapters? (Also, you can summon what? A Goblin Advisor?) Did the first chapter really just scratch the surface of this map?

Some screenshots from my single-player playthru!

The beginning:


Facing Granny with her own plates

The Swamp of Lighting Borders

This biker suit looks so cool

The Basement of Bad Node Fading

Enemies exploding into giblets, cool stuff

Cabbage growing in file

The Blob

Mr. Pumpkin Head

The End

The readme warns too much about re-using the resources and not enough about what kind of gameplay to expect from this unusual map.
Like in my review of Realm of Kings, I find it weird that the map was made with a lot of love for some details, while failing to polish the most basic things.
There's some really cool stuff in there. I think parts of it should be re-tanked into smaller, more modular mods to provide certain things like the GUI controls, the "gained XP" column, or the various equipment to players of other maps. I also think maybe each chapter could have been a separate map, so that all of them can be experienced in single-player mode? Not sure tho.

Anyway, this all is just my personal impression after a first playthru. What do you think of the map? Have you played it yourselves? Did you see / read anything interesting or useful in my review? Leave a comment Wink

I'll finish with this funny Freudian slip typo: "Unfinished Experience" Laughing out loud

I love that purple car sitting out there, extremely nice areas you have posted here.
The pumpkin character is cool, very scary. Those floors are looking great , nice positioning of everything that I saw here, this should work well.

More screens please, these are great!