Jim Wiscarson was the man's name. And that's pretty much all I know about him.
In the 90's my friends and I wasted far too much of our young adulthood blowing each other up with 3D Realms' Duke Nukem 3D. It was a tremendous amount of fun, and no other networked game has really felt quite as good to play to me as it still does. Even now, every few years when the opportunity strikes we'll fire up the modern ports of the game and drop right back into the fray, cackling with laughter long into the night.
What really kicked off the marathon Duke sessions was the discovery of FTP sites that had user-authored maps. Some were designed for one-person playability but most were for death matches, which was perfect for us. After downloading and trying out over a hundred of these maps, we noticed that we gravitated
toward a set of maps with the filename "BARTMAP1.MAP", "BARTMAP2.MAP", and so on up to "BARTMP11.MAP". Despite the name, I had nothing to do with their authorship.
Some of these maps represent places in my mind that are as real to me as any physical place I've ever been. In my mind's eye I can see the contours of some of them as clear or clearer than places I've lived. And they are special places in my memory. They are where my friends and I sparred for endless hours with RPG's, jetpacks, and freeze-rays. When I think of the rooms and tunnels and open spaces in these digital worlds, I hear real laughter; real joy and bonding over a cartoony competition to, essentially, die as few times as possible in the midst of non-stop explosions. The mere mention of "bartmap five" can start most of us giggling uncontrollably.
The maps weren't large or terribly complex, but they were carefully crafted and well-balanced to prevent any one player from gaining an unfair advantage. And the maps had a degree of variety and polish that many of the other maps didn't have. They weren't the only maps we played, but they were the majority.
A few years ago, after a night of walking down memory lane and blowing each other's heads off, I decided to see if I could find out anything else about the author of these maps. If nothing else, I just wanted to drop him a note to thank him for the great times and hope that he and his friends had enjoyed the maps as much as we had. Unfortunately, there isn't much out there about him. A few credits for Doom 2 and Heretic maps here and there, and a tribute page for his Duke3D maps (turn down your speakers before visiting, plays a MIDI rendition of
"Music Box Dancer".) But no definitive contact information can be found, and his email address from that era (BARTMAN at ACEINFO.COM) appears to be a black hole.
So, I want to say publicly: Wherever you are, thank you, Jim Wiscarson.
Unacknowledged creativity happens every day, and sometimes the creators really put themselves into what they are bringing to life. These maps were the result of serious work, with carefully considered details that made them special to my friends and I. I'm not sure we would have had quite as much fun if they hadn't existed. Perhaps our lives would have been just a hair darker and slightly less filled with mirth. And for that they are indeed a special and precious gift.
And for anyone still enjoying Duke Nukem 3D, you can download all 13 BARTMAP's here (including a couple that are new to me!).