ROTT in Hell
The Definitive History of the Best Deathmatch Game of All-Time
By Kevin "Fragmaster" Bowen


ROTT had a TON of levels, including some VERY fun Comm-Bat (Deathmatch) levels. ROTT registered had 32 levels… and then 40 Comm-Bat levels (!!) for a total of 72. Not to mention 15 more Comm-Bat levels with the site-license and then other secret, shareware only, and joke levels.

ROTT in Hell - Part III

Joe Siegler passed along this ROTT Level Design Info doc that lists every official ROTT level ever made for all the versions (There's a ton). Take a look at how many Tom Hall did. Also notice the strange names the levels have. "I tended to name my levels after something." Joe Siegler explained "I had two levels named after Black Sabbath albums, and several of my levels for Extreme ROTT were named after ex-girlfriends and my (later) fiancee."

"You can crank out a decent ROTT level in a day." Joe said in a recent .plan update. That probably explains the amount of levels made.

Tom Hall designed almost all the levels, with Joe Siegler and Joe Selinske pitching in. Mark Dochtermann took a shot at level design and did 3 Comm-Bat levels, ranging to the very creative and fun Joustin' Time to the ridiculous Mark's Madness. Mark's later-to-be wife, Marianna, contributed 4 levels (all better than Mark's ;). Jim Dose, only did one Comm-Bat level, which is surprising considering he later designed the Storage Facility (The second level) for the Ritual produced Quake Mission #1: Scourge of Armagon.

The Editor

The most interesting thing about the levels in ROTT was not necessarily the way they where designed (Not many of the ROTT levels are very memorable…) but what the levels where designed in. ROTT was the last game to use the TED editor, written by John Romero (Yes, that John Romero). This also was the editor that would have been used in Quake: The Fight for Justice (See the Quake Hype Article) among other things. Tom Hall himself gives a very nice, detailed history of TED in the help file that was released with the editor (which is now available to the public, since it is no longer used). Here are some execerpts:

TED Documentation (Revised) - 11\01\95
By Tom Hall, Creative Director of ROTT

TED is an old chum that I eulogize within. I have used TED for about four years now, and this is its final resting place -- at least for me.

John Romero wrote TED as the Tile EDitor for the games he, John Carmack, and I were working on in Softdisk's Gamer's Edge department. Lane Roathe was in the department for a while, but Romero and I were the ones really using it. I had started sneaking in at night after working in the Apple department, because what they were doing was so much fun. Carmack and Romero could concentrate on the programming while I made levels and so on.

The first game was actually a joke. It was called Dangerous Dave in "Copyright Infringement." Carmack had just gotten a little guy to move around over a tile map, and I looked over at the Nintendo in the corner. I said, "Wouldn't it be funny to make the first level of Super Mario 3...tonight?" Carmack smiled and said, "Let's do it!" I copied the tiles pixel for pixel and made a map out of them while Carmack feverishly programmed the guy landing on ground tiles and getting coin tiles. At 5:30 in the morning, we dumped that on Romero's desk and went home to crash. Romero played it all the next day, saying "This could make so much money!" It was pitched to a friend of a friend at Nintendo, and they liked it so much, they wanted a demo. We added Mario graphics and Koopas and stuff, and sent it to them. It apparently got to the head guys at Nintendo, but they didn't want to enter the PC market. Softdisk didn't want to use the smooth scrolling trick Carmack had discovered (since it didn't also work in CGA!), so we thought, well, if they don't want it, we could do something ourselves.... Thus Commander Keen was born.

We soon left Softdisk with Adrian Carmack, a fine artist that had joined the team a few months later. I stayed at Softdisk for three months while I was replaced as editor for three of the monthly products. Jay Wilbur and Kevin Cloud came on board during Wolfenstein.

In addition to these two aforementioned demos, we did use the editor for a bunch of real games.

Games we did for Softdisk with TED (all in EGA 16-color graphics):
Game Type
Slordax Shooter
Shadow Knights Side-scroller
Rescue Rover I & II Overhead puzzle game (among our most favorite games)
Dangerous Dave Side-scroller (another big favorite, although they made the Haunted Mansion us take the blood out.)
Hovertank One id's first 3D action games, although the walls were just solid-color polygons
Keen Dreams The "Lost Episode" of Keen, where he falls asleep and is attacked by all the vegetables he has refused to eat
Catacomb 3-D The first texture-mapped fast action game (pre-Wolf3D!)
We did other games, but they didn't use TED.

After we left, Softdisk continued to use TED, in the following games:

The Catacomb 3D trilogy (Abyss, Armageddon, Apocalypse) Dangerous Dave II & III

id used TED on eight games of their own:

Commander Keen in "Invasion of the Vorticons" Marooned on Mars, The Earth Explodes, and Keen Must Die
Commander Keen in "Goodbye, Galaxy!" Secret of the Oracle, The Armageddon Machine
Commander Keen in "Aliens Ate My Baby Sitter!"
Wolfenstein 3D
Spear of Destiny
Wolfenstein for Super Nintendo
Wolfenstein VR (for a VR booth-type game)
Apogee uses of TED:
Bio Menace (licensed Keen Engine)
Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold
Blake Stone: Planet Strike
Rise of the Triad

When I came over to Apogee to head up in-house development, we used TED for Rise of the Triad, which started life as Wolfenstein, Part Two. So far, that makes 34 projects using TED. Plus we had planned to do an overhead game called Fight for Justice after the first Keen, based on the same world that Quake is. And an aborted overhead shooter called Complete Planetary Domination. And a Apple II game Carmack and I never finished, called Penultima III. And there was an aborted project at Apogee called Wards of Wandaal. So that makes 38 projects that TED maps were edited for. Wow.


Somewhere in the original TED documentation, John Romero described his "triumphant" fill routine, liberally paraphrased and embellished as follows:

"Once in a while a programmer really writes something he's proud of, a slick, elegant, blazingly fast routine that stands as a benchmark against which other code will be judged by. However, this is not the case with TED's fill routine. This slow, stupid algorithm will casually fill one plane of data in a painfully creeping manner. Press ESC when it gets confused."

In preparing the release of TED, Mark Dochtermann fixed the scrolling bug that's been in TED for a long time. Sure, the last day we use it, and it gets fixed!


So ROTT may be the final game to use TED. But now that you have the source code, and Wolfenstein's source code is out on the net, there are some fun games to be made. As for me, I bid TED a fond adieu, and say hello to a cool 3D editor on the NeXT, where we'll be making the levels for our new action game, Prey. TED is dead. Long live TED!

Isn't that strange? The same editor that was used to make Commander Keen was used in Wolf3D… hmmm. The Fight for Justice thing is also pretty interesting. I used the editor a bit, and one particular feature caught my eye: "Carmacizing". Of course, that refers to John Carmack. What is "Carmacizing" though? "Carmacizing was the process of compressing the maps for the final version." Said Helpful Tom Hall. "This was used in Commander Keen."

TED is a pretty strange editor. Very different than what most of us are probably accustomed to. If you're big into editing, you might want to check it out.


The ROTT Team in a Serious Moment
(From Left to Right: Tom Hall, Mark Dochtermann, Nolan Martin, & William Scarboro. And Yes, That's the real Excalibat)
ROTT also had quite a few Easter eggs. Some of them included special graphics during certain holidays, a hidden Scott Miller (President of Apogee's) head, a level that is the shape of a dopefish and a bunch of other disturbing stuff. To get an idea of what I mean, try typing ROTT DOPEFISH instead of just ROTT. I think those guys did a lot of real-life research on Shrooms mode or something :).

"After the game was complete," Joe Siegler says. "Mark Dochtermann compiled a special (was never released) version of the game where all the Triads in the Eluder and Deluder games were replaced with 3D rendered (by Chuck Jones) versions of Dopefish. It's highly silly. One of these days, I'll create an online patch so others can see it, too. :)"

Shareware and Registered ROTT also had hilarious endings. I actually called Computer Gaming World when they voted Duke3D's lame ending in front of ROTT's in the "15 Best Endings of All Time" (November '96 issue). I won't spoil it for you, you'll have to find out yourself :). ROTT didn't take itself too seriously, unlike Doom. Tom Hall's Anachronox is sure to have some of his twisted humor as well.

One of the weirdest things I noticed when messing around with cheat codes was a level called "This Causes an Error". I remember loading it up, walking around and then a stupid "I'm Free" graphic would pop up and the game would crash.

"The "I'm Free" graphic was a joke that took on a bigger life than it realistically needed to be." Joe Siegler explains. "However, we didn't care, several of us thought it was funny."

"What happened was this. The moving walls in ROTT followed paths set by the level designer via arrows on the floor. A wall would keep following that path until it hit another arrow. However, if a wall would reach the edge of the map grid w/o encountering another arrow, it would attempt to pass through the edge. If you remember Wolf3D, and it's "no clipping off the side of the map grid video funnies", it's the same type of thing here. The wall tried to go beyond the parameters of the game, and as such, caused an error. The actual error message that the game generated was

"Pushwall attempting to escape off the edge of the map it is located at..."

... and the game would give some coordinate. The first time I saw this message, I busted a gut laughing at this. I did it in Tom's office, and he drew up this picture of a pushwall with a face on it smiling escaping from a wall. It looked very silly and we all had a big laugh out of it. To be honest, I cannot remember who actually said "I'm Free" for the first time (I think it was Joe Selinske, though). Anyway, I ran over to the flatbed scanner, scanned Tom's picture, and gave it to Mark Dochtermann who put it in the game. When that error occurred, the game then displayed Tom's silly graphic before the genuine game error screen was displayed. Somewhere along the line, "I'm Free" got added to the error message as well. This is just another example of the silliness that went on behind the scenes."

One stupid thing about ROTT (at least, I thought) was the Triad collection. You collected Triads (little spinning coins and stuff) for points and lives and things. Keeping "score" in a doom-type game wasn't really done much afterward… I mean, did anybody actually care about their score when they finished Wolf3D?

"The collectible Triads in the game were a Marioesque addition--if you collected 100, you got a free life." Tom Hall says. "The collectible Triads in Collector were to have a non-violent game for younger kids to play, so they could "play Daddy's game" without killing."

ROTT also had a TON of cheat codes, the most cheat codes in any game ever (according to CGW). Here's the complete list.


ROTT was a great game, a very underrated game. It's multiplayer abilities and features make it a MUST for LAN players even today. Multiplayer wise, it was ahead of its time. It will be interesting to see what the guys at Ritual do in their upcoming game, SiN since four members of the ROTT team now work there. sCary has already mentioned how big deathmatch is going to be in SiN and I'm sure we'll see some of ROTT's influence in there. Notice how many features from ROTT (rolling boulders, weapon taking monsters, etc.) are in Ritual's Quake Mission Pack #1, Scourge of Armagon? Is ROTT the best deathmatch game ever created? Well…. Maybe not anymore, but it's still close. It STILL has features Quake doesn't have (And features no other game had until Quake). Maybe if ROTT came out a year or so earlier… Maybe if the art was stronger… Maybe if it didn't have the Wolf-like engine… Maybe then ROTT would have ruled the gaming universe. But it didn't. No matter how you look at it, ROTT was an interesting story in the history of the "3D" shooter genre and contributed more to its development than people might think. But ROTT just fades into obscurity more and more day by day.

"ROTT for me was both a success and a failure, a joy and an albatross." Tom Hall says of his creation. "After id was "too busy" to deal with it, we had thirty levels and tons of art. In retrospect, I wish we'd thrown it out and not been burdened with that old theme, changing instead to a sci-fi theme. We also had a chance to use the Build engine, which I wish we would have done. But the programmers on the project couldn't bear to work with Build in the shaky state it was in at the time, so we stuck with the 90-degree walls, which was pretty much the whole problem with the game."

"I am proud of all the design innovations: the modifiable DeathMatch, the characters, the Violence adjustment, Remote Ridicule, Live Remote Ridicule, and so on. It's just too bad the game was trapped in such an ancient technology. Well, it was a good learning experience, as all of life is. I am vying to get some of the cooler ROTT DeathMatch features into Daikatana. We shall see. : )"

"I had a blast working on ROTT, too." Joe Siegler adds. "It's the first (and so far the only) game I had published work in. I was a customer of Apogee's before I came here, and the chance to work with people I was a fan of (and in particular Tom Hall) was so exciting, words can't do it justice. The general "feel" of ROTT was something that I loved dearly. That whole team is gone from Apogee now, and except for myself, only Steve Hornback, Lee Jackson & William Scarboro remain (working on Prey) here. I had a lot of fun working on ROTT, and I secretly hoped that someday Apogee would do a ROTT II, but that's not going to happen. So many of the things in there were a ton of fun, the stupid messages in ROTT shareware's endings, the actual ending for ROTT registered, the "I'm Free" stuff, the Dopefish references... Tom Hall & I worked pretty much alone on the Extreme ROTT add-on. Tom & I were going to do nothing more than just a couple of levels for an add-on, and that was it. Tom & I got flowing creatively, and produced 42 levels. Extreme ROTT was an absolute joy for me personally, as I got to work one on one with one of my gaming idols, as I was (and still am) a massive fan of Commander Keen. That's probably one of the reasons I had Tom as a groomseman in my wedding. :)"

But in the "Doom Clone" area of the cemetery of forgotten games up in gaming heaven, ROTT lays buried, just another victim of the unstoppable force named "Doom". A Quake section has already been set aside and fresh graves are already dug. And ROTT languishes in the pits of forgotten game hell.

Or was it buried too soon? 

Get Retro!
Download ROTT Shareware
Download TED
Apogee's ROTT Page

Afterword, Sources, Credits & Thank Yous (And other really embarrasing pics!)

- Fragmaster

Back to The Hunt

© 1997 Kevin Bowen - This article may not be used in part or whole in any form, print or electronic without express written consent. ROTT, Rise of the Triad and Wolf3D is a Trademark of Apogee Software and used with permission. All other Trademarks and Copyrights are hypothetically acknowledged.