In the over twenty year history of computer and video games, many games are remembered, worshipped, inducted into "Hall of Fame's", lauded as being "groundbreaking" and "revolutionary", etc. Everybody remembers games like Pong, Space Invaders, Asteroids, PAC-Man, Super Mario Bros., M.U.L.E., Sim City, Civilization, Wolfenstein, Doom, and countless others.
But the so-called "clones" of these games are usually doomed to obscurity...and usually for good reason. Many "clone games" are of poor quality, created only to benefit from the success of the game it imitates. Some, however innovate or inject new ideas into the genre. Some clones are even better than the game they imitate.
||ROTT is the perfect example of this. It's of the most underrated games of all time. ROTT not only surpasses current games in some ways (and it's almost three years old, ancient in computer years) but the people responsible for the game have spread out and are working on games such as Prey, Half-Life, SiN, and Anachronox. Not only those, but people like John Romero, John Carmack and many others are indirectly tied to ROTT. Not only has ROTT helped define the shooter genre with its revolutionary features, but it continues to have an effect on the industry today.|
The "3D" first-person shooter craze started with Wolfenstein 3D. While the first-person shooter idea wasn't new (id even did a similar type game called Catacomb 3D while still working for Softdisk), never before had it been so successful or well done.
Wolfenstein's success led to an army of forgettable clone games.. like Corridor 7, Blake Stone 3D, Ken's Labyrinth, Hugo's Nitemare 3D, Terminator: Rampage, The Fortress of Dr. Radiaki, Operation Bodycount and Terminal Terror, just to name a few. Most of those games were typical clones: god-awful and poor sellers. The most notable clone of this group is Ken's Labyrinth, written by then middle-schooler Ken Silverman. He later went on to create the BUILD engine used in Duke3D, Blood, Redneck Rampage, Shadow Warrior, etc. Ken's Labyrinth had a very Wolf3D-like engine (With AWFUL art...probably because Ken did it himself) and had some interesting features like crouching, standing taller (I don't know why that would be useful...Standing on your tippy-toes makes you more imposing maybe?), working water fountains (later used in Duke3D) and working vending machines. Hmmm...vending machines that work every time...how unrealistic :)
It goes without saying that Wolfenstein was a HUGE success. It was banned in Germany, got a lot of publicity for being violent...and just plain ruled. And when a popular, awesome game sells well...we all know what that means...
Ah yes: "The Sequel". For every hit (like Warcraft 2 or Doom 2), there's a bomb (like Star Fleet 2 or Street Fighter 3...too many to list). I'm sure everyone can think of a movie sequel that tanked (ex. Home Alone 2, Speed 2, The Two Jakes....too many to list again!). Like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get with a sequel.
So in early 1994, "Wolfenstein 3D: Part II" started production. Kinda. The premiere issue of Game Developer's Magazine stated that "Apogee Software was working on a game called "Wolfenstein 3D: Part II," which was to be a totally new game, with completely new actors, and new everything; the only thing the same being the title Wolfenstein 3D." That was partially correct, but the plans for the Wolfenstein sequel dissolved soon after.
"Originally, the project was to be nothing more than new levels for Wolf3D, with a few extra added graphics." Says Joe Siegler (Apogee's Online Support Manager). "It then turned into a Wolf sequel. The original name was 'Wolfenstein 3D II: Rise of the Triad'. (Later on) The Wolf references got dropped, but the work done in that era is easy to see in ROTT."
The project name was then changed to "Rise of the Triad." Often referred to by its initials: "ROTT". Later, a little known 42 level add-on pack to called EXTREME ROTT was released.
If you are confused about the relationship between Apogee and id...don't worry about it. Early id games (like Commander Keen and Wolf3D) were distributed by Apogee and later FormGen (Wolf3D: Spear of Destiny), a company that eventually was bought by GT Interactive. But why would Apogee (3DRealms.. whatever you want to call it) have the right to do a sequel to Wolfenstein?
"Apogee didn't have rights to make the sequel." Explains Tom Hall, the Lead Designer \ Producer of ROTT. "As I moved over to Apogee to start up in-house development (after major creative differences with id), it was sort of a bridge project, but also a horribly constraining one."
The ROTT design team was usually reffered to as "The Developers of Incredible Power" or "DIP's". Why the strange name? Well, Tom Hall sent out a memo, and at the end he said, "If we do this, we will be the Developers of Incredible Power." It stuck. On ROTT's final DOS screen, it says "Thank you for playing the first release of Apogee's Developers of Incredible Power! We will return". But this was the only "DIP" release. Prey could have been the second DIP game, but the team is almost completely dissolved now. It was made up of some people you might recognize:
The aforementioned Tom Hall, who had just left id Software (He was one of the founders) was the Lead Designer \ Producer. Tom Hall later went on to start Ion Storm with John Romero. Anachronox, a massive sci-fi RPG using the Quake engine, is his current project.
Mark Dochtermann from Ritual (Formerly Hipnotic) was the Lead Programmer and wrote engine and communications \ networking code. Ritual's other programmer, Jim Dose' did the sound engine and Ritual artist Robert Atkins designed the very cool manual. Also Joe Selinske, a mapper for ROTT now works at Ritual. All four of them are now hard at work on SiN.
Chuck Jones did ROTT's art and cinematics. Today he's an artist at Valve Software and hard at work on Half-Life. William Scarboro did the actor (enemies, items, etc.) code and Steve Hornback did most of the textures, the actors, the cool explosions, and items. Both are still at 3DRealms and working on Prey. Lee "Duke3D" Jackson & Bobby "Doom, Duke3D" Prince, did music and sound effects, Gregor "Doom" Punchatz, did Robot, Gun, other Models (He's the guy that modeled the Cyberdemon) and Joe Siegler, 3DRealm's Online Support Manager \ Webmaster, did levels. And he almost killed himself doing burp sounds that were actually used in the game. Let me tell you, the quality of this game greatly benefitted because of it. :) Steve Maines, now a level designer at Rogue played a minor role and was Apogee's Print Art director in the early stages of the project.
ROTT was a game Doomed to failure (in more ways than one). Just take a look at this mini-timeline:
Now those dates aren't exact, but it gives you a general idea of what was going on at the time. No matter HOW good ROTT was, it was going to be lost in a shuffle. It would have to go head on with Doom. Unfortunately (for ROTT), Doom II was an unstoppable force, with thousands of drooling fanatics waiting for hours in line to get it, take it home, and frag until the wee hours of morning.
But when ROTT was released to the Doom-crazed public, it got fairly good reviews: "Rise of the Triad is sure to have every Doom freak in the world lining up just to drool over it." Said one magazine. "I've played ROTT and it's good. REEEEEEEEEEEEALLY good! Honestly, I can't think of any reason why every DOOM nut in the country won't flock to this game when it's released. It's beautiful, fast and challenging. Rise of the Triad is truly an awesome game." Computer Gaming World raved. Other magazines gave it similar reviews, so-so reviews or just dismissed it as another clone.
But why didn't ROTT have every "Doom freak in the world lining up just to drool over it", as "predicted"? Well, there are many reasons, but I think I can sum it three words:
90 degree walls.
That's right...ROTT had a Wolf3D-type engine (At least, as far as 90 degree walls go). This was a MAJOR reason it didn't catch on. After Doom, this was a step backward.
ROTT wasn't very successful (especially compared to Doom), but since it was a good game that had many features that Doom didn't have (Even features Quake doesn't have...even some Unreal won't have) it developed a small, cult following. Most people ignored it (or didn't know it existed). Or they just dismissed it as a thing of the past after hearing about the 90 degree wall thing. I remember being a newbie on MSN (there was a free beta test period prior to Windows 95's official release) and hearing "ROTT SUCKS!" about forty times a day. If you asked them why, they would say "BECAUSE DOOM RULES!" or something. I wrote a sad little ROTT cheat file on MSN (just codes I ripped off a few BBS's), so if you have a ROTT cheat file buried on your hard drive written by some lamer named TOG_MAN (Hey, it was my Dad's account), you own my first piece of online writing. :)
But for those people that ignored the 90 degree walls...and had access to a LAN...quickly realized ROTT's appeal. ROTT was (and still is?) quite possibly the best deathmatch game of all time.
The story behind ROTT's Engine is quite interesting. While doing research for this article, it seemed to me that the ROTT Engine was built from scratch. However, Ritual's Mark Dochtermann gave me the full story (warning: slightly techie):
The ROTT engine initially started out as the Wolf3D engine. The Wolf3D engine was a REAL mode engine rather than a PROTECTED mode engine like Doom. My first task was to rewrite the engine so that it was a PROTECTED mode engine. Once this was done, ROTT could take advantage of linear memory and access to high memory without using EMS or XMS (remember those?) Wolf3D also generated all the code necessary in memory to scale a 64 high textured line from 1 pixel to the maximum scaled size which was about 300-400. This took up a bit of memory, and while it was an amazing innovation for 286's (it allowed WOLF3D to be as fast as it was) it didn't make a lot of sense for the 486. I took that stuff out and then had to convert the renderer from 286 assembly to protected mode assembly. John Carmack gave me a little piece of code which turned out to be the assembly inner loop for Doom. ROTT, it turns out uses the same scaling routines as found in Doom (who would have thought). Apogee also signed a deal with id that would allow us to put floor and ceiling code in ROTT. Once this was done the game really took on a whole new look.
The conversion from REAL mode to PROTECTED mode required a complete rewrite of almost every subsystem in Wolf3D which in the end made the ROTT engine VERY different from the Wolf3D engine. One of the subsystems which had to be re-written was the sound system. That is where Jim Dose came in. He wrote an amazing sound system outside of Apogee/3D Realms that would later be used in all of Apogee's products. Once he was near completion he was brought on to the ROTT team and helped finish up the game (he created RANDROTT among other things).
After the initial hard stuff was completed the ROTT engine turned more and more into a bastard child as features were added like room over room and transparency which were clearly never intended for an engine like ROTT's. The finished product is by no means an engineering marvel but had a certain charm to it.
Here are some of the things that are in the ROTT engine:
Multi level orthogonally based levels. Room over room (sort of). Transparency. Textured Floors and Ceilings. Dynamic Lighting. FLIC support (although we never had any in the game). CINEMATIC engine (also never used. The ending sequence is scripted but doesn't utilize the cool shit developed before hand). 11 player network support. Masked Walls (Textures with holes in them). Moving Walls. Stairs (sort of).
ROTT had many features later picked up by the BUILD engine: Bullet hole marks in walls, destroyable objects (Tables, lights, you know stuff like that), breakable glass, thumbnail pictures in the saved games, and adjustable, password-protected violence settings. It was the first "clone" that a had look up \ look down ability.
The engine could handle pretty big levels too: up to sixteen stories high and an area of one million sq. feet.
ROTT also had things the BUILD games didn't have like parallaxing skies, fog, boulders, real lights that illuminate walls (that you can shoot to make the room get darker), ricocheting bullets, touchplates, and gas grates. They were nasty little buggers that pumped a room full of gas (almost as bad as being in Taco Bell on your lunch hour). If you didn't have a gas mask, you were toast. It also had a 180 turn key (great for keyboarders).
ROTT was the first game that let you fall off ledges and die. If you weren't careful jumping around you could fly off the edge of a cliff. And of course, there where the famous jumpads. They where like mini-trampolines that hurtled you 5 stories in the air. Once in the air you could maneuver yourself around and do all sorts of weird stuff. Aerial battles often got pretty crazy. Jump pads were used to jump over obstacles, walls, other players, to get weapons and items… they're all over (and yes, enemies could use them).
"One of my levels in Extreme ROTT was based on this." Joe Siegler adds. "It's called 'The Hoppe Hop'. The gag was a really tall level with a ton of jumppads everywhere and a bunch of enemies. The first room of the level was quite silly with a whole mess of jump pads and enemies going all over them. The idea with that level was that you had to run and jump and use the jumppads to get to specific places."
It also had strange death sequences. When you fell off cliffs, were shot, exploded, burned up, etc. the camera would change. It would zoom in, show a third-person view of you blowing up, etc. There also was a "Missile-Cam" that let you see exactly what the missile saw (usually a ton of gibs).
|ROTT also had things called GAD's (Gravitational Anomaly Disks). They were gray disks that float at a certain height. Using GAD's you could actually create some primitive 3D things, like levels above levels. There where also EGADs (Elevator GADs) that rose and sank and TGADs (Train GADs) that move along a path. "Yes, it was the first 3D action game to have levels above levels." Tom Hall says. " Ultima Underworld did, but it wasn't an action game."||
Standing on top of GAD's looking at GAD's and TGAD'S and EGAD's. Oh my!
||"Gads were a pain in the butt to program." Joe Siegler says. "Each one you see had to have it's height set in hex in TED. For making really long stairwells, it was annoying, since you had to tell the editor "OK, I want on here, and I want it this high". To make a working stairwell, you had to have them so far apart from each other. It was very easy to screw up. Tom Hall had this piece of paper he made which had the coordinates for a working stairwell. It stayed taped to his monitor all during development, and even when he started working on Prey. When Tom left to go start up Ion Storm, he gave that paper to me where it stays to this day. I suppose that means I became the keeper of ROTT at Apogee? :) (Just kidding Tom, but I did have that feeling when you gave that to me)."|
ROTT's engine also had some primitive 3D features like being able to jump on top of objects and enemies (with Doom, you couldn't do that). If you jumped on top of an enemy (except for bosses), they'd die if you stood on 'em for more than one second. This went for other players too so you could crush them in Deathmatches. There were a few particular places (Like "The Corpseyard") where this was easy to do. The game had a "Oh yeah, you've been crushed" text remark that came up when someone did this to you.
Another strange thing that came with ROTT was an infinite random level generator (RANDROTT). That's right… computer made levels. Actually, there wasn't an infinite amount…there was "only" 2,147,483,648 (2 billion, 146 million, 483 thousand, 648) random level sequences. I thought this was the only game to ever have this, but Joe Siegler pointed out that FormGen's two add on level packs for Wolf3D: Spear of Destiny (Just think of it as Ultimate Wolfenstein) included a random level generator with the CD version. That was the first known random level generator (for 3D action games) that I know of. Apogee also sold an addon for Wolf3D called "Wolf 3D Super Upgrades", which had a random level generator for Wolf3D, but that came out after ROTT.
The add-on pack, Extreme ROTT added other things like like moving walkways to ride on, Ballistitowers (fires dozens of missiles at you at once) Oscurovators (teleporters), Climbing GADs, Impossiboulders, FireRisers and tons of other stuff with weird names.
Joe Siegler also believes ROTT was the first game with Non-Linear Level Progression: "It's nowhere near as pronounced as it was in Hexen, but in Extreme ROTT (not the original ROTT), if you got to the first level of Episode 2 (called High Road Low Road), you were presented with a choice. There were two exits on this level. One took you to Episode 2 Level 2, and the other took you to like Episode 2 Level 5. Because of the way the game was constructed, the boss level had to be a specific number (I think Level 9 on Episode 2). The bosses had special game coding such that you had to use them on the level number they were originally designed for, or the game would crash - hence the problem (crashing) in my original "Vomitorium" level. Anyway, Tom took the player through a different way to get to the end of Episode 2 there. Depending on which exit you took in E2L1, you'd get a different set of levels taking you to Episode 2 boss level. Again, it's nowhere near as pronounced as it was in Hexen, but if my memory serves, Rise of the Triad was the first game such as this not to progress in Level 1,2,3,4,5 order 100% of the time."
The Plot & Cast
|The plot to ROTT (yes that rhymes and yes, there was actually a plot) goes something like this: You are a member of the HUNT, the top secret High-risk United Nations Task Force, sent on extremely covert operations to possible trouble spots outside the three-mile boundary waters of member countries. You are on a routine reconnaissance mission on San Nicolas Island, located in the Pacific twenty miles west of Los Angeles. Your team is investigating possible cult activity in an old monastery, when suddenly troops pour out of nowhere! In the distance your boat explodes. Just before your radio cuts to static, you hear desperate newsmen describing the systematic destruction of Los Angeles. An escaped prisoner informs you that a pyrotechnics expert and a rich studio head have joined forces with the Oscurido cult. Their plan: kill millions of innocent people for the glory of their master, El Oscuro. Having no other escape route, the HUNT heads into the monastery, taking the only course of action left: stop the Oscuridos or die trying.||
Your Friendly Neighborhood Task Force
Ironically, El Oscuro was played by Tom Hall, so that cult leader thing wasn't really much of a stretch. Just ask any of his employees over at Ion Storm. :)
One interesting thing about ROTT was that it was the first game to have different characters to play…and they all had different voices (only like death, grunt sounds…they didn't talk like Duke) and abilities.
There where five available characters in the registered version (Descriptions taken from the ROTT FAQ):
Taradino Cassatt: Cassatt is Mr.Average. That's why he's in the shareware episode. He has average life, average speed, and average weapons accuracy. If nothing special is called for, Cassatt's a good choice. Voiced By: Joe Selinske
Thi Barrett: She's pretty average, too. She's a female average character, in case you don't like Cassatt or you prefer a female character. She's a little faster than Cassatt. Voiced By: Susan Singer (Artist)
Doug Wendt: This guy is a tank. He's pretty slow, and only has average weapons accuracy, but, man, he can take tons of damage. Lots o' hit points here. Voiced By: Lee Jackson (Music Guy)
Lorelei Ni: Not many hit points. Fast. Extremely good weapons accuracy. Not for beginners. Voiced By: Pau Suet Ying (a waitress at a Chinese Restaurant frequented by Apogee's staff)
Ian Paul Freeley (Yes, his initials are I.P. Freeley): Freeley is a player who is provided for a happy medium between players like Cassatt or Barrett and Wendt. He's got more hit points than Cassatt or Barrett, but he's slower. On the other hand, he doesn't have as many hit points as Wendt, but he's faster. Voiced By: Jim Dose
And yes, it made a difference in deathmatch who you played as. I personally played as Freeley most of the time. I guess I shouldn't go around telling people that though. :)
"Some of the level traps were designed so you could only get by them with certain players." Joe Siegler adds. "I know, I did a few of my traps that way. You had to be using either Loreli (fastest) and \ or be using someone except Doug Wendt and be using a mouse maneuver to get to something."
Tom Hall points out, "It was also the first 3D action game to have the ability to play as women or people of color." Actually, I don't think minorities were \ won't be represented again until Lo Wang in Shadow Warrior and Superfly Johnson in Diakatana.
||Oh.. did I mention ROTT was violent as hell? It was the first game to get an RSAC rating of 4 (That's as high as you can go) with wanton and gratuitous violence…and yes, this was a selling point. Once you blew up somebody, their head (well…what was left of it) might hurtle towards you, their eyeballs might fall in front of your face, their blood might linger in the air or stick on the walls for a few minutes. If that's not enough, there was even an EKG (Engine Killing Gibs) mode (accessible via a cheat code) that caused violence that would even make Itchy and Scratchy say "Ewww… that's sick!".|
For people who had access to a big LAN, ROTT was a dream come true. Screw the 4 player limit Doom had… ROTT had 11!!!! Back then, this was an INSANE amount. There was another game that supported this many players before ROTT, and that was the god-awful Corridor 7. It supported 12 players, but as Tom Hall pointed out "You could run right through other players." Not good.
Remember: Back then LAN's were not as common as they are now. I had a LAN at home back then… and that was a big thing. Now, it's pretty common.
ROTT had nine different multiplayer modes. In ROTT, DM was called "Comm-Bat". Some modes had to be played in teams, others couldn't, some could have multiple teams, some couldn't.
Normal Mode - Just regular DM
Score Mode - Regular DM, only you get points for more difficult kills. For example you get 1 point for killing an enemy with a missile weapon on the ground, 2 points for killing an enemy with a bullet weapon on the ground, 2 points for killing an enemy with a missile in the air, 3 points for killing an enemy with a bullet in the air and 4 points for crushing someone or stomping on their head. That's right, you could kill people by jumping on them. Nothin' sweeter than launching yourself with a jump pad 75 feet and landing on top of a camper and squishing him :) (Actually, I think there's an option in QW that does this now).
Collector Mode - Try to collect more "Triads" (little triangle symbols 3D rendered by Chuck Jones) than your opponent(s)... without using any weapons.
Scavenger Mode - Like collector, only with weapons.
Hunter Mode - Kind of like "Kill the Guy with the Ball" except you hunt down the guy without the weapons. Then after awhile, somebody else becomes the prey and the prey becomes a hunter. In team mode, your entire team is either hunter or prey and whoever with the most points wins.
Tag Mode - One guy is "it", you run up to him and tag him with your hand and the guys who's "it" gets a point. Once you tag him, you become "it". The person with the least points wins.
Eluder Mode - You chase roving "Eluders" (Triads kinda) and you have to tag them. Then you get a point. The person with the most points at the end game wins.
Deluder Mode - like Eluder, except that you need to destroy the roving "Eluders" instead of tagging them.
And finally, and probably surprising to some people, Capture the Triad. Yup. Just like Capture the Flag. People where CTFin' (Well.. CTTin' I guess) in "3D" games years ago. It didn't have a grappling hook though, just jump pads :).
Then you could get into it even more and adjust a ton of other options: gravity, speed, ammo per weapon, hit points, spawn dangers (like boulders, spinning blades, fire and stuff), spawn health (no health), spawn weapons (no missile weapons), spawn mines, other respawn options, repawn items, weapon persistence (controls weapon system), random weapons, friendly fire modes for teams, light levels, fog levels, lightning & thunder levels, pulsating lights, point goals, danger damage, time limits… in other words, it's pretty damn customizable and there's TONS of options. You can pretty much play a whole different way every time you play. You notice one thing that's missing? That's right: Cooperative. Kind of surprising considering this was a "team" game….
ROTT supported a whole slew of uniform colors (like Quake, except you could only change your shirt color) with even... <gasp>... olive! ROTT also had a Quake-like Client \ Server networking scheme. It even had listen and dedicated type modes (except "listen" didn't give an advantage to the server). It also had a timer so you could calculate respawns as well as check the time left on games with a time limit.
Remember the Quake Hype article? Remember how microphone support (where you could scream your own insults at people through the game in near real-time) was planned for Quake? Fargo's recent Teamplay article also made mention of this. Yeah, so? Well, ROTT had it way back then. If you held down F12 and had a microphone (or better yet, a headset) you could scream at the guy across the office. To this day, ROTT is the only "3D" game to have this (with the exception of Marathon maybe?). It was also the first game to use remote ridicule, later used in Duke and all the other BUILD games.
"More precisely, that Microphone thing only worked in the final revision of the game (v1.3), and it was for network play only." Precise Joe Siegler says. "Another company made a product called "Echophones" that worked with our Duke3D game, so the idea did live on, but not natively with us. This was a lot of fun, actually, insulting other people live during Comm-Bat play."
One interesting idea ROTT tried out was a site license. For $89.95 you got a signed site license agreement for 11 copies, 10 more Comm-bat zones, and eleven command cards. Not a bad deal considering that was the cost of two games.
Multiplay wasn't perfect, however. ROTT had a few compatibility problems with versions 1.1 and 1.2, but they were eventually ironed out. There also where many versions of Rise of the Triad available (contributing to the compatibility problems). There was no Dwango support (Hey, that was popular back then) and a lot of fixes and patches.
Want to know the most annoying thing of all? This Remote Ridicule sound. People would hold the button down and play this over and over again just to annoy the #$*(@$ out of you. Play it a few times and you'll see what I mean. :)
Part II - Weapons of Mass Destruction