Wednesday, 5 September 2012


Apparently these days it takes four years for id Software to ship a game. Here's one that probably took about four weeks.

Catacomb for DOS, one of the original works of a youthful John Carmack, back in the days before BSP trees and megatextures. It has pink walls.

So I know what you're thinking - "Squirrel, how can I live in this world without a Gauntlet-inspired top-down action game for the IBM PC?!". It's a distressing thought, but fear not, for Catacomb exists. Programmed by John Carmack and designed by Tom Hall, Catacomb is a Softdisk classic that nobody remembers nor cares for. You play as some bloke in a pink top shooting fireballs at red monsters - what could be better?

Originally released for the Apple II in 1989 before seeing Apple IIGS and DOS ports, it's quite possible to convince the impressionable few that Catacomb founded the first person shooter genre that rules the roost today. Certainly it is a basis for Catacomb 3-D which I covered many moons ago, and if you pretend nothing else exists, that makes Catacomb one of the most inspirational titles of its generation.

Okay, so there's nothing in Catacomb to revolutionise the gaming world, but that doesn't make it any less entertaining. You traverse across a map finding keys, opening doors and moving on to new areas, and along the way you'll be shooting at monsters for points. Like the aforementioned Catacomb 3-D you also spend an abnormally long time firing at walls to uncover hidden areas (or in many cases ways to progress through the stage), and there are various magical powers at your disposal should you need to use them. You can also charge your shots for greater damage and the game is extremely unforgiving and brutal at times.

Catacomb isn't the longest and most enriching game ever built by man, but is nonetheless interesting as many of its design elements would go on to influence early first person shooters. Wolfenstein 3D and Doom are direct descendants of this one, with the only major difference being perspective. Catacomb has a distinctive old-school id Software look and feel, and though the style of play isn't for everyone, it's certainly one worth checking out if you're into this era of gaming like I am.

Catacomb's Apple IIGS port is likely the superior of the three versions, but there's a catch - nobody gives a damn about Apple IIGS software preservation, and I've had no luck finding it online. As a release bundled with the various flavours of the Softdisk magazine, all versions of Catacomb had a very short production run and were almost entirely ignored by the gaming public, and while this is rather sad considering the history the game would spawn, we can at least be thankful that the DOS version has been re-released since.

Still, you'll have to put up with 16-colour EGA graphics and the obnoxious PC speaker here, so the Apple IIGS version is the bigger deal, but hey, regardless of platform I'd say Catacomb is worth playing. I am saddened that it's taken me this long to play it.

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