Catacomb 3-D

Catacomb 3-D

A high-fantasy first-person shooter based on the Catacomb duology of action games from id co-founder John Carmack. It is a precursor to id's Wolfenstein 3D.


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Catacomb 3-D (also known as Catacomb 3-D: A New Dimension, later known as Catacomb 3-D: The Descent and Catacombs 3) is a high-fantasy first-person shooter developed by id Software and published by Softdisk Publishing in the November 1991 issue of the disk magazine Gamer's Edge, with a separate retail release in 1992.

The third game in the Catacomb series of high-fantasy action games from id co-founder John Carmack, Catacomb 3-D brings the series into a first-person perspective. Much of the gameplay remains the same as its predecessors, with players searching for the exit portal while casting fireballs and collecting keys and other items.

Players resume control of Petton Everhail (sometimes misnamed Pelton), the Grand High Wizard of Thoria (sometimes misnamed Theria), as he ventures into the Keep of the lich Grelminar to destroy his dark legions and rescue Nemesis, Walker of the Spectral Paths. Later releases switches the names of Grelminar and Nemesis, with the lich returning in some of Softdisk's later games.

The game was one of few that id developed for Softdisk due to contractual obligations from the fact that they, comprised of former Softdisk employees, used Softdisk's resources to develop Commander Keen in Invasion of the Vorticons. It is notable for being a precursor to their breakthrough first-person shooter Wolfenstein 3-D, building on the raytracing engine previously used for Hovertank with texture-mapped walls. Its source code was later released under the GNU GPLv2 license, and can be found here.

The game later received a sequel trilogy from Softdisk's in-house staff. Known as the Catacomb 3-D Adventures, this trilogy builds on Catacomb 3-D with an assortment of new levels and enemies, as well as new graphical effects and a new user interface. The first game in that trilogy, The Catacomb Abyss, is the series' sole shareware title. The game was also included in the 2013 modern compilation Catacombs Pack by Catacomb Games.


In Catacomb 3-D, players guide Petton through Grelminar's Keep to rescue the entombed Nemesis. Each level, other than the final one, has Petton searching for an exit portal while defeating enemies and opening doors using different-colored keys he collects.

Petton's main form of combat is casting fireballs from his hand, which can be used to both damage enemies and destroy secret walls. While players can rapid-fire the Fire button to rapidly cast fireballs, the button can also be held down for a short time to cast a larger fireball that deals triple damage. In addition, Petton has two special limited-use spells at their disposal:

  • Bolts ("B" on the keyboard) allow Petton to cast 10 larger fireballs in quick succession, useful against tankier enemies and lines of smaller enemies.
  • Nukes ("N" on the keyboard) allow Petton to cast a large fireball in sixteen directions around him, useful when he is surrounded by smaller enemies.

Petton has only a limited number of Bolts and Nukes, which can only be found with pick-up items. In addition, Petton can find limited-use healing potions, which allow him to fully restore his health (either "H" or Space on the keyboard). Other pick-up items include treasure chests (which give bonus points, 100 pts. × current level) and scrolls (which give hints and other lore).

As it uses a similar control panel to Commander Keen in Goodbye Galaxy!, the game includes a bonus mini-game (the Pong clone Skull 'n' Bones, with the ball being a skull and the paddles resembling a bone).

Enemies & Obstacles

Along the way, Petton will encounter numerous enemies to defend himself against. The game includes three difficulties (Easy, Normal, and Hard), with harder difficulties adding more enemies per level.

  • Orcs (3 HP, 100 pts.) - One of the weakest, and most common, enemies found throughout the game. They can be felled with a single charged fireball, have the slowest movement speed, and deal light damage with melee swings.
  • Trolls (10 HP, 400 pts.) - Commonly found in later levels, trolls are faster and tougher than their orc counterparts. Their melee attacks also hit twice as hard.
  • Bats (1 HP, 100 pts.) - Found in levels 14 & 15. These agile creatures try to swarm around Petton, rather than chase in a straight line.
  • Mages (5 HP, 600 pts.) - Found in levels 17 & 18. Rather than melee attacks, mages cast fireballs from longer ranges at Petton. The game's final boss, Grelminar (known in later releases as Nemesis), is a unique mage with 100 HP. Although he gives 10,000 pts. when defeated, Grelminar can be skipped entirely to complete the game.
  • Demons (50 HP, 1000 pts.) - Found in levels 19 & 20. The strongest enemy in the game, these hulkish creatures are much tougher to eliminate, requiring lengthy barrages of fireballs. Their melee attacks also deal a substantial amount of damage, quadruple the amount of normal enemy attacks.

In addition, Petton will encounter fireballs that bounce between walls. These fireballs cannot be destroyed and deal a significant amount of damage on contact, over double the amount of normal enemy attacks.


The game includes 20 total levels, much of which can be skipped, due to secret exit portals, or played in any order, due to the game's hub level. It is possible to complete the game by playing through eight levels.

Later releases change the names Grelminar's Keep and Grelminar's Lair to Nemesis's Keep and Nemesis's Lair.

First Stage

The game starts with a linear set of seven starting levels:

  • 1. The Approach
  • 2. Grelminar's Keep
  • 3. Ground Floor
  • 4. Second Floor
  • 5. Third Floor
  • 6. Tower One
  • 7. Tower Two

Completing level 7 leads the player directly to the game's hub level. Level 8 is reserved for the game's first secret level (8. Secret Halls), which is reached through a secret exit in level 3 and leads the player directly to the hub level (skipping levels 4-7). Optionally, players can skip levels 2-8 entirely through a secret exit in the first level.

Second Stage

The game then proceeds to the hub level (9. Access Floor), which include four exit gates leading to one or more levels:

  • The Gate of Stone leads to 10. The Dungeon, followed by 11. Lower Dungeon.
  • The Gate of Slime leads to 12. Catacomb, followed by 13. Lower Reaches.
  • The Gate of Horror leads to 14. The Warrens. Optionally, players can access the game's second secret level, 15. Hidden Caverns. These levels are the only levels which has Bats as enemies.
  • The Gate of Tar leads to 16. The Fens of Insanity.

All four of these gates normally lead back to the hub level, and players can visit them in any order, and re-visit levels at any time (allowing for high score manipulation).

The objective of these levels is to use hints from scrolls to find a way to reach a certain secret exit leading to level 17. Knowing this beforehand allows players to skip a majority of these levels.

Final Stage

The game then proceeds to a linear set of four levels, two of which only have Mages as enemies and two of which only have Demons as enemies:

  • 17. Chaos Corridors
  • 18. The Labyrinth
  • 19. Halls of Blood
  • 20. Grelminar's Lair

Level 19 includes various booby-trapped portals that lead the player back to level 9. One of the scrolls hints to the correct portal that leads to level 20.