Death Test


Death Test is a 2d space shooter version of the old Unix game Rogue.  Rogue is a turned based, text dungeon crawl that had randomized levels and ended only when you died.  There was no victory, just a treasure score.   I played Rogue for hours in the computer lab and always wondered what it would be like if it was a space game rather than a D&D styled dungeon / adventure.   In order to keep Death Test simple I fixed the number of rooms and had only one exit per room.   This made it much more like the The Fantasy Trip's Death Test and hence the name.   There is more information in the inspiration section below regarding the different games that were pulled together in Death Test's design.  At this time the game is not polished, consider it an experiment.  See below for more info.  If you play it, let me know, but most of all have fun.  Send comments to

Its an Experiment
I experimented with several concepts which I list below with comments on what I learned.   However, I could have easily made a mess of things since a good game requires good coding and design - and I was both coder and designer.  Its entirely possible that these concepts could have been better experimented with in more skilled hands.  This is what I learned:
  • Turned based "action" games are hard to make successful.   Playing a turned based game which is also a shooter / scroller can be confusing.  Turn based seems to work better when you have heros with swords and mosters with clubs that combat each other in adjacent spaces.   Death Test feels like an arcade shooter and the turn based peice makes it a bit confusing.  Also, test players were often squinting to try to make sense of where to place their shots along an invisible grid.  This flaw was not fatal,  the players I tested with defintely were interested in  continuing to the finish and kept replaying.  However, turn based is not elegant in the space-shooter context.  Think what would happen if you made the popular arcade games like 1941 or Bezerk turn based.  Rescue at Rigel works because it is so simple and focuses on dungeon crawl aspect.  Death Test focuses more on the shooter aspect and thus feels like it should be an arcade game.  Also back in the day when Rescue at Rigel was made players were more tollerant of turn based games - it was just geeks playing computers games back in the mid 70s.
  • Multiplayer turned based "action" game is really hard to make successful.  Making a co-op turned based games is really difficult because one player is always waiting for another player to finish his / her actions points.   In the game a player can take a certain number of actions per turn.  For example a player starts with 3 action points and can use them to move or shoot in any combination.  The problem is that in a turn based multiplayer setting one player is always waiting for the other player to complete his actions before the play can move on to the robots turn.  One solution is to combine action points into a pool.  But if you do that then the play becomes distorted because one player can have double the amount of actions in a turn and that breaks the design.   For example a room is designed for a hero to have 4 or 5 actions per turn.  If you combine total actions with two players that means in the same room one player could have 10 actions and that makes the originally designed room much easier.   
  • Chaos (non-turn based) mode worked.   The game was more fun in "chaos mode" where the turn based limitation was removed.   This obviously made it less strategic, but just more fun.  Unfortunately this feature was bolted onto the game at the end so it didn't play as smoothly.  Death Test was designed and coded to be a turned based game and thus the game play is hardly smooth when the turned based element is turned off.
  • Head to head is always best.  The funnest version of the game was head to head combat in "chaos mode".  You can also play head to   This is where two players attack eachother to the death without the turn-based limit.  This makes the game basically an arcade game - I suppose that is where my heart is.
The Two Coolest Things About Death Test
There are two things that I like most about the game design and implementation.  The first is the neon green look to the game. I just like that color and I am very happy with the control panel and game look.  The second thing is the fact that the robots get dumber as you do more damage to them.   There are basically 5 levels of intellegence.  Robots start out at their highest possible (some robots are just stupid from the start and some are really smart). But as you hit them, they get dumber.  If they turn blue that means they are insane and will just go crazy.   I found this the funnest bit to develop and see mature as I programmed the game.

 Rogue / Hack    Rescue at Rigel    Death Test    Dungeon Of Death


Rogue is a turned based dungeon crawl using very basic text graphics that was originally designed to be played on a terminal.  You can play a browser based Java version it here (will not work in Chrome).  Even better, you can play a real unix version at, more info here.  You will have to SSH into their server and register - Username: rodney, Password: yendor, Server:  On the MAC terminal the command would be 'ssh' and enter password when prompted.  On a Windows machines you would download Putty and enter the Username, Password and Server in the right boxes. Rescue at Reguel is similar Death Test in that it is a turn based space dungeon crawl where you try to rescue 10 prisoners in "real time" - you have 60 minutes.  Death Test graphics were also inspired the graphics by Rescue at Reguel (see the robot above).  To play Rescue at Regal you will need a an Apple 2 emulator and Rescue at Regal disk images.  The Fantasy Trip published series called Death Test, the game's namesake.  Was a basic room to room dungeon crawl (no corridors , just rooms which tested the characters abilities.  It was signed to be a solo adventure, though it was most fun played with two players.  In order to play this game you will have to find a copy on eBay or vendor who sells old games. The main inspiration for the Death Test was a game on the Commodore Pet game which I am unable to find, nor do I know the original name. However it was similar to the Dungeon of Death.   You can download the tape image and Pet emulator online.
Screen Shots




Step 1: Installing GamePads
Best place to buy the gamepads is on Ebay.   This Ebay search should return the best units available.  
The gamepads look like this (or something similar)
If you buy the boxed "in store version" of Death Test it will come with gamepads.
You will have to connect all the gamepads (if you are playing 2 player you will need two of them) before you start game.
To connect, just attached to the USB port.  
OSX 10.7 (Mountain Lion) and Windows 7 (Vista) have built in support for most common gamepads.

Step 2: Installing Fonts
Font DS-Digital Download (Works for both OSX and Windows)

Step 3: Installing Java JRE 1.7
Step 4: Installing Death Test
Death Test is programmed in Java so it will work on any platform that supports JRE 1.7.
Death Test OSX Package (Includes Death Test, Fonts, and JRE 1.7 for OSX).
Death Test Windows Package (Includes Death Test, Fonts, and JRE 1.7 for Windows).
Death Test Platform Agnostic Package  (Only includes Death Test, you have to download the fonts and JRE 1.7 for your platform).

Other Downloads
Art work for box cardboard cutout (incase you want to build the boxed version of the game), jewel CD casing and stickers.
Book and Instructions
Greeting cards