Templates of Doom!

Tavis Ormandy

$Id: a07cf90837a3c4373b82d6724b97593810766af7 $


In the late 1980s there was - believe it or not - a popular monthly magazine dedicated to spreadsheets. It had a respectable eight year run, along with two companion books.

Lotus Magazines
Lotus Magazines

The entire back catalog is on archive.org, although most issues were scanned from microfiche so there’s no color.

I’m interested in Lotus 1-2-3 history, so I’ve been slowly reading through back issues. It’s actually great, there are some really approachable articles on linear regression, forecasting, calculating bond yields, etc… mixed in with some retro computing news!

There’s also advice, tips, reviews, reader questions, and so on.

Why 1-2-3?

I’m sometimes asked what it is I find appealing about Lotus 1-2-3. It’s from an era where there was an expectation that “powerful” software would be designed around keystroke macros. I think I just really appreciate that.

The moment that Vim first “clicked” for me is when I wrote my first macro. I suddenly understood why there is this huge selection of commands, and why that is so powerful.

In vim you can record a keystroke macro to a register called x with qx, then run it with @x. In 1-2-3 you can write a keystroke macro to a range called \x, and run it with Alt-x. Not so different!


I was reading the December 1987 issue and read this review of “Templates of Doom”, a game written in Lotus macros! Hilarious, a real commercially released game you could actually buy for $69.95! Of course, I had to try it.

Templates of Doom
Templates of Doom

As far as I can tell, the full game has not been archived anywhere, but I was able to find a demo version from an old shareware archive. It seems to work okay in the UNIX version of 1-2-3.

I contacted the original author and asked him if he still had any old copies. He did, he had some old 5.25" disks but didn’t have any hardware to read them.

Well, I happen to know an expert in 5.25" disks, and with his help I was able to get a disk image!


The package I got in the mail looked like this, but there was this page to stuck to the front that was peeling off.

Cover Peeling
Cover Peeling

The glue had deterioated after 30 years, but there was clearly something underneath…it was loose anyway, so I removed it revealing different cover art.

Secret Artwork Normal Artwork

It turns out that in December 1988 Lucasfilm sued the author over similarities to “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, and the author had to change the cover art to appease Lucas’s lawyers!


So how does the game work! It’s a set of 24 puzzles that encourage you to learn how to use 1-2-3 features through problem solving.

You’re timed when you start each puzzle, and scored based on how long it took you to solve and how many hints you needed.

It has a boss key (Alt+B) and a hint system (Alt+H). When you’ve solved the puzzle, you hit Alt+A and choose the right answer - if you win it takes you to the score screen.

If you want to see me solve one of the puzzles, there’s a video here.


If you want to play this yourself…


You don’t have to, but the game assumes you’re using 80x25 (the standard DOS resolution). Some cells you’re not supposed to see will be visible if you don’t change your terminal to match that.

Now just follow the prompts!


I’ve uploaded a disk image and a scan of the manual to archive.org.