There’s only one reason why I have faith in Peter Molyneux, despite his aggressive attempts to shake me off entirely. The revolutionary Project Ego became the crushingly limited Fable. Which begat Fable 2. Which begat Fable 3. Which begat a Fable Kinect game. (Do you see the downward progression here?) Aside from the incredibly pleasant The Movies, Peter has simply stopped making games I want to play. But I keep trucking on, hoping to relive the glory days. Why? Dungeon Keeper.
Bullfrog games of this era had cool CD load screens like this. Y’know, games on CD? Ha! How weird!
Have you ever played a role-playing game? Ever been the armored hero that carved their way through vile dungeons so you can plunder the riches? Well, flip that on its head. Imagine you are the evil lord in charge of crafting the dungeons that trap, maim, and otherwise obliterate those goody two-shoes interlopers. I guess it didn’t seem like much of a surprise that my roommates totally didn’t get what this game was. Dungeon Keeper released in 1997, toward the tail end of the PC strategy game renaissance. Also, y’know, it was a PC game. It’s also a real-time strategy game that’s unlike its contemporaries: WarCraft and Command & Conquer. Dungeon Keeper is easily one of the most original strategy games I’ve ever played and as much as I love Rise of Nations, you can see that game’s roots clear through. This is a totally different beast. Like those games though, it offers a linear, twenty mission campaign that has you going from ‘burb to ‘burb (your advisor briefs you on how tarty each region is) turning them into horrible pools of mess.
When you arrive on the scene, you’re given a dungeon heart, access to some gold out there, and a foreign landscape of dirt that you need to carve right through. To take out another player, you need to take their heart out, which rings like glass as your minions strike it. The game is 3D, but many aspects are detailed sprites, making this one of the better-looking 3D games before hardware acceleration arrived. The mix of imps and other creatures running around mixed with the crazy lighting that forms around your disembodied hand/cursor and a cool sea of particle effects makes this a charming game to look at. The sequel, released two years later as hardware acceleration was becoming mandatory, looked worse. Ironically.
Dungeon Keeper with Dungeon Heart
Dungeon Keeper 2 – GAH! What a hoary mess!
Anyway, your workforce is a group of summon-able imps that go around carving out the earth, harvesting your gold, and fortifying your dungeon’s walls to prevent punks from caving into your spaces. Maps are grid-based, so you tag squares to make them “gold” to lure the imps. Be wary about your usage, however: terrain mined away can’t be replaced. I know at least one mission forces you to build your entire dungeon in an open space, but use walls to your advantage: namely, the ability to lock away rooms with doors.
Laying down a bunch of gold for my first rooms
Setting out the path, with actual gold under the cursor that’ll bankroll my operations…
…and they carve away! Notice the imp and the puffy red clouds is converting raw floor to usable dungeon space behind the tunnelers.
This is mining from the perspective of an imp. Exciting, ja?
To get creatures to roll into your dungeon, you not only need to claim a Portal, but you need to throw down a lair (for them to set up shop), a hatchery (fast food = raw, clucking chickens), and a treasure room, among other spaces. These creatures, from spiders to morbidly obese bile demons all have a pay day and you best make sure it gets met or there’s gonna be a fight. Also, be sure to expand your rooms as your dungeon gets bigger or nothing’s gonna get done. Confusingly, the game is more than happy to expose its guts about requirements for different creatures (a Bile Demon, for example, needs a 5×5 hatchery and a 5×5 lair to exist), but does little to explain why certain creatures won’t appear even after you’ve built the dungeon to spec. Also, the pathfinding alternates between decent and rubbish. When building a treasure room closer to a chunk of gold, imps proceeded past it at full pace to dump their digs at my more distant, alternate location.
Oh, c’mon! You just got paid! I swear, if you guys unionize…
Need more trainin’ space!…
That’s some progress!
Unlike other real-time strategy games, you don’t directly control your minions. Sure, if you place a batch of demon spawn in a training room, they’re gonna huff and puff and level up, but they’re going to operate on their own, otherwise. Actually, I take that back, there’s a cool spell that lets you inhabit a single creature, and with the addition of the barracks, even lets you lead an army against your foes. Again, more visual effects with convex lenses and even compound eyes really bring you into the dungeon.
Treasure Through Compound Eye
No, the sprite-based critters didn’t look any better in 1997