Dungeon of Regret

By Alec Meer on September 24th, 2007 at 11:42 am.

Not too long ago, a selection of Britain’s best games writers and I gathered in someone’s front room to eat pizza-pie, play a lot of Peggle and come up with an informed if quasi-arbitrary list of the best 100 PC titles of all time. There were several games whose sole voice of nomination in the room was my own nasal insistence, all of which I’ll be shouting about on RPS over time.

UFO: Enemy Unknown (the first X-COM game) was one, and reminding folk of it saw it argued into the top ten, pleasingly.

Aliens Versus Predator was another, but no chorus joined me on that. If I’d have known then quite how well-loved it still is, I would have Phillybustered it far higher.

My third, and least supported, cause celebre was… Aha. You’ll have to click below to find out, won’t you? Well, clearly the tags below reveal exactly what it is, but pretend you’re suprised, eh?

It was Dungeon Keeper. It’s one I know is thought of with some contempt by a number of my peers, presumably because it’s a) superficially another Theme game ii) it was made by Bullfrog, Peter Molyneux’s ex-studio, during the very peak of their owned-by-EA whoredom. I don’t bother arguing with them anymore; it won’t achieve anything, and I’m happy to simply carry a largely private torch for it. It’s just too long ago, its creators now either elsewhere and thinking up new ways to promise the impossible then not deliver it, or tragically collapsed before their star had a chance to shine. So, there’s really no point in making it a Beyond Good & Evil situation, where passive campaigning could still increase sales of the game and thus odds of its ideas being taken further.

Christ, I’m babbling all over the shop. Sorry, it’s Monday, there’s no milk in the house, the shops are a 20 minute jaunt away and I just can’t stand my coffee black. Anyway, I shall write at length about Dungeon Keeper itself at some point in the future, but what I really wanted to talk about here was Dungeon Keeper 3.

Kieron’s splendid Deadly Shadows retrospective attracted a whole bunch of comments discussing how both Thief and Deus Ex spawned sequels that didn’t tickle their respective fanbases in all the right places, and thus caused the apparent end of their respective lineages. (Yes, I know there’s a mooted second Deus Ex sequel now, but it’s a different developer and will probably be obsessed with guns. Also, if you think I’m going to willingly say ‘threequel’ at any point other than right there, leave now). This reminded me of the Dungeon Keeper that never was, and the game I’m forever hoping I’ll see quietly appear in some publisher’s release schedule. If it did, I would immediately IM everyone I know with my favourite emoticon, which is this: \o/

Dungeon Keeper II, while fun and successfully serving its purpose at the time – Dungeon Keeper but in proper 3D and with a slicker interface – was not the sequel it should have been. Don’t even get me started on how the Warlock screams weren’t right. The really interesting bit, though, was right at the end of the singleplayer game. You’d beaten all the lords of the land, so no challenges to your subterranean supremacy remained. A cutscene played, depicting big red antihero Horny emerging, blinking, into the above-ground sunglight. A world of heroes awaits. Coming Soon. Dungeon Keeper 3.

Dungeon Keeper 3! And I’d only just finished Dungeon Keeper 2! Woo! Now this was something to get excited about. It promised a move to the surface, where the now slightly tired mechanic of digging tunnels and small rooms underground couldn’t possibly work, so must be reinvented. It was a chance to make new jokes about macho Evil and pansy Good, not to just repeat the same ones but shinier. I was excited, yes I was.

But DK2 didn’t sell well, and the cold, lizard eyes of EA turned to easier money. Dungeon Keeper 3, pre-production having started in November 1999, died in March 2000.

Later, we discovered DK3 was to bear the subtitle War for the Overworld. The hints were there, really. Researching this sad tale of the one who got away, I stumbled across a fascinating piece from last year that had somehow managed to pass me by. It’s a short discussion by DK3′s lead designer, Ernest W. Adams, about what the game would have been like.

A major change we had in mind was to add a new race, and to let you play any of the three: Heroes, Dungeon-Dwellers, or the third race, the Elders. The Dungeon-Dwellers we expected to be very similar to the familiar ones from the earlier games. Their castle would look black and evil, and all the land around it would start to decay and become vile. The Heroes we decided to make very clean and organized – their castles would be white stone and beautiful, and the landscape under their control very orderly and neat, rather like Switzerland. The new race, the Elders, would have represented the spirit of wilderness, neither good nor evil, just wild and untamed. Their castle would have looked very organic, formed of trees and hills, and the land all overgrown with forests and vines. One item on the task list was to devise equivalent creatures to the Horned Reaper for each of these other races.
- Ernest W. Adams

Honestly? I’m now rather glad it never escaped the EA dungeons. Adams claims DK3 would have been an RTS. While he admittedly says the ways to blend this more conventional approach with Dungeon Keeperisms hadn’t been established by the time the game was cancelled, what I read there has me fearing it would have been an ordinary game, one lapsing into over-safe territory and that would have spread backwards like a boring stain to taint the original games. I didn’t and don’t need it to be an RTS. DK, and to a lesser extent, DKII, was the last great gasp of management game in my book, and I felt it still had places it could take this oft-mocked formula, places that no-one has bothered with in the near-decade since the second game.

I could be wrong. There’s every chance DK3: the RTS could have been a triumph. I’m happy to think it wouldn’t have been – it kills the yearning for it, and lets me appreciate my prized still-in-shrinkwrap copy of the first Dungeon Keeper, which I miraculously discovered in a secondhand shop a few years back, all the more. Still though, if ‘Dungeon Keeper 3′ flickered onto an RSS feed or two tomorrow, what would I do? Why, \o/, of course.

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23 Comments »

  1. Martin Coxall says:

    Um. That didn’t come out how I expected it.

  2. Martin Coxall says:

    I used a clever aside, but genericised it in angle brackets. The comment system stripped it out. Now you’ll just have to imagine what I really said, and know that it’s one piece of erudite, whimsical banter that has fallen into the a black hole of the Internet the size of Lowestoft never to return.

  3. FringeRock says:

    We have just re-installed AvP in our office and fired up the old beauty. There’s nothing like playing out the battle between the three different species. 1 x Alien (Me), 1 x Predator & 2 Marines.

    Dark. Brutal. Fast. Havoc…. oh and Ace!

  4. Ben Hazell says:

    I actually dug DK out and replayed the whole thing about a year ago (and the Deeper Dungeons). Easier than I remembered, but still just as funny. The characterisation was Spot On. Nobody does intro movies that good anymore. It was great because of how you built your forces; attracting them and training them, rather than just building and upgrading. The pressure curve was perfect and you could never get cocky.
    Torturing the ultimate hero until he joined my cause, then setting him against his reincarnated self is one of my favourite gaming memories.
    I don’t suposed anyone feels like remaking it in Flash or something for my lunchbreaks?

  5. Aquarion says:

    I would probably defend Overlord as the closest we’ll ever get to a sequel to the Dungeon Keeper games

  6. Tim says:

    Ooo I loved dungeon keeper!

  7. faceometer says:

    DK and DK2 are both very high on my “bestest games evor” list. Has ANYONE on RPS played the neverhood? Cos, you know.

  8. drunkymonkey says:

    I bought Dungeon Keeper 2 a few months ago in a second hand store for 2 quid. I haven’t played it that much, but it was definitely my sorta game. Heroes battling bravely in dungeons against insurmountable odds.

    But WoW is where I get that sort of enjoyment out of.

  9. Thiefsie says:

    Don’t forget about Evil Genius, probably the newest take on a management game with tongue in cheek references. Think Austin powers spy stuff, a la NOLF and you’ll get it.

    Wasn’t as good as DK of course, but it close enough to be enjoyed if you think DK is one of the best games of all time lik eI doo…. ahh the memories

  10. Jim Rossignol says:

    Evil Genius was a fun time, but I seem to remember there were some nasty bugs in the later game.

  11. KieronOnPentadact'sComputer says:

    And what about Startopia, eh?

    KG

  12. Alec Meer says:

    Evil Genius didn’t bring anything particularly new to the post-DK table, which is why I didn’t mention it. I’m not saying it wasn’t a fun piece of game, of course, but it was an unashamed – and understandable – attempt at commerciality on Elixir’s part.
    My sweeping statement not encompassing Startopia was a silly oversight, I’ll admit.

  13. Richard says:

    All of those games missed something core for me. I never felt particularly evil in Dungeon Keeper, mostly due to usually being up against other evil Keepers instead of the original evil vs. good concept (I still miss the original premise…). Startopia didn’t have enough comedy in the main game, once you’d finished the training missions.

    Good characterisation in both games, mind. I especially liked the narrator in DK – fun fact, he was just the dev who did a temporary voiceover while they were making it.

    As for Evil Genius, gah! I wanted to take over the world, not build a base where world conquest could take place. Where were my X-Com missions, dammit?

  14. Yargh says:

    Add a vote here for Evil Genius 2 to include sneaky Xcom-like (not necessarily turn based) missions to the base design part.

  15. MisterBritish says:

    An evil genius/x-com hybrid? I’d buy that right now.

  16. F'yth says:

    I love startopia and DK1 & 2!

    I wish they didn’t throw out the dragon in DK 2 though. DK 2 also had some serious stability issues. Also, when you play the game using catalyst’s anti-aliasing it’s graphics are still eyes-friendly.

  17. Arathain says:

    The DK voice guy was a dev? That’s amazing. I think that’s some of the most characterful narration in games. He has such a great voice for it.

    I’m not that great at finishing games, but the forst DK held me to the end. A delightful blend of order and chaos, and full of character, with some really clever design.

    “Smileville. A land plagued only by aching facial muscles, and not anthrax as we had hoped.”

  18. faceometer says:

    “The people of happytown worship the common rabbit”

  19. bob_arctor says:

    Dk1 had the details. A full refracting set of eyes for the insects, not just stupid getting-in-the-way black lines over the view. The dogs saw black and white. The dragon saw in… red?

    Anyhow, DK1 was amazing. DK3 sounds like it would have been aweful.

    Evil Genius was good, but the balance was all wrong. The heroes were rubbish, in that they were too good. I altered all their stats to 1. The fact they escaped all the traps was daft, the fun of DK1 was killing the heroes!

  20. Skrib says:

    i’m still playing DK
    and i still ove it
    sad but true

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