Impressions: Dungeons

By Alec Meer on February 2nd, 2011 at 2:30 pm.

So I guess I’ve written that this is a Dungeon Keeper clone in a whole bunch of places over the last few months.

Whoops.

Quite clearly, Dungeons is so heavily inspired by my beloved monster management sim as to essentially be wearing an “I Heart DK” cap and matching t-shirt at all times. But instead of slavishly recreating it, what it’s done is take the concept and apply whole new mechanics. That, in itself, is remarkable. Why don’t more game tributes/remakes/sequels do that? All of the fan lure, less of the cynicism, more self-pride in the act of creation. Dungeons does this while still remaining a Dungeon Keeper game – as opposed to (oh dear) XCOM reducing concepts to abstracts and thus pissing off a whole mess of people, regardless of how good it might turn out to be. Dungeons is still building and strategy in a beast-filled fantasy underworld, but it’s the other side of the mirror.

Creatures aren’t attracted and raised, so much as bought and installed – camping out in key locations like respawning turrets. There’s a tower defence undertone to Dungeons, which is essentially all about allocating resources as efficiently as possible. Put your good stuff here, place diversions and blockades there. Monsters aren’t directly controllable for the most part, and are designed to be regularly-murdered fodder.

The difference from both Dungeon Keeper and tower defence tradition is that the invaders (‘Heroes’) are not fodder. They’re your key resource. They’ll enter your dungeon at regular intervals from fixed gates, and your task boils down to directing them around your lair, ensuring they encounter very specific obstacles and temptations. Killing a hero is useless; you have to satisfy them first, because only then will they release the ‘soul energy’ resource that’s absolutely vital to blingifying your underkingdom.

Some heroes want gold. Some heroes want to cram their heads with knowledge from your library. Some heroes want to get the living shit kicked out of them by monsters. Weak-minded fools, the lot of ‘em, but you need to cater for all manner of freaks.

I’m only about six levels in so far, and to be honest it can get quite tough at times. It’s exceptionally clever once you get past the oft-cumbersome interface, but it’s also incredibly exacting as the threat level rises. I’ve not been able to indulge myself by creating the dungeon I want to create, but instead must create a near-mathematical trap network. It’s not square peg/square hole, but a break in the supply chain can lead to devastation. Again, it’s that tower defence construct- the invaders gradually increasing in strength and numbers, and if you haven’t spent your money wisely they’ll breakthrough your major chokepoints to lay waste to the exposed base/Dungeon Heart beyond. My Pet Dungeon this really isn’t.

What you’re juggling, at all times, is Prestige (earned by decorating your dungeon with incidental items such as chairs made of bone and creepy candlesticks), the aforementioned Soul Energy, and good old Gold. This latter’s obtained in the age-old DK fashion of sending imps mining, though it’s obtained a little more ambiently and tends to be the least essential resource. With this trio of stats, you buy spells, upgrades, rooms, and portals – the monster-spawning turrets. All of these work in tandem to lure heroes around the place in a manner of your strategising, and to then dispatch these heroes at the right moment. It’s meticulously thought out, but man oh man it’s hard work at times.

I’m impressed by its depth and complexity on an intellectual level, but so far it’s not entirely worked on an emotional level – I’m uncharmed by the listlessly fussy character design, I don’t feel attached to the sprawling lairs I’ve made and I definitely don’t like the poorly-translated humour. I’d almost rather Dungeons was pulled away from its pantomime-dark Dungeon Keeperiness and put into something more like a bright, 2D tower defence game that pushes its clever mechanics front and centre instead of subsuming them into this strange tribute.

But I shall push on, because I know full well greater layers of complexity, of monsters and heroes and spells and rooms await me. For now, I will carefully suggest you should take a look at what’s a hugely ambitious and oh-so-PC game, not make the mistake I did – writing it off as some cheap rip-off. Granted, they haven’t exactly gone out their way to discourage people from presuming that, so discovering just how profoundly different it is a satisfying surprise.

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50 Comments »

  1. Jajusha says:

    Theres a german demo around i think, still no word on english demo.

    • JFS says:

      C’mon, I’m German and speak English, so logic dictates the opposite must be true as well, right? Right? … oh.

    • Highstorm says:

      Nein.

    • JFS says:

      Oh god, Highstorm, do you want to kill us all? Everyone knows logic is not a thing to toy and make jokes with! The loop you’ve just created might well spell armageddon!

    • Persus-9 says:

      @ JFS: Well I’m from Wales but I don’t speak Welsh so by similar logic I guess you can’t speak German. Sorry dude, I guess you’ll have to wait for the English demo like me.

  2. amandachen says:

    Oh, thanks Alec. I’d heard bad things about this, but maybe you’ve convinced me to try it.

  3. Jsnuk says:

    most interesting, any word on how good the random map mode is?

  4. Artist says:

    Tower defense? “You think what you play”, eh? If he would have said Dungeon Keeper meets Theme Park I would agree, but maybe the writer thinks the atractions in theme park act like towers in tower defense games, too.. Maybe not that wrong, slightly alienating, but not wrong. I guess its just more “in” to compare to the recent booming tower defense games…

  5. CMaster says:

    “Killing a hero is useless; you have to satisfy them first, because only then will they release the ‘soul energy’ resource that’s absolutely vital to blingifying your underkingdom.” The way you describe the gameplay makes it sound a lot like this flash game – a slightly dissapointing game in which you build a dungeon carefully that the heroes can defeat. Also ever so slightly like that dungeoneers game.

    • Artist says:

      You let the heroes soak up with soul energy by making them enjoy your dungeon – then you kill them and squeeze the soul energy out of them in the ….dungeon… eh, prisons

    • Fraser Allison says:

      Role-playing the level designer. Interesting!

      Indie developers: more games that are secretly (or openly) about game design. This is a fun thing!

    • Hoaxfish says:

      I was thinking that same idea sounded very much like Beautiful Escape

  6. Artist says:

    Oh, and btw, imo the “luring heroes around in your dungeon” doesnt really work. It should somehow be related to the prestige objects but its too sublime to really notice.
    Its really more a shallow but entertaining Theme Dungeon.

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s a documentation problem. Heroes are seeking to fulfill only one of their desires at any one time, so if you only have the one library next to your dungeon heart and they’re trying to fulfill the knowledge desire they’ll wander almost straight to the library and ignore anything else. The campaign screws you over with it somewhat due to the placement of gates and usually pre-made rooms outside of your heart chamber. Once they fulfil a desire they won’t want to fulfil it again for some time, and it’s then that they will start following the prestige items and generally exploring.

      Also the DKII similarity is likely putting people off. Rather than building a single big library or armoury as effective as you can you want to focus on little and often. Small 2×2 or 3×3 rooms interspersed between the gates and your centre work better than having a couple of larger rooms. It’s still worth having a large, maximum efficiency room of each type near the centre so they can top up, but you need to be careful to ensure you can easily reach them if they do max out their satisfaction, otherwise they’re likely to run off with all the loot.

      The key is really little and often. Let them satisfy all of their needs to a small extent when they arrive and then you can use the placement of lights and similar to draw them closer to the centre. Ideally, you want them to be 90% satisfied or so when they get there for maximum soul energy. It also helps with their tolerance; generally speaking the more times they fulfil a need, even if not fully, the less inclined they are to complain. So it’s often better to use the smaller gold piles and cheaper interaction objects further out and gradually increase them as they close in.

    • Artist says:

      @Archonsod, I think that was the way how the devs initially thought about that but the problem is that you can easily solve/play the game by simply putting each of the needed rooms (gold/fight/armory/books) next to each other, bait the heroes with a bit money to them, let them soak up soul energy and slay them.
      Imo their desires are not difficile enough to demand a more complex setup. And thats the point where the gameplay is lacking and doesnt get over “average” (but funny) timewaster.
      Common nice idea of RealmForge, but wonky execution as in MudTV before.

    • Archonsod says:

      If all you want to do is “solve” the game you can simply stack all your monsters outside one gate, open it and then sit back and let them tear apart anyone coming through the gate. You don’t even need a prison, you’ll get a steady trickle of soul energy from each one that falls, and since they’ll never get through the horde you can do without any rooms whatsoever. Nowhere near as much fun as watching a party of adventurers try and negotiate a trapped corridor to get to the treasure room at the end though.

  7. trjp says:

    The “yohoho and a bottle of rum” community have had this for a couple of weeks now and it seems quite popular – but it’s also quite demanding on PC hardware (needs a decent dual core, decent GPU and 2GB+ of RAM so most laptops can forget it) if the number of “can you help me upgrade my PC” requests I’ve had are anything to go by…

    Still, warms me up for Crysis 2 arriving – I’ll wear-out my screwdrivers on that bastard…

    • Jajusha says:

      rum drinkers don’t have acess to 1.1 patch, that supposedly makes the game more stable and enjoyable, so, let them cry.

  8. James G says:

    I’d seen some comments earlier that had picked up on the differences, but had assumed it was a case of missing the point of dungeon keeper, rather than dressing up a novel game in a dungeon keeper costume. Its good to here that actually they do have a consistent and novel game design.

    Does sound like it might be worth a gander.

  9. Zephro says:

    Interesting reference to XCOM. I’ve found the tributes to that have either veered dangerously off course or dedicated themselves to slavishly recreating UFO Enemy Unknown and ignoring all the work done in real time pausable combat over the years.

    • sneetch says:

      I got the feeling he was referring to the official upcoming XCOM FPS game rather than the (relatively few XCOM fan-remakes, anyone know a really good XCOM-a-like btw?)

    • Martha Stuart says:

      There is a new X-com game in the works right now that should be badass. It’s called Xenonauts.
      Its not out yet but they are working on it, and i should be out this year. as a raging X-com fan im excited about this one cause they are trying to stay true to the orignal but also adding in a few new features like a basic cover system and a new interceptor mini-game. here is the link.

      http://www.xenonauts.com/

    • jalf says:

      First, it’s clearly a reference to the new official XCOM game. The old ones were called X-COM, not XCOM, and Alec knows that.

      Second, wtf is it with Xenonauts? Sure, I’m hopeful they’ll make a good X-Com clone out of it too, but why is everyone so utterly convinced that Xenonauts will be our holy savior?

      Last I checked, the game basically consisted of a few concept art images and an obvious *intention* to make a faithful X-Com-alike.
      But why should we believe it’ll be more successful than the last 3+ games that tried this? Apparently everyone else knows something about it that I don’t..

      Finally, the reference to X-Com while mentioning games that don’t just faithfully “remake”, but add their own twists to it, I think the UFO: After____ series were a great example of that.

      Sure, the first game frankly just sucked, but both Aftershock and Afterlight were really good games in their own right, *because* they dared to their own thing, rather than just delivering a straight remake. I think they generally get too little credit for that.

    • Jolly Teaparty says:

      I thought the whole new UFO series sucked and just want to see someone reproduce the original game with as little deviation as possible. It’s a strange want, because I can boot up Enemy Unknown any time, but I just love it so much I want more of the same with modern graphics, maybe a new research tree, more equipment, different aliens, that sort of thing. I know I’m not alone in this.

  10. Butler says:

    I can’t help but wish they’d just wholesale ripped off the Dungeon Keeper model and just brought it into the 21st century. New levels, traps, monsters & heroes; I’d love it.

    Why? Because no one ever has, despite the game’s genius. And it makes me sad.

    • Gravy says:

      This. I played the game, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed at the new gameplay concepts, after knocking around a few levels i turned it off and deleted it sharpish. You can say give them credit for taking an old game and adding the new gameplay but its gimmicky and more importantly not fun.

      About a month ago i went through the pains of installing and playing the original and the addon with dosbox, despite the faf i played through the game and the addon completely with aged graphics it still holds it weight, if only they could bring this brilliant game back into the 21 century indeed…. No ‘Pristige’ objects, no soul energy – no bollocks.

    • gunnar says:

      I’m with you on this. I’ve played the demo, and alas it did not scratch my DK-itch… I really loved those games, both of them.

    • Archonsod says:

      I preferred Startopia. Or Evil Genius come to that. DK got too repetitive.

    • Collic says:

      Evil Genius could have been great if it wasn’t for two huge design flaws.

      Firstly, with only two islands, and no ability to undo your excavations, you were forced to spend ages on island one if you wanted to unlock all rooms and plan your base exactly how you wanted from the start.
      Secondly, there was no ability to speed up time, which meant you spent very long periods waiting for your minions to do their thing on the world map.

      With a more dungeon keeper like level structure, and a faster pace (preferably one you could influence), it could have been a truly great reincarnation of Dungeon Keeper.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      No need to remake Startopia, though. It still looks good!

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Startopia remains one of my favourite games (doesn’t hurt that it’s stuffed full of Douglas Adam’s style humour, cute little robots, and the bio-deck’s tweakability)

  11. Ocid says:

    Looking good from what you say Alec.

    Pre-ordered it from Zavvi when it was £15 who knows when i’ll get it but for that price couldn’t help it.

  12. Pijama says:

    Looks interesting, definitely.

    By the way, if a DK3 comes out in the next millennia, it HAS TO implement levels. Stairs people, Dwarf Fortress does it.

  13. Brumisator says:

    From Alec’s impression, it reminds me of the base defence part of Evil Genius.

  14. matty_gibbon says:

    “blingifying your underkingdom”

    Sounds like some kind of gangstar gusset

  15. Alez says:

    Obviously i’m a dungeon keeper fan so obviously i was disappointed.

    But that’s not all, the game is actually boring even without it being a rip-off.
    Ignoring that DK even existed, this game still is boring. Since DK does exist, we can compare and realize where it goes wrong.

    The one good thing this thing has for it is that it made me try Evil Genius and i love it. If only the gameplay from Evil Genius could have some dirty unprotected sex with the graphics from Dungens…what a kick ass thing would come out of it.

    • TheTingler says:

      Yes, anyone pining for Dungeon Keeper 3 who hasn’t played Evil Genius should do so. Different setting, same idea. Gets bloody difficult from the second island though, which is annoying as that’s got all the cool stuff.

      And incidentally, was made by an ex-Bullfrog and ex-Lionhead team.

  16. Matzerath says:

    Developers seem terribly confused about what people want from an update/tribute to an old favorite game. Basically, it’s this:

    UPDATE the older game’s graphics/GUI while keeping the mechanics that made the game beloved in the first place. If you can’t do that, then don’t associate your new game with an older one just to get sales, you greedy bastards.

    • Severian says:

      I don’t necessarily agree with this. Take Tropico 3. When I first heard it was coming out, I felt like you – as long as they update the graphics and keep the same gameplay, I’ll be happy (since I loved the original so much). But now having played T3, I’m disappointed at the lack of innovation. It really is *just* a tribute. I got bored of it much faster than I had expected.

    • alseT says:

      The thing that ruined Tropico 3 for me were the awful awful construction workers. And the devs didn’t even aknowledge the problem saying they were working as intended. I’m very disappointed this wasn’t more like DK and I’m waiting patiently for a true fan remake or even a faithful DK3.

  17. Jakkar says:

    I’ll look into this with light optimism but no concrete expectations. Thankye for the thoughts =)

    As stated above, even DK2 fell flat before the majesty of Startopia. The notion of the Mucky Foot crew every gathering again in sufficient concentration to produce another like that, though.. Ridiculous. Sigh.

  18. Veracity says:

    Why don’t more tributes/remakes/sequels do that?

    Maybe in part because unofficial remakes, spiritual sequels or whatever they’re supposed to be get soundly slapped around for differing in any way from the hallowed object they’re referencing. Happened a bit with the UFO trilogy, I think, not that I’m sure they were particularly good. Bioshock got it from System Shock 2 fans. I probably did it to Arx Fatalis.

    Trying to riff off an old game with no acknowledged successor seems enough of a lose-lose proposition I’m surprised it happens as often as it does. Hard to believe a succession of developers are naive enough to think they’re going to strike it rich that way, so it’s probably usually motivated by genuine enthusiasm to recapture those old experiences, however it turns out in many cases.

  19. Navagon says:

    Well this leaves me a bit nonplussed to be honest. On one hand there’s the fact that there’s an inventive game under there in a familiar and thus appealing setting. On the other hand there’s the fact that you’re saying it’s not exactly enchanting. Part of the appeal of Dungeon Keeper was the unrivalled narration, the mood setting music and sound effects and how everything seemed to gel together so well.

    • Collic says:

      Yeah, what made DK special wasn’t just the gameplay, it exudes charm from every foul smelling orifice. To be fair though, getting that perfectly pitched ridiculous, malevolent evil right is a very difficult thing to do, and few manage it, not just in the realm of vidya games.

      I’ll still try this out, but I doubt it will rock my world (especially since I recently played through DungeonKeeperFX and it was just as good as I remembered).

  20. F33bs says:

    In other words, it’s nothing like Dungeon Keeper.

  21. frags says:

    But, but but I liked the way you recruited monsters in DK. It made them feel precious. I know this isn’t DK. It did sound a bit odd. The whole satisfy heroes and kill them. It’s Hero theme park/murder house. lol wut

  22. Witrim says:

    Yeah this game is nothing like DK. Was really dissapointed considering their main selling point have been “Look we made a DK game” and then it turned out to be a shitty farmville/TD clone where you farm heroes and put out decorations all over the place. The decorations are especially ridiculous at the earlier lvls coz the max they are worth is really low and you still need several hundreds of prestige so you end up filling whole corridors with the same one(smallest but still got max value). The digging through walls was also really stupid. A normal wall gives 1g and there can only be one goblin/imp digging at one wall piece and when he cuts the wall down he must either run to you or the heart which wastes so much time.