You Could Be Playing Dungeon Master Right Now

By John Walker on March 29th, 2012 at 7:00 pm.

I always saw the bodies top-right as some kind of weird logo.

With Legend Of Grimrock coming up soon, my thoughts turned back to the original Dungeon Master. Released in 1987, a year I mostly spent aged 9, it was for me one of the most defining games of my childhood. Smart, enormous, and terrifying, it was such a stride forward for gaming. But I was pretty certain getting it working on a Windows 7 box was going to be something of a fiddly nightmare. Not so!

Browsing through the comments below my article on Grimrock, I noticed something from the unimprovably named ‘Swabbleflange’. There is a version that just works, without an emulator, and it’s free. It’s right here.

I’m not quite sure what the deal is with the copyrights here. Developers FTL no longer exist, although publishers Interplay still sort of carry on in some form. And this is, in some peculiar form, almost an original work. A madman by the name of Paul Stevens spent six months, eight hours a day, writing 120,000 lines of what he calls “pseudo-assembly language” to rebuild it in C++. And then released the game and source code for free. Can he do that? I’ve decided that yes, he can, which legitimises my promoting it to you.

If you’re wondering why someone would be mad enough to do that for a game that was actually released on PC, it’s because peculiarly, its first sequel, Chaos Strikes Back, never was. And thus the necessity for such an astonishing amount of labour. Which means both are available. Although if my 11 year old self is anything to go by, it was impossibly difficult.

I don’t think there’s any game that immediately evokes memories of a period of my life as vividly as Dungeon Master. I’ve written before about the terror of watching my dad’s hand shake as he fought the dragon, but this is the first time I’ve actually played the game since, and goodness me, just the opening screen seems to open the door to a loft of young emotions and experiences.

The first corridor makes me shiver, immediately sent back to my parents’ kitchen, two refits ago, my dad’s Atari ST on the recently fitted surface near the door (such that you’d always hit the TV it was plugged into if you opened it too quickly).

And then I met a group of mummies and instantly died. And my dad’s on the other side of the country, so can’t get me past that bit.

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66 Comments »

  1. eaprivacypolicy says:

    These games are almost as punishing as EA’s Privacy Policy.

  2. Cooper says:

    With those massive buttons…

    Someone needs to port this over to one of those new fancy fandangled i-touchemy things…

    • jon_hill987 says:

      Or better still, a proper tablet that knows capital letters go at the start of a noun.

      • Grygus says:

        To be fair, that only applies to proper nouns. If the ipad is improper, then there is no problem.

    • applecado says:

      I would pay good money for that.

    • ZephyrSB says:

      Undercroft comes pretty damn close. But I’d still kill for DM to get on there.

  3. superflat says:

    One of my all time favourites, of all time.

  4. Shockeh says:

    Totally with you on this one John. The amount of time I spent, trial and error combining the ‘runes’ for magic, hoping this one combinaton will save me. What a game.

    Of course, this immediately then makes me pine for Eye of the Beholder III, where I’d rediscover this type of game again, 5 years later.

  5. LionsPhil says:

    Oh, this one! This is the one with the things on the ST that I remember!

    Mostly I remember party members dying a lot and then carrying their BONES around for no particularly evident reason at the time.

    Also, “reimplement in C++” is what OpenTTD is. And for that matter, ScummVM, more or less.

  6. Tuor says:

    There are various ways to get past the mummies, but the easiest is probably: run like hell. Just plain outrun them. Another way is to learn fireball and nail them with that. Importantly: you need to learn how to maintain distance and how to move tactically. Later on, you will only be able to survive if you can do these things.

    Fireball and acid cloud are very useful, as is light. You’ll also get various protection spells as well as the ability to create potions. Also, keep in mind that your skills improve as you use them. Just *casting* spells works, even if you don’t hit anything.

    There’s one room early on in the game, the Shrieker Room, which has a few groups of shriekers in it. Kill them, leave the room and move a certain distance away, and you’ll hear the portcullus into the room rattle down. Go back, and there are more Shriekers! You can use this room to level up all your squad members so that they don’t get crushed deeper down. Plus, it’s a good place to stock up on food (Shrieker Slices) and water (there’s a fountain nearby).

  7. Swabbleflange says:

    After all these years it remains my favourite game. I replay it and Chaos Strikes Back (via those remakes) at least once every year. I just think it’s perfect, designed so ingeniously and presented so purely that it simply doesn’t age.

    Edit: The article credits the work to Christophe Fontanel, but he’s actually the curator of the DM Encyclopedia itself. Paul Stevens is responsible for this particular remake/reconstruction.

  8. dark_savant says:

    There has been another DM emulator for many years. Works like a charm

    http://www.ragingmole.com/RTC/

    You can even play dungeon master 2 with it

  9. morningoil says:

    Sound the keening bell / See it’s painted red / Christophe Fontanel / The feathers in the thread

    I like it when games people almost sound like Decemberists lyrics.

    Happens ALL the time, too.

  10. stele says:

    I played DM on the Amiga in 1989. One of my fondest gaming memories is with this game, when I first had the crazy idea to trap a shrieker in a doorway and push the door button. The door banged down for a bit and killed it! We laughed like crazy.

  11. Bioluminescence says:

    Ah, that door. I remember discovering the ‘see through walls’ spell and walking all the way back to the start of the game to see through the door you start at, and you can see your master (mentioned in the intro sequence) on the other side! Lovely little easter egg, that.

    • Arona Daal says:

      Actually hes there for the alternate Ending ,if you did not pay attention and just returned with the magic MacGuffin to the Surface.

      • Sarkhan Lol says:

        That is so damn cool. I played this game repeatedly over a period of decades, and never knew about this.

  12. Was Neurotic says:

    Amiga DMer here. This was the first game that made me feel genuine emotions other than just ‘Hooray!’ or ‘Bah!’. On each new level of the dungeon, I would try to find a room with a gate or a door that I would use as my ‘safe room’. Even if a mummy tried to open the gate, I could block them and let their stupid heads be crushed by the gate trying to close again. Ha!

    DM was a game about survival, it was about surviving with only what you could find whilst playing, which was pretty paltry most of the time. It made you really value having a proper sword. Christ, DM was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

    • The Tupper says:

      Another Amiga DM’er here in agreement. Indeed, it was this game that, a few years later, made me realise that I’d have to get a PC. It was (and continues to be) the platform for smart thrills.

  13. Fumarole says:

    Weird logo eh? When I first played this back in the 80s I thought that the four characters were all facing left, holding their swords above their heads like they were a group of angry dwarves.

    And why is the blonde named Brian?

  14. Demiath says:

    Ah, good ol’ Swabbleflange, a true gentleman and a scholar if there ever was one…

  15. AdamK117 says:

    Played this loads on the amiga when I was a kid, I think I spent like 99% of the time in one of the taverns trying to make a “god i hope this wins the game” potion ;)

  16. Gwynor says:

    I played Dungeon Master on the Amiga, a timeless masterpiece. I preordered Legend of Grimrock at day one just because the trailers, description, and screen layout are very similar.

    So different from recent RPGs. Now you find a chest behind every tree, full of potions, weapons and stuff. In DM, to find a mace with a different graphics was an event that made every discovery special, a feat to be remembered.

    The writings on the walls were more frightening than the gallons of pixel shaded blood of nowadays. I remember a mummy, surrounded by pits, and an engraving nearby, “LET HIM SUFFER”. It gives me shivers even today.

    Great expectations for LoG.

  17. squidlarkin says:

    So uh, how do I use this VI ALTAR OF REBIRTH?

    • Tuor says:

      When one of your party members dies, it leaves a pile of bones (including all their stuff). Take that pile of bones and put it on the altar. Blammo! Your party member is resurrected!

  18. dogsolitude_uk says:

    Being relatively late to the whole RPG thing, I didn’t really ‘get’ the original version back when I had it on my Atari ST, and only really took to RPGs in general once a couple of folks (friend and g/f) explained to me how they work (you know, stats and stuff).

    Since then I’ve got it working on DOSBox easily enough, and love it to pieces :)

    • ffordesoon says:

      LIAR! GIRLS DON’T PLAY VIDEO GAMES!

      *goes back to reading a Susan Arendt column about video games*

  19. yabonn says:

    I remember being stuck for more than a week on “When is rock, not rock”, finding the solution in a magazine, going back to test walls.

    I remember dreaming about the floaty eyes.

    I remember ZoKathRa and FulIr, and that goddamn ST 3 1/2 floppy reader.

  20. Berzee says:

    “my dad’s on the other side of the country, so can’t get me past that bit”

    What a peculiarly poignant-yet-jokey conclusion! Magnificent =)

  21. Lykurgos says:

    I never played Dungeon Master, but did play Eye of the Beholder aged around 11-13. It did genuinely scare me. The footsteps of the mummies, oh my god!

  22. Kefren says:

    One of my favourite Amiga games. Every time my party died, I STARTED A NEW GAME with new characters. I ticked off the dead ones from a hand-written list. I mapped on graph paper. I completed it. I bought a book of Amiga tips just for the section on Dungeon Master (I still have that book on my shelf). I still play the game. Two weeks ago I completed Dungeon Master (RTC version); tried Chaos Strikes Back but couldn’t get into it; then completed Dungeon Master 2, which I had never played before. Beautiful music. RTC provides a huge amount of pleasure, many thanks to the clever person who did all that conversion work.

  23. menderslan says:

    This article and its abrupt ending made me smile endlessly.

  24. RyuRanX says:

    I’m playing Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos as a warm up for Legend of Grimrock. I’m at Castle Cimmeria Level 2 looking for the missing figures so I can finish the game.

  25. Keneb says:

    I remember when I first played it as a kid I only really leveled up my Magic skills (I think I actually had 4 Master Wizards) because I was too scared to get close to the monsters.

    Then I got to the level with THOSE knights… you know, the ones that are pretty much immune to magic.

    And those little buggers that steal your stuff…

    I did play it on a DOSbox thing a couple of years ago – it’s one of the few old games of my youth I can play again and find that it really does live up to the memory.

    And yeah, Chaos Strikes Back was insanely hard. I got a little coin with the chaos face on it with my copy though, so that’s ok.

  26. Torn says:

    Right, so I’m playing it and I have a few questions that no amount of googling seems to answer:

    - Why, when I attack with certain characters, am I getting a ‘can’t reach’ message? I’m pressed as far against the enemy as I can be

    - Do I have to draw my own maps

    • Torn says:

      Replying to my own comment as I can’t find an edit button:

      - Where do I get water from? I’ve found a fountain and tried to use a water skin on it but no dice

      - How can I tell what weapons do more damage (or are better) than others? Is there such a thing or is it all in my characters strength + whatever motion (swing, chop, etc) the enemy is weak to>

    • Chris D says:

      -Is that character in the back row with a melee weapon?

      -Depends what your sense of direction is like.

      Edit: Edit button is in the bottom left corner of your comment.

      It’s been too long for me to be much help with the other two but using the water bottle on the fountain seems about right, drag and drop maybe?

    • John Walker says:

      Characters at the back can’t reach because they’re at the back! They need ranged/missile weapons.

      Yes, you do have to draw your own maps! I recommend buying a pad of squared paper, or printing some of your own: http://www.papersnake.com/squared_paper/

      You should be able to click a water skin on a fountain. The first one you’ll find is already full, so just click it on the characters’ mouths – it’ll go shrivelled when it’s empty. (And the water skin.)

      I’ve completely forgotten. But! http://dmweb.free.fr/?q=node/412

    • Kefren says:

      - ‘can’t reach’ message: you can swap the party members’ positions round with the gadget in the top right. So you can shift the back row to the front when the front line is wounded, if you want.

      - “Do I have to draw my own maps”: or just find them online and print them out. Drawing is more fun – discovering new secret passages then feels like a real achievement.

      - “Where do I get water from” – answered already. An empty flask or potion bottle on a fountain, then drink it (put it against character lips on their inventory screen).

      - “How can I tell what weapons do more damage (or are better) than others? Is there such a thing or is it all in my characters strength + whatever motion (swing, chop, etc) the enemy is weak to”
      Don’t worry about it, just experiment. You soon realise that lower attacks that unlock as you go up levels do more damage. When you equip new items check the character stats for any changes. Generally you can complete DM with most weapons and armour, so I always equip based on the character’s personality. “That sword may be better, but I will use a mace… AND MY AXE.”

  27. Saiko Kila says:

    I still prefer playing DM (as well as Chaos Strikes Back and DM2) using Amiga emulator than dosbox or similar methods, but maybe I’ll look into this release. Also, DM is a game for which I got maps with annotations many years ago, from a friendly Hungarian. I didn’t know the language, but still these notes helped me immensely.

  28. The V Man says:

    Sadly I was a few years too young, and didn’t have a PC when Dungeon Master came about, so I missed it entirely. I did however enjoy Stonekeep when it came out a few years later. I played it for hours on end, finding all the secrets, tricks and ways to cheat the system. It was my Dungeon Master.

  29. Walsh says:

    What can you equip on your eyeballs and mouth?

    • Swabbleflange says:

      The eye is for examining items (just weight detail), the mouth is for eating and drinking. You have food and water bars that deplete as time goes on. Being hungry, thirsty or both impacts your stamina, and when you run out of stamina you start to lose health.

      I remember the first time I played it, stuck down in the lower levels, out of food and water and keeping my party alive by making stamina and health potions while trying to fight Chaos Knights.

  30. sebmojo says:

    I’m surprised Wizardry hasn’t come by to correct your mistaken assertion that this is an RPG.

    Matter of time though.

    Matter.

    of.

    time.

    • hello_mr.Trout says:

      what is wizardry’s definition of an rpg though?

    • Wizardry says:

      Well, it’s a reasonably good game, but it’s extremely simple and the best strategy is to make all your characters good at everything. There’s not really much to it. Combat is exceptionally simplistic, the interest of the magic system is unrelated to the character system, and movement patterns are key to success. In other words, nothing that stands out in Dungeon Master has anything to do with RPG mechanics.

      I swear the reason it was a massive success was its use of sound, graphics and icon based interface. If Dungeon Master came out with wire-frame dungeon graphics and a text inventory then this whole article wouldn’t even exist.

      Having said that, the dungeon design is excellent. It’s even better in Chaos Strikes Back, so I do advise everyone to give that one a go afterwards. It’s rock hard too in comparison.

  31. namad says:

    dungeon master isn’t that unique, from 1987-1992 dozens of games looked and played like this! this was the gold standard of gameplay back then. I was a huge fan of eye of the beholder series myself… they even did a game called unlimited adventurers which let you create your very own eye of the beholder style game! it came on a 3.25″ disk and came out in ~1992 and it was I guess a bit like bethseda’s modern day geck editing tools. you created a world full of tiles, linked maps together, created scripted events… kept track of facts which effected those scripted events, it was great!

    • Wizardry says:

      You’re talking about Forgotten Realms: Unlimited Adventures? That wasn’t for making Dungeon Master style games. That was for making tactical D&D RPGs in the Gold Box engine.

    • jrodman says:

      Unique as a relative term aside, dungeon master set the tone that all these other games aped 3-5 years later. And yet it was superior to all of them. The simulation aspects, the mood, the coherence, and the fun were all superior in the original.

      Play it.

      • Grey_Ghost says:

        I never heard of this original game before now, which is really odd.

        I did love the hell out of Eye of the Beholder 1&2 (3′s funked up character art infuriated me!), and Ravenloft: Stone Prophet though.

  32. pseudoart says:

    Anyone remember bloodwych? Man, I had every level in that game mapped down on paper, and since it was two player splitscreen, we played it over and over again. :)

  33. Swabbleflange says:

    A friend and I put many hours into Bloodwych, but we ran into a problem near the (presumable) end – there was a space leading to a stairway that we simply couldn’t move through. No barrier there, no visible obstacle, we just couldn’t step forwards. I remember us scratching our heads over it for ages, and aimlessly wandering around the whole rest of the dungeon looking for a solution. I think the notion of game-breaking bugs was alien to us at the time.

    We never finished it.

  34. danimalkingdom says:

    It says Divid Simon did the graphics, he’s a busy fellow isn’t he

  35. LionsPhil says:

    You can TPK by running into a wall repeatedly.

    Now that’s roleplaying a low-INT character.

  36. daggerbite says:

    After reading this, I had to download and start playing EOB2. Lost half my party to poison whilst taking a phone call… Protip: Dosbox does not pause when you alt-tab. Hmm

  37. kopema says:

    A madman by the name of Paul Stevens spent six months, eight hours a day, writing 120,000 lines of what he calls “pseudo-assembly language” to rebuild it in C++.

    …So the staff was 100.000% male-chauvanist pigdog?

    Anyone who plays this game is, with all due respect, an evil monster who must be re-educated with extreme non-predjudice.