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23

Dungeon of Regret

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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Alec Meer

Senior Editor

Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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