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Game Design Essentials: 20 Mysterious Games

January 14, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 13 of 21 Next

12. Dungeon Hack

Random dungeons & item identification, with a backing in D&D official rules

Developed by DreamForge Intertainment

Reason for inclusion:

It's another random dungeon game, this one pretty obscure, but interesting because it uses the D&D license -- which imposes interesting limitations on the game.

The game:

Dungeon Hack is a random dungeon game, and it has randomized items, but it is not traditionally regarded as roguelike. The game is set in a generated Wizardry-style maze, although it helpfully includes an automap. Also, its dungeons are a lot less free-form than those in Rogue. There are locked doors that can only be opened with matching keys, making the experience a lot more linear. (The maze generation algorithm, thankfully, ensures each level is solvable.)

Dungeon Hack marked a return of Dungeons & Dragons computer games to the quick-play, random determination tables in the back of the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide. Since then, the games have gradually trended toward meticulously planned layouts with specific treasures intended to provide specific advantages (or disadvantages) for a party against the foes in that region. The Dungeons & Dragons gold box games follow this pattern.

Dungeon Hack, despite its differences and attempts to look like an Eye of the Beholder-style game, does seem to take some ideas from NetHack. There are various devices along the walls in each maze whose function must be discovered through play, just like NetHack's dungeon features. While items must be discovered through play and their appearances match up with function, most of the items match up exactly with the loot in the 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons guides. The roguelike ideal is not to include just any old stuff but to provide items that provide suitable risks for identifying things through use, without being too risky. In this area, Dungeon Hack falls short.

Yet there is one aspect of the game that was reused later in a surprising place. Dungeon Hack contains a number of artifact items. They don't act like "true" D&D artifacts, which tend to be things more like The One Ring than a Sword +3 vs. Reptiles, but are nevertheless unique items with special powers. Each of these items, however, is part of a set, which if matched up with all the other items and worn at the same time provide considerable bonuses. One can't help but think the creators of Diablo II were taking notes.

Also different from most random dungeon games, there are no "wandering" monsters added after initial generation. Each level has its starting population and that's it. One could think of each level has containing only a set number of experience points, in fact. And it uses D&D-style resting mechanics, where the player must clear out an area of monsters in order to regain hit points and spells. And food is consumed while resting, so the limited food system limits not exploration time but healing and spells.

Design lesson:

The level generator is pretty slick in how it creates locked door puzzles that are always solvable, and it produces special dungeon zones, which are an underused feature in random dungeon games. Its use of food is also innovative, limiting not time but rests.


Article Start Previous Page 13 of 21 Next

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