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Game Design Essentials: 20 Mysterious Games

January 14, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 18 of 21 Next

17. Gauntlet II

Secret rooms

Developed by Atari Games

Designed by Ed Logg

Reason for inclusion:

Gauntlet II is overall a better game than the original, with more diverse play, more opportunity for strategy and generally more stuff. Its coolest feature might be the secret rooms, little-understood special levels that are sometimes entered after completing a level, and even let the player enter a T-shirt contest if successful. But how are the rooms found? No one quite knows....

The game:

The original Gauntlet certainly had enough terrain to explore, but once the player is familiar with all the maps he can settle down to the task of devising his strategy in each of them. But the sequel has a really strange, and awesome, feature above the original...

Every so often, when a level is completed, before the next level there will be a message: "To find a secret room:" followed by some instruction. Typical instructions include: "Don't get shot," Don't be fooled" and "Be pushy." While it's thought that the instructions aren't actually unrelated to the requirement necessary to enter a room, it doesn't seem that the message issued is necessarily good at that moment.

What is known is that, if the right trick is done on the right level, the player who performed the trick will show up, alone, in a special level, portentously titled a SECRET ROOM. There are multiple possible rooms that could turn up, and they're timed just like treasure rooms with a very strict limit. They may contain multiple permanent ability potions, and are very difficult to complete in time. Not reaching the exit in time causes no negative consequences for the player, but if the player does make it, finishing in time presents a special code and an address at Atari Games the player can write to and enter a contest and a free T-shirt.

The T-shirt offer expired long ago, but the room's allure persists. The ability potions can turn any character into a powerhouse, and since the player has no competition for them, even in a multiplayer game, all he has to do is get to them. But more than that, the secret rooms are special. One could play many games of Gauntlet II and never see the first secret room.

These days there are few remaining mysteries when it comes to what games do: we know there's no way to stop Aeris from dying, we know how to get to Bubble Bobble's "Happy End," and we know where all the warp zones are. But we still don't know how to get into a Secret Room. I suppose someone could disassemble the source code and find out. They probably will someday. Here's hoping it's awhile before it happens.

Design lesson:

Even today, no one (other, I suppose, than the people who worked on the game themselves) quite knows how to enter one of Gauntlet II's secret rooms. It's an interesting experiment in adding a super-goal to an otherwise straightforward arcade game. Atari did a number of games with those: Toobin' and Vindicators also have T-shirt contest entry screens.

Article Start Previous Page 18 of 21 Next

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