Saturday, July 24, 2021

Dungeon Master: Inevitability

 It is truly amazing how intertwined Dungeon Master's history is tied into the history of FPS games. Early first person dungeon crawlers, up until I want to say 1992, all share the same visual template. That is, a fake-3D view of a dungeon. This can be as simple as a wireframe, to the relative complexity of Legacy - Realms of Terror. Likewise, in the realm of FPS, 3D Monster Maze on mainframes are described as the first FPS. These, for a good chunk of time, are usually separated by the RPGs being turn-based and the FPS games being real-time. They generally only reach good for the time, that is, not very fun in a post-Doom world.

Dungeon Master, is at the very end of this being a viable design-choice for action games. Already, action games were moving into true 3D, and late entries with this kind of fake 3D were inevitably failures. So far the only true title of that type past this game was a Korean one, and I don't think that had an impact even in its home country. Its kind of weird that this was the bridging title of all things.

Of particular interest to this title is the amount of systems this was on. It was playable on just about any system capable of displaying 32+ colors. I do not yet know what this title would look like on a Commodore 64 for example, this didn't have a downgraded port, unlike Elvira for example. Suggestions lead towards the FM Towns version, which has CD music. I can't recommend that, as I tried that and it seemed like keyboard controls didn't work. That is, no moving with the keyboard. That could be an error on my part, but I'm going to be using a modern port. There's also a TurboGrafx CD version that is quite different.

The game starts off in an unusual way, straight into the dungeon. This is the character creation screen, believe it or not. Movement is accomplished by the 789456 cluster, with 5 being back. There are twenty or so mirrors reflecting characters. You walk up to one, left click, and you have the option to resurrect or reincarnate. Resurrect brings the character back as-is, and you can figure out what that would be by left-clicking the eye on the character screen. Reincarnate, I believe allows you to change the character's stats, but I am not sure what I'm doing yet, so I haven't tried it.

I create a party consisting of Zed Duke of Banville, a reference to SunDog's lead, Sonja She-Devil, obvious rip-off of Red Sonja, Gothmog, a magician in a black robe, and Syra Child of Nature, a female elf. I could have chosen quite a few characters, including an African Red Sonja rip-off, a hair monster, and just about any generic fantasy archetype you could think of. I don't imagine this game is going to do much with its story or plot, since it is an action game.
Before I begin I should point out that unlike the games in the genre that I've actually played, Dungeon Master, allegedly, needs a drawn map to properly play it, and with a map there are notes. There's a complex series of actions I need to take and if I forget them, I could be in trouble. That's the theory, anyway. In practice it could be overhyped. My primary concern are spinners, which have shown up a couple of times. Navigation trickery is discouraged in most games these days, but for dungeon crawlers it was standard practice for a while. The following is roughly half of what I imagine is the first level. This game might have ten levels but they're fairly big.
Fountains are the only source of water
Map-making is surprisingly calming. You walk a few paces, you put down some lines on a map. For the first bit I don't put down many notes, but as I got through things, I realized it would be better to put some down. Its tricky thinking up symbols at first, but you get the hang of it pretty quickly. This all helps with navigation, but unlike some titles I don't feel this is strictly necessary yet. I haven't reached a spinner yet. I do see several holes in the areas I've been, and I'm unsure if this is because I missed a secret somewhere or they're genuinely empty.
I feel woefully unprepared for combat. Its not hard...yet. In the version I'm playing QWER controls attacks from a character. The first two characters can attack with melee or ranged attacks, while the back row cannot use melee attacks. Ranged is a bit impractical in the middle of combat, they more or else exist to just throw one attack. If their hand is empty, they can't do anything more unless you move another ranged weapon into their hand. This is impractical in combat and for now relegates the back duo to support roles.
Can you see the secret in this picture?
Speaking of combat, magic in this game uses a rune-based system. There are 4 sets of 6 runes, and not all 4 sets are necessary per spell, so the possibilities are pretty deep. So far I only have one spell, which is create light. The lighting level in this game is important, so far the game's thrown 3 torches at me. While it remains to be seen if its necessary for combat, for exploration its absolutely vital. Keys can be very well hidden in this game and I don't foresee things hidden on the walls to be any easier to find. Its worth pointing out that compared to FPS titles where secrets are usually optional, they could be vital here.
This level feels more like a really long tutorial than an actual level, and unlike some games I can say that of, this doesn't feel disappointing. First you have doors, figure out how to open them, then with keys. Then there are pressure plates, which activate something, here its doors. Often there are plates that close those same doors. Next there's constant pressure plates, which need something dropped over it or it'll unactivate. Naturally there are teleports, which so far hasn't produced difficulties in mapping. Spinners haven't made an appearance yet, but that's okay.
There are a lot of messages, mostly subtle tutorial messages. Some of these are the usual video game information, like, hmm, this seems to teleport me. I found the only secret so far with one, but it wasn't very hard to find without help. It does seem like magic relies on these scrolls for quite some time. Experimentation at this point is a bit dangerous, as I only have so many mana points. In theory, experimentation is also curtailed by food and water, which are currently around the dungeon in sufficient quantities, but this may change. It all depends on how many mushroom enemies remain in the game.

This Session: 1 hour

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