Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dungeon Master: Final Ranking

Dungeon Master
United States
FTL Games (developer and publisher)
Released 1987 for Atari ST, 1988 for Amiga, 1989 for FM Towns, 1990 for PC-98 and Sharp X68000, 1991 for SNES, 1992 for DOS
Date Started: 9 November 2010
Date Ended: 6 December 2010
Total Hours: 32
Difficulty: Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: 47
Ranking at Time of Posting: 29/33 (88%)
Ranking at Game #453: 412/453 (91%)
Dungeon Master is a seminal game, no doubt. As the first real-time 3D game, its influence can be seen in countless later games, particularly the Eye of the Beholder series and Ultima Underworld. It shepherds in a new era of gaming, and in the minds of many players, I'm sure that turn-based 3D games like Wizardry and Might & Magic were suddenly lacking. I can't quite jump on that bandwagon. While I admire the technical innovations of Dungeon Master, I can't honestly say that I enjoyed it more than turn-based CRPGs. The constant frantic clicking got old after a while. ("Many gamers suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome today," jokes Barton [p. 236], "May have Dungeon Master to blame!") As I was finishing the game and thinking about the fusion of Order and Chaos into Balance, I began to wonder if the creators of Dungeon Master weren't influenced by L. E. Modesitt's Saga of Recluce series, which features many of the same themes. It turns out that Modesitt's first Recluce book post-dates Dungeon Master by about four years, so I guess not, unless Modesitt was an avid Dungeon Master player. Or is there a third original source? Or is it just a very obvious theme? With that question lingering, we move on to the GIMLET score.
1. Game world. Reasonably interesting. The manual features a long, novel-like exposition, written by author Nancy Holder (who would later go on to write a bunch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer novelizations). The story sort-of sits in the background, though, with no further overt references until the end of the game, when you encounter Lord Chaos. There's something of a twist ending in that the originator of your quest, Librasius, is himself as evil as Chaos. The order/chaos dichotomy is not one we've seen in a CRPG so far. I'd give the story more points if the game included it better during the gameplay itself. As it is, I'll go with a final score of 6.
 2. Character creation and development. Character creation is definitely original, although I'm not sure that this is in a good way. The game really doesn't gain anything by having you select your characters from a "Hall of Heroes" instead of just creating them, and I'm not sure what purpose the developers thought they were serving. Character development, on the other hand (described in this posting), is very satisfying, using a skill use-based system that we won't see again until The Elder Scrolls. Since the best strategy is to develop all of your characters in all of the possible classes, there isn't much of an opportunity to role-play them, and in any event the choice of classes and sexes has no effect on the subsequent game. Final score: 7. 
Selecting heroes on Level 1.
3. NPC interaction. There are no NPCs in the game. This is the game's most disappointing non-feature. Final score: 0. 4. Encounters & foes. I counted something like 25 monsters in the game, and many of them are original to Dungeon Master. Each has a different variety of attacks, defenses, and weaknesses, and figuring these out was part of the strategy. Frustratingly, though, the game doesn't tell you anything about the creatures--not even their names. There is some basic AI: most enemies flee when their hit points dip, and they move out of the way of closing doors (although they can't open doors themselves). Most of the encounters are random, and some enemies do respawn, giving you plenty of opportunity to build up your skills. Final score: 7
The mushroom people turned out to be called "screamers."
5. Magic and combat. Although the constant flurry of clicks wore me down, I give a lot of credit to the landmark real-time combat system that the game uses. Combat is very tactical, with numerous weapon and magic options, and attack functions that increase with your skills. The magic system is one of the most original encountered, with a combination of runes and mana, and a spell list that only slowly reveals itself. The way you use the game's many spells has a significant impact on the overall experience. Aside from the annoyance of picking up missile weapons one-by-one after each combat, I can hardly think of anything negative to say about it. Final score: 8. 
Fun fact: if you cast "see through walls" at the door on the first level, you see Lord Librasius (Order) standing outside.
6. Equipment. My biggest frustration with the game, right up to the end, was a lack of any way to evaluate the equipment. You find a host of magic rings, crowns, and amulets with no clue as to what they do; weapons that give you no indication of their damage; and armor that offers no information about its relative level of protection. It's all trial, error, and guesswork. Perhaps this was supposed to add to the fun, but I found it maddening. Aside from that, there is quite a variety to the equipment you can find and use, particularly the magic items. A little description would have given a high final score, but as it is: Final score: 3.
7. Economy. This pissed me off a bit. The game is rife with jewels, gems, and coins, and I dutifully picked them up and kept them, assuming there would be a place that I could use them later on. Aside from one small vault, there was no reason to hold on to any of these valuables. And there's nowhere else in the game to buy or sell anything. Final score: 1. 
Leyla's worthless inventory. Chaos Strikes Back better let me spend this stuff.
8. Quests. The game has one reasonably-compelling main quest, and all of the gameplay is bent on it. There are no side quests, and the main quest--aside from the bad "alternate ending"-- really has only one choice, with no roleplaying opportunities. Final score: 3.
9. Graphics, sound, inputs. All of them are quite good. I wish there had been more keyboard commands and less reliance on the mouse, but this game is notable as the first one to actually use the mouse. As you've seen, graphics and sound, while nowhere near the quality of modern game A/V, are certainly good enough to enjoy the game. The final cutscene is well-animated, the Wilhelm scream that your characters emit upon death is particularly memorable, and I like how you can hear monsters moving in adjacent hallways and creeping up behind you. Final score: 6.
10. Gameplay. This is always tough to assess in a dungeon crawler. Like any of them, the gameplay is almost entirely linear, and it delivers the exact same experience on gameplay. In terms of difficulty and pacing, I think it was a tad too difficult and a tad too long, but only a tad. I won't be eager to replay it, but I'm not sorry I played it once. Final score: 6.
Total ranking: 47. This has it beating Beyond Zork but not Might & Magic, Ultima IV, or Starflight, all of which I agree I enjoyed more. I admire Dungeon Master for its innovations, but despite them I don't think it's a "great" game. Finishing this game took me damned near a month, although it was an extremely busy month, work-wise. I'm really going to have to hustle if I want to complete 50 games by the end of my blog's first year.


  1. I found the non-naming of critters vaguely interesting, in that it touches on a realism aspect not usually found in RPGs. Rather than oh, that's a oohkopodis from here in the manual, it's horror movie style -- what *is* that thing?

    Now, it would have been better yet if the Beyond Zork NAME feature was included so there would be some kind of in-game referent.

  2. The lack of monster naming didn't bother me that much (can always come up with your own), although I would have liked a one-by-one presentation of the game's antagonists, Doom-style. ;)

    I think the GIMLET score is fitting (actually expect a lower number) and am curious how other realtime titles will fare in comparison.

    On to FTA, which I think suffers from quite a few strange design decisions, but again I'm looking forward to you forming your own opinion.

  3. I'd never thought that much about the object properties issue before reading this blog but now I think about the games I like best do usually give you some indication of object value whether it is through sale price at a shop or someone who can identify it's properties.

    Based on my fairly limited progress in DM I think your scoring is about right. Thanks for going through this one - it sounds as tough as I always thought it would be.

    I've tried FTA for dos recently so curious to see what you make of that one.

    Great to have the videos now as well.

  4. Jason, that might be the coolest suggestion I've ever heard: give the player the opportunity to rename monsters. What a great way to add role-playing to a game! Too bad no game does this.

    As to "realism," though...I don't know. I figure seasoned adventurers would generally be familiar with the proper names of common monsters.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Nethack (at least in the 3.4 series) lets you give names to individual monsters and items, (as well as classes of items, but not classes of monsters) so there's that. There's tremendous amount of roleplaying potential, naturally.

  5. Mordor: The Depths of Dejenol has quite a good method for monster (and item) naming, where your characters skill levels and wisdom affect how much you know about the dungeon's inhabitants. For example, an ignorant character may see a "winged animal" with a wiser character seeing a "bat" and an even wiser one a "vampire bat".

    Good game that, and a fan remake on the way.

  6. I expected a slightly higher score, but I certainly think you were fair. I'd just like to say that I am irrationally excited for Might and Magic II, which must be not too distant. If it doesn't get a score of at least 1,000, you need to kill the Ancient Dragon again. Thanks as always.

  7. Probably in 5 months, unless he hates the games so much that he only plays them for 6 hours each :)
    Next Five games :
    Faery Tale Adventure: Book I (1987)
    First Expedition (1987)
    Le Maitre des Ames (1987)
    Legacy of the Ancients (1987)
    Legend of the Sword (1987)

  8. I doubt that "First Expedition" really is an RPG but who am I to say...

    However, as for Dungeon Master being "the first real-time 3D game" I can say that it certainly isn't the first real-time 3D CRPG.

    Dungeons of Daggorath precedes it by several years:


  9. I have a question: how much did you grow attached to your characters through the arduous quest? Do you have an imaginary personality for each one of them? Did you spend any time while you were rolling around in the dungeon thinking how your characters would respond to this or that? Or did the 'everybody levels on every class' aspect of the game, as well as the bare no NPC interaction kill any space for voluntary role-playing?

  10. Not preaching for DM specifically, as your appraisal is very accurate, but I was wondering if there couldn't be a N/A possibility within the GIMLET scale? A non-existant element is not necessarily a badly implemented or designed one, giving zeroes might not be fair to the game... If you took economy and NPC out DM would have gotten 58 proportionally, still not amazing and still below Might & Magic I.

    Anyway, your coverage was great fun to read.

  11. That's a fair point Georges. However, it begs the question as to what items on the gimlet scale reflect essential properties of an CRPG. At first instance, I tend to agree with in that economy and NPC are not essential properties.

    However, upon further consideration, with the absence of NPC (or online third party PC) interaction, the argument can be made that the amount and/or quality of role-playing that transpires becomes little to none or is lacking because of it.

    There is no strong argument I can think of to insist on economy being essential, except that a) it was/is a common aspect of CRPGs, and b) it can add to the role-playing experience.

    The other issue with allowing n/a's is that in practice, you would apply full points to that scale, rather than applying none, which seems counter intuitive. The better alternative would be to convert the gimlet scores to percentages, and simply not apply a particular scale to that game in the first place.

  12. "If you took economy and NPC out DM would have gotten 58 proportionally".

    Sorry, missed this. Yes, percentages all the way.

    Bottom line? I think if the Addicted One felt wanting for NPC interaction (or any other aspect that was missing), and felt the game was lacking because of its absence / would have been better for its inclusion, then the scale should stick.

  13. There is a Windows port of Dungeons of Daggorath if you want to hit it on a backtracking session sometime.

  14. Thanks for the note, Andy. I shouldn't say "no game" as if I've played more than 10% of them. I've never even heard of "Mordor."

    Aelfric, I'm really eager for MMII as well, but it's a 1988 game, so we're talking a couple dozen between now and then, so David might be right. David & Calibrator: I've never even heard of ANY of the next six games on my list. If they turn out to have doubtful CRPG creds and I'm not feeling them, I may go through them pretty quick. "Nethack" and "Phantasie III" are both coming up soon.

    Fair enough on "Dungeons of Daggorath." I was relying on some bad intel. Jason, I might do what you suggest. Oddly, it turns out my wife played that game as a child and has a soft spot for it; maybe I can lure her into this world a bit.

    Helm, I think I would have enjoyed the game more if I'd made my own characters. The game allows you to "reincarnate" the heroes at the beginning, starting them with no class and giving them your own names, instead of "resurrecting" them. I wish I'd done that. I never really thought of them as separate characters the way I did my MM1 party. Perhaps it's the "all characters are all classes" thing.

    Okay, on the GIMLET scale. The purpose of the scale is no more and no less than to rank how much I, personally, enjoyed the game AS A CRPG. In the original posting, I tried to outline the elements that would make a "perfect" CRPG if the game scored a 10 in all of them. By your proposed revision, Georges, a game could get a perfect score even if it didn't have these elements, but without them, to me, it wouldn't be a perfect CRPG. Thus, if Dungeon Master had featured ANY NPCs, even bad ones that resulted in a very low score, it would still be a better CRPG (to me) than it is with no NPCs at all. I just wrote all of that and then realized that Buck said it much shorter in his final paragraph.

  15. Haha, Nethack. That will be a very interesting read :)

    Mordor is fantastic BTW. I only had the demo which stopped at B3, but my brother and I played it on and off for years and still never finished mapping B3 out. And that's working collaboratively too, since all the characters share the same dungeon and map.

  16. I just realized Incursion: Halls of the Goblin King lets you name individual creatures (although not name entire species like I was thinking), *and* does the Mordor thing with monster recognition. Dunno why it didn't occur to me before, I've played a lot of that.

    While we're on the subject of ports, I remember you regretting that would would be missing Zelda. There's a very good Zelda port at http://www.zeldaclassic.com/ (I wouldn't consider it a CRPG but you did mention it.)

  17. It was just a tought, I totally give in to your comments which I understand and agree with!

  18. Heh, I can't believe you never heard of this game before! It's one of the monumental classics with Pool of Radiance and Baldur's Gate.

    I was a bit disappointed that you didn't enjoy it more, but I guess you are more into NPC interaction and dialogue than solving puzzles.
    Or maybe it hasn't aged that well? I replayed it about 5 years ago and still found it fun, but compared to Chaos Strikes Back and Ultima Underworld is is a bit lacking in some areas. It's much easier, more linear and has more empty areas than CSB. I'm really looking forwars to you playing CSB. It's definitely my most _intense_ gaming experiemce ever. In CSB you really need to map and you have to be on your toes every step on the way.

    My best memories from DM was the gigglers, or annoying-little-asses-on-legs-bastards which I used to call them in between much cursing and swearing. I've never felt so rudely insulted by a monster as by so those giggling asses on legs.
    And killing the dragon and getting a neatly stacked pile of dragon chops was very satisfying.

    As for the blue gobling thingies I'm not sure of their real name but they used to be called Blue Meanies.

  19. After seeing you play a game I'm somewhat familiar with I'm understanding why so many people are reading your blog. I'm now thinking through old RPGs I've played to see when you reach them: Dungeon Master II, Moraff's World and Castle Of Winds: A Question of Vengeance (and it's sequel) are the only ones that come to mind. I played Nethack, which I guess I should have jumped ahead to comment on it in real time while you played it as I could have given you a couple of pointers. Ah well, you will reach v3.4.3 eventually, right? >.>

  20. DM was a first in many things. One that's often ignored is dropping items - DM was one of the first games, if not the first, where the location of every object was track and kept persistent throughout the game. In most RPGs of the day (and still in some just released ones) dropped items blink out of existence. Here you can return to pick them up. Likewise, monsters were kept track of instead of them blinking into and out of existence as was the custom in those days - if you ran away from a chaos knight, it didn't vanish, but would still be waiting for you the time you come back.

  21. That's a god point, Anon. I hadn't thought about persistent objects before. Demon's Winter is the only other game I can think of that makes this a reality.

  22. Nethack has persistent items and levels- that, which is the main reason I prefer it to other roguelikes. I don't know what edition they added that in though. Most games have temporary dropped items- until you leave the screen/area. There are very few that track the whole gameworld. Odd, from the sounds of it Mass Effect went back to older games with its terrible inventory of hard to use.

  23. Fun fact: Take the firestaff back to the start (as your original quest is from the manual) and see what the Good Lord Librasulu does...

  24. Anon, you must not have read my previous posting on the game.

  25. Ah yes...excuse my hastiness. So many never actually bother traipsing back up to complete their 'official' quest. Congratulations.

  26. "I give a lot of credit to the landmark real-time combat system that the game uses"

    I thought one of the purposes of the ranking system was to be able to compare old games to new in an absolute sense. Giving points for landmark features seems to defy that intent.

    I can't understand how this game got an 8 in "Magic and combat" given the clumsiness of spellcasting in combat and the fact that closing doors onto the heads of enemies is an important strategy. No monster names or indicators of how damaged enemies are. What tactics does combat have beyond the 'back off then hack off' technique you employed?

    Nor can I understand how Character creation/development got 7, when you have no meaningful choices and feel obliged to grind everyone to a respectable level in each vocation. Where are the trade offs?

    I really enjoyed the dungeon master posts :)

    1. The SCORE should reflect an absolute ranking, but I give myself liberty to comment on innovations in the text. I took points away for the interface in the interface category, but for combat itself, I thought it deserved a high score for the numerous attack abilities, the highly original magic system, and the overall tactical nature. Still, I agree it seems slightly too high. If I was ranking it today, I might give it a 7.

      I agree with you on character creation. My text sounds more negative than the score I gave it. I felt that the development process was satisfying and original (even compared to a lot of modern games), but it should have lost more points for lack of character creation and lack of character-specific role-playing.

      I often look at my ratings later and think I should have gone a point higher or lower, but I don't feel like constantly adjusting past scores.

  27. I've always actually liked the lack of names and easy descriptions to armor/weapons in games like these. I felt it was a part of the fun. Test it out against the same enemies as last time and just eyeball an average score. Sure, it's not perfect, but it feels more legitimate to me - at least in a pure dungeon crawler like this. I may be a bit biased though. I loved the original Eye of the Beholder, and playing that had me seek out Dungeon Master which I liked almost just as much. Being a big D&D fanboy at the time, the setting won it out for me, plus my increased familiarity with the setting.

    I'm sure you'll get to this game in about 10 years or so, but Legend of Grimrock is an amazing modern example of Dungeon Master. It's practically plagiarism at points, but I'm forgiving of this as no one makes games like this anymore. At least it actually has different texture sets for different levels of the dungeon.

    And while I realize the GIMLET score (I'll have to try one of those next time I go out) is largely a personal affair, I do feel this game gets pinged a bit hard for lack of NPCs. Part of that is the flair of the game, trying to create a sense of claustrophobic, trapped loneliness as you wander through the dungeon, trying to survive. I feel that despite the abundance of it, food and water provides the same sensation. It reminds you that you COULD starve to death down here. I do agree they could have managed it better, however.

    1. 10 years? I think you greatly underestimate the number of games between 1989 and 2012.

    2. Hey now, be optimistic.

      Tanuvein, I hear what you're saying about "testing" being part of the challenge, and that works well for things like weapons and armor. But there were some amulets and such in the game that I don't think there was any realistic way to figure out their purpose via trial and error.

      You make a good point about NPCs. There will eventually come a game that lacks one of my GIMLET categories for a very good reason--a game in which, say, NPCs or an economy would actually hurt the developer's purpose. I'll have to find a way to deal with that when it happens. In this case, I get your argument but I don't really agree. If the game was going for "a sense of claustrophobic, trapped loneliness," I don't think it really came across in graphics, sound, or other aspects of gameplay.

    3. I stopped looking up how long it would take The Addict to finish, as I posted the last one right before he left, and I figured it would be a bad luck thing.

      Anyway, to be honest? You are probably supposed to look those up in your DMG, since everyone back then who bought those games probably played D&D.

    4. (Want me to hook you up with a copy for reference during future Gold Box games?)

    5. Sure! If it's not too much trouble.

    6. Sure, what Goldbox game is next, so I know what edition to search out?

    7. That's a good question. Either Champions of Krynn or Secret of the Silver Blades depending on how I order things for 1990. I'll probably go with Krynn first.

    8. I know Champions of Krynn was released early in 1990. In fact it was the first game I played when I did the 1990 part of my play list. And I seem to recall Secrets had a few improvements to the game engine compared to CoK.

    9. BTW, the first Buck Rogers game was also released in 1990, in the last quarter of the year. Secrets was probably between Champions and Buck Rogers.

  28. I've discovered your blog only recently, good job! I'm really enjoying it. I'm a bit of a neophyte with the CRPG genre, but reading your posts really makes me want to play. I've started Dungeon Master (Amiga version) right now and enjoying it, keep up the good job!

    1. Thanks. Always good to hear from a fellow "adventurer!"

  29. There is definitely more than a single place where you can use coins and gems. Some areas are secret (ex., require going through false walls, or freezing time when monsters are standing on a pressure plate), so maybe you missed them.

    The reason for the "hall of champions" is that you play a soul, and you're given the chance to resurrect and control the bodies of 4 adventurers who died in the dungeon.

    As to the lack of names and stats for the monsters and weapons, it's deliberate. Real animals and real weapons found in caves generally don't come with documentation.

    NPCs and "an economy" wouldn't make any sense in DM. The dungeon is supposed to be a series of traps and riddles, not a village with a market. You might as well have a category for "mounts" and then complain that you carried a piece of leather for days, hoping that you would be able to find a horse and make a saddle at some point.

  30. Like I mentioned in the Faery Tale Adventure Post I stumbled only recently upon your blog and I think it was because I searched for a few Dungeon Master things.

    At first I was like "Wait a second, he calls himself RPG Addict and never heard of Dungeon Master?!? That´s like saying you love classic adventure games and think Kings Quest is a brand name for a Beer Company! Preposterous!"

    But then I read more of your Blog and kinda realized that you just like a different kind of RPG, kinda like the opposite spectrum of what I like xD
    For me RPGs are cold number based systems, heck I often mentioned in my Videos how much I HATE AND DESPISE Planescape Torment or Mass Effect, imo they are just Adventure Games / Visual Novels with a bit of combat attached to it ... and not in a good way like Hero´s Quest (Quest for Glory) but meh ...

    But one thing I think is interesting that despise being on different sides of the RPG Spectum we do rate certain RPGs quite high ... I also love the Goldbox Games and Might and Magic series ... interesting xD

    About Dungeon Master and sorry for rambling a bit, while I do think that it is the best invention since sliced bread I do see your points and I do like that on the GIMLET points that are actually in the game it does rate quite high so I can live with that :P

    About the Weapons though ... it never occured to me as that annoying, I usually picked them up and chose them based on the Attack Patterns ... Chop is my favourite attack so "Does the Weapon have a Chop option? No? BEGONE!" (Well except the Vorpal Blade for obvious reasons) ... fared pretty well with that way of handling things xD

    ... gosh I am vocal when I start typing, guess I have to make my own Blog or something ...

    1. It was, admittedly, a pretentious title for me to have taken in 2010. I wasn't really a "CRPG Addict" back then; I was an addict of about 10 very specific CRPGs that I played over and over.

      I don't mind games that tell a solid story, but I want them to give me freedom to explore around the story and let me make choices that affect the story's outcome. You're right that I don't tend to enjoy plotless dungeon crawlers as much, though it depends on how good the mechanics are. I rated DM fairly high (on my scale) because the mechanics were good even if the story was piffle.

    2. For me there must be a nice balance between Gameplay and Story.
      I also want to be part of the story and make meaningful changes (Unlike 99% of JRPGs for example where you can ... usually change diddly squat) but I want the game to Show ... Not Tell the story, I want to play a game, not read a book (Planescape Torment) or listen to a "Choose your own Adventure" story (Mass Effect) with little to no gameplay (I only played Mass Effect 1 and couldn´t bear it ... Planescape Torment ... I think I invested 2-3 hours into it and didn´t even get into one real fight? Not sure).

      And if a game is not satisfactory in that regard I´ll prefer a plotless Dungeon Crawler where I may not get an interesting story but at least get some good gameplay out of it.

      Going to LP soon the SNES remake of Wizardry 1 - 3 ... Wish me luck xD

  31. I played Dungeon Master really a lot, more than most other games (the Diablo series being the one to top it), completing it over 100 times (including CSB, DM 2 and several custom dungeons). I never mapped by hand it, but could rush through it even today. I played it so often that tile based seems to be natural approach to me for and I never got why you want to have free movement in a dungeon.

    What I really liked about the game is the speed you can play it - you can walk very fast and if you have the spells memorized, you can burn through your mana quickly for some serious devastation. The inventory is intuitive and there are very few clicks you have to do that feel unnecessary (I never used missile weapons). Also there aren't lenghty animations (like sword swings) which slow you down artifically.
    Fighting always feels like fighting, no matter if you encounter the mighty dragon or mop up some mummies. In many games, clearing trash mobs is tedious, boring and feels like a grind.

    Also you get a lot of rewards (levels) during playing and that's something I really like. Well, who doesn't? A proper reward system is the basic of every CRPG and many other games as well and it's hard to get it right.

    Of course, after a certain mastery, the game actually gets very easy. You can circle dance most monsters, train your characters as much as you want to and beeline for the best items. That is the point where Chaos Strikes Back starts - I still find the game hard today and get lost often enough.

    Very few dungeon crawlers can hold DM a candle, mostly because they play sluggish in comparison. I played many of them, but usually rather played anouther round of DM instead of finishing them. That includes Eye of the Beholder (finished once) the same as Ultima Underworld (really awful interface!), Bard's Tale, Stonekeep, Anvil of Dawn, Moraff's Dungeons, Bloodwych, ... you name it. Even the allnew Legend of Grimrock, while being a totally decent game, is just not the same.

    Still, I think your rating is fair and I actually prefer games with smaller dungeons and a storyline connecting them, as you do. Doing town runs in between to sell and restock is a nice distraction and the lore helps you finding a motivation. But few games have the balance right and every part works. DM has only one part, but it works very well, even by today's standards. That's a class of its own.

    1. As an expert on these types of games, what do you think of modern versions, like Legend of Grinrock?

  32. Grimrock did a lot of things right, especially the fast pacing.
    Also the interface is a bit better than in DM (and takes far less room), even though I don't really like the extra click for spellcasting. I prefer having the automap over mapping by myself, but a nice idea to make it optional.
    Altogether, it's a very good game. Really had a blast and i'm looking forward to the sequel!

    To be honest, I can't name a single first person dungeon crawler between Chaos Strikes Back and Grimrock which is a must play. That is partly because I prefer tiled based to free walking and most times because the games are too sluggish to play. And partly because I
    Stonekeep for example is all in all a good game and has nice features, but the slow walking ruins it for me. Nice options are the Eye of the Beholder series, Might&Magic and Lands of Lore (I like pt. 1 best). That's hardly an insider tip which I fear I don't have any.

    Altogether, that might be a very individual opinion, since a fast pace is imperative for me, being very impatient. Maybe Dungeon Master spoiled me too much in that regard. ;) I tried shooters, but that's also nothing for me, since I want level ups. So I finally went with Diablo...

    The best modern adaption I played is Dungeons&Dragons Online, which has a real good pacing (unless looking for a group), awesome fighting and actually makes good use of 3D. Too bads it's a MMO...

    1. I actually think that Grimrock's interface is leagues below DM's.

      DM's UI is actually very well thought out, which reflect the great degree of care and refinement the authors put into it. Elements are placed strategically, allowing for minimal mouse movement and rapid reaction when issuing sequences.

      To be fair, all successors to the cell-by-cell crawling model refined by DM suffer from obvious ergonomic issues and give a much less practical and consistent user experience UI wise. They almost all noted and copied the arrow placement model as if this was the only innovation that DM brought on the UI side but there are actually many more:

      * Selecting spells is actually writing them. True, the symbols are confusing and would have benefited from colors but the flow of "chanting" a spell is very fast paced.
      * Switching between magic casters is a breeze: just click above and voila, no need to move any further than a few pixels and the target is obvious: follow the order on top of the screen.
      * Combat buttons are large and obvious, easy to target and press, most others made them smaller, increasing the odds of error and thus slowing the process.
      * Also, very smartly, the attacks upon pressing a hit buttons are laid out horizontally, so you can already move the mouse to the position of the next character attack button while you select your move. This allows very fast paced combat.

      Spending some time decomposing the layout of UI elements on the various DM clones (including GrimRock) is very enlightening and usually allows to understand why some clones feel less enjoyable to play than others: BlackCrypt notably which has great gameplay and visuals offers a somewhat painful experience because its interface is laid out in a very inefficient way, Eye of the Beholder is similar even if very slightly better.

  33. A lenghty and entertaining article about the making of Dungeon Master: http://www.filfre.net/2015/12/dungeon-master-part-1-the-making-of/

  34. "using a skill use-based system that we won't see again until The Elder Scrolls."

    You forgot about the Quest for Glory series, but there are several others as well. For example, 1993's Lands of Lore uses almost the same system as Dungeon Master, though it combines the priest and wizard levels into a single "mage." It will probably score lower, as it has no character creation, only a choice between four heroes that aren't all that different, and your companions are determined by story progression.

    Betrayal at Krondor also has a skill system, though it uses distinct skills like "defense" or "lockpicking" instead of broad classes.

    Also the first Elder Scrolls game, Arena has traditional experience/levels, the skill system appears in the second, Daggerfall. It doesn't even change all that much, many of Oblivion's and Skyrim's skills are already featured in it.

    1. I was speaking from total ignorance with that statement. I did that a lot during my first year. Plenty of games feature leveling-via-skill use. I just wasn't aware of them yet.

  35. "There will eventually come a game that lacks one of my GIMLET categories for a very good reason--a game in which, say, NPCs or an economy would actually hurt the developer's purpose."

    I would argue that DM is precisely that game.

    It would not make much sense to include an economy inside a dungeon would it? Especially given that Chaos is hell bent on using this dungeon to cause your death, not on helping you trade items for weaponry. ;)

    The lack of sentient talkative creatures (foes are NPCs after all) is a more subtle point since it could be argued that adding a few interacting characters could have been used to enrich some story elements and some depth to the setting but frankly I am not buying it given the settings of the game.
    For the first time in any game, the environment is a fully persistent, coherent, 3D games where creatures follow logic and do not magically appear or disappear: adding characters which could have persisted in the dungeon after the encounter would have completely broken the immersion since there would have been very few legit ways to 1) justify their presence in the first place and 2) more importantly give them a purposeful activity outside of the interaction with you. Leaving them wandering randomly in the corridors independently to be slaughtered by monsters almost immediately seems impossible, and spiriting them away from the dungeon magically would have broken the illusion similarly.
    I do not deny that it would have been possible to engineer very constrained but meaningful encounters but within the live-3d setting of the game this would have required efforts and time which no developer had access to at that time for any game.

    For an interaction with a sentient character to be coherent with the 3D world it would have necessitated a setup/scripting technology which did not exist at that time and would have made DM an even bigger marvel than it already was.

    The limitations of technology and finance being what they were, DM's authors made the choice of coherency which in my eyes is really where the game triumphs: it is for the time a real marvel of systemic gameplay where all elements of the game behave in predictable, discoverable, learnable ways, leaving almost all arbitrary limitations of most other RPGs out of the equation.
    DM simplifies very few things: what it exposes is directly manipulable in very logical ways, the main aspect where it requires suspension of disbelief to occur are the cell based displacements and rotations but given how revolutionary and immersive the rendering was for the time when it was released this is not easily dismissed.

    In my view, DM is the quintessential RPG, sure it has limitations but they all make sense in the context you are placed in and the player does not have to accept any of the arbitrary restrictions or behaviours of all previous (and many future, including modern ones!) RPGs.

    It seems really arbitrary to accept that some of the higher ranked games which score similarly as DM in most areas safe for NPCs and economy require a high degree of suspension of disbelief in many areas yet that DM which understandably does not have an economy nor sentient creatures is not rewarded for the degree of consistent immersion it procures. It removes so many of the arbitrary limitations of past RPGs that it seems this should be reflected in its score.

    I know of no other RPG (even modern) which is as internally coherent and consistent as DM is and it seems like your scale does not reflect it at all. Maybe it requires a new axis: "degree of suspension of disbelief required" (0 = blind faith, 10 = perfect immersion).
    DM would score almost a 9 there where most others would barely reach a 4.

    Sorry for the long winded reply, I am sure this could be shortened but this would require me an additional hour of edition so I'm off with this. ;)

    Thanks for your great blog btw! I thoroughly enjoy it and agree with most of your comments about DM, safe for the final ranking. ;)

  36. There actually is a way to find out what some of the magic items do. Look at the character stats, put on the item, look at the stats again to see what changed. Sure, that is tedious. But it helps in some cases.

    1. I don't I ever saw a single stat change in this way, but I might have stopped trying when the first few items didn't reflect any change.

    2. I agree. I don't think there's a single thing other than armor class that you can evaluate this way.

    3. The easiest to spot are the many things, which add to mana, because the mana display is on the inventory screen. And according to my age old notes, the most items I could figure out this way, did increase mana. But there is also for example the Flamebain Armor which raises your fire resistance. Or an amulet that increases your rank in the mage class. These things could be figured out by looking at the characters stat screen.

      As I said, this only helps with some items.

      This does not make up for the lack of direct information. It just helps to figure some stuff out.

    4. I had forgotten that fire resistance was a stat that you could check on that screen. Thanks for the reminder.

  37. I am bit late to the party, but I just discovered that Edge magazine #106 (January 2002) did a "making of" feature on Dungeon Master:

  38. Review in the polish game magazine Gambler #2-#5 01/1994-04/1994
    Graphic: 85%. Audio: 80%, Playability: 95%, Concept: 95%, Overall: 90%. Atari ST version.

    Not much of a review but rather a guide and walkthrough, because in Poland at that time piracy was basically the only way to obtain games and magazines serve as manuals.

    But we can read that DM in a "legendary adventure game of Dungeon and Dragons kind", has a nice graphics with 3D effect and great sound. Also the script is carefully developed and the dungeon itself delivers many riddles and surprises.


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