Monday, December 6, 2010

Dungeon Master: Won!

That's gratitude for you.

Well, Dungeon Master had the oddest and most unsatisfying ending of any CRPG I've ever encountered. After I found the Firestaff--the relic on which my entire quest was based--I painstakingly made my way back up to the first level and to the dungeon doors. There, I encountered Lord Librasius, who took the Firestaff from me, declared he no longer had any need for me, and slaughtered all of my characters. That's it. End of game.

Well, let's do a quick GIMLET rating and call it a day.

I forgot to mention in yesterday's posting on combat that your characters can take injuries as well as hit point damage. Note how Nabi has bandages on his head, chest, and hand.

No! Just kidding! Part of me was tempted to end the posting here and see what you did in the comments section. I'm actually glad I did traipse all the way back up to Level 1 to get the alternate ending above, but of course that wasn't the "real" ending. I did win, though.

Level 12 featured "materializers." I had some issues with those.

Level 12 turned out to be the last large, regular level. Getting through it was a struggle. It featured some of the toughest monsters found so far in the game, including armored knights, weird floaty creatures that I couldn't hit with normal weapons, and giant four-legged spider things. Except now that I've won the game, I can check a walkthrough and refer to them by their proper names as animated armour, materializers, and oitus. I have no idea where the author of the walkthrough got these names, but you don't make up something like "oitu" on your own.

The oitus weren't too hard, but the animated armour could take a hell of a beating and keep coming, and the only thing I had that could damage the materializers was the DES EW ("weaken nonmaterial beings") spell. Let that be a lesson, kids: don't drop the vorpal blades just because something more interesting comes along.

Fortunately, I was saved by what I can only imagine was a game bug: while being chased by the creatures on the level, I found a particular part of the hallway that they wouldn't pass. This allowed me to pound on them but step back when my health got too low, rest and heal, and resume my assault. I used the opportunity to strip my characters of weapons and build up their ninja levels.

Fortunately, stone golems are slow.

At the end of the level, I had three RA keys, so I returned to Level 7 and used them to open the door to the Tomb of the Firestaff. The level was guarded by stone golems, but I was able to use the door trick to defeat them, though it took a long time. Ultimately, I made my way to the chamber of the Firestaff and picked it up.

Scrolls on the level gave me a basic sense of how to win the game. Together, they read:

The power gem is sealed in the mountain by a strange magical force. ZO KATH RA might create a plasma that could burn through the amalgam encasing the gem. Balance is the ultimate good. The Firestaff can restore balance or destroy it. Neither Chaos nor Order is truly balanced. The Firestaff can contain a being of pure alignment with its fluxcage. Once fluxcaged, a being can be transmuted by the staff, which should always be used for balance.

These scrolls confirmed my belief, stated in the first posting, that there is something amiss with Lord Librasius (Order). This was confirmed by my side-trip to the surface. After reloading from this trip, I used a hidden staircase at the back of Level 7 to head all the way down to Level 13.

Unlike the walkthrough I consulted (after I had won), I refuse to call the wingless fire-breathing lizard a "dragon."

On Level 13, I encountered a host of demons, black flame creatures (these were the things I closed my last posting with; they turned out to be easy: they can't move and die with a few DES EWs), and Lord Chaos himself. But after screwing around the level for a while and dying about six times, I couldn't figure out how to do anything with Lord Chaos, so I proceeded down to Level 14. There, I found a fire-breathing giant lizard. I defeated him in a long, long battle that involved a lot of ducking behind pillars to avoid his fire attacks. His death provided me with a bunch of "dragon steaks," which really hit the spot.

The lizard's lair was strewn with coins that I dutifully picked up, only to find that they (along with a number of other coins I'd been carrying since Level 3) had no value. Thanks, Dungeon Master!

The protected Gem of Power.

At the back of the level, I found the Gem of Power encased in its magic sheathing. By touching it with the Firestaff, I fused the two objects and found that the staff now had a "fluxcage" option. Time to take on Lord Chaos!

Lord Chaos surrounded by fluxcages.

I videoed my first attempt, which ended in quick death. I had no idea what I was doing, randomly firing fluxcages at him and trying to "fuse" him. The video below starts with me getting the Gem of Power and finishes with my last character feebly throwing things at Lord Chaos before dying in terrific pain.

This was the closest I got to defeating Lord Chaos for a while. When I returned to Level 13 after reloading, I couldn't get past the demons for what seemed like forever. They're very tough. I was only able to defeat any of them by hiding behind a door in the corner, opening it, firing off fireballs, and closing the door before they could retaliate.

Demons suck.

Finally, I was able to get close to Chaos again, and I pretty much did the same thing I did the first time, only this time it actually worked. I turned on the video capture as soon as I realized something was happening, so here's that feed:

If you don't feel like watching it, the game ends with a cutscene showing Chaos and Order (where did he come from?) fused back together into the Grey Lord. The Grey Lord then destroys the Firestaff in the lava of the mountain, and somehow the resulting magic restores the buildings and foliage in the nearby town of Viborg, where members of the citizenry celebrate by doing back flips.

Left a mystery is exactly what happens to Theron and the heroes inside the dungeon. I guess we find out in the sequel, about 60 games from now.

Consulting a couple of walkthroughs, I see there were a few things I missed:

  • My characters were mostly "expert" level in each class when the game ended, and I see that there were five more levels they could have progressed. I can't imagine how long it would have taken to do that, but as Georges noted in yesterday's posting, higher levels mean more options with weapons.
  • I missed an "invisibility" spell that might have helped with the demons and Lord Chaos.
  • There were a bunch of invisible pits on Level 12--I forgot to mention that. I could have made things a lot easier by luring the animated armours into them.
  • If I had saved one of the magic freezing boxes for the end, I could have held Lord Chaos in place, surrounded him with flux cages, and defeated him quite easily. I used my last one on the dragon, unfortunately.

Let's GIMLET this game and move on to Faery Tale Adventure!


  1. Congrats! I thoroughly enjoyed reading these posts. I played Dungeon Master back in middle school or so, and enjoyed your posts so much that I started playing through again. Thanks for the excellent memories!

  2. It's nice to see the ending of this one as I never made it through Dungeon Master. The videos are great too (I didn't realise dosbox could do video either).

    Interested to see how DM fares on the GIMLET scale.

  3. nice work! I think I was the one that said you'd stumble or not complete this, so congrats for sticking it out. I think you'll find when ou get to it, EOB refined it a lot (but kept the crappy food feeding deal)..

  4. oh, have fun with Faery Tale, I never liked it at all.

  5. I always loved Dungeon Master, and enjoyed following your playthrough. I also wanted to throw in a good-ish note on Faery Tale. I only ever played it on the Genesis, but it always sort of charmed me there. It's definitely different, and sort of an evolutionary dead-end for CRPGs, but it had a certain whimsy (as its name might imply) that I quite liked...up to a point. Thanks for all the hard, play?

  6. I started Faery Tale tonight, and I'll have a post probably on Wednesday. It's interesting but a little bland so far.

  7. Well done, you had me completely fooled. I was seething and about to angrily log on and call you by every nasty name I could think of until I noticed you were joking :p

    Well done one defeating the game. The fight with Chaos can be frustrating but I like it for not being the typical "whack till dead" approach that 99% of RPGs take with their final boss.

    I never played Chaos Strikes Back so I'm looking forward to seeing you traipse through it, though it's gonna be a while...

  8. he's not going to play Chaos Strikes Back because it was never officially released for PC...
    too bad that Your rules doesn't allow to play fan made ports, CRPGAddict! Chaos Strikes Back is really great game and as someone mentioned already it's much, much tougher to beat...

  9. Great blog!

    I think a couple of rule changes could use further reflection:
    1. Include games unofficially ported to the PC, providing a quick google turns up nothing to suggest the port is not faithful to the original. Such ports don't require messing around with an emulator, so there is little reason not to do so.

    Or at least make an exception where the prequel is deemed good for one's gimlet.

    2. Play all official sequels back to back, or as the mood strikes, to avoid the excruciatingly painful wait...

  10. hah, wow, you saved all five of those villagers :)

    I have a couple of questions about how you feel on DM but I'll save them for the GIMLET post.

  11. I, too, would love to read about Chaos Strikes Back. I enjoyed the Dungeon Master reportage, and like with Starflight, I feel I need to play it myself at some point.


  12. Congratulations!

    I second with intense passion the exception for Chaos Strikes Back. Maybe you could alter the rules a bit for "expansion packs" of games you play in specific cases... and as others said, there is an unofficial port to PC of the game which is code to code a perfect image of the original.

    Chaos is a truly great game. Apart from it being near the top of the hardness scale of RPGs, two things might attract you that are better than DM: 1) it's extremely non-linear and introduces randomness (items are rarely in the same places) 2) it has more role-playing elements as the dungeon is divided into "ways" dedicated to each "class", fighter/ninja/priest/wizard with themed puzzles.

    As it has been released in 1989, you could however wait a bit before doing it if you want to remain more faithful to your rules. Just keep your save around, I think I read somewhere that there is a (convoluted) way to transfer your characters from the original DMPC to CSBWin. If not you can choose new champions of course that start around adept/expert level...

  13. Buck, I will modify my rules as you suggest: if there was any DOS port of a game, even a fan-made one, I'll play it as long as it keeps to the original's rules. After all, I did install the xu4 upgrade for Ultima IV.

    Playing sequels back-to-back, though: no. That's the surest way to make me sick of a franchise. I like the chronological order, in which the occasional sequel just stumbles along.

  14. There is a use for the coins in the dragon's lair: using the resurrection station in the bottom floor requires a coin every time. The other treasure is useless though.

  15. Fighting becomes easier when you create KU-potions (I think those were the ones that increase strength) and keep your front line fighters turbocharged with them. CSB will be very hard without.

  16. Thanks to the first Anon. I never tried to resurrect on the lowest level--all my deaths were full-party deaths--so I never found out. It's too late for me to remember whether I used KU or not.

  17. wow you did way better than me with the dragon, i rushed at it swinging the inquisitor and died every time, except for on, i ran to the gem of power and got it, then turned around and fluzcaged the dragon like choas and then invoked him (i kind of read a walkthrough) and he turned into about 1000000 mithril aketons, maybe a glitch, but htey just kept coming and he was freaking out

  18. I've just finished the game! Following your posts as I played really added to the fun. I also got the alternative ending first, since I completely forgot about the power gem that was mentioned in the manual. A few other comments:

    * I played with only two (reincarnated) characters, and by the time I reached Lord Chaos I was a second-level Master fighter and wizard, everything else was Adept or less with both my characters. That didn't require grinding at all, and made the fights with the final demons quite easy

    * I did find the invisibility spell, but never managed to make it work; tried to use it with stone golems and black flames but they kept seeing me

    * It took me a really long time (like a whole day of fighting and reloading) before realizing I wasn't hurting Lord Chaos at all with my normal attacks

    * I tried using the magical boxes in the last level almost immediately, but they don't work: instead, your hand gets hurt and you must heal

    * I completely ignored the dragon as it was super slow

    * The PC ending is terrible! I played the Amiga version and there is none of that firestaff in the lava and happy villagers in the end with crappy graphics, just the Gray Lord talking with the usual pixel graphics; a simple yet pleasant ending

    Congratulations anyway (coming 3 years late)!

    1. Congratulations to you on finishing! Playing with only two characters was an interesting approach. I can see how it would be difficult at the beginning but better at the end.

      Your report that magic boxes don't work on Lord Chaos is a bit of a revelation. I thought I had heard otherwise, and for three years I've been kicking myself for not saving any.

  19. Reading about Captive made me come back to read the DM entries. I'd skipped them because I didn't know anything about the game, but looking closer I'm surprised at just how much this resembles Legend of Grimrock, which is only a few years old. Yeah, I know Grimrock is kind of a retro game itself, but there are huge similarities throughout: the attack interface, navigation, pressure-plate puzzles, how food works, even the spellcasting system, where you assemble spells from a combination of runes (and get hints for those spells from scrolls as you play). That's the only game in the genre I've really played so my frame of reference is small, but I'm still pretty surprised that more than two decades later how little has changed.

    1. Actually, a lot has changed. Which is why when Gas Lamp brought this genre back, there was much fan fare with the DM and EoTB crowd.

    2. "Also, Grimrock is by far the best clone of all."

      Grimrock is technologically the most advanced (obviously, it's released ten years after the previous candidate after all), and it's clear Almost Human have a lot of love for the genre, but I actually enjoy playing EOB2 and LOL more. My main issue is the sluggish movement. When you take a step in Grimrock, there's a lengthy walking animation during which the game accepts no further inputs, and that makes time-critical parts such as Halls of Fire and Dungeon Hero hair-pullingly frustrating. Both of these would be easy as pie in any other DM clone, since one keypress would always equal one moved square, but Grimrock ignores your keypresses if you're too fast, and you fail at the puzzle if you're too slow. The entire game would be better if Toorum's speed was the default speed. Easier, but also better.

      Also, while it has the advantage of shiny modern graphics, Grimrock doesn't really have any game design advantages over the other clones. It mainly just copies what everyone else has done. Last boss is wicked cool, and I'm hyped for Grimrock 2, but I wouldn't call it the "best clone by far".

    3. "When you take a step in Grimrock, there's a lengthy walking animation during which the game accepts no further inputs, and that makes time-critical parts such as Halls of Fire and Dungeon Hero hair-pullingly frustrating. Both of these would be easy as pie in any other DM clone, since one keypress would always equal one moved square, but Grimrock ignores your keypresses if you're too fast, and you fail at the puzzle if you're too slow."
      Are you sure you weren't just overencumbered? Because I don't remember any such difficulties with those parts.

      (Though I too wouldn't call Grimrock the best of DM-clones, Anvil of Dawn holds that title for me)

    4. Really? Anvil of Dawn? The most simplistic and dumbed down DM-clone of them all?
      It was made three years after Ultima Underworld and it still used step based movement, even though you controlled only one character.
      But I must admit it was fun enough that I completed it (or would have if not for a bug very near the end).

      To me every DM-clone was an anticlimax after Chaos Strikes Back. Even Black Crypt I though was rather dull back in the days. But having (re) played lots of DN-clones the past few years I think Black Crypt was the best of the bunch after all.
      Worst was possibly Abandoned Places.
      Aged most badly: Eye of the Beholder
      Aged most well: Lands of Lore
      I could never get into Captive. The reason I loved DM and CSB was largely due to the excellent level design, which you can't have in a game with generated dungeons.

    5. "The most simplistic and dumbed down DM-clone of them all?" - not really, that would be Lands of Lore. None of the DM-clones is terribly deep mechanically, anyway.

      "It was made three years after Ultima Underworld and it still used step based movement" - and looked beautiful (still does), while UUW looked like shit.

      Two things that make AoD stand out of for me are its relative non-linearity and adventure-style puzzles. Oh, and atmosphere in spades too.

    6. @sucinum - Interesting read. Fascinating and a little painful to watch development of even a promising product go in fits and starts over more than a decade before something came of it. That's a looooong time to keep at something. I think I counted at least 4 rewrites in that thread. I've done a little amateur game development and thought I was going slow when it took a year for a demo and 5 for a more or less "complete" product. Every case is different, though.

    7. VK: "Are you sure you weren't just overencumbered?"

      Positive. I beat the game on the unpatched version, I don't know if they made the timing more lenient later, but I was constantly running into the problem of the game just plain not registering my inputs because I was too fast. That's awful.

      Brutus: "[Anvil of Dawn] was made three years after Ultima Underworld and it still used step based movement, even though you controlled only one character."

      It wouldn't be a DM clone if it didn't. Free movement automatically disqualifies you from being a DM clone.

    8. Of course. But to me DM-clones felt like an evolutionary dead end after UU, at least if only controlling one character like in AoD.

      I'm also curious whether VK's appreciation for AoD is based mainly on nostalgia?

    9. I only got a PC in very late 90s, and started playing older games whet it couldn't run newer ones anymore, sometime around early-mid 2000s, so nope, no nostalgia whatsoever. It might be actually the other way around: not having played UUW in its day I can't really appreciate its technical innovations, all I see is the extremely clunky camera tha gives me nausea.
      It took me some time to learn to appreciate step-based movement, but now I actually prefer it to freeform 3D, it makes orienting in space a lot easier.

    10. The "slow" movement in Grimrock didn't really hurt me, even DM slows you a bit down unless you have enough Boots of Speed. There's also the Toorum-mode in Grimrock, which is as fast as DM. That should be default or there should be Boots of Speed as well.
      Stonekeep, another clone, is really sluggish, though.

      I didn't like EoB or LoL too much, because in both games, the dungeons are very plain (in opposite to all those riddles and special areas in DM) and you have to do a lot of backtracking, which is just boring. DM and Grimrock have the right pacing, you never have to do anything boring and can always advance. I'm a bit mixed with CSB because I always get lost. :D

      You have to admire the craft skill of CSB, which used really everything the engine could offer - on a 720 kb disc (same as DM)!

      I actually prefer tile-based movement, this helps with orientation. Also very few games actually made use of 3D and free movement, often enough, it feels very forced and clumsy. Ambermoon, Albion or the Realms of Arkania trilogie are bad examples for this.

      The first game with really good 3D dungeons I played was Dungeons&Dragons Online, and that's another good 10 yrs after UUW. I could be spoiled by DM, though, I really played the heck out of it and so it felt natural after a while.

    11. Of Realms of Arkania only Shadows over Riva forced you into free movement - Star Trail could be played in either mode and Blade of Destiny was purely step-based.
      For me the game that got the best of both worlds is Might&Magic:Legacy - it has tile-based movement over 3D landscapes. It's funny how no one had thought of that before.

      For good 3D dungeons try Wizards&Warriors, if you haven't already - level design is simply terrific there and makes a fairly good use of verticality.

    12. sucinum: Slowness itself is manageable (though unfortunate - I would really prefer game's default speed to be Toorum speed, and Toorum speed double that), but the real issue is that the game doesn't recognize movement inputs before the movement animation is over, and it's very unclear WHEN the movement animation is fully over. So when you're in a spot where you have to move both fast and accurately, you can never be sure if the game read all four of your four keypresses, or only three. In Halls of Fire, where you have to race around pits to press timed buttons, I was constantly missing turns and running into pits simply because the game didn't read my inputs as fast as I was punching them in. In other DM clones one keypress is always going to be read and will execute one movement, no matter what, and that lets them employ puzzles that require a great deal of manual dexterity without it turning into a mess.

  20. Hello.

    I really enjoyed your playthrough of DM. I loved the animation. Some really nice looking monsters.

    The end animation was really nicely done as well. I hate games that end with no fanfare or congratulations. Especially after all the time and work spent getting through them.

    When I finished EOB 1, I played the version with no end animation and felt cheated. I had to go on youtube to watch the full animation.

    cheers (post04)

  21. Replies
    1. Even accounting for the fact I had a "DOS-only" rule in effect at the time, this seems optimistic. I must have been thinking of Chaos Strikes Back.


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